By Karen Zautyk
On Sunday, March 10, at 2 p.m., the 40th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade sponsored by the United Irish Associations of West Hudson will step off in Harrison and wend it way through East Newark and into Kearny, led by the 2013 Grand Marshal, James J. Miller Sr. of Kearny.
The other parade dignitaries include Deputy Grand Marshal Daniel J. Choffo of Harrison, and Kearny Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle, named Honorary Irishwoman of the Year.
We had a chance to sit down with each of the honorees last week at the Irish American Club in Kearny, where the parade organizers were finalizing details.
Regarding his selection as Grand Marshal, Miller said, “I was thrilled, and I am very honored by it. I never expected it.”
“And,” he added, “I am especially honored that kids I worked with in Scouting who are now adults initiated it.”
Miller, who noted he marched for many years in the parade as a local Boy Scout troop leader, has been involved in Scouting since he was 8. Eventually, he went from merit badges to being president of the Hudson Liberty Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which merged with the Essex, Bergen and Passaic BSA to form the Northern New Jersey Council. He sits on the board of that organization.
Miller is one of those individuals for whom community involvement is a way of life. He has been a member of the Jersey City Rotary Club for 35 years, is a past chairman of the Hudson County Red Cross and served as an executive with the Northern New Jersey American Red Cross.
In his professional life, he is president and CEO of Liberty Savings Federal Credit Union in Jersey City. This, following a stint as a high school teacher in East Orange, an adjunct instructor at William Paterson University and as a director of the Bureau of Instructional Technology for the N.J. State Department of Education. And he’s an Army veteran.
A native of Jersey City, he has been a Kearny resident for 25-plus years. He and his wife, Francisca, are the parents of five children: James Jr. of Kearny; Denise Wakelin of Massachusetts; Michele Weiss, North Arlington; Jessica Cabrera, Jersey City, and William Miller of Pennsylvania.
As for his Celtic roots, his maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1900s: grandfather Barney McMahon from County Monaghan; grandmother Mary Ann McMahon (that was her maiden name too, and no, they were not related!) from County Clare. They met and married in the Bronx. (And Mary Ann didn’t have to change her monogram.)
The Deputy Grand Marshal, Daniel Choffo, is Harrison born and bred and still a proud resident of that town, along with his wife Andrea and their daughter Mia Cristina, whom the couple welcomed in 2011.
Choffo, a graduate of Holy Cross School, Harrison High School and Rutgers University, is the owner of Harrison Realty. He is also a fiscal analyst and grant coordinator for the Harrison Board of Education, a former member of the Harrison Planning Board, a Harrison Housing Authority commissioner, member and former chairman of the Hudson County Planning Board and a volunteer for the Harrison Educational Foundation. Choffo is the son of Roy and the late Betty Brady Choffo, whose mother, Catherine Snee, came to America from County Mayo at age 16. He is a member of the Ironbound Irish American Assoc.
Of his selection as a 2013 parade honoree, Choffo said, “It’s amazing. And it’s a very humbling experience.”
Carol Jean Doyle, a Kearny Town Council member for 16 years, representing the Third Ward, explained that she is “Honorary” Irishwoman of the Year because she is “Irish only by marriage.”
(Her maiden name is Gaunt, which is very, very English, but we won’t tell anyone.)
Doyle, originally from Beachwood, N.J., has lived in Kearny for 44 years. The wife of Norman Doyle Jr., whose family came from Wexford, she and her husband have two children, Norman III of Kearny and Meghan Zimmerman of Eatontown, and two grandchildren, Ryan and Kelsey Zimmerman.
Doyle has long been active in the Irish community. As a member of the Friends of Erin in Kearny, she helps raise money for scholarships for students “who have even a teeny-weensy bit of Irish.”
She also works with the Newark St. Patrick’s Parade Committee, was Deputy Grand Marshal there and chief of staff for the Grand Marshal.
She and her husband have also been involved on a familial level, sponsoring two students from Malahide, Paul and Niall, who attended Caldwell College. After the young men graduated, they remained in the Doyle household. “Paul lived with us for five years, and Niall for six,” she said. “They became part of our family.”
Speaking about the upcoming parade, and celebration of all things Irish, Doyle referenced her father-in-law, Norman Sr., who knew that it’s all about “family, faith and tradition.”
And, she recalled, “There was one thing he always said: ‘Never forget where you come from and always remember who you are’.”
Words of wisdom. Especially for March 10 (and, of course, March 17).