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Remembering June Sturz, an iconic musician, columnist, and matriarch

Sturz passed away peacefully on March 2 at the age of 95

June Sturz during a performance on St. Patrick's Day. Photos courtesy of the family.

June Sturz, a 35-year resident of Bayonne who penned her “In Tune With June!” column on arts and culture in The Bayonne Community News since the 1980s, died peacefully on March 2 at the age of 95.

June was the loving wife of the late Isaac Peikon. She is survived by her son Andy Peikon and wife Andrea; her daughter Jolie Marcus and husband Michael; and her son James Peikon and wife Dorrie. June was also the devoted grandmother of six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Andy, Jolie, and Jolie’s daughter Rachel spoke to the Bayonne Community News about June’s life and the legacy of love she leaves behind.

One with the music

June was born in Borough Park, Brooklyn on November 17, 1926, to Jack and Augusta Gruber. She met Isaac, the father of her children, when they were just four years old; they both lived in the same apartment building. According to her family, June grew up in a musical household.

June’s mother played piano in the silent movies to put herself through dental school at Columbia University. Her mother taught her how to play the piano too, thus beginning her life’s journey with music. According to Andy, June was very into Swing and Big Band, as well as a lot of the popular Jazz standards from the 1930s.

“She got her start when she was kid, learning from her mom,” Rachel said. “Then she took it from there. She could pretty much sit down at the piano and sing any play any song by heart.” 

From left to right: Jim Peikon, Jolie Marcus, June Sturz, and Andy Peikon.

“She got her baby grand piano at 16 years old,” Jolie said. “There was always a piano in her apartment in Brooklyn.”

June attended New Utrecht High School, during which she played piano in a school trio until she was invited to play in a pub and her parents ended that. She later received an undergraduate degree at Ohio University, where she played piano at a local movie house like her mother and hosted a Tuesday night college radio station, among other extracurricular activities.

June also earned a Master’s degree in American Literature from Columbia University. Her  family said she was extremely intelligent and also full of wisdom. After graduating, June and Isaac eventually moved from Brooklyn to River Edge in Bergen County, where they started their family. 

“Music and family were her biggest passions in life,” Andy said. “She was an amazing piano player and singer.”

“When she used to write cards, she would not sign it with grandma but with a musical note,” Rachel said.

“June was proud but not arrogant,” Jolie said. “She was proud of sharing her joy and entertaining her community with her love of music and always giving back.”

In addition to raising her three kids, June taught at a Temple in a neighboring community on the weekends. She also performed regularly with her friend Blanche Waltzer as “June and Judy.”

June was also a talented vocalist.

Big fan of Bayonne

In 1977, her husband Isaac died, widowing June at age 50. At the time, she was heading a program for career opportunities for the Boy Scouts, where she appeared on The Joe Franklin Show with Tom Carvel of the soft serve ice cream company. Some years later, she moved to Bayonne in 1982 when she married the late Melvin Sturz. Since then, she made the city her home.

“She loved living in Bayonne,” Andy said. “She moved into Bayonne and immediately started making an impact… She was a very charitable person.”

For over 20 years, June was the proud leader of the Bayonne Senior Orchestra and was a frequent guest vocalist in the renowned Vince Giordano’s Band in New York City. She also performed at a number of other events, from family gatherings to holiday festivities and other gigs at the 56th Street Senior Center, the Bayonne Jewish Community Center, the Bayonne Public Library, and the Summer Sounds by the Bay concert series at 16th Street Park.

“I’ll always remember my mother in front of Vincent Giordano’s Band on her 90th birthday at the Café Iguana in New York City,” Andy said.

“She sang at my wedding with the band when my husband and I got married,” Jolie said. “I went to all of her gigs after moving back to the area. I’d sit in the front row all the time and sing along. I knew all the olides because I’d grown up with her playing them.” 

“Anywhere where there was a piano, she would sit down and play,” Rachel said.

June and the Bayonne Senior Orchestra.

June also created and taught both the “Healthy Bones” and “Suddenly Single” adult classes in town. And her contributions to the community did not go unnoticed. The city honored June as “Bayonne’s Outstanding Citizen” in 2007. And in 2016, the Bayonne Historical Society named her as its “Woman of Achievement. According to Andy, June couldn’t walk down the street in Bayonne without running into a friendly face, being heavily involved in the community.

“She touched a lot of people,” Andy said. “She had an incredibly resilient spirit. She always bounced back and she always created new friendships and new activities. Her biggest passions in her life were her family and her music.”

“Everyone knew her for smile,” Jolie said. “She was always smiling, and saying hello to everyone. She had a big spirit.”

‘In Tune with June!’

In addition to her musical accomplishments and community impact, June was also a long-time columnist. She first wrote for a gossip column for her high school paper, the New Utretch News. Later in life, June wrote for the New Jersey Jazz Society for many years with the column “Jazz on June.”

When June moved to Bayonne, she got involved with the Bayonne Community News and started a new column dubbed “In Tune with June!” She wrote that column for decades, until she could no longer do so. However, her timeless words live on, immortalized in the columns she penned.

June was honored by both the city and the Bayonne Historical Soceity.

“She would always talk about music, but she really discussed current events and other things that were going on,” Rachel said. “People expected her to write for old people, but she wrote about topics for all ages.”

June was the family’s go to source for everything from news and daily ongoings, to sage-level words of wisdom. Even as she moved out of Bayonne and into senior living in Paramus, June continued to entertain with her musical ability.

“She would entertain the whole place there and pack the house, with people sitting outside the room as well,” Jolie said. “Everyone loved her so much.”

June was loved far and wide, but none loved her as much as her family, whom she treasured even more than her music. According to Jolie, she was the matriarch and glue of the family.

“Her joy made any room shine,” Jolie said, quoting something someone had written in a card about June. To Jolie, that phrase perfectly described her.

“From leading a senior orchestra for three-plus decades to writing monthly columns in the local newspaper to creating and leading ‘Healthy Bones’ and ‘Suddenly Single’ classes in her community, Grandma June’s ability to hold a room full of people fully engaged with her smile, talent and presence was unmatched,” Rachel said. “But I think her greatest quality, her enduring legacy to her family, cannot be said in words. Only in feelings. And those feelings and memories of love, togetherness and joy will live on forever in our hearts.”

To read any of her columns for the Bayonne Community News online, type “In Tune with June!” in the search bar of hudsonreporter.com.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com. 

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