Pete Ryan, 72
Community associations: Levittown Kiwanis Club, Levittown Community Council, former board member and chief of the Wantagh-Levittown Volunteer Ambulance Corps
When did you move to Levittown?
1948. I was born in New Rochelle.
How old were you and do you remember your first impressions?
I was 9. There was a lot of land. In back of us were all farms. From our backyard on Hill Lane you could see Hempstead Turnpike because there was nothing in between us. There was a farm behind us, and the farmer’s son used to come pick us up and drive us to church through the farm because he wasn’t allowed to drive on the road.
It was kind of like freedom, when we moved there. It was almost like we had been let out of jail. You went out in the morning and came back at dark. Nobody worried about you. Nobody told you what to do.
So you, your six siblings, your mother and your grandmother all lived in one house?
Yes we did. It was a Cape Cod. The four boys slept in one room. Three girls and grandma were in the other room. My mom slept on the couch in the living room. A few years later my older brother built on the top floor.
It seems like there was very little other than houses. What was life like then?
It was easy. We didn’t know we were poor. Nobody told us that. I found out years later that the church helped us out because they knew our “daddy was a deadbeat.” The Catholic church was very involved. Father O’Brien picked us up and took us out for ice cream. He got me into St. John’s School in the Bronx. He didn’t like the kids I was hanging out with. We did have some bad kids back then. I guess because everyone came from the city. I was one of the few that didn’t. So they were used to being in gangs and things were different. But that faded out.
What made you stay here as an adult?
Initially because my family was still here. My older brothers started to drift away so for a while I was the man of the house. Then I met my wife and I got involved in the ambulance corps. I worked here as a plumber.
What do you like about living in Levittown now?
It’s a great community. We couldn’t leave our neighbors if we tried. It’s like a big family in our neighborhood.
How has the community changed?
It’s changed remarkably. Mostly for the better. People years back thought this place would turn into a slum as it got older and the houses started to deteriorate. But that hasn’t happened, it’s gotten better. Harder to find an original house here than it is to find something that has been renovated and expanded.
We were here so early, so much has changed. We didn’t even have lawns when we moved in. It was just dirt. We used to just run around and play on all the empty lots. We’d steal lumber from Levitt at night and build things. I remember when they started putting down the lawns it stunk. The whole place smelled like manure.
What’s the biggest challenge Levittown faces?
Taxes, mostly. They’re very high. We know it’s becoming a problem for the schools. But they’ll figure it out. I think Levittown is in pretty good shape.
How would you define the character of Levittown?
Community. It’s all one big community, especially when times are tough, that’s when you see everyone come together. After 9/11, for the Joplin tornado, in the bad economy helping other families - the school does the Adopt-a-Family during the holidays. That’s just the kind of community this is.