“Outstanding” seniors feted

Photo courtesy Hudson County Executive’s Office Maria Vila of Harrison expresses her thanks as Mayor James Fife prepares to present plaque on behalf of the county.
Photo courtesy Hudson County Executive’s Office Maria Vila of Harrison expresses her thanks as Mayor James Fife prepares to
present plaque on behalf of the county.

A Kearny animal advocate and two women from Harrison and East Newark, respectively, dedicated to the needs of the elderly were among 12 senior citizens feted recently by Hudson County for outstanding contributions to their communities.

Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and the county’s Office on Aging sponsored the annual ceremonies, which were held May 27 at the Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City. The mayors of each of the county’s 12 municipalities were on hand to congratulate the award recipients and their families.

Leonard W. Twist Jr., whose family roots in Kearny were planted more than a century ago, served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and has been a loyal member of the local American Legion post.

As a civilian, Twist has made a huge impact on the community by spearheading a local TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) program for feral cats.

In recent years, Mayor Alberto Santos said, the number of stray cats picked up in Kearny has “increased and most were not spayed or neutered.” Then, he said, Twist came to the governing body with a proposal for TNR (Trap, Neuter & Return). Initially, the mayor said, “we weren’t convinced but he met the burden of convincing us.”

Santos characterized the program – which has been sanctioned by town ordinance – as “a grass roots group of trained, concerned local residents who are implementing town policy.” Since they undertook the job, “the numbers of feral cats are down tremendously and overall, all the comments I’ve gotten about the program are positive.”

Harrison’s outstanding senior was Maria Vila, president of the town’s Board of Education, who has a long list of awards and service organizations on her resume. DeGise said that while Vila has served many constituencies, “it is the senior residents of Harrison who reside in her heart.”

Tri-lingual in English, Spanish and Portuguese, Vila was feted last March when the Ambassador of Spain came to the U.S. to present her with a silver medal of honor in recognition of her contributions to the town’s diverse community. Aside from her service to the schools, Vila is a North Hudson Community Action commissioner, executive secretary for the Harrison Business District, protocol secretary for Partido Popular in the U.S., assists immigrant families with information on jobs, apartments, health care and education, secretary of the Heritage Festival Ball, advisor to the Peruvian Community Organization and IberoAmerica Organization, director of the Harrison Education Foundation, assistant to the president of Club Espana in Newark and serves the county by sitting on the Juvenile Committee and as an Election Board judge and she’s also a Democratic County Committee member.

East Newark’s outstanding senior, Margaret Jamiolkoski, retired from the county Register’s Office in favor of serving the borough’s senior residents as director of the East Newark Senior Center where, DeGise said, “the time she spends with the senior residents, the care she provides and the amount of support and assistance she offers fare exceed any “job description.” Jamiolkoski has also worked for the disabled and advocated for the needs of children.

The other honorees were: Phyllis DiPillo of Secaucus (also chosen Hudson County Outstanding Senior Resident), is a combination “social worker, personal shopper, gourmet chef and sunshine lady” at the Kroll Heights Senior Site.

Dr. Irena Bereznaya of Jersey City is a researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, liaison for her Russian neighbors and advocate for seniors of all nationalities.

Grace Scianandre of Hoboken aided immigrants with government paperwork during World War II and, as a teen, helped out in the government rationing center. She’s known as the volunteer “neighborhood baby sitter” in Hoboken.

John Ormsby of Bayonne is an active volunteer with St. Mary’s Parish, Bayonne Hospital, the Bayonne St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee and veterans. He was named grand marshal of the 1999 Bayonne Memorial Day Parade.

Elizabeth Hock of North Bergen is recognized as Cullum Tower’s party planner, hosting bingo, coordinating tenant meetings, queen of the cake sales and organizer of holiday parties.

Maria J. Martinez of Union City “created a better life for Union City residents of all ages,” DeGise said, working for the Board of Education and for local seniors by organizing trips.

Veronica Barreto of West New York is a volunteer seamstress and spends much of her time repairing clothes for seniors. She also volunteers in Hudson Hall.

Leona M. Nersesian of Weehawken is president of the Library Board and has been an active volunteer for the Red Cross, Heart Association, Weehawken’s Women’s Club and Elks Woman’s Guild. She also organizes recreational events and educational programs for local seniors.

Eleanor Buttle Mueller of Guttenberg has roots in town that date back to the 1800s and has been recognized as a “Guttenberg Woman of History.” She volunteered for St. Joseph’s Home for the Blind in Jersey City and Covenant House in New York and can also be found at the bedside of ailing neighbors.

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