By- Tom Kubrak
When he readied himself to leave, to his new school, that day in 2008, he had forgotten a little bit in the moment; about exactly what it meant to him. It wasn’t just leaving to go get his education. He was leaving behind everything he knew. He spent a lot of time in the place he was departing; long days in the summer in those streets playing with friends; baseball games at the park a few blocks away and running across the street to one of his family members homes.
This was Raritan of course. Zack Bray’s home.
It was college time now though and he couldn’t dwell on it much longer, because this was a stage in his life that he was determined to succeed in. He was committed to his studies and his parents had high expectations of him; which drove him as well. His love for them at that time and now was immense. So, he wasn’t about to let them down, because this is what they both equally wanted to happen.
He chose a school in Connecticut. Although his mind had to be on school in Connecticut, the other half of it was left in Raritan where it would stay.
Little did he know, the big events that we’re coming up in his life. All he knew, and was thinking about, at that time, was to excel in his studies and enter into the workforce as a learned professional. Everything else didn’t cross his mind.
…the events that would come forward though would shape the man onto his current path as a leader in the community. His community and home, of Raritan New Jersey.
He decided to go away for school. A decision that wasn’t the easiest. Going away, although not too far, was still tough. When you come from a tight knit family like Bray does, it’s just not an easy decision going away for school. It was the best thing for his career path though. That decision took him to Quinnipiac University. A school of about seven thousand students and about a three hour drive from Raritan. Arriving there, was a little overwhelming to say the least. He was about to leave behind his family for the longest part of his life. He had gone away on trips for high school, including a foreign exchange program in England, but that was only for a few weeks. He was about to be gone for a lot longer than that. For a young freshman, it can be a challenge. Even if their supporting in some ways, it still can be tough when you’re not able to see them every day.
“It all kind of hit you like right away. It’s like, okay, I’m really on my own.”
There’s nothing really that can prepare you for those first moments arriving at a school and especially in a state your not familiar with. Neither of his parents went to school either to so it was hard to get a feel of what to expect. Just the idea of being one of the first in his family to graduate was enough to push him through the culture shock phase at school. There were a few words of advice but ultimately he went in cold turkey that day all those years ago.
The first months of college were a little eye opening. Where before, a welcoming mother and father greeted him daily, he was instead greeted by a fellow awkward study weary freshman. The good part he had a place to call home; for the time being. That place was in the dorms of his campus in the distant land of Quinnipiac University.
The “dorm” he ended up being in was forged from a past lounge: Due to over enrollment. Thus, forcing the school leaders to think on their toes and welcome them to a former lounge. But, in all reality, it was actually a very fortunate situation. That changed space to dorm turned into the social location that year though and allowed Bray to meet many people that he may not have otherwise.
Although it wasn’t ideal, freshman Zack Bray embraced it all and offered no complaints. He was away from home for the first time but he knew he could handle it.
Bray made it work. He was committed and shortly began making friends.
Sophomore year was a slight change though. Instead of the dorm life, Bray decided to move off campus and moved in with some of the new people he met the previous year. This…was a little more eye opening and part of the major growth process of him. He learned simple stuff but essential stuff; amongst a few were, cooking and general maintenance in taking care of a home.
Time passed though and he landed in his final year. He wasn’t able to celebrate too much either because the next day at 9 AM he had a class to start his graduate degree. Although it was a part of the schools unique program it was something that has always defined him…keep going.
A little fun fact about Bray though and one of his triumphant accomplishments …The big final paper. It may rival some of my pieces in length actually. That was his epic senior thesis of course, that was about 50 pages of hard researched work.
“Interestingly enough my thesis in college was about the Salem witch trials.”
Maybe you’ll get the opportunity to read it one of these days to see Bray’s writing style. I sure do. If you’re wondering, his essay got a good grade on it and he passed the final paper.
Being in Connecticut was a short 3 hour ride from Raritan, but still the loving embracements of family were constantly on his mind. Being in a family like that wasn’t just an easy thing to shoo away from his mind. Growing up in Raritan on Anderson Street his family was all around. It might as well been called Bray Avenue. With that being said, his family was just well placed there.
The house he grew up in was built by his grandparents. Who then sold it to his father. His grandparents then lived across the street and in fact raised his father and siblings there. Down the road, his father’s sister moved across the street and right next door to his grandparents. Also his Dads brother lived for a short while on the opposite side of his grandparents. Oh and of course… this was all on Anderson street in Raritan.
No matter what, his family was together. Regardless of anything, he was with one of his family members during the weeks growing up because there was no shortage of them whatsoever.
“It was always like a big communal family event no matter what; your mom your dad or your sister; no matter where you were going you were with your sister or your parents and that’s it it was this grandparents was always involved aunts uncles cousins always involved so we spent a lot of time together”
Simply put they spent a lot of time together. It was The Bray Family “Compound” growing up for him. There was no shortage of love either.
On another note, they were the typical Italian family. Although on his grandfather’s side was Irish his grandmother was Italian and the Italian traditions prevailed in this case and the old Italian cliches of Sunday dinners won too.
“It’s true, so every Sunday you get up, you go to church, and your eating dinner by like noon or one o’clock at your grandmother’s house.”
Oh and this just isn’t a small production either… The Bray’s go all out. It was anywhere from 10-25 people.
“Everything’s made from scratch your know so that was every typical Sunday.”
Although now… things have changed slightly. His grandmother is not in the same house. She’s not hosting these family infested outings. She’s still around and in an assisted living facility.
The Week Before Christmas at The Bray’s…
The Brays are busy making raviolis for their annual holiday get together. To be exact, it’s a painstaking process, but something they all enjoy. The total raviolis it comes to is, drum roll please… 1000!
The Brays have been doing this for the last 85 years. Something that they take pride in and even with the passing of his grandfather. It’s different not being in her home but the Brays are resourceful and they’ve moved the operation to his Uncle’s home in nearby Bridgewater.
It’s a little getaway for him. A place he can go to to just let go and be free. Having a family member with a home down there was huge growing up. It was one of the reasons he quite possibly turned into the man he is today. A small packed town like Raritan can become suffocating and without a way to get away it can get very tough.
“It is honestly a home away from home. It was where a lot of my childhood; adolescent and young adult summers have taken place there.”
To say this place is a little part of Bray’s story is a huge understatement. In fact…it’s a massive one. So many big memories in Bray’s life have happened there at his Aunt’s home away from the activity in Raritan.
For a long time he had been working his way up to it. It was all a possibility at this point; No Guarantees; but going into it all, at this school, there was only one thought on his mind…
…he was going to walk away a teacher from it all.
He found this passion when he was 16 years old. One of his teachers planted the idea in his mind.
If he could go back and pinpoint, maybe, to what made it all click for him in high school, he might have someone that gave him the key. A woman by the name of Mrs. Colbert was the first person that gave him the sign of his passion in life. It was Junior year and she was teaching a math class he was taking. He wasn’t getting it at first, but that soon changed…
“For whatever reason I just vibed with her. It was like this lady could get me, someone who has no idea what their doing, to actually enjoy what they were doing.. it’s like man, if I could do that one time a year, with one kid, I’m like changing the world.”
When the path to that idea all those years ago in that classroom began to sprout it wasn’t in a fairy tale location per-say. It was Connecticut. Being in connecticut and any schooling system of that matter it was pretty much determined that you would end up in the teaching system of Connecticut. So it was a good choice to go to this small school in Connecticut where the graduation rate was over 90% and the amount of students that got jobs right after school was extremely high.
“The plan was that I was going to be in Connecticut and that’s where I was going to be for the future.”
Being that these students were doing all of their student teaching in Connecticut your network as a young teacher would be growing in the area. Naturally, your name would start popping up as you continued on the path and did your schooling in the area.
So… Zack Bray’s fate was set. A Connecticut school teacher of History. Not bad, not bad at all.
“Connecticut is a wonderful state with a renowned reputation of it’s teachers.”
Ahhh, the once Jersey boy was slowly morphing into the ways of a Connecticuter.
This story takes an interesting turn that completely changes the fate of Bray. He received the phone call in his graduate year.
And that phone call as mentioned, changed his path back to his home area. And the fact of the matter is, not that it’s crossed it’s mind what it would be like in Connecticut, but he knows this is where he belongs. Bray loves Raritan with every ounce of his being. Playing all around town. He bled on these streets. It’s home, but for a time he didn’t know if he’d be back in the way that he was going to be now. Actually, as he finished up everything for his final year, he was beginning to prepare for a life in Connecticut.
Then that phone rang…
The Phone call
His mother had been battling the wretched disease for __ years. She had been fighting faithful awhile now. Thus, with her fighting spirit the thought of the worst happening wasn’t allowed to cross any of those Brays minds.
Lynne DelGuercio Bray, was born in an Italian family. She was born in New Jersey and raised in Flanders. She also has a rich Irish heritage too with her mother being Irish. Her mother, thought it was a good idea to marry the Irish milkman. It was his dad’s Italian mother who married the Irish milkman. Zack’s mom’s, mom was Irish and her dad was Italian. Against her family’s wishes she married the Irish Milkman. Maybe with that rebellious-nature in mind is what got her to do it that is within Zack in some ways too doing things that people his age often don’t attempt to do.
He received the phone call in his senior year. It was about his Mom. Nothing really can prepare you for a phone call like that. It seemed like a normal day, on that day, he received the phone call, because it was at first, just another ordinary day. Just the usual n Brays life, at the time in school, when he was in Connecticut. Go to class, run some errands and maybe hang out with some of his friends on campus. It came as a surprise, although he knew a little bit about the situation, he didn’t know the full extent of it until the call.
“My mom wouldn’t let my dad tell me and my sister just how sick she was- but I knew she was really sick, and even though the call came as a surprise, I knew it was inevitable. She was constantly on my mind that year. It was really hard to do the daily routine knowing that it was coming at some point. She was a fighter- the cancer she had has an average life span of 3 months, but she fought for a whole year. I hope to carry that fight with me.”
That day, he was sitting in his apartment at his college. He might have been with his friends but the exact details are forgotten. All he knows is that on this day his life changed. The call came from his father. He had a low voice during the call and wasn’t his usual self; immediately signaling that something was off. It was quick until they got to the point and explained to him that his mother was in her final stages.
“It’s mom Zack. It’s not looking good…”
He went home and was able to spend a week with her. A special final week with his mother. She passed the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2012.
“It just felt like you had to come home and be close to one another. I couldn’t be in connecticut.”
The next few weeks were somber ones. It was good to see family but the deep hole left in his heart without his mother here was clearly seen by all who saw him. It wasn’t going to be a quick fix . So.. a hiatus from school came, which was much needed. His mother was his rock, his support and his biggest fan. He would have to find how to bounce back But fo now he must mourn.
Hard emotional times were now ahead. Losing a woman like that in your life that has been your provider, friend and your closest ally. When everything else seems lost you know you have someone to turn to. She was a strong, resilient woman who would do anything for her family and…
Anything for her son. She was gone now though. When you lose someone of that importance of your life you just can’t predict what will happen next. The worst thoughts come to your head for most people that have been through deaths of this magnitude. Many go into deep bouts of depression or denial. There was a recovery process though but Bray remembered before he left the faith she placed in him to make his desires come to fruition.
So it wasn’t long until Bray picked himself back up to get back to work on his goals. The thoughts of his mother did not waver through. Her memory and impact she left behind drove him. You can either let these traumatic moments take you down or you can choose to let them bring you up. Bray…
…he chose the latter. Although, massively difficult, with time he kept moving forward, with no days passing by without the thought of his beloved mother leaving him.
The Core 3
Raritan, the town he grew up in and the town he played baseball in. The town he ran across the street to any family member of his choosing. Most of the time it turned out to be his grandmother who became another close ally of his. But he had plenty to choose from as we know and he frequented many of the spots. The Community he’s from is just a strong one and the memories of everyone being together are shine bright in his mind looking back.
“I lived so close I would walk down the park to play baseball. Your friends played and everyone’s parents were there. It was just this big community thing.”
With that being said his family.. Without them who knows, but the deep rooted traditions that his family created keep this man going. When you hear of a family making one thousand raviolis you know something’s up. Something that is hard to break. And that’s been his unbreakable bond.
His passion for teaching.. Bray had to give up a lot to get where he’s at now but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Although those thoughts of what if occasionally cross his mind.
The third thing is the people. With teaching the instinct to serve others was there for awhile but he didn’t latch on to that instinct to serve the people of his community until a little while later when he reestablished himself in Raritan. Living to serve others, it was just a fit. A good fit that brought him into those council meetings to just see what’s going on in his town. He might not ever imagined it getting to the point it is now but he was open to anything and just wanted to be there to help wherever he was needed.
Growing up in Raritan
From an outside perspective to see such a small town with such a culture is hard to believe. For Bray, growing up here, although the population might not have been the indicator of a big heart, the people in this boro of New jersey we’re a strong willed group indeed. Growing up in the nineties, Raritan wasn’t too much different than it is now, but it had definitely had it’s differences. Buildings have changed, many people moved away that he remembered seeing all the time, and business’ that were once there have gone.
There are many traditions that are still going on in Raritan before Bray was even born. One of those traditions was the St. Ann’s Italian Festa. A tradition that was born in Raritan but now has spread its roots all over the county. People tend to look forward to it every year as some of the best italian food in the state is cooked up to serve. Raritan was once known as Jerseys Little Italy because of the vast influx of italian immigrants that flocked to the small 2 mile block of land in the early nineteen hundreds. They brought their traditions along with them so it’s no wonder that this festival still goes on. Bray, had the privilege to be an intricate part of the tradition growing up and had many responsibilities.
“Back when they did the festa when I was five-ten years old they did it after all public school was out too. I remember getting up in the morning rolling meatballs at five in the morning.”
He also had to run to the laundromat many times during this week long event, to wash the towels and aprons during the whole process.
Then there were the days in the train town where he had to cross the tracks to friends houses playing wiffle ball amongst a few things.
“We couldn’t really do anything in the street but me my friends and my cousins would run around all over the place; take our bikes down over the train tracks and ride around all over there.”
To say the least, like many other high schoolers, going through high school was a little awkward for Bray at times. Coming from a short family it wasn’t easy and it didn’t come until much later when he accepted his genetics. Being someone who got along with most of the other kids in high school he never lashed out about it but it was one of those underlying things that was brought up from time to time that occasionally bothered him.
Fortunately he had things to distract him from negative thoughts and he fell into his love for baseball in high school. He played all four years and worked his way up from the Freshman team, Jv and then Varsity. Maybe some of those days playing little league at the frelinghuysen park made a difference after all.
It was baseball, baseball, baseball and not only was he playing but he was also a fan of the Yankees. Which also kept him busy from spring- Fall. It must have been exciting for him as the Yankees were beginning their run in the nineties and early 2000’s after the infamous eighties World Series drought.
In high school too, as mentioned above he met the woman that initially inspired his love for teaching… Mrs. Colbert.
When getting into his teaching at Bridgewater-Raritan High School, he promptly took on some open coaching positions, continuing his desire to want to get involved. With his love for athletics still running through his veins, he took an opening as a softball coach. He now currently teaches girls softball.
If you see Bray at the Frelinghuysen Park today though you may catch him playing a different sport, a sport that always lingered in his mind but he never jumped into it because it fell during the same season as baseball.
That sport was none other than Tennis.
There is another thing too that helps Bray keeping moving forward. Back then in high school, it wasn’t a huge part of his story, but now it has become him and his fathers “sacred place.” The golf course; getting out on the green with him is a special time and the sport means a lot to him. He plays quite a bit as well.
After the phone call and having to return home there was no telling what was going to happen in his life. He was leaving a lot behind and he had true love for the state of Connecticut now after spending so long in it. Plus embracing the culture it had. Something that was strange with all the deep feelings in Raritan but nonetheless he had grown to love an appreciate Connecticut. It taught him a lot. Connecticut was a great place with a great culture and over his college years he became very familiar with the community. Thus, opening the door to the possibility of one day being there. It wasn’t going to be an easy decision though if he decided to stay. None of it was in fact. One thing was for certain….he was going to be a teacher. And no matter where he had to start, or how long it took he was going to get it done.
“I loved working with kids. They keep you on your toes; you never know what their going to say. Every day is different it’s an adventure.”
Rolling the dice essentially, when he decided to stay in Raritan after school, he essentially threw away a guaranteed teaching position somewhere in the Connecticut school system. He knew it was going to be an uphill battle after he made the decision to come back. He didn’t know it was going to take that long before he got that coveted full time teaching position.
Sooo, not too long after he made Raritan and Jersey the place where he would teach, an opportunity arose, but it wasn’t a full time position. The opportunity was to be a substitute at Bridgewater Raritan high school. He took it.
“I was teaching like special ed I was teaching like biology phys ed for a couple months here and just jumping all over the place and meanwhile applying to other jobs in the area.”
A few years went by though and he was still a substitute at his alma mater. Although it wasn’t out of the question it was beginning to look like a longshot to land a position there.
Hoping for the best and planning for the worst he had to begin exploring other options in New Jersey. Teaching is an interesting field. Although you can get teaching jobs out of the state you went to school, it’s much more difficult since that’s where you did your student teaching. The different ways states teach too isn’t drastic but there definitely is a difference. It forces out of state people to be doubted on by schools in another state. Bray was from Jersey though but got his teaching education out of state. He was a foreigner to the state he was from in the teaching world now essentially. But… he knew the land, wanted to be here in Jersey, and was willing to take the risk.
Still though, it was uncertain, but Bray just couldn’t see himself doing anything else so he stuck with teaching. He embraced his role as a substitute no matter how tough it was to accept that he had to be patient until a full time position arose somewhere.
“I couldn’t see myself sitting in the same place for forty years from nine to five.It just seems so mundane.. like I’m on my feet I get to be creative I get to be an actor.”
The time continued to go by and although he thought it would be cool to end up here he continued to play the game and search for other opportunities. Although teachers, whom had full time positions there and who he was friendly with casted an interesting aura when they said, “I know you’re going to end up here.”
Although he kept his mind on Bridgewater Raritan he still kept his options open.
But a couple more years and a couple more declined jobs had to happen until the ultimate opportunity came up. It was in the very place a couple hallways down in the same hallways where he was now and was when he was in high school.
At this point he had subbed a lot and had become pretty well-known in the school. He was a trusted person. In total it was about 6 years until this full time opportunity came up. That six year wait stopped when…
Something happened to one of the teachers, and because of that, left a vacant spot for “a little while” according to the principle. A temporary gig was the arrangement at first; then realizing that that teacher wasn’t probably going to be back the spot was given to him when the principal came into his office and said,
“we would really love to have you back in economics full time”
“Mr. Bray The Sub” was now…
The Odd Jobs
Going back a little bit, like many of us trying to survive and make a couple extra bucks, Bray has had his share of odd jobs away from his passion in teaching and the community.
“I drove for Uber for a few months.”
He actually, in those two months met the man who treated the patients for the people who came off the plane that landed in the Hudson. Talk about an interesting Uber ride. If you run into Bray have him tell you the story.
There were others on top of the uber driver too. ONe of those that stands out is working as a mason during one summer. He laid brick, put in porches and mixed cement.
I worked with a mason a few summers ago laying brick putting in porches mixing cement family friend he’;s being doing this for over 40 years I helped him out a few summers ago that was fun
The Full Time Teacher
Quite a change… ehhh, Bray had been ready for this for years, and pretty much immediately knew what to do. He stepped up to the plate. Of course there was a little adjustment but when you’re seeking opportunities for 5 plus years you just are hungry for someone to give you a chance and that came on September 4th of the year 2019 .
“It’s been a long battle to get it.”
He started teaching many different classes and then went to economics where he’s been since.
Since that day when the principal came in his office and told him to “stay” in 2018 he hasn’t left. He couldn’t be happier too. He connects with the students in his classes. The students are part of the reason too he was comfortable pretty quickly with the change to full time after all those years. He connects with the young students in a way8 a lot of the older teachers just can’t right now. He teaches some pretty intense high school courses too.
“It’s not like you might think a normal classroom would look like; they sit down and their ready to learn for forty minutes. There’s no goofing off.”
The routine of course changes a little bit too when you go from sub to full time too. Bray seems to have found a good routine though.
“I’m up at 6am, take a shower, get dressed for school; from there, I head down the stairs pack a lunch then out the door by about a quarter to seven. I get to school which starts at about 7:20 and it’s non stop until about 2:30.”
A lover of his community, he didn’t take long to start going to town meetings. He was doing this when he was starting his substitute career too. Initially, it was just to check it out, but it didn’t take long for those dormant instincts, passed down from his grandmother, who was also involved in the community in various ways.
“Theresa Bray was a pillar of Raritan. She was involved in everything and anything. From the festa, to PTO and school events, to the board of health and beyond. She is the rock of the Bray family. The glue that has held us together so closely for so long.
He began to become a familiar face at these meetings and around town. Of course some of them had heard of his name, having grown up here, but being 23 years old, when he first started going to the meetings, and the average was above 40 he still was an anomaly nonetheless. Being himself though, he didn’t look or act his age, so he fit in quite naturally to the crowd he put himself in. He was comfortable here and being around people much older than him made no difference in his actions.
Then, in 2014, his old elementary school teacher was the mayor and she came up to him confidently and said, according to Bray,
“I have a spot on the Planning Board for you”
It didn’t take long before he was serving on the committee. Serving on the committee was essential and rewarding too.. He started on the zoning committee which is one of the most important parts of each community, because that’s the committee that decides if they want a business to operate in their community or not. They have the final say.
Bray though it didn’t stop there and about 1 year after that it was time to run for council. He had a good team and they were willing to put in the long hours to talk to the people of Raritan. It was his first run on council.
After a pretty good campaign he got it and it’s been a beneficial and ever fruitful-learning process.
Now it’s time for something new.
Bray is stepping up to the challenge and running for Mayor of Raritan. The place he grew up in. The place his family is from.
The ones he does this for is a long list. He loves this community and the people in it. His family though is an instrumental part of his path to the council of Raritan.
It’s not as if everyone in this small town sees eye to eye but Bray does his best to see everyone’s perspectives so the best decision can be made. He’s had the ability to learn from many that have done it before him and now he’s trying to put what he’s learned into action.
The journey has taken him this far and without his biggest fan it makes it that much harder. His mother is never far away from his heart and mind though. It’s a major part of what drives him to get up every morning and to keep up with his relentless and seemingly endless schedule of meetings and events.
It’s not just having a position for Bray. It reigns much deeper. It’s about being able to make a direct impact on his community. He grew up on these streets and wants to see them thrive.
“I grew up with stories from my grandmother, father, aunts and uncles about all the wonderful things Raritan had to offer. I want to be a part of the rebirth so we are telling these same stories to the next generation”
This is Home
He always thought of the possibility that he could return home. It wavered over him like those cool summer breezes as he jumped into his friends pool on the other side of Raritan.
The answer definitely wasn’t in plain sight, but when he got his masters and returned home there was just that deep ingraining feeling of home in him.
“I knew ultimately that I was exactly where I belonged”
The idea of being in Connecticut just wasn’t an option anymore. He had to be here. It’s where he needs to be for his community, his family and himself to have the most fulfillment. This was the land he knew and the land he loved.
There’s no turning back now.
Sooo.. Raritan it is after a whirlwind time period in his life. Bray is happy to be back in his home and serving it. Just like his grandmother before him. He’s a community servant from Raritan New Jersey and is here to stay… no matter what happens.
Bray’s Vision for Raritan
“I like the New Hope Lambertville area a lot I think that they really figured out how to use their river, and build up around it. Specifically, I like it because I think I can envision this area being something like it.”
Fun Fact about Bray
Bray’s a huge fan of music and owns his own record player where he listens to some all time classics from musicians including…
“Pretty much anything folk, classic rock from the 60’s 70’s soul and motown.”
“It’s pretty simple. This is all a journey towards making the community that gave my family so much for so many years a better place to live.” -Zack Bray
By- Tom Kubrak
Email- firstname.lastname@example.org for questions, inquiries or anything.
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