Tribute to Nutley volunteers

By Ron Leir


Five individuals will be recognized for their volunteer contributions to the community when the Nutley Jaycees present their Distinguished Service Awards at their 41st annual banquet April 18 at the Valley Regency, 1149 Valley Road, Clifton. Jaycees Acting President Michael Paolino said the awards are given in appreciation of those who “go the extra yard” on behalf of fellow Nutley residents.

Walter Smith, who chaired this year’s six-member judging panel, agreed that the current crop of honorees easily met the Jaycees’ criteria for being nominated for the awards in that they “made the extra effort to support the community.”

Noting that the Nutley chapter is perhaps the only one in the state to conduct its own DSA program, Smith said that’s a reflection of how much locals care about the township.

“We get between 300 and 400 people at our dinner every year,” Smith said. “Nutley stays nice because it’s got a great base of volunteers.” Others who served on the judges’ panel – all former DSA recipients themselves – were: NJ Hometown editor Phil White, former Assemblyman Fred Scalera, newly retired Schools Supt. Joseph Zarra, funeral parlor operator John Brown and chiropractor Steven Clarke.

This year’s crop of honorees are: George M. Ackerman Jr., Educator of the Year; Adam Jernick, Young Man of the Year; John Saar, Public Health and Public Safety; Police Sgt. Michael Kraft, Civic Affairs; and Tony Dragos, Businessman of the Year.

George Ackerman Jr., a 1971 alumnus of Montclair State University, has been active in Nutley High School extra-curricular activities since joining the Nutley public schools. He also has served as the teachers’ union contract negotiator, coordinated Middle States evaluation, and chaired the high school’s Industrial Arts Department.

Ackerman led Saturday sessions in curriculum development and was a set builder for many high school stage productions including the senior benefit. He has coached the high school boys’ and girls’ tennis teams and has won the “Coach of the Year” award. In 1980 he led the Nutley Rifle team to the state championship. He’s also an active member of the Technology Engineering Association of New Jersey.

Adam Jernick, 29, was a football standout at Nutley High, was a starter in the 2001 NJ-NY Governors Football Bowl and made the first all-area high school football team the same year.

As a senior at James Madison University, Jernick joined the Elks and, in five years, he made the climb to Exalted Ruler of Nutley Elks Lodge 1290. Along that path, he coached town recreation basketball teams and co-chaired the youth and special activities committees.

For the past seven years, Jernick joined Nutley Rotary’s Christmas for Farm Children that brings toys, via horse and sleigh, to a rural farm area.

Jernick has led special events for disabled veterans, helped the Parks & Recreation Dept. with activities for abused and special needs children and organized a Christmas program through the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission for area nursing home residents.

He also helped organize motorcycle run benefits in Nutley and has cooked for events sponsored by the Parks & Recreation Dept. This past Christmas season, he played Santa for a battered women’s and children’s shelter in Jersey City where he distributed toys to kids removed from abusive dads.

John Saar, a 1965 Nutley High graduate, has been a member of the Nutley Volunteer Emergency and Rescue Squad for nearly 50 years. When his wife was ailing from malignant melanoma, the squad transported her to Sloan Kettering Hospital, N.Y. After her death, Saar joined up and, since then, has volunteered thousands of hours serving Nutley residents in need.

With the squad, Saar has served as crew chief, treasurer and captain. He’s been a fixture at rig polishing parties, helped develop and run the squad’s oxygen department and today, he is vice president and runs its annual fund drive.

Saar, who has three children and five grandkids, served four years with the U.S. Air Force Security Service as a Chinese linguist in Okinawa, Japan. He has a B.A. degree in psychology from Montclair State University.

Sgt. Michael Kraft, a member of the Nutley Police Dept. for the past 13 years, has been a volunteer with youth baseball and soccer teams in Nutley for a dozen years.

Kraft has been president of the Nutley East Little League for four years and has managed and coached teams in town for 12 years.

As a volunteer with the Parks & Recreation Dept., Kraft conducts clinics in coaching skills and classes in sports safety to promote teamwork, self-confidence and participation in local civic events.

A father of four, Kraft also has coached Nutley recreation soccer for 12 years and Nutley recreation basketball for two years.

Tony Dragos, co-owner of the Washington Park restaurant, is being cited as this year’s Businessman of the Year as a tribute not only to his eatery’s “excellent food and fine dining,” but also in recognition of “several years of community service in helping those who are hungry, especially but not limited to, the holiday season.”

According to the Jaycees judges, “Washington Park has become a welcome spot for what have been hundreds of persons who are hungry. Sometimes it’s just a stranger who walks in and is given a free meal. Sometimes, during the holiday season, the demand is so great that Washington Park may serve up to 50 persons at a time, and at no cost to their guests, many who are known to Tony, but many times more who are not.”

The restaurant also “makes generous contributions through the year to Nutley civic and community projects – like food for the Red Cross, hospitalized veterans and handicapped people, karaoke night fundraisers, lots of food for church benefits, the town’s motorcycle runs and the farm children at Christmas time.”

The Jaycees awards event begins with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 7:30 p.m. Tickets at $40 may be reserved by calling Dr. Steven Clarke at (973) 235-1515.

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