When the 43rd annual West Hudson St. Patrick’s Day Parade steps off Sunday at 2 p.m. on Frank E. Rodgers Boulevard, three well-known West Hudson dignitaries will be at the helm as Grand Marshal and Deputy Grand Marshals.
Harrison Mayor James Fife will lead the parade as the Grand Marshal and he’ll be joined by Deputy Grand Marshals Barbara Cifelli Sherry, a current member of the Kearny Board of Education and former Kearny councilwoman and Mary Anne Dunphy, a long-time resident of West Hudson.
Fife, mayor of Harrison since the untimely death of long-time Mayor Raymond McDonough in February 2014, was born in Childs, Pa., in 1941, one of six children. He and his family moved to Newark in 1943.
When Fife was just 8 years old, he lost his dad, who was killed in an industrial accident.
Fife would go on to become a student at Newark’s East Side High School, where he got his first taste of being civic-minded.
There, he played football and swam, he was on the student council, was a class president and was a member of the school’s National Honor Society.
From there, he would go on to get a bachelor’s degree in social studies and geography from Montclair State College and two master’s degrees, one in guidance from William Paterson College and another in educational administration from Jersey City State College, now New Jersey City University.
In 1967, he was hired by the Harrison Board of Education, where he’d serve in numerous roles, including teacher, swim coach, guidance counselor, assistant principal and lastly, as principal of Harrison High School, where he remained until he retired following the 1994-95 school year.
He also served on numerous local and county boards.
“I am especially proud of my service as a member of the Harrison Redevelopment Agency, where I served for 15 years, five years as chairperson, and have helped to add over $300 million in ratables to the Town of Harrison,” Fife said. “I now serve as the seventh mayor of Harrison after being elected to a four-year term in 2014. Being involved, donating my time and talent to these agencies is very rewarding and keeps my life interesting.”
Fife has been married to Linda (Wandras), an elementary school teacher, since July 1977.
He says being selected as the Grand Marshal of this year’s parade was somewhat surprising.
“Being selected as the grand marshal of the 2016 St. Patrick’s Day Parade was an unexpected honor,” Fife said. “I wish to thank the selection committee for choosing me.”
Barbara Cifelli Sherry
Cifelli-Sherry is the quintessential West Hudsonite. Born to Vera (Bulger) and Al Cifelli, she was raised in Harrison but has made her home in Kearny for nearly the last 50 years. She attended Washington School in Harrison, Saint Cecilia’s High School in Kearny and Kean College.
Barbara and her late husband, Dennis Sherry, raised a blended family of seven children: Lori, Tim, Kim, Coleen, Dana, David and Keith all of whom were educated in Kearny’s public schools. Their family grew to include their children-in-law, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren (with two more great-children due in the next few months).
Family has always been a priority in the Sherry household, where Sunday dinners are still quite an event.
Sherry came to public service naturally, following in the footsteps of other family members.
Her dad, Al Cifelli Sr., was a councilman in Harrison for more than 25 years and her brother, Al Cifelli Jr., is currently serving his sixth term on the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, where he represents West Hudson County.
She began her elective career as a Hudson County Committee Member for the Democrats. In 1997, she was elected to the first of five terms as Second Ward representative to the Kearny Town Council, where she served as Council President from 2005 until her retirement in 2009.
She is affectionately known as “The Commish,” because of her role as the chairwoman to the Kearny Police Department during her entire tenure.
She was also a member of the finance, insurance and water committees and the liaison to the civil rights commission.
Upon her retirement from the council, Mayor Alberto Santos appointed her to the honorary position of deputy mayor and reappointed her to the Kearny Urban Enterprise Development Corporation.
Her retirement from public life was short-lived, however, when in 2013, she was persuaded to run for the Kearny Board of Education, a position she currently holds.
Sherry has previously been honored by the Hudson County Christopher Columbus Society as an “Italian American of Distinction,” and by the Peruvian Civic Club of Kearny with the honorary title of “Madrina Internationale.”
Sherry is a devout fan of the New York Yankees and the New York Giants, but her most fervent cheerleading is reserved for her beloved Kearny, which she touts as “a town that has everything.”
Mary Anne Dunphy
Dunphy is a life-long West Hudson resident who was born in West Hudson Hospital.
She says she recalls fondly celebrating her mother’s love for Irish music when she was a kid, a tradition that has remained with her family since.
“My mother loved Irish music and celebrating St Patrick’s Day,” Dunphy said. “She would be the life of the party singing Irish tunes, even if she didn’t know the words. She loved being Irish. She would tell stories about her parents and how they came through Ellis Island and how my grandfather would always say their name was ‘O’Boyle,’ but they dropped the “O” in the ocean.
“Settling in Irish Harlem in the early 1900s, they moved to Newark over the tavern. Soon they had migrated over water again into Harrison and bought a house on Washington Street. My mother would talk about how safe times were then and how my grandfather would walk home over the Stickle Bridge with the nightly receipts and nothing ever happened to him.”
Dunphy recalls that though her family struggled — her dad was bed-ridden and out of work by the time she was a kindergartener at Holy Cross School — her mom still did everything she could to ensure she and her brother got a solid Catholic education.
“My mother found a way to work small jobs to pay mine and my brother’s tuition,” she said. “I did not have my first lay teacher until sixth-grade. My friends and I often joke that we can still name all of our teachers from grammar school 50 years later. Because of the sisters, I have great devotion to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (founder of the Sisters of Charity). My husband and I visit her shrine in Maryland often. The Sisters of Charity played a very important part in the woman I am today.”
Following grammar school, Dunphy went on to Harrison High School. And even though her mother told her she wouldn’t ever be able to, she went to Jersey City State College, where she studied to be what she’d always wanted to be — a teacher.
Her first job out of college? Where else — teaching fourth-grade at Holy Cross.
Four years later, she was tapped to be the school’s principal upon the retirement of then Principal Sister Imelda, S.C.
“Just like the neighborhood was all your family, the staff at Holy Cross became my family too,” she said. “They were a tremendous asset when the school suffered a horrific fire in 1980. Sticking together, they even came back to clean and help paint the damaged classrooms. The faculty even volunteered to be pall bearers at my mother’s funeral.
“I still try to keep in touch with as many as I can.”
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.