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State: Distracted-driving incidents total 1.4 million

By Karen Zautyk Observer Correspondent The statistics are mind-boggling. From 2004 to 2013, 1.4 million motor vehicle accidents in New Jersey were linked to distracted driving. Repeat: 1.4 million. In New Jersey alone. From 2003 to 2012, more than 1,600 people were killed […]

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Moving day is coming

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent KEARNY – Even Steven Shalom, who has run Discount City in Kearny since 1992, concedes that sprucing up the Passaic Ave. mall with BJ’s Wholesale Club as a new anchor store, will be “a good […]

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Going out in style with Blue Ribbon

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent HARRISON – You could say Ron Shields’ career as a Harrison educator was preordained, given that both his parents taught at Harrison High School. His dad, Fred Shields, a 1936 soccer Olympian, was a physical […]

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For the sake of the Passaic

By Karen  Zautyk Observer Correspondent KEARNY– Plastic lawn chairs, propane tanks, wrought iron railings, pipes, dead shrubbery, pieces of street signs, and innumerable plastic shopping bags and plastic bottles — but no groundhogs. The groundhogs who burrow along the banks […]

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Nothing stops her

By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent Harrison’s Blanca Alvarez was sick with the flu the morning of the big race. “But I decided to run anyway,” she said. Still, Alvarez had something to brag about: Her time of 1:08:44.96 was good […]

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Unsung heroes in our midst

  By Ron Leir Observer Correspondent HARRISON – The Harrison American Legion Post 282 salutes Joseph Moscinski as 2013 Firefighter of the Year and Corey Karas as Police Officer of the Year on April 26 at 4 p.m. at the […]

 

North Arlington crew takes to the water

First-year program already making competitive strides

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Photo by Al Perez The North Arlington novice 4 team, namely from back to front, Vinny Ribeiro, Bryan Ugaz, Nathaniel DeLeon and Jose Antunes, carry their boat toward the Passaic River for crew practice recently.

Photo by Al Perez
The North Arlington novice 4 team, namely from back to front, Vinny Ribeiro, Bryan Ugaz, Nathaniel DeLeon and Jose Antunes, carry their boat toward the Passaic River for crew practice recently.

 

 

Fabian Cortez loved his experience as a member of the Belleville High School crew team.

“I rowed for all four years of high school,” said Cortez, now age 24. “I always wanted to share that experience with others.”

Cortez, a teacher at Orange High School, learned that the Passaic River Rowing Association was looking to expand its teaching program to the local high schools along the Passaic River, one of which was North Arlington.

“I was recommended by my coach at Belleville, Jeff Lahm,” Cortez said. “I went for an interview and North Arlington decided to go with it.”

With the hiring of Cortez as a coach, North Arlington had the birth of its new crew program.

“Throughout the interview process, the goal was to race next season,” Cortez said. “They wanted to just get the kids out on the water and I understood that.”

Since the boat house was built in the back of Riverside County Park in Lyndhurst, right on the banks of the river, the Passaic River Rowing Association has been trying to encourage schools to participate in crew.

Over the years, schools like Ridgewood and St. Peter’s Prep have been able to start crew programs based out of the Riverside County Park boathouse.

The association has also donated equipment to be used by the fledgling programs. King’s Court, the fitness club in Lyndhurst, donated three ERG rowing machines for use.

Cortez didn’t know what to expect in starting a new program.

“I took it very lightly at first,” said Cortez, who had help from volunteer assistants Gerard Geronimo and Jared Helenic. “I rowed at Belleville with Gerard, so that was a big help. We really didn’t know what we were getting into.”

The prospective rowers didn’t know as well.

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington crew team poses for a team shot. From left are head coach Fabian Cortez, Maribel Bermudez, Jose Antunes, Vinny Ribeiro, Melis Ozbay, Nathaniel DeLeon, Natalie LaBarbera, Bryan Ugaz, Lisbeth Infante, Joanna Malinowski, Vincent Veneziano, Bailey Carlo, Shawna Awad, Brianna Cappuccino, Meagan Santiago, Yohana Gonzalez, Onkar Singh, Daniela Camacho, assistant coach Jared Helenic and assistant coach Gerard Geronimo.

Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington crew team poses for a team shot. From left are head coach Fabian Cortez, Maribel Bermudez, Jose Antunes, Vinny Ribeiro, Melis Ozbay, Nathaniel DeLeon, Natalie LaBarbera, Bryan Ugaz, Lisbeth Infante, Joanna Malinowski, Vincent Veneziano, Bailey Carlo, Shawna Awad, Brianna
Cappuccino, Meagan Santiago, Yohana Gonzalez, Onkar Singh, Daniela Camacho, assistant coach Jared Helenic and assistant coach Gerard Geronimo.

 

“I thought it was all about what I saw in movies, you know, ‘stroke, stroke, stroke,’” said senior Bryan Ugaz. “That’s all I thought. I figured it had to be a challenging sport.”

“They really didn’t have a clue,” Cortez said. “The school didn’t have an idea either. But there was a lot of interest in January when we started and that shocked me.”

Cortez had the prospective rowers get a typical crew workout in January. He figured some would lose interest, once they realized the difficulty of the sport.

“It was grueling and strenuous, but they still came,” Cortez said. “This was all without getting on the water. That amazed me. They had a lot of dedication from the beginning.”

In mid-March, through the still blustery conditions, Cortez brought his team down to the boat house.

“We went through a quick walk through before they went out on the water,” Cortez said. “I put a coach in the guide’s seat just to see how they would do.”

The response was tremendous.

“Just to see the looks on their faces was a miraculous gift,” Cortez said. “They were in their hoodies and freezing out there, but they wanted to be there.”

Senior Natalie LaBarbera is a member of the North Arlington volleyball team who came out for crew.

“It seemed like a really tough sport and I knew it was going to be a big challenge,” LaBarbera said. “It also seemed like a good way to stay in shape. But I wanted to do it.”

LaBarbera recalled her first thoughts when she got onto the river.

“It was like, `What am I doing?’” LaBarbera said. “It took a lot to get used to it. It was really tough and unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It’s also really time consuming.”

However, from the minute the boat touched the Passaic River, LaBarbera was hooked.

“It’s a whole body experience,” LaBarbera said. “I really like it a lot. I just like competing. It’s really like no other sport. It’s a new thing to all of us, but I really like it a lot.”

Competing – now there’s a novel approach. The school wasn’t so sure that the North Arlington crew team could actually compete in its first year, but Cortez and the kids had other things in mind.

“After a month or two, I knew that they had the potential to be competitive,” Cortez said. “I wanted to see if they could compete. But my first goal was to send them out on the river and see if they came back alive.”

The Vikings survived – and they have two competitive teams, one boys’ team and one girls’ boat. Of course, both row in novice 4 races.

 

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington novice 4 boys’ team, with coxswain Daniela Camacho, Vinny Ribeiro, Bryan Ugaz, Nathaniel DeLeon and Jose Antunes and head coach Fabian Cortez (standing) head to the river for a recent workout.

Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington novice 4 boys’ team, with coxswain Daniela Camacho, Vinny Ribeiro, Bryan Ugaz, Nathaniel DeLeon and Jose Antunes and head coach Fabian Cortez (standing) head to the river for a recent workout.

“They knew exactly what to expect,” Cortez said. “They were ready.”

The North Arlington novice 4 boys’ team consists of Ugaz, Vinny Ribeiro, Nathaniel DeLeon and Jose Antunes, with Daniela Camacho as the coxswain.

The Vikings’ novice 4 girls’ team features LaBarbera, Lizbeth Infante, Brianna Cappuccino, Bailey Carlo and coxswain Melis Ozbay.

“The first race, they made it across the finish line and didn’t finish last,” Cortez said. “That’s success.”

North Arlington also competed at the North Regional Championships on the lake in Overpeck Park in Teaneck and will compete May 11 at the Passaic River Sprints against some of the more established programs, like Kearny, Nutley and Cortez’s alma mater, Belleville.

And Cortez is working on developing other boats for future races, like eight-member boats.

“It took a while to get everyone together,” Cortez said. “But we’re getting there.”

Not to mention, the rowers all know the routine now – how to get the boats in and out of the boat house, how to clean them after use, how to maintain them. It’s called “rigging” and “de-rigging,” but the Vikings have become old hat at that already.

“They don’t look like a first-year team,” Cortez said. “They know what they’re doing.”

Needless to say, it’s been a joy for Cortez to see the development.

“They’re the ones who pretty much keep me going,” Cortez said. “They’re willing to do anything I say. They’re willing to work. Once they realized that they needed to put the effort into it, I’ve seen their willingness to do anything and that’s the most encouraging thing.”

Ugaz, who is a soccer player at NA in the fall, agrees.

“Once you get the boat moving, there’s no better feeling,” Ugaz said. “It’s extremely difficult to grasp and not easy to do. But when that boat moves, it’s like no other experience.”

And there are 25 or so other North Arlington students who are getting to feel the same way that Ugaz, LaBarbera and the rest of the Vikings crew team feels.

Nutley’s Papaccio swinging hot bat for Seton Hall

Photo courtesySeton Hall University athletic communications Nutley native and Seton Hall University shortstop Giuseppe Papaccio is enjoying a sensational senior season, leading the team in hitting and the Big East Conference in doubles.

Photo courtesy Seton Hall University athletic communications
Nutley native and Seton Hall University shortstop Giuseppe Papaccio is enjoying a sensational senior season, leading the team in hitting and the Big East Conference in doubles.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Throughout his stellar baseball career, growing up in Nutley, then playing for Nutley High School and finally moving on to Seton Hall, a place that has been home for his entire family for ages, Giuseppe Papaccio has always been known as a slick fielding shortstop.

Papaccio had no peers when it came to his glove.

However, now that he’s a senior at Seton Hall, Papaccio’s offensive skills have caught up to his defense and perhaps even surpassed his prowess with the leather.

“When we put him into the game as a freshman, it was strictly for defense,” Seton Hall head baseball coach Rob Sheppard said.

“I thought I always had to try to swing as hard as I could to hit home runs,” Papaccio said.

But before Papaccio began his senior campaign with the Pirates, he wanted to make sure that he got the most of his talents.

“I’ve always been a hard worker, but I think I worked a little harder, especially with the mental approach,” Papaccio said. “It used to be that if I had a bad at-bat, I’d think about it for the next two at-bats and then try to make up for it. It was all part of a mental game. I needed to have more of a mental edge.”

Papaccio didn’t want to put any undue pressure on himself this season as well.

“I wanted to live by the moment and not get carried away with the past,” Papaccio said. “I wanted to play in the moment and do my best in each situation. I think everything has just fallen into place.”

That’s safe to say, because Papaccio is enjoying his best offensive season on any previous playing level. The 21-year-old Nutley native is batting .355 with two homers and 34 RBI. He currently leads the Pirates in hitting and leads the Big East Conference in doubles with 18.

Last week, in a big win over Georgetown, Papaccio had three hits, including two doubles, and five RBI.

More importantly, the Pirates have rebounded from an awful 0-9 start to win 26 of their next 33 games. The Pirates now sit in the hunt for a Big East Conference playoff berth in the coming weeks.

“I think my swing is now more mechanically sound,” Papaccio said. “I’m trying to do less with my swings. I’m not trying to hit the ball as hard. I have released tension in my swing. I’m doing less and getting more out of it. I’m getting good results.”

Sheppard is pleased with the way Papaccio has responded as a senior.

“Giuseppe has worked his tail off and that hard work is paying off,” Sheppard said. “My Dad (legendary former Seton Hall head coach Mike Sheppard) would always tell me that you want to have players who go above and beyond what the coaches expect. That’s Giuseppe. He has a tremendous work ethic. He’s constantly finding ways to work after practice, to get swings on his own. He’s very coachable and a good teammate. I think those are all the reasons why he’s progressed.”

Papaccio said that he’s also seeing the ball a lot better.

“I have been getting so many repetitions in the batting cage, playing in the fall, playing intra-squad games that I’ve been able to pick up things,” Papaccio said. “I think the years add up. I think I trust myself to see the ball better and simplify my approach at the plate. I think that’s all finally working out.”

Sheppard believes that a lot of Papaccio’s progression has been through being a good student of the game.

“He’s learned about his swing and learned about the kind of player he is,” Sheppard said. “He has gotten bigger and stronger, but he’s always working hard at getting better. When you see a guy who works as hard as Giuseppe does all the time, then I’m not surprised at all with the improvement.”

Papaccio said that he just tried too hard in the past, both at the plate and trying to impress the coaches.

“I just had to get comfortable,” Papaccio said. “I like where I’m hitting now (batting cleanup) and I like being in the middle of the lineup. The coaches trust me and have faith in me to drive the runs in and I like hitting in key situations.”

Papaccio has progressed so well that he just might get a chance to get selected in the Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft next month.

“That’s something I’m pushing for,” Papaccio said. “I’ve spoken with some teams and I guess as we get closer to the draft, I’ll talk to more. I’ll just play it loose right now. If a team likes me, then they’ll take me. But I’ll follow the draft.”

Sheppard believes his shortstop has a shot.

“I think the way the draft has gone recently, a lot of teams have been giving seniors the opportunity to play, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Giuseppe gets picked,” Sheppard said.

Papaccio has been Seton Hall true blue since a child. After all, his mother is an English professor in the school. His older brother has already graduated from Seton Hall and his twin sister will get her degree as well this spring, along with her brother.

“I’m just happy to have had this shot to play here,” Papaccio said. “I’m still working hard in the cage, every chance I get to. I think all the hard work is paying off. I am relaxed and confident. I just wish this could have happened for me earlier.”

Much like team, Lyndhurst’s Hart exceeding all expectations

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst senior pitcher/fi rst baseman Max Hart.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst senior pitcher/first baseman Max Hart.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Before the current high school baseball season began last month, Lyndhurst High School senior Max Hart was just hoping to have saved his best for last.

“I really wanted to do something special, since this is my last year,” said Hart, one of four senior captains on the Golden Bears’ roster. “I think I played my best last year, but the team really didn’t need me that much. But this year, I knew they would need me, so I had to really step up.”

Hart said that he worked diligently in the off-season, preparing for his senior campaign.

“I did a lot of work in the weight room,” Hart said. “I did a lot of band work to stretch my arm and keep my arm in shape. I knew I had to play my best this year.”

Lyndhurst head coach and athletic director Butch Servideo was hopeful that Hart could lead the way for the Golden Bears, who lost a ton of talented players to graduation last June.

“I thought he might become our No. 1 pitcher, but in our practice training week in Florida, Max threw just two innings and threw 16 pitches,” Servideo said. “He then said, ‘Coach, my arm hurts.’ I had to shut him down for the rest of the trip and the rest of spring training. I wasn’t going to risk him getting hurt more.”

So Hart was limited to just playing first base as the season began April 1.

“He then told me that his arm was feeling pretty good and that he could give it a go,” Servideo said. “Since that point, he’s exceeded every expectation we had for him.”

Hart has become the top pitcher that Servideo envisioned.

“Max has pitched against all the big league teams and won,” Servideo said.

Hart has a perfect 5-0 record with wins against NJIC Meadowlands competitors like Harrison, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park and New Milford.

Hart has also been a terror at the plate. Hart has a batting average above .500 with two homers, four doubles, a triple and 18 RBI, batting in the third slot for the Golden Bears.

More importantly, Hart has helped the Golden Bears reel off 12 straight wins after a 1-2 start.

“I was hoping we could stay under the radar for a little while longer,” Servideo said.

Not when your star pitcher/ hitter is having the season of a lifetime.

For his efforts, Hart has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

“He’s been absolutely mashing the ball,” Servideo said. “Everything he hits, he hits hard. I don’t want to put the jinx on him. But he’s been one of our surprises on a team of surprises.”

Hart always believed in his own abilities. As a pitcher, Hart has all the tools. He stands 6-foot-3 and has very large hands, so he can grip a baseball with ease.

“I know I’m better this year,” Hart said. “It’s the best I’ve played on any level in my life. But I put the work in. I’m not surprised with how I’ve pitched.”

However, Hart’s batting average, which is outstanding, has to shock him just a little.

“Yeah, I’m a little surprised by that,” Hart said. “I think I’m keeping my hands back better. In the past, I wanted to be a power hitter and try to hit home runs. But now, I’m concentrating on putting the ball in play and hitting it hard every time up. That has really worked out well for me. I’m also able to sit back on curveballs and drive them the other way. I think I have about seven or eight hits off curveballs this year.”

Servideo knows that Hart can throw the ball hard.

“We’re working on his curve, which is a little inconsistent,” Servideo said. “There are times he throws the curve and it just drops like two feet. But we need more of that from him. But Max is a hard thrower.”

If there is one aspect to Hart’s pitching prowess, it’s his needed rest between starts.

“Some kids can come back after four days,” Servideo said. “Max needs a little more rest. We’re not pushing him at all. Nothing is going to change. Max will throw anywhere between 85-to-100 pitches and then he comes out. But sometimes, he’s still able to throw complete games.”

Needless to say, Hart is pleased about the way his senior season is going. He’s winning and the Golden Bears are winning. He’s hitting the ball with authority. Life is certainly good.

“I didn’t expect any of this,” Hart said. “It’s exciting to be this good. I just want to keep it going. I have to keep working, keep working hard. I think everyone has the right mindset right now. Everyone is playing above what they thought they could. Everyone has stepped up. It’s been great.”

Hart is still undecided about his college plans. He wants to play baseball in college and is hoping that his hot pitching/hitting streak will garner some attention from local colleges.

“That’s my goal, to get to college and play there,” Hart said.

Whatever happens, Servideo loves the way Hart has become a force.

“As a pitcher, he throws hard and down, which are both good things,” Servideo said. “And as a hitter, he’s done more than we could have imagined. When he’s on, he’s a very good player. Without a doubt, he’s definitely been a big surprise.”

Real Estate Review: Take advantage of spring sales fever

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This year, the spring selling season got off to a very early and energetic start. Not only have temperatures risen, but real estate agents are reporting increased showings at open houses, multiple offers on properties, and offers over asking price within weeks and even days. Overall, there has been steady interest and demand within all segments of the market from entry level and move-up buyers, all the way up to the luxurious high-end.

In many areas around the country, the market has swayed to favor sellers. Due to this, buyers are even more anxious to take advantage of low interest rates and lower prices before they rise. Ask me to provide you with an overview of current market trends in your region.

As a home seller or buyer, this time of year can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. As you enter into the busiest selling season this year, here are a few tips for both buyers and sellers that should make the entire process easier. Buyers, take the time to review your credit score. A sound financial track record and solid credit score can help you lock in a loan at lower interest rates and obtain that necessary mortgage pre-approval, which you will need in this fast paced selling environment. Visit www.ColdwellBankerMoves.com to hone-in on your housing priorities, preferences and location. Of course select and work with a sales professional who will help you through the entire process. I have years of negotiating experience which is invaluable when it comes to closing the deal in this competitive market so please feel free to call me.

Sellers, while homes are selling faster than they have in the past five years, you still need to do your homework as well. Have a home inspection completed so you know what issues may arise and address them before placing your home on the market. Additionally, do some spring cleaning, painting and sprucing. Be forewarned that buyers are still looking for a great deal, so ensure that your home is priced accordingly and in good condition. Again, work with a local real estate professional like myself who can advise you and negotiate on your behalf.

For those sellers who are sitting on the fence, don’t try to time the market. By the time most sellers sense a shift, the tables have typically already turned. Instead of waiting for a slim and unreliable window of time, potentially missing out, sellers should focus instead on their own lifestyle needs.

If you are thinking of placing your home on the market and are not quite sure if it’s the right time for you, call me today. I will complete a competitive market analysis, review competing homes currently on the market, and will determine the inventory levels specific to your locale and price point. Now is not the time to wait if you want to list your home. There is a window of opportunity here and it is uncertain how long that window will remain open. Until it closes, let’s keep the fresh spring air flowing in.

 

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Obituaries

Evelyn R. Bauer

Evelyn R. Bauer died on April 22 at West Hudson Extended Care in Kearny. She was 90.

Born in Newark, she was a lifelong Kearny resident.

Arrangements were by the Armitage and Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Dr., Kearny. A funeral service was held in the funeral home, followed by burial at Arlington Cemetery, Kearny. To leave an online condolence, please visit www.armitagewiggins.com.

Evelyn was a dental assistant for Dr. Pittman in Kearny for 36 years. She retired in 1993. She was an active member of Oakwood Baptist Church, Kearny.

Surviving are her sister Marian G. Weiss and her nieces and nephews Geraldine Husth, Dolores M. Woupes, Willard G. Weiss, Jr. and Peter R. Weiss along with their families.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to Alzheimer’s Research.

Drew J. Coll

Andy of Andy’s Towing (Drew J. Coll), 58, passed away peacefully at his home in Belleville surrounded by his loving family and friends on Wednesday, April 24.

The funeral was conducted by the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave. Harrison. A funeral service was held in the funeral home. His interment was in Gate of Heaven, East Hanover. For information or to send condolences to the family, please visit www.mulliganfuneralhome.org.

Drew was a lifelong resident of Belleville. He graciously donated his skills and time to many organizations.

Predeceased by his parents John L. and Virginia Coll, Drew is survived by his beloved wife Yvette Coll (nee Laver), his loving stepson Thomas Laver and stepdaughters Danielle and Kelsey Graham.

In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial donations be made to the East Newark Volunteer Fire Department c/o the funeral home in loving memory of Drew.

Edward G. Devlin

Edward G. Devlin, 83, died on April 26 in the Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville.

The funeral will be from the Thiele-Reid Family Funeral Home, 585 Belgrove Drive, Kearny, on Tuesday, April 30, at 9 a.m. A funeral Mass will be offered in St. Cecilia Church, Kearny at 10 a.m. Cremation will be private. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.thiele-reid.com.

He was born in Johnstone, Scotland and immigrated to Kearny in 1964.

Edward was a maintenance worker for Bell Telephone in Newark for 30 years before retiring in 1995.

Mr. Devlin was a proud member of the Irish American Club and the Scots-American Athletic Club, both of Kearny.

Edward is survived by his children Elaine Synnott (Kevin) and John Devlin; his sister Alice Kane as well as 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

He was predeceased by his wife Margaret (Hunter) and his son Edward Devlin, Jr.

In lieu of flowers. contributions to St. Jude Children’s Research hospital would be appreciated. Please visit www.stjude.org.

Salvatore Marotti

Salvatore Marotti, 86, died on April 25 at his home.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he lived in North Arlington since 1966.

He worked as a stock broker for Merrill Lynch in New York City for 40 years before retiring in 1990.

He served from 1945 to 1951 in the United States 1st Marine Division “China Marines.” He was a member of the Marine Corps League, West Hudson Detachment # 209 in Kearny where he served as Historian and Eagle Scout Chairman. Mr. Marotti was actively involved with the Eagle Scouts in North Arlington and Rutherford.

He was the beloved husband of the late Theresa ( nee Colomina ), the devoted father of Timothy Marotti, Pamela Kearns, Cynthia Tarantino and Douglas Marotti, the loving father-in-law of Thomas Tarantino, Donna MacMillan Marotti and Dori Zintel, the cherished grandfather of Robert and Jeffrey Kearns, Jamie and Jenny Marotti, Olivia, Julia and Thomas Tarantino and Jaclyn MacMillan, the adored great-grandfather of Robert and Salvatore Kearns and the dear brother of Catherine Guglielmo, Dominic, Anthony and Latif Marotti.

The funeral service was held at the Parow Funeral Home 185 Ridge Rd., North Arlington on Sunday, April 28, at 11 a.m., followed by private cremation. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Marine Corps League, West Hudson Detachment, 286 Belgrove Dr., Kearny, N.J. 07032 in his memory.

Blanca L. Valdes

Blanca L. Valdes, (Blanca L. Viejo), 100, passed away peacefully at home in Harrison surrounded by her loving family on April 17. Born in Camaguey, Cuba she came to the United States in 1958 and lived in Newark, and then Harrison for 30 years.

Blanca is survived by her loving children Nelson Garcia, Miriam Garcia, Maria Correa, eight grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and two great-great- grandchildren. She is also survived by her sister Lina Viejo.

Private services were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison. A funeral Mass was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Newark. For information or to send condolences to the family, please visit www. mulliganfuneralhome.org.

Insight into Boston

Photo by Karen Zautyk Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers in his office.

Photo by Karen Zautyk
Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers in his office.

 

By Karen Zautyk

Observer Correspondent

NUTLEY –

Following the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon last week, one Nutley official could be found all over the airwaves. Being interviewed on this network or that was Commissioner Steven Rogers, director of the township’s Department of Public Affairs.

You might wonder why, if you’re not from Nutley. It’s because Rogers also happens to be an intelligence expert with unique insight into terrorists and the mayhem they wish to perpetrate.

Rogers spent 38 years as a member of the Nutley Police Department, retiring in 2011 as detective lieutenant and commander of the Detective Bureau. But during his police career, he was also a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve, and when the Iraqi war began, he was mobilized and took a military leave from the police force.

From 2001 to 2003, he served in military intelligence in Colorado, with the U.S. Northern Command in Norfolk, Va., and at FBI headquarters in Washington.

Then, from 2003 to 2005, he was a senior military intelligence officer assigned to the National Joint Terrorism Task Force, Office of Naval Intelligence, in Washington, D.C.

The gentleman has his credentials.

We interviewed him initially midweek, a couple of days after the bombings, and spoke with him again as the saga continued to unfold, culminating Friday in the death of suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the daylong manhunt for and eventual apprehension of the other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Rogers is among those who believe Dzhokhar should be treated as an enemy combatant. That definition, we learned, can indeed be applied to an American citizen, if that individual takes up arms against the United States.

“I am glad they took him alive,” Rogers said. “This was of paramount importance.”

He also expressed relief at the fact that the Watertown, Mass., homeowner who spotted the suspect in his boat “did not take matters into his own hands, but called 911.”

While the 19-year-old was on the run, “he was desperate, with nothing to lose.”

Contrary to some other experts, Rogers noted, his “guess is that they [the Tsarnaev brothers] weren’t trained” in terror tactics. “For example, they appeared to have no escape plan.” Add to that the fact that they were readily caught on security cameras and that Dzhokhar did not mask his face with sunglasses and wore that white baseball cap, on backwards, which made him stand out in the crowd.

In our initial interview, long before any potential suspects had been identified, Rogers told us, “Based on a knowledge of how Al Qaeda operates, my first instinct is that this [the bombing] was domestic. But I don’t believe the individual belonged to a domestic terrorist organization. I believe it’s a lone wolf.” He also said he thought the bomber was a college student–which turned out to be spot on.

At the end of the week, he stated, “I still believe these guys were radicalized here in the U.S. and that they had no foreign or domestic terrorist connection.”

No domestic or foreign group has yet laid claim to the terrorism and the explosives used “were not sophisticated devices — you can get the instructions over the Internet.”

Rogers noted that if it turns out the Tsarnaevs did have some group link, the question still remains, “Did the group sanction this?”

In our earlier talk, Rogers spoke of the “giant collage” of evidence that had to be collected and put together — and, once a person of interest was identified, law enforcement “will then reach out through TV to the citizens.” Which is what happened later in the week with the release of the suspects’ photos by the FBI.

In any terror investigation, and in preventing acts of terror, he said, “the best resource is the extended eyes and ears of the public.”

In other words, if you see something, say something. Or if you hear something, some odd conversation perhaps. “If something strikes you, make that call,” he said. Don’t worry about “bothering” authorities; in this post-9/11 world, the public needs to remain vigilant.

“We (the investigators) have the whole picture, so that little bit of information John Q. Public has can make or break the case,” Rogers said.

Rogers is also invested in encouraging local law enforcement to focus on potential terrorism. When he was with the Nutley PD, he established an intelligence bureau in the department. “Every police department in the country should have an intelligence bureau,” he said, but he admitted that the current reality is that “police departments are strapped and have a manpower problem.”

Still, he said, “a simple traffic stop can lead to something very significant.”

“Police officers need to be trained to look for certain things that can be of assistance in the war on terror.”

As for the drama in Boston, Rogers talked a bit about “lessons learned.”

Citing erroneous news reports during the week, including the purported early arrest of a suspect when no arrest had occurred and word of a search for a certain car in Connecticut, when there was no search, Rogers said, “Somebody wanted to give the ‘scoop’ to a particular news organization, and they ran with it.”

Rule No. 1 in cases like Boston: “Political leaders and the media should never disseminate information coming from low-level law enforcement or low-level officials. The only credible information will come from the highest-ranking law enforcement conducting the investigation, the lead investigative agency, in this case, the FBI.”

As for the continuing war against terror, he said, “Rest assured that we’re in good hands. The FBI and the other intelligence agencies in this nation are the best in the world.”

Rogers also had high praise for all the Massachusetts law enforcement officers, terming the job they did “extraordinary.”

And noting the crowds that lined the streets in Watertown and Boston, applauding and cheering the police after the suspect was taken into custody, he said, “That’s the American spirit. That applause was a statement. We’re Americans and no one is ever going to cause us to lose our liberties.”

Bergen buys back 1,345 guns

Like other recent gun buybacks in New Jersey, the one held the weekend of April 13-14 in Bergen County was a huge success, bringing in a total of 1,345 weapons, authorities reported.

Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino called the results “overwhelming.”

In the buyback, individuals could anonymously surrender firearms for cash. According to the Sheriff’s Office, a total of $101,923 was paid out, the funding coming from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office with money seized from criminal activities.

Surprisingly, tiny, upscale Park Ridge (President Richard Nixon lived there after leaving office) led the pack in guns collected at a single site: 259. And that was just one day’s take.

As in the buybacks in Essex County, Camden and Trenton, houses of worship served as the collection points, with law enforcement officers in charge of the collection. But unlike the other events, where sites were open on both Saturdays and Sundays, the 11 participating churches and temples in Bergen were open only one day each.

Park Ridge set its record on Saturday the 13th. The reported tally at Our Lady of Mercy Church included: 107 shotguns and rifles, 97 handguns, five assault rifles, 19 BB guns and 31 nonoperational weapons.

The other sites were in Garfield, Maywood, Hackensack, Englewood, Fair Lawn, New Milford and Teaneck.

Bergen County held its first-ever gun buyback in 2010, taking in 708 weapons. This year’s total was nearly twice that.

“We’re thrilled with the overwhelming results of our 2013 gun buyback,” Saudino said. “As we’ve seen far too many times, gun violence, whether intentional or accidental, destroys lives.”

The statement issued by his office also noted: “While this initiative was a great step in getting unwanted firearms off our streets and out of our homes, we’ll continue to find ways to curb gun violence and protect our children, our families and our neighborhoods.”

Among the 1,345 firearms surrendered were 10 assault weapons and “scores of handguns, rifles and shotguns.”

Additionally, “numerous boxes of ammunition, highpowered air rifles, flare guns and combat knives” were turned in.

Those turning in weapons were eligible to receive $20 for nonoperational weapons, $80 for rifles and shotguns, $100 for handguns and $300 for automatic assault weapons and machine guns.

Complimentary trigger locks and gun safety information were also provided at each drop-off location.

– Karen Zautyk

A rescue plan for better fire protection

Photo by Ron Leir A demolition crew was still at work at the scene of the March 10 fire at Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North and Davis St.

Photo by Ron Leir
A demolition crew was still at work at the scene of the March 10 fire at Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North and Davis St.

 

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

HARRISON –

The Town of Harrison has signed a new labor contract with the local Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association but perhaps even more important is a side agreement that will improve the Harrison Fire Department (HFD)’s firstresponse efficiency.

A five-alarm fire March 10 at Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. North and Davis St., that triggered a backdraft injuring five members of the Jersey City Fire Dept. who were part of the mutual aid response, ignited serious concerns among fire chiefs in Hudson County over whether the HFD had enough resources to deliver an adequate level of firefighting service, with proper supervision, as the first units responding to a fire in town.

At the March 10 fire – which displaced 17 residents and wrecked two eateries and a worship hall – and at another local fire about one week prior, the HFD had to rely on neighboring East Newark fire volunteers to supply a ladder truck, reportedly because the department didn’t have enough personnel to staff its truck.

But union and town leaders say that the new agreement, signed by both sides March 29, should help defuse these worries because it proposes the promotion of four firefighters to lieutenant, which, in turn, will ensure the HFD enough coverage to ride an engine and ladder truck on a first-response to a fire.

The promotions of Henry Zienowicz, David Prina, Joseph Scaperotta and Joseph Faugno from a certified state Civil Service list – expected to be confirmed by action of the mayor and Town Council this month – would give the HFD a total of eight lieutenants, which, together with an existing five captains (one assigned to administrative duties), will allow the HFD to staff at least one tour commander, two lieutenants and four firefighters per shift – the minimum staffing for one engine and one truck.

To ease the town’s financial burden, the union has agreed to defer the pay raises for those promoted (about $13,300 a year more in base pay per man) for 12 months from the day of the promotions.

Additionally, for the balance of 2013, if the town needs to call in additional personnel for overtime duty, it can give that extra compensation as half straight time and half compensatory time, on the condition that the “comp” time can only be taken when it won’t leave the HFD short.

“So we’re putting the ladder truck into service at a substantially less price,” said Town Attorney Paul Zarbetski.

Even with the new labor contract – which, according to FMBA President Prina, was overwhelmingly ratified by the union membership – the town is getting a break.

The old contract expired Dec. 31, 2011, and both sides agreed to a four-year extension but for the first year – 2012 – there will be no pay raise.

For 2013 and 2014, the town will provide a 1.5% increase each year and, for 2015, it will grant a 2% hike.

So, over the life of the contract, top annual pay for firefighter will rise from the current rate of $83,530 to $87,776; top pay for lieutenant will go from the current $95,833 to $100,705; and top pay for captain will climb from the current $108,137 to $113,634, according to calculations by Zarbetski and Robert Murray, the town’s labor attorney.

In a concession to the town, the FMBA accepted a new contractual provision that prevents its members from “banking” any more unused vacation days beyond those already accumulated as of March 18, 2013. Murray and Zarbetski said that capping members’ cumulative unused vacation time will save the town from paying out potentially substantial cash when a longtime FMBA member retires.

Also, the FMBA agreed to switch from its current Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield health care provider to the state health care benefits plan – something that Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has been pushing for statewide, according to Murray.

While the town has made no commitment to new hirings, Prina said that during negotiations, “the mayor (Ray McDonough) promised he would rebuild the Fire Department (now at 29 employees), in anticipation of the new redevelopment coming on line. My feeling is that two years from now, we’ll be back on track.”

In the meantime, the town is proceeding with what Murray described as “informal conversations” with police union representatives on extending their labor contract. “We’re hopeful we can continue that informal dialogue,” he said.

Saluting a 57-year Kearny educator

Photo by Ron Leir Margaret Bixler in the Roosevelt School toddler playground.

Photo by Ron Leir
Margaret Bixler in the Roosevelt School toddler playground.

 

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY –

From age 7 onward, there was never any doubt in Margaret “Peggy” Bixler’s mind where she was headed.

Fifty-seven years as a Kearny public school teacher is proof enough.

Next month, Bixler – who retired in June 2011 – will be accorded honors, on two separate occasions, for her work as a loyal educator in the community.

On May 3 at 1:30 p.m. the Parent Teacher Association of Roosevelt Elementary School, with backing by the Board of Education, will name one of the school’s two playgrounds for the former instructor and on May 16 the Salvation Army of Greater Kearny will fete her at a dinner.

When she reached the half-century mark, the Kearny Board of Education recognized her achievement at a public meeting.

It was at Roosevelt School where Bixler spent 53 years opening the minds of kindergarten and first-grade children to the wonders of words and numbers. For the prior four years, she taught kindergarten at Garfield School.

Roosevelt PTA President Melanie Pasquarelli, whose daughter and whose grandfather’s second wife were both Bixler’s students, said that Bixler merited bravos as a “super, dedicated teacher.”

But, Pasquarelli noted, “she didn’t tell anybody she was retiring.” Had the PTA known beforehand, Pasquarelli said, “we’d have acknowledged her in a big way. … We found out on Sept. 12 [the first day of the 2011 fall term] she wasn’t returning.”

At that point, Pasquarelli said, the PTA “thought one of the best things we could do would be to honor her by naming the [toddler] playground for her.”

It seemed the ideal choice, since it seemed that whenever Bixler wasn’t in her classroom, she was outside on the school grounds, around the play areas, busy planting bulbs – sometimes with the students – or yanking weeds from a garden or tending to those flowerings that Superstorm Sandy ravaged.

And now will be perfect time to do it, the PTA leader said, now that one of the organization’s members, Paula Fernandes, successfully applied for a $5,000 Lowe’s Charitable & Educational Foundation grant – matched by $1,850 raised by PTA playground committee head Jennifer Cullen and PTA members – to refurbish the playground as an interactive play area for kids with a map of the U.S. painted on the asphalt, alongside hopscotch and funnel ball courts.

Once, Pasquarelli recalled, Bixler’s class took up a collection and gave her a digital camera as a gift so Bixler immediately set out to snap shots of her students working on class projects and other activities and sent them to the children.

Even in retirement, Bixler has been no stranger to Roosevelt School, returning to watch the sixth-graders’ annual play, share in birthday celebrations and “just generally support our school,” Pasquarelli said.

“There are no words to describe how dedicated she has been to our school community,” Pasquarelli said.

All of this attention is a bit overwhelming for Bixler who says, “I feel humbled for sure. Not totally at ease. It’s a very big honor for those who came before me.”

A product of Kearny public schools, Bixler attended kindergarten at Washington School, then switched to Garfield for first through third grades, then on to Lincoln Jr. High for seventh and eighth grades, before finishing at Kearny High, graduating in 1949.

She got an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Newark State Teachers College in 1953 and began her teaching career that same year at Garfield School in Kearny. Since then, she’s never looked back.

“Once I got in the classroom and saw what it was like, I never thought of [doing] anything else,” Bixler said.

Her inspiration has always come from her students, she says. “They’re full of life. Once in a while, an acre of pain.” But, for the most part, the positives outweighed any discomfort, she said. “At that age, they’re so bubbly. Eager to learn. Like sponges. Eager to please you. Energetic, upbeat kind of kids. It’s a wonderful environment to work in. I don’t believe I ever had a boring day of teaching. … It was a tremendous satisfaction to see how kids can learn so much.”

Over the long span of her career, Bixler estimates she’s seen more than 1,000 students come through her classroom doors – many comprising two generations of the same families – and some like onetime student and former Roosevelt School colleague Dorothy Connor who’ve followed her into the teaching ranks, several in Kearny schools.

Connor, who had Bixler as a kindergarten teacher at Garfield in 1955 and who ended up “working across the hall from her” teaching second grade at Roosevelt, called Bixler a “totally giving, warm person” who always strives to expand her field of knowledge. “She goes to the nth degree to learn everything. And she’s truly creative: Every year she [did] different things with the kids and individualized the curriculum to meet the student’s needs.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment she had to make in the classroom, Bixler recalls, was adapting to computers as a teaching tool when they were introduced to Kearny schools in the late ‘80s. “I had never touched a computer and, at the time, I didn’t know whether I wanted to learn.”

But she decided to accept the challenge.

“After I got the consent of the principal, I took the Apple equipment home with me every Friday – carrying it up two flights of stairs – so I could practice with it over the weekend,” Bixler said. “And I did that for a year until I was addicted.”

Even now, Bixler is keeping herself updated in the tech world, getting tutoring in photo shop from Kearny art teacher Dan McShane, another of her former Roosevelt students.

Bixler kept active professionally, serving as treasurer of the Kearny Education Association and as a charter member of the Kearny Pi chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa, the international women’s educators sorority.

Stepping away from the classroom “was a hard decision to make, when it actually came to putting my signature to my letter [of retirement],” Bixler said. “I felt I still had the energy and all but I finally said it has to happen.”

Still, Bixler admits it’s been hard to stay away: Since June 2011, she’s returned to help with the national Read Across America program and she responded to a staff request to help with the planting of tulips and daffodils on school grounds.

She and her husband Ed have volunteered to serve on the steering committee for the newly emerging Kearny Community Garden, spearheaded by Jenny and David Mach, at Riverbank Park.

And the Bixlers continue to be active members of the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington.

Issues lingering at Kearny field house

Photos by Ron Leir Views of newly completed field house at Veterans’ Field in Kearny.

Photos by Ron Leir
Views of newly completed field house at Veterans’ Field in Kearny.

FieldHouse_web2

 

It wasn’t easy but, finally, Kearny’s new field house at Veterans’ Field is finished and ready for business … if you overlook issues with the concession stand.

The new facility was dedicated coincidental with this past Saturday’s Opening Day ceremonies for Kearny Little League baseball, held at Veterans’ Field, which also hosts Kearny Recreation softball and football and men’s baseball at night.

As posted by the town’s web site, the play area now has “a 1,580 sq. ft., state of the art sports facility with a concession stand, ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] accessible upper lever announcer’s booth, baseball and football storage rooms and new bathrooms.”

At the public ceremonies, Mayor Alberto Santos said: “We are very excited to open this environmentally friendly facility just a few days before Earth Day 2013.”

It comes with a green roof and trellis system, a water recycling system for toilets and maintenance-free metal roof and siding – all designed to keep the building cool – and delivered by the contractor for a cost of $750,000, paid for by outside government sources: $483,000 from the Hudson County Open Space trust fund, $158,000 from a federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation block grant and the rest from Community Development Block funds for the ADA component. So far, the town has paid the contractor, UNIMAC of Garfield, $718,875.

Construction began in November 2011 and was due to be ready in time for the start of the football season last fall. It wasn’t. There were delays scheduling work, which proceeded in fits and starts. And there were issues with building materials.

For instance, as Town Administrator Michael Martello explained at a recent Town Council meeting, there was an issue with the cistern (receptatacle that captures rainwater): “It appears that the materials were not according to specifications,” Martello said. “When the pump comes on to feed the toilets, it’s airlocked.”

Still, by Saturday, according to Santos, most pending construction issues had been successfully dealt with but still remaining, he said, was an irksome design issue.

Some of the volunteers who staff the concessions have told Santos and members of the Kearny Recreation Commission that “they won’t be able to see the games and that it will be hard to sell the concessions.”

They contend that the stand window is “too small” and “not high enough” to easily access customers “so if you’re taller than, say, 5-feet-six, you’ve got to bend down to look into the booth to talk to the person inside,” Santos said.

Also, he said, because of the tight quarters, “it’s hard for two people to work together inside the concession stand.”

And because the stand is “located in a difficult corner of the building,” the folks inside cannot get a clear view of what’s happening on the field, Santos said.

“So we’ve got a space that’s inefficient and inconvenient for both the workers and the public,” the mayor said.

Santos said there may be a structural way to remedy the problem and, to that end, he’s trying to get estimates of what the work would cost and whether there’s money available to do it.

The Musial Group of Mountainside were the architects on the job, he said.

– Ron Leir