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Happy Thanksgiving!


More apartments eyed for Bergen Ave.

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY –  Carlstadt builder Ed Russo is looking to expand a residential development project already in progress in a Kearny redevelopment area at Bergen and Schuyler Aves. Russo told The Observer last month he has a contract to purchase an additional 2.25 acres of […]

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Local taxes up again in borough

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  NORTH ARLINGTON –  Borough residents should be getting their property tax bills by the first week of December, CFO Steve Sanzari said last Thursday, after the Borough Council finally adopted the 2014 municipal budget. Passage of the budget, introduced back in July, has […]


Vets’ photos wanted for ‘Wall of Honor’

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  NUTLEY –  This township, which has been in the forefront when it comes to offering support and assistance and recognition to veterans, has launched yet another project to pay tribute to the men and women who have served our nation. This time, going […]


Carved in stone

    Photo by Karen Zautyk On Veterans Day, the Township of Kearny added this new memorial to Monument Park on Kearny Ave. It will commemorate local members of the armed forces who make the supreme sacrifice in the War on Terrorism. […]


Remember the Titanic @ the KPL

In remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic tragedy in 1912, the Kearny Public Library would like to invite everyone to come see a series of films on the disaster. All films will be shown downstairs at the Main Library, 318 Kearny Ave., Kearny. Start times for each will be 2 p.m. Popcorn and light refreshments will be served. Everyone is welcome. The schedule is as follows:

Friday, Sept. 14 –“Titanic: Death of a Dream” (100 minutes) This 1994 History Channel documentary chronicles the story of the Titanic, from its design and manufacture in Ireland up to its collision with an iceberg, including detailed accounts of its two-hour sinking and the rescue of survivors.

Friday, Sept. 21 – “A Night to Remember” (123 minutes) This 1958 film, starring Kenneth More and Ronald Allen, is a portrayal of the White Star Line’s luxury liner R.M.S. Titanic’s sinking from the standpoint of 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, himself the most senior of the ill-fated ship’s Deck Officers to survive the disaster.

Friday, Sept. 28 – “Titanic” (194 minutes / rated PG13) A newly remastered edition of the Academy Award-winning 1997 film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which chronicles the ship’s demise through the budding romance of a young man and woman from differing social backgrounds.

For more information on these or other programs, call the Main Library at

(201) 998-2666 or visit www.kearnylibrary.org.


Works By Emerging Artists On Display at NJMC Flyway Gallery

Works in several mediums by new and emerging artists will be on display at the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission’s (NJMC) Flyway Gallery in DeKorte Park through Friday, Sept. 28. The exhibit, “Emerging Artists: Now and New,” is presented by the Bergen Museum of Art & Science. The show includes 40 abstract paintings, oil works, acrylics, mixed media and sculptures.

The Flyway Gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, excluding holidays. DeKorte Park is an urban oasis encompassing one-square-mile of wetlands, water views and nature trails. The park is a great place for bird watching and enjoying nature.

Directions to DeKorte Park are available in the “About Us” section of the NJMC’s website, at www.njmeadowlands.gov, or by calling (201) 777-2431.


Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation Presents Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living

A Walk to FundSchool Programs to Fight Childhood Obesity

On Sunday, Sept. 30, at 9 a.m., Clara Maass Medical Center Foundation will host The Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living Walk, a family-friendly 1 mile or 5K walk at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange. Participants will register to walk to increase public awareness and raise money to fight childhood obesity.

Proceeds support after-school programs that empower young children and their families to practice healthy eating and active lifestyles. Now in its third year, The Lifeline Challenge To Healthy Living after-school program is a collaborative effort between Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC) and 10 local elementary schools. Through fun, interactive lessons and activities, students learn how to make healthy food and beverage choices and how to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

“It’s not a secret that childhood obesity is on the rise,” said Michelle Faulkner, RD, Lifeline Challenge registered dietician. “This program brings a common-sense, all-encompassing approach to balanced nutrition and physical activity. In order for these kids to grow into healthy, fit, knowledgeable adults, we need to give them the tools and resources to achieve that goal. Reaching out to them via community-based programs such as Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living is a great first step.”

Clara Maass Medical Center is committed to educating the local youth on ways to stay healthy and encourages individuals, families and businesses to walk to eliminate and prevent childhood obesity.

Visit www.claramaassfoundation.org to register or become a corporate sponsor for the Lifeline Challenge to Healthy Living Walk. Registration fees are $25 per adult and $5 per child (zoo admission included). Prizes will be awarded to individuals who raise the most money through donations. Prizes include: iPads, iPod Nanos, Amazon Kindles, and Family Memberships to Turtle Back Zoo. Sign up to walk with your friends, family and business colleagues today.



A tour of 9/11 Memorial through Kearny guide’s eyes



By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

Virtually every Thursday, Kearny’s Marty Nystrom takes the No. 40 bus and PATH train to Lower Manhattan to what used to be known as Ground Zero but what is now called the National September 11th Memorial.

There, Nystrom escorts visitors on 90-minute walking tours of the eight-acre memorial plaza which takes up about half the space where the World Trade Center’s North and South Towers stood until a terrorist attack took them down in 2001.

Nystrom is one of the volunteer guides for the 9/11 Tribute Center, 120 Liberty St., created by the September 11th Families Association.

Its mission, according to its website, is to offer visitors “a place where (they) can connect with people from the September 11th community. Through walking tours, exhibits and programs, the 9/11 Tribute Center offers ‘Person to Person History,’ linking visitors who want to understand and appreciate these historic events with those who experienced them.”

Nystrom, who’s been doing tours since March 2012, qualified for the job by virtue of having been among the myriads of first responders who served at Ground Zero. At the time he was chief of the Maplewood First Aid Squad. Other categories of volunteers and victims’ family members are also eligible to serve.

“There are approximately 400 of us, so, conceivably, you could take this tour 200 times, and not get the same (guide’s) story twice.” Nystrom said.

Guides-in-training attend orientation classes, held on weekends, and receive thick binders containing fact sheets on the World Trade Center’s history, beginning with its construction in the 1960s to revitalize Lower Manhattan, and continuing to the present day.

“Our mission,” Nystrom said, “is to remind people, ‘Let’s not forget what happened here,’ and it’s also a daily tribute to the people who lost their lives here.”

The Observer accompanied Nystrom on a recent tour at the WTC memorial pavilion. In our group were individuals from England, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

Factoid: More than 300 people from 83 countries outside the U.S. were among the 2,749 victims who perished at the WTC on 9/11.

Before we proceed, Nystrom asks if anyone is a law enforcement agent carrying a service weapon.

“Sometimes, I have to ask police officers to check their firearms (at the Tribute Center) before going onto the site,” he notes.

At Liberty and Greenwich streets on the side wall of the New York fire station housing Ladder 10/Engine 10, Nystrom points out a 54-foot-long, six-foot-high bas-relief memorial dedicated to the 343 firefighters who died at the WTC site.

Factoid: The sculpture project was underwritten by the New York law firm of Holland & Knight in memory of a partner in the firm, Glenn J. Winuk, a Jericho, N.Y., Fire Commissioner and volunteer firefighter, who went into the South Tower to rescue people but never emerged. Winuk had previously volunteered during the 1993 WTC bombing.

One block further east on Greenwich near Cedar Street, we pass O’Hara’s Pub, a favorite stopping place for cops, firefighters and construction workers. With the owner’s ready cooperation, it became a makeshift triage center for those injured in the aftermath of the attacks, Nystrom tells us.

Now we are on the 9/11 site, in the shadow of the new One World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower) slated to open in 2014, and Nystrom recalls the original Twin Towers’ enormity of scale when they were dedicated in 1973.

“Twenty-five-thousand people worked in each tower and each building was visited daily 100,000 times,” Nystrom says. “The two towers were occupied by 430 companies from around the world.”

Throw in all the retail consumer space – 130 shops which took up two levels below each tower – and you come up with “the third largest mall in the U.S at the time in 2001.”

Photos by Ron Leir

Photos by Ron Leir

Photos by Ron Leir/ Photos from top: Martin Nystrom briefs tour group on bas-relief dedicated to fallen N.Y.C. firefighters; plaque inside the “Ten House” fire station paying tribute to six members who perished at 9/11; and a collage of 9/11 victims on view at Tribute Center.


As we walk around the 9/11 Memorial Plaza, designed by architect Michael Arad, we get an appreciation of his concept, “Reflecting Absence,” the centerpiece being two oneacre granite recessed pools of waterfalls flowing down the sides, with names of all the people who died on 9/11 inscribed on bronze plates along the outside edges of the pools’ parapet walls.

Each of the pools sits in the footprints of the WTC’s North and South Towers.

On one level, Arad’s design reflects tears streaming into the void. On another, as the water collects at the top of the 200-foot parapet walls it symbolizes the victims as a collective, together; as the water cascades down the walls, it falls as individual rivulets, symbolizing the diversity of the victims.

Factoid: When the sunlight hits the names during certain times of the day, like a sundial, the names reflect off the water before the water tumbles down the walls. The water is temperature-controlled – in summer, warm water is pumped through the system; in winter, warm water circulates – so that the visitor placing a hand on a victim’s name will derive some sense of physical comfort.

Victims’ names are grouped according to what the Tribute Center characterizes as “meaningful adjacencies”. For example, WTC workers grouped together by association, by common employer, or by requests from families.

Opposite the south pool is a Callery pear tree, known as the “Survivor Tree.” Dug out of the rubble from the WTC site near Church Street, the 8-foot tree – planted during the ‘70s – was badly burned and had one remaining living branch. It was relocated to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx where it withstood a storm in March 2010 and was then returned to the WTC site in December 2010 where it weathered Hurricane Irene last year.

At the plaza’s four perimeter points there are planted 218 white swamp oak trees which have been found to be indigenous to Shanksville, Pa., and Washington, D.C, where the other 9/11 tragedies occurred.

“They will grow to 60 feet and put a nice canopy over here,” Nystrom says. “They’re trying to get to a total of 440 trees to match the number of first responders (New York City firefighters and police, Port Authority Police and EMS staff) killed on 9/11.”

Factoid: Under each of these trees is a computer chip designed to automatically transmit an alert to a laptop being monitored by a staffer in a nearby office that something is amiss and that the tree needs attention, such as lack of water, termites or some type of disease.

Now we look up at the eight-sided building formerly called the Freedom Tower – since renamed One World Trade Center – which, at 104 floors, will be six fewer than its predecessor but still attain the same roof height of 1,368 feet.

Nystrom reminds us that on Feb. 26, 1993, two levels below the lobby of Tower 1, “Al Qaeda took its first swipe at America,” setting off a bomb that killed six people, including a pregnant secretary, and created a 70-foot deep crater.

As our group takes a break, Nystrom shares his experience at Ground Zero as a volunteer first aid worker helping with rescue and recovery efforts on the early evening of 9/11. Assigned to work at the “northeast corner of the pile” for more than 30 hours spread over Sept. 11 and 12, he recalls how “everything had to be hand-picked; everything was like pixie sticks. We were not finding anything but carnage everywhere. To this day … I can still see it.”

Then, after 9 p.m., Nystrom said, the silence was broken by the sudden sound of chirping from firefighter emergency locator beacons coming from under tons of steel and debris from the stricken towers.

“That was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that you just can’t get to (the firefighters).”

Nystrom tells us why he’s pursuing this weekly task.

“I want to educate the kids because we can’t have this (type of catastrophe) anymore. We can’t have this stand.”

Factoid: It took some 10 years to build each of the Twin Towers. But the North Tower collapsed in just 9.2 seconds and the South Tower in 7.3 seconds. The fires ignited by the planes’ impact burned 100 days at temperatures exceeding 1,300 degrees.

Between the north and south footprint stands the 110,000 square foot WTC Memorial Museum, still in preparation. Some exhibits have been moved into the building and are visible through the odd-shaped structure’s transparent frontage.

There are two of the original 72 “tridents” – two-story tall anchors that held together the structural steel on the outside of the towers – and the “Survivors’ Staircase” – described by Wikipedia as two outdoor flights of stairs and an elevator connecting Vesey Street to the WTC plaza – which served as an escape route for some people exiting the North Tower.

Factoid: A group of New York firefighters, in rotating pairs, carried a disabled woman in a wheelchair down from the 60th floor of the North Tower and used the “Survivors’ Staircase” to emerge safely.

On Sept. 7, at 1:45 p.m., Kearny High School will hold its annual 9/11 tribute to all victims, including seven Kearny residents, at the stadium, with the raising of two new American flags and a third flag commemorating the 9/11 victims, all donated by the September 11th Families Association.

Postal worker ‘delivered’ drugs, cops say

By Jennifer Vazquez

Observer Correspondent


A U.S. Postal Service worker and her boyfriend were officially charged on Aug. 27 in connection with a plot to allegedly use the postal system to intercept drug- laden packages from Puerto Rico to New Jersey.

Christina Nunez, 30, a mail carrier in Secaucus, and Luis A. Vega, 36, both of Lyndhurst, were charged with the alleged scheme, according to U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman in an official press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office –District of New Jersey.

Nunez and Vega were arrested on Aug. 24 after law enforcement linked them to a package containing cocaine mailed from Puerto Rico.

Around February 1, 2011, “inspectors with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service seized about 1,569 grams of cocaine from an express mail package that was addressed to ‘Linda Schwartz’ at 5000 Riverside Station Blvd., Secaucus,” according to the criminal complaint.

Federal lawmen say that, through her line of work, Nunez was supposed to deliver the package; however, officials seized it.

Further investigation revealed that Nunez had received packages of a “similar weight and sequential tracking numbers from approximately three locations in Puerto Rico since October 2010.”

In December 2011, law enforcement discovered similar packages to the one seized in February of that same year.

“Once again, (these packages) were being sent from Puerto Rico to addresses that would be assigned to Christina Nunez’s mail route,” according to the complaint.

In each case, the name of the recipient of those packages, did not match the delivery addresses.

The complaint goes on to say that, roughly, between February 2011 and May 2012, at least four packages “suspected of containing controlled substances were mailed to Luis A. Vega’s former residence in Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey” –though he currently resides in Lyndhurst with Nunez.

Though on medical leave between February 2012 until May 2012, Nunez was still receiving packages “suspected of containing narcotics at her residence in Lyndhurst.”

On Aug. 22, law enforcement agents were made aware of a package, similar to others in the investigation, which was en route from Dorado, Puerto Rico. After the package arrived at the U.S. Postal Service Express Mail Facility in Kearny, law enforcement discovered that the delivery address on the package would be assigned to Nunez’s mail route.

After authorities were drawn to a package, with the aid of a trained narcotics canine, law enforcement officials opened the package and discovered a “white powdery substance” that tested positive for cocaine and weighed about 600 grams. They replaced the cocaine with a “sham” similar in consistency and appearance to cocaine and placed the package into circulation for it to be delivered, according to the complaint.

Additionally, officials conducted “physical surveillance” and lawful monitoring via video of Nunez’s mail truck. They also placed a GPS tracking device within the package.

After ending her shift — and having failed to deliver the package — Nunez returned home to Lyndhurst with the parcel where she was taken into custody along with Vega, according to the complaint.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged Nunez with “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of 500 grams or more of cocaine, (as well as) mail theft.”

Vega has been charged with “conspiring with Nunez to possess with intent to distribute and distribution of 500 grams or more of cocaine.”

Fishman has credited U.S. Postal Inspection Service inspectors, U.S Postal Service –Office of Inspector General, and special agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration, with the investigation leading up to the arrests of Nunez and Vega.

Nunez is represented by Assistant Public Defender – Newark Carol Gillen, Vega is represented by Hoboken based attorney Paul Casteleiro, The Government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary E. Toscano.

Making room for little ones at Veterans Park field

Photo by Ron Leir/ Veterans Park Soccer Field


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


Soccer is catching on with the younger generation in East Newark and the borough has tried to satisfy the demand but officials say it hasn’t always been easy – for various reasons.

Therefore local lawmakers want to place an age restriction on who can use the borough’s single soccer facility as a way of ensuring that younger, smaller kids at least have access.

During the 1990s the borough made a point of setting up an artificial turf field dedicated to soccer for youth recreation. “In fact,” says Mayor Joseph Smith, “we were one of the first communities in Hudson County to get the Astroturf type surface.”

Kids from the borough’s lone elementary school are permitted to use the field for outdoor exercise, weather permitting, during the school day.

Still, the field’s primary use is for soccer.

These days, however, the problem, according to Smith, is: “The big people – kids (ages) 18 to 20 – push the little ones out.” Or, at best, the smaller kids have to share the field with the bigger ones and the field isn’t that big to begin with, the mayor says.

“It’s not a regulation size soccer field,” Smith explains. “It’s smaller in length and not as wide as a regulation field because it’s designed for smaller children.”

One girl interviewed by The Observer during a recent visit to the borough’s Veterans Park Soccer Field on Sherman Avenue said that sometimes the smaller kids “split the field” with the bigger ones. “Really it’s based on how many kids are here,” she added.

There are times, she said, when borough police have locked down the field when “some of the older kids fight” among themselves.

Smith said he’s had “parents call me up complaining their kids can’t play” because there’s too much competition from the older youths.

And when the different ages do share the field, there can still be problems, Smith said, because “when the older kids kick the ball on a smaller field, it has a lot more impact and the smaller kids can get hurt.”

Councilman Charles Tighe, who used to coach recreation soccer at the field, agreed with that assessment, saying, “We don’t mind people coming to our field to play. We just don’t want the older ones. Especially if they’re wearing cleats. Anytime I see them in there (with cleats), I kick them off.” Cleats – even rubber ones – are banned at Veterans Park because they “rip up the field.”

“We let the big guys play (games) once in a blue moon but we get a permit and do it right,” Tighe said.

Sometimes, Tighe said, “the big ones throw plastic and bottles around the field,” forcing the borough to clean up after them.

The field has taken a beating, too. “The nets are in shambles, one of the posts on one of the nets is broken – that’s like the third or fourth time it’s happened,” he said.

A lot of older kids from neighboring Harrison (where most East Newark kids attend high school) and Kearny come to use the field, Smith and Tighe said.

“The Harrison (soccer) Courts are mobbed with kids all the time,” Tighe said, so some of the overflow ends up in East Newark. And while soccer is played at the Gunnel Oval off Schuyler Avenue in Kearny, Smith said that “the teens don’t want to walk down to Schuyler,” which is a heavily-traveled north-south throughway in the region.

Since the borough received state Green Acres funding to improve its field, it cannot prevent out-of-towners from using the facility “but we can regulate the age limit,” Smith said.

And, to that end, the Borough Council voted Aug. 9 to introduce an ordinance amending the “Use, Care and Protection of Borough Parks” to say that, “No person age 13 and over shall be permitted on Veterans Park Soccer Field unless supervising a younger person or allowed by permit issued….”

Additionally, the revised ordinance mandates that, “No person (is) allowed in Veterans Park Soccer Field or Playground under the age of 6 without (a) guardian.”

If the ordinance passes a public hearing on Sept. 12, it will be up to the borough police to enforce it.

And if it does pass, Smith figures parents of soccer-starved youngsters will be happy but Tighe wonders if that will be enough to help them.

Up until about two years ago, Tighe said, “we used to run a soccer clinic for grammar school kids, five days a week, from 6 to 8 p.m., during the fall, when it’s still light out.” While the younger ones turned out, kids in grades 6 to 8 shied away from the clinic. “They’d rather play,” he said.

Of late, though, aside from the reliable Jim Lynch, who is “from Scotland and knows the game,” it’s been tough getting volunteers to help coach because a lot of people “just don’t want to be bothered” getting the mandated background checks, said Tighe, even though the borough pays for the security checks.

A lot of parents “will show up to watch” kids play but don’t have any interest in volunteering, he added.

“You need adult supervision,” Tighe said, to make sure the youngsters are properly trained. Smith readily agreed.

“We tried to set up leagues but the problem is getting volunteers,” he said.

Another issue, Tighe said, is that some kids “depend on their parents to bring them and pick them up and that doesn’t go over well.”

But Tighe remains hopeful that “by spring,” things will start to pick up again.

Time will tell. The ordinance gets a public hearing Sept. 13 at 5:30p.m. at Borough Hall.

Happy surprises when a host family becomes an extended family

Photo courtesy Emma Quintana/ Emma Quintana (l.) with foreign students Anh Tuan Alain Dao and Virginia Cristina Catalano.


By Jennifer Vazquez

Observer Correspondent


Globalization is a reality of modern times. People from all walks of life, ethnicities and cultures are intertwined in this seemingly “shrinking” world, thanks in part to the Internet, traveling and modern technology. Nonetheless, it seems to be that the best way to get to know a group of people, their culture and their way of life is the old fashioned way –getting to know them.

Opening one’s eyes to the beauty of each and everyone’s cultures is paramount. Many find this to be true – in particular, young students who want to broaden their horizons and future educational prospects by polishing up their second language, social and communication skills. After all, it is because of this reasoning that the presence of foreign exchange students and host families is a common phenomenon in many places.

Case in point: Emma Quintana. This Kearny woman took on the duty, of not only inviting into her home one young foreign student, but two, for roughly three weeks in August – a feat in itself. However, what makes her personal story a tad more interesting is the fact that both these adolescents came from different countries: a 17-yearold boy and a 17-year-old girl from Italy. The fact that Quintana is Peruvian made her house an eclectic cultural haven for the period that she, along with her family – husband Jorge, 23-year-old daughter Diana and 21-year-old son Jorge “Al” – hosted the two students.

Quintana’s social journey began in July on a day when she visited a farmer’s market in Summit.

“I saw a banner that said ‘International Students’ and, for me, anything that has to do with students and education grabs my attention,” Quintana enthusiastically recalled.

Intrigued, Quintana approached the table and started speaking with two young women who explained to her that they were there to promote being a “host family” for an exchange students during their stay in the U.S.

After giving her contact information to the two representatives of “Education First (EF) Language Travel” program, Quintana assumed she would hear back from them, if at all, in the upcoming months. That was not the case.

“The very next day I received an email asking me to fill out an application,” she said. “I filled it out thinking (the program) is something I’d like to do in the future.”

She figured she’d explore “what requirements they are looking for because they have to take many precautions since these are (minors) – high school students from different countries.”

After filling out their application and subsequently being approved, the entire Quintana family had to go through a background check. After the family successfully passed that step, EF staff came to visit the Quintana residence.

Within a few weeks, Quintana was notified that she and her family were chosen to host a young girl from Italy named Virginia Cristina Catalano. They accepted. A short time later, they were asked if they’d be willing to accept a French boy. Anh Tuan Alain Dao, whose plans with a previously assigned host family did not come to fruition. Quintana accepted.

“I couldn’t say no,” she said. Amid laughter, Quintana remembers how the whole family had to scramble and plan sleeping arrangements to accommodate the newly “extended” family, particularly since her son and daughter were going to be back home from college.

“Virginia slept in Diana’s room,” she said. “Anh in my son’s room. My daughter slept with me in my room, while my husband and son slept downstairs in the basement!”

The young students had a set schedule – with English classes Monday through Friday at The College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown. They were picked up around 7:30 a.m. from a Harrison bus stop and dropped off there after classes around 6 p.m., according to Quintana.

“We would pick them up, come home and have dinner,” she said. “Then I would hurry them up so we could go on our own field trips. The family took them to New York, Hoboken, all over.”

The host family has a specific role in the program, according to Quintana. They are supposed to provide a safe environment for the students, provide them with breakfast, lunch and dinner and make them feel welcome. EF provides the host family a weekly stipend of $100 per student for food –no monetary gain.

Quintana said the EF Language Travel program is very well organized with a smooth communication flow between host families and coordinators; students and coordinators; host families and biological families; and students with their families.

“If we had any questions or concerns, the coordinator was always there to help us,” she said.

The experience of having these young students stay with her and the rest of her family was an entirely positive experience, according to Quintana.

“We were supposed to welcome and teach them,” she said. “But they taught me a lot too. I’m grateful everyday that I had the chance to participate in this experience.”

The students’ stay at the Quintana’s was so memorable and impactful that Quintana has no hesitation in sharing some of her fondest memories, such as going to Central Park for a Peruvian folk music concert.

“I got up and started teaching Virginia how to dance that type of music,” she recalls. “She got up and the two of us were dancing like crazy women… The last day that they were here was a Sunday, and I am a very upbeat and positive person, so I put on a song from Celia Cruz — La vida es un carnaval. All of a sudden I see Virginia coming down the hall dancing!”

Quintana attributes part of the program’s success with the fact that EF carefully matches up students with their host families.

The application process includes a section where everyone in the host family lists their interests and hobbies.

“They find similarities so you have something to build on,” Quintana said.

Quintana’s son practiced karate – aiming for a black belt. Dao also enjoyed this martial arts form. Quintana’s daughter studied abroad in Florence and speaks some Italian, so she and Catalano formed a bond because of this fact, according to Quintana.

Quintana notes that the foreign exchange students come to live with the host family already equipped knowing “an intermediate level of English.”

This program was such a fantastic experience that Quintana hopes to take part in it once again. In the meantime, she still keeps in contact with not only the students she and the rest of her family warmly welcomed into their home, but with their parents as well. She hopes that her family, the students she hosted and their families can one day get together because they are “now part of each other’s families.”

According to an official EF guidebook, the company was founded in “Sweden in 1965 to bridge cultural gaps and break down barriers of language and geography by promoting educational travel, intercultural exchange and language learning….EF Language Travel is a nonprofit organization which encourages international understanding through cultural exchange.”

The organization started in 1979 and brings student groups from over 15 countries to the United States and Canada for language study programs lasting between two and eight weeks.

Kearny UNICO nominates Basilone winner

Basilone Award winner General George J. Flynn (center) is flanked by Celeste Pandolfi and her husband, Kearny UNICO president Lou Pandolfi.


By Jeff Bahr

Observer Correspondent

Kearny UNICO is just one chapter of the many that comprise UNICO National – the largest Italian-American service organization in the United States. At their 2012 convention at Marco Island, Florida, however, Kearny’s input proved pivotal. That’s because the organization saw fit to nominate Lieutenant General George J. Flynn for the Basilone Award – a decoration that UNICO bestows upon the best of the best for their service to our country. It was an idea that bore great fruit.

The award is named for John “Manila John” Basilone, a U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant from New Jersey who fought and ultimately triumphed against incredible odds at the WWII battle at Guadalcanal.

As a leader, Basilone is credited with acting as a oneman militia by standing tough alongside his troops during the peak of a horrendously bloody battle – resupplying them with ammo and offering much-needed encouragement on that frightful night – before launching an individual surprise attack against his Japanese foes; an initiative that surprised and lessened their forces by some eight soldiers. At the end of the conflict, the U.S. Marines emerged triumphant and a new hero had been born.

Basilone voluntarily returned to fight again at Iwo Jima, but it was here that his luck finally ran out when he was cut down while leading a machine gun squad. For his uncommon efforts and demonstrated valor, Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He was the only Marine to receive both decorations during World War II.

The idea to nominate Flynn for the award came from Kearny UNICO President Lou Pandolphi and his wife Celeste, according to the General. When pressed as to why they chose him above other candidates, Flynn modestly suggested that I put the question to them.

But that wasn’t necessary. Flynn’s accomplishments speak volumes on the man’s behalf. Consider:

Born in Jersey City and raised in Rutherford, Lieutenant General Flynn felt a strong urge to serve his country. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1975, the driven man obtained a Master of Arts degree in International Relations from Salve Regina College, a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, and a Master of Science degree in National Security and Strategy from the National War College. Additionally, Flynn is a Distinguished Graduate of the College of Naval Command And Staff and the National War College.

Flynn’s command assignments read similarly long and proud. He was a Commanding Officer, HQ Battery, 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines from 1979-1980; Commanding Officer, P Battery, 5th Battalion, 10th Marines from 1984-1985; Commanding Officer 5th Battalion, 10th Marines (1992- 1993); Commanding Officer, Officer Candidates School (1999-2001); Commanding General, Training Command (2002-2004); Commanding General, Training and Education Command (2006-2007), and a Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command from 2008-2011. General Flynn is currently assigned to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon as the Director of Joint Force Development. A laundry list of staff assignments round out his resume.

A resident of Kearny, Flynn’s sister, Patricia Triano, works as a nurse at Kearny High School. She’s grown used to her brother’s outsized list of accomplishments on America’s behalf, but that doesn’t mean that she’s unaware of his impactful contributions. “That’s my brother and I am proud of him!” she says.

“I knew about the award for about three months,” said the General. “It was received at the UNICO National Convention on August 11. I accepted Kearny UNICO nominates Basilone winner the award on behalf of all the great men and women who volunteer to serve our nation in the military. It is a true honor to receive an award that remembers a true Marine hero from New Jersey… John Basilone.”

Flynn is hardly a stranger to such recognition.

For his service in a number of different tours, he has received the Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (the third highest award bestowed upon members of the U.S. military); The Legion of Merit with three stars; the Bronze Star; the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy-Marine Corps Service Medal with one gold star.

Why has Flynn committed himself so fully to the rigors of a life spent in the military?

“I have remained in the service because I love being a Marine,” explains the General in direct fashion. “I serve with great men and women and I believe in giving back for all the liberties we have in this great country.”

With these words, Flynn carries on proudly as he always has – the living and breathing embodiment of “service above self.” As the newest Basilone Award winner, this is only right and proper. “Service above self” just so happens to be UNICO’s motto.

Filth ebbs and flows on the Passaic River

“Things aren’t always as they seem.” I don’t know who first coined this phrase but in many instances it’s apt. It certainly rings true on the Passaic River, a place where a person can easily misread the waterway’s health based upon the time of their visit.

To wit: There are periods during the day that the Passaic River appears clean, and times that it looks like a cesspool. The difference between the two can be quite shocking.

Most everyone knows that the Passaic River has its problems. At various times, it has ranked amongst the most polluted rivers in America. Nasty chemicals like dioxin are embedded in its muck – insidious contributions from an unchecked industry that once ran roughshod over the region, using the river as its toilet.

But the Passaic River is supposed to be changing.

America’s “green” movement has ushered in protocols, laws and policies intended to clean up our waterways. These protective measures have never been more stringent, and the Passaic River was reportedly benefiting as a result.

If that’s true, it appears that our Passaic River never got the memo.

Many months back, as I was driving on River Road just north of the Belleville Turnpike, I saw a vile sight that reminded me of the focal point of a 1970s commercial where a Native American man tears up after witnessing a dying river.

Here, right before me, was a vast scene of floating filth. Plastic bottles, cups, plates, you name it, choked the river, for as far as my eyes could see. Not being an expert, I reckoned that the mess might have resulted from a recent storm. I’ve read that polluted tributaries and feeder creeks occasionally introduce such garbage into the Passaic. Was this an isolated incident?

I decided to keep an eye on the river to see if this was the case. Sadly, it wasn’t. In fact, seeing this mess seems like a 50/50 proposition; one day it will be there, the next it won’t.

I’ve noticed that the “plastic invasion” happens mostly during the morning hours. Later in the afternoon the crud forces mysteriously retreat. Tidal changes likely account for the timing element (the Passaic is tidal in nature from Newark Bay to Wallington), but this doesn’t hint at the origin of the filth.

If anyone knows anything definitive about this, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Watching the Kearny rowing crew slicing through the water was a picture-postcard moment for me. It had me convinced that the Passaic River was on the mend. Is this true, or is my faith stream also polluted?

– Jeff Bahr

Still making do without key public school leaders in Kearny

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


When public school classes resume Thursday, Sept. 6, Kearny High School will have no principal at the helm. Nor will the district have a permanent district superintendent.

Cynthia Baumgartner, who served in the principal post for a year, left the district after the Board of Education voted April 30 not to renew her contract despite a favorable recommendation by the interim superintendent.

She applied for – and got – an administrative job with neighboring Harrison public schools.

In the intervening time, the Kearny school district posted for a replacement high school administrator but the school board never hired anyone from the list of applicants.

The district has operated with an interim superintendent since June 2011 after Frank Digesere resigned.

Former school trustee John Campbell, who is running for one of three seats on the school board in November, blasted the district for having failed to fill the two vacancies.

“I know we have three vice principals at the high school and, since schools are going to open Thursday, any one of those guys could take over – with a stipend to make up the difference in pay between positions,” Campbell said. “They all have knowledge of the building and can do the job.”

As for the top schools post, Campbell said: “We should’ve had a (permanent) superintendent in place six to nine months ago when most people in education are looking for school jobs. All the good (candidates) are gone now. We need someone who can shake people up here.”

Asked about the superintendent search, Bolandi said that process – and decision – is completely up to the board members.

“I have nothing to do with that,” he said.

Board President George King couldn’t be reached for comment.

During the summer, King said the board felt it had settled on someone to fill the slot but that individual bowed out.

As for the principal position, Interim Schools Superintendent Ronald Bolandi said: “The lead candidate pulled out and we only had two choices. The second choice could’ve done the job but we felt it would be better to have a bigger pool of candidates to make a selection.”

So Bolandi said the district would readvertise this month for a new batch of applicants and, in the meantime, “we’re looking at hiring an interim principal.”

Bolandi said he hoped to put the interim hiring on a fast track so that the board can conduct interviews of candidates and have someone in place by mid-September.

“I would hope to have someone (permanent) on board no later than New Year’s,” he said.

Asked why he would go the interim route first, Bolandi said: “The vice principals are doing a good job but we do need someone to control the building with the construction going on.”

The high school continues to undergo – in jerks and starts – a $37 million fix-up financed by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the Federal Aviation Administration and state Department of Education designed to soundproof the 89-year-old building against the noise of low-flying planes, provide a new heating/ventilating/cooling system, more classrooms and new culinary arts section.

Starting this month, students and staff will, at various intervals, be rotating through portable classroom trailers stationed on the high school’s front lawn. Despite previous assurances by board staff that parents and students would know in advance what to expect, it now appears that nobody will know who will be initially occupying the trailer units until they report for the first day of classes and get their class schedules.

Bolandi said he would do everything possible this school year to see that things run as smooth as possible at the high school.

“I am going to see that department chairpersons will keep open the lines of communication with teachers and staff to get problems solved quicker and calm morale issues down.”

When Baumgartner made a public appeal to the school board in late June to reconsider her contract, she alleged that the district created health and safety hazards for students and staff by not dealing appropriately with dust and asbestos issues, arising from interior construction work.

But Bolandi said, “I’m not aware of anything toxic” at the high school. “Dust, yes,” he said.

This summer, district officials had expected to see the start of a key phase of the project – bringing in steel to erect in the old swimming pool section that was demolished to clear the way for the new classrooms – but that never happened. Bolandi now expects that the steel work will be done “next summer.”

In the meantime, Bolandi said the contractor, Brockwell & Carrington Contractors, of Towaco, can proceed with other phases of the job such as ductwork related to the installation of the new HVAC system.

“We’ve still got a ton of work they can do inside the building without disrupting classes,” he said.

Despite Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, Bolandi said that students will still be able to attend physical education classes in those sections of the gym not being used for the storage of construction materials and equipment.

“We’re still on target to finish within our three-year build-out schedule,” Bolandi insisted.

Two administrative personnel issues settled by the school board on July 30 were: the appointment of Marilyn Kaplan as director of school-based youth services at $115,000 a year and of Justin Avitable as vice principal assigned to Franklin Elementary School, at $117,012 a year, both effective Aug. 1.

Avitable, a 1998 Kearny High graduate, was a manager in private industry before beginning his education career about eight years ago at his alma mater as a teacher of business education.

Avitable replaces Martin Hoff, whose appointment in that job wasn’t renewed by the school board, despite a favorable evaluation by the interim superintendent. Hoff exercised “bumping” rights to the job of high school fine arts chairman.

The N.J. Principals & Supervisors Association has appealed the board’s non-renewals of contracts for Baumgartner and Hoff to the state Department of Education (DOE) as “arbitrary.” It’s unclear when the DOE will act on the challenge.