Ira Piller was born in New York City in 1948. His father was born in Poland and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and siblings as a young child. His mother was a first-generation American, born to an Eastern European Jewish family that had emigrated around the turn of the 20th century. Recently, through genealogical research, Mr. Piller has been able to connect with a second cousin, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was related to his grandmother's sister.
Mr. Piller grew up in the Bronx and then Springfield, New Jersey. He attended public schools in Springfield and went to Jonathan Dayton Regional High School, where he played soccer. Growing up in a religiously observant household, he attended Hebrew School, joined United Synagogue Youth, and went to a summer camp run by B'nai B'rith.
As a freshman at Rutgers in 1966, he lived in Brett Hall and recalls the required reading for incoming students. He pledged Zeta Beta Tau and lived in the fraternity house his sophomore year. He remembers the political science professors Josef Silverstein and Ross Baker, along with Hubert Humphrey's speech on campus as a part of Rutgers' bicentennial celebration. An avid sports fan, he went to the NIT semifinal game in 1967, when Rutgers lost to Southern Illinois, and the centennial football game in 1969, when Rutgers beat Princeton. One summer during college, he toured Europe, venturing behind the Iron Curtain to East Berlin. The first Vietnam draft lottery occurred on his birthday in 1969. He recalls the anti-war movement on campus and busloads of Rutgers students traveling to Washington, D.C. to march against the war. He volunteered for Lew Kaden's congressional campaign during his senior year.
After graduating in 1970, he went to the University of Pittsburgh and earned a Master's in Public Administration at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. During his graduate studies, he worked for the city administrator of Newark during Ken Gibson's time as mayor. In 1972, he got a job in the presidential campaign of George McGovern, beginning with the New Hampshire primary, continuing in several primary states as a scheduler for McGovern surrogates, and serving as an advance man in the Midwest through the general election. Then, he worked for Brendan Byrne's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1973, after which he joined the Byrne administration as an assistant to the Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services. Influenced by his love of sports, Mr. Piller became a sports reporter and anchor at N.J. Public Television, stations in Massachusetts and Illinois, and Channel 9 WOR. Following his time on air, he spent the rest of his career in sports marketing, advertising, and media sales, eventually relocating to Florida in the late 1990s.
Ira Piller's oral history is a part of the Class of 1970 Oral History Project to commemorate the class's fiftieth reunion milestone.
The photograph is courtesy of Ira Piller, who is located on the top left.