Kearny kicks off 150th anniversary celebration

KEARNY – Colette Koeppel came to see her 6-year-old granddaughter Ava sing “My Country ‘tis of Thee” and “Yankee Doodle” with the Kearny Daisies.

The youngest Girl Scouts’ musical contribution was part of the Town of Kearny’s kickoff event for the celebration of its 150-year anniversary on Thursday evening, April 27. A series of events, all associated with that milestone, will play out during the next several months.

“It’s wonderful,” Koeppel said. “They should have things like this all the time to bring people together, all backgrounds.”

Originally from the Vailsburg section of Newark, Koeppel has spent the last half-century in her adopted town of Kearny. She vaguely remembers when the town marked its centennial with, among other things, the burial of a time capsule in Military Park which reportedly will be opened for the 200th anniversary in 2067.

For this year’s opening event, Kearny’s elected officials outfitted themselves in garments evocative of the mid-19th century – when Kearny separated itself from Harrison and incorporated.

In keeping with the post-Colonial Era theme, the town arranged for a “Town Crier,” played by Richard LaLena, a resident of Berlin, N.J., who – amply animated – recited the articles of incorporation approved by the New Jersey Legislature in March 1867.

LaLena’s regular gig is the official town crier of Historic Smithville, a restored 19th century village outside Atlantic City. He received a $300 payment from the anniversary committee for his services, according to Mayor Alberto Santos.

Kearny Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts sang several patriotic tunes, Brandi-Leigh Miller of the Junior Woman’s Club of Arlington sang the national anthem and the mayor and Town Council – featuring Rich Konopka with a fake handlebar mustache – re-enacted the first official town government meeting just outside Town Hall, festooned with Sesquicentennial banners designed by Kearny High student Daniel Veloso and printing/graphic arts teacher Joseph Domalewski.

Santos told the audience, which numbered perhaps 200+ spectators, that Kearny forming its own government was “not just about us breaking away from Harrison, but an exercise in self-government and keeping government close to its citizens.”

Today, the mayor said, that lesson still applies: “The shared task of democracy remains the same.” And, he added, the path to that common goal involves “inclusion” of all members of the Kearny community – longstanding residents and immigrants alike – in keeping a “commitment” to the future of that community.

Among the dignitaries wishing the town well were Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, State Sen./North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco and Harrison Mayor James Fife.

The town also reserved a place of honor for family members of former Councilman Jonathan Giordano, who died an untimely death earlier this year.

A concert by the Silver Starlite Orchestra, blended with an historical narration authored by KHS teacher Michael Bayer and narrated by Robert Strauch of W.H.A.T., that concluded the kickoff ceremonies, was dedicated to Giordano.

That theme of community building articulated by Santos was echoed by several residents attending the event.

Edwina Suarez, an educator whose daughter Scarlett, 7, was singing with the Brownies for the ceremonies, came to Kearny from Jersey City four years ago. “I like the sense of family here and my daughter’s school (Roosevelt) is good,” she said.

Asked how she felt about the town’s future, Donna Henry, born and raised in Kearny, whose dad is a Kearny Fire Department retiree and whose two brothers are Kearny firefighters, had this reply: “I’m still here.”

And longtime residents Len and Jane Mackesy were high on Kearny.

For Len, a Catholic deacon (at Our Lady of Sorrows Church) who put in many years as a Hudson County Red Cross aide and as a Port Authority policeman, Kearny “is a great place to raise kids, where you can still walk the streets.” 

Spouse Jane, who chairs the Women of Arlington’s Evening Membership Department, has “high hopes” for the town’s well-being. “Things like this [anniversary event] promote a feeling of community,” she said. “I’d like to see more. These kind of activities – like the recent town and river cleanup – will help bring people together.”

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