My Story

      I grew up on Southern Blvd. in Chatham Township, New Jersey, back in the 40’s and 50’s, when the township was ‘rural country Jersey farmland’.  If anyone had ever told me when I was eight years old that my life would become such an exciting adventure, I would have probably responded with “Now that’s the life I’ve been dreaming of ever since I was born”.  To me life was always one big adventure. It just seemed natural to squeeze the most out of everything – from swimming in Noe Pond with a dozen cows wading on one side of the lily-pad waterhole and us swimming on the other side – to riding my horse, Montana, through the cow pastures around my house or down Green Village Road on my way out to the trails in Meyersville and Mendham.  

      The 40’s and 50’s were fantastic years to grow up in rural Chatham Township.  Life was so simple and so safe! Our family got our first ten-party telephone line that hung securely on the kitchen wall when I was around seven, and our first TV, with a 4-inch square screen, when I was ten. Those first few years there were only four channels that worked from 8am to 10pm, showing the same movie repeatedly, so from childhood through high school our choice was to read, help with the housework, or head for the outdoors.  Needless to say, my chosen domain was mowing the grass, feeding the chickens, weeding and hoeing our garden, cleaning the horse stall in our barn, pitching hay in our hayfield, or helping our neighbors milk their cow or churn the butter as the three of us sat in thier antiquated kitchen drinking fresh buttermilk together!  Could life be any better than that?

       Ten years as a Girl Scout, four years of 4-H and every sport open to girls were my social life, and I loved every minute of them all. I graduated from Chatham High School and attended my first year at Monmouth Jr. College before meeting and marrying my husband, Jimmy Joe Leffler, a “Hoosier” from Indiana, where I spent 26 years raising my children. From 1957 until 1977 I was very actively involved in our little town of Saint Paul, where I taught kindergarten, managed restaurants, worked part-time year-round as a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant and spent eleven summers detasseling for Pioneer Seed Corn Company.  

       By the time I was thirty I was fully convinced that my mission was to raise my six children and together survive the Indiana cornfields, but the Lord moves in mysterious ways and two weeks before my younger five children were to return from their summer break to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, my husband of 26 years died unexpectedly, leaving me totally devastated!

       Once my children returned to Indiana State, I made the decision to head back home to New Jersey.  I had come to terms with the fact that my whole life was about to change.  I decided to settle on the Jersey Shore and eventually brought all my children after their school year ended.  I spent the next three years walking the boardwalk and beach every morning before work.  My vision of a new life soon became a work in progress, ever-changing as the sandy shoreline along the Spring Lake and Sea Girt Beaches where I made the magical, difficult transformation of self-discovery, leading me to extraordinary changes.  

       At my 50th Birthday Dinner I announced to my bewildered children that I was moving to Princeton to become actively involved in International Relations and Peace-making, to make my contribution toward building a safer and better world for them and my future grandchildren. In December, 1987, I settled into my new life in Princeton and spent the next twenty years traveling extensively throughout the world involved in citizen diplomacy.  In those twenty years I lived and volunteered in 33 developing countries and met and worked with several former and sitting Presidents, First Ladies, Senators, Congressmen and Peoples Deputy from Kazakhstan working in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. From 1997 through 2007 I spent ten years as a volunteer for the US State Department to work for the OSCE/PAE as an Election Registration Officer and Organizer/Supervisor of the first Democratic Elections in ten elections in Eastern Europe. 

       I retired from eleven years working for the Middletown Police Dept. at 81 years old and now am living my dream years on the Jersey Shore.  I just completed my first book, which focuses on my citizen activist years.  I am now writing my second, which covers all my World Citizen Diplomacy years and soon I plan to write my final memoir starting with my Northern Irish Ancestors, the Flemings, who arrived in the US in 1740 and settled in what was eventually named after my ancestor, Samuel Fleming, in Flemington, NJ.

       Oh, I forgot to mention that I was the tomboy of Chatham Township who was never getting married!  But as things will backfire, I married at 20 years old!  Today my six children are all in their fifties, and I have 18 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.  So my advice to you is “NEVER SAY NEVER”!

LOIS ANN NICOLAI

A Lifelong Citizen Activist