By Joe Petrizzo
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) regaled a crowd of students and constituents with an inspiring tale of his journey from struggle to Senate, on April 11, in the Mercer Room in Dalys.
Born into a family of Polish and Russian immigrants in Paterson, N.J., Lautenberg grew up poor and watched his father toil in a silk mill to make ends meet. One day, his father took him inside the dark factory and showed him the film the silk left behind. After explaining to him how the powder deteriorates one’s health, Lautenberg’s father told him, “You don’t want to be doing this.”
After his father died at age 43, Lautenberg volunteered in the Army and served in Belgium during WWII. He said he joined to escape the everyday nuisances of home and because he couldn’t help his family in any other way.
“I enlisted because all my friends were going and I wanted to do something different,” he said.
Upon his safe return, the senator attended Columbia University on the G.I. Bill where he majored in economics. Lautenberg teamed up with two of his old friends and started Automatic Data Processing (ADP), America’s first payroll company. After a lot of hard work and determination, ADP became one of the world’s largest and most successful computing services corporations.
In 1982, Lautenberg decided to enter politics to coincide with his philanthropic interests. When his mother questioned his decision, he responded by saying he intended to help the community that graciously helped him and his family when he was young.
“It’s something I want to do to say thank you for the things that have been given to us,” he told her.
Lautenberg defeated Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick in a tough battle, which many have labeled as “dirty,” although Lautenberg says it was a “gentle campaign” by today’s standards. He won reelection in 1988 and 1994 before temporarily retiring in 2000. He returned to the Senate two years later after 9/11 realizing there was still work to be done.
Lautenberg considers his two greatest successes as getting smoking banned from airplanes and raising the drinking age to 21. The latter he says saves the lives of over a thousand young adults per year. Another one of his proud accomplishments is preventing domestic abusers from receiving gun permits. According to Lautenberg, over 200,000 “thugs” have been denied licenses, effectively saving the lives of about 200,000 women.
Lautenberg gave the audience a piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Make sure that you treat your employees with respect and [give them] the ability to earn a living.”
Lautenberg left an impression on junior psychology major Kelly Rodrigues. She praised the senator on his ability to relate to the average person and understand the struggles of everyday citizens.
“I liked how strong he is on the middle class,” Rodrigues said. “He knows that the big guys aren’t the most important thing out there.”