FAIR LAWN, NJ, (Bergen County) — U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) Monday honored local first responders, veterans, students, life-saving bystanders, volunteers, community leaders, and residents during the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held at the Fair Lawn Community Center.
Gottheimer presented Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards to more than thirty Fifth District residents in recognition of their dedication to helping improve the lives of their neighbors, families, and communities.
“We are lucky to have so many unsung heroes in our communities, whose quiet service goes on every day without the recognition they truly deserve. They give back just because they care. Today is their day,” Gottheimer said. “If you pick up the paper, there is far more attention being placed on what’s going wrong with America, and far too little attention on what’s going right. But then, stories crop up here and there about someone saving a life, or a neighbor opening up a food pantry or raising money for charity or making their town a better place and you realize that we just don’t spend enough time showcasing all of the good that happens every day. Not enough time recognizing what it means to be a great citizen in the greatest country in the world. That’s why, with Hometown Heroes, we take the time to highlight those from North Jersey — from Bergen, Sussex, Passaic, and Warren Counties — who are hard wired to help others.”
“The Hometown Heroes are nominated by leaders across our community — including our elected officials and faith leaders — as well as by friends, family members, and loved ones who believe that they truly deserve the title. These individuals come from all walks of life, but all share an idea that is particularly special: they embody our Jersey Values and make our community such a special place to live, work, and raise a family. They help us build that more perfect union of our dreams. We all should work to live up to their example,” Gottheimer said.
The December 2021 Fifth District Hometown Hero Award honorees in order of appearance:
Matthew Malejko, Allamuchy, Warren County — 2nd Lieutenant of the Allamuchy Fire Department, where he has helped save two lives and is responsible for maintaining the fire truck apparatus, training drivers, and helping out in any way that he can with repairs and troubleshooting.
Joyce Gonzalez, Allendale, Bergen County — Five years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps as a 5942 Aviation Radar Repairer, and deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. An active member of American Legion Post 310 and NJ SOS Veterans stakeholders women’s subcommittee, she also currently serves as Platoon Leader at the Mission Continues Newark Platoon to manage a corps of veterans to help community service projects throughout Newark and Bergen County. At BMW, as a Data and Project Manager, she serves as co-chair of the BMW Group Veterans Network Employee Resource Group.
Jimmy Winters, Closter, Bergen County — started as a volunteer firefighter with the Closter Fire Department in 1980, and has served as Captain, Secretary, Board of Governance, and currently as Treasurer. From 1986 to 2018, he worked in the Closter Police Department and retired as Captain. Since 1996, he has served as the coordinator for the Borough of Closter Office of Emergency Management.
Pat Zengel, Glen Rock, Bergen County — a longtime member of the Women in Community Service, Community Meals on Wheels, the Glen Rock Holiday Committee, the Glen Rock Chamber of Commerce, and other key local organizations — all focused on supporting her community and fellow North Jersey residents.
Mike Rose, Green Township, Sussex County — the Fire Chief of Green Township, who also serves on the Green Township Board of Education and previously served as the Chief of the Wyckoff Fire Department, on the Green Township Land Use Board, and with the Green Township’s Office of Emergency Management, where his work has been vital to residents throughout multiple catastrophic weather events and the pandemic.
Rosalyn Holland, Hackensack, Bergen County — she helped manage a food pantry that fed more than 100 people per week throughout the pandemic, by coordinating inventory, delivery and stocking of goods, shelving, refrigeration, grants, funding, volunteer staffing, and more. She trains the technologically-challenged with computer skills, ZOOM, Excel, Word, and other apps and necessities for today’s world.
Bob Kneer, Fair Lawn, Bergen County — served the Fair Lawn community for 44 years as a police officer and previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he retired as a Lance Corporal. He previously served as Patrol Sergeant, Detective Lieutenant and Patrol Captain, as the NJ State Honor Guard Commander, and served as a domestic violence liaison, designed the police uniform, and served on the board of End DWI.
Bonnie Borghi, Haworth, Bergen County — throughout COVID, she coordinated with restaurants to deliver meals during holidays, and is always working to support her community — whether by making sure that downtown Haworth is beautifully decorated for the holidays, that the parks are clean and have new equipment so that children can safely spend more time outdoors, or by chairing the Haworth Seniors group.
Jon Najarian, Hillsdale, Bergen County — for more than 25 years, he has volunteered for the Hillsdale Fire Department, working his way up to chief. Currently, Jon serves as the Deputy Coordinator for the Hillsdale Office of Emergency Management and throughout the pandemic worked tirelessly securing PPE to keep first responders safe, looking after Jersey’s senior citizens, and enacting programs to better disseminate vital information during the crisis — all while coordinating with federal and state agencies.
Paula Marsh, Lodi, Bergen County — has been instrumental in running the pantry sponsored by the Center for Food Action at Varick Memorial AME Zion Church throughout the pandemic. Since March 2020, Paula has been present every day the pantry has been open, organizing deliveries, storage, and bag packing.
Joe MacDiarmid, New Milford, Bergen County — started his career in public service in Okinawa as a U.S. Marine, and is now a leader in the New Milford and Teaneck volunteer ambulance corps — where he has been active for the past fifteen years. In the ambulance corps, he has helped save countless lives and is known for his dedication and integrity.
Julie Krcmaric, Norwood, Bergen County — an advocate for the special needs community, she has spent countless hours supporting parents with special needs and rare disease children — guiding parents and community members through some of the most difficult decisions they have to make. She is not afraid to push an insurance company for additional coverage, making sure families’ critical medical supplies and medication are covered.
Bill Sanders, River Edge, Bergen County — a decades-long member of the River Edge Volunteer Fire Department, where he is currently Chief, and REVAS, the River Edge Volunteer Ambulance Service, where he was previously Captain. Chief Sanders not only effectively led the Fire Department throughout the pandemic, creating COVID-19 guidelines and ensuring the safety of the department’s members, he also guided the town through its Hurricane Ida response.
Silvia Kerslake, Norwood, Bergen County — since moving to New Jersey in 2013, she has served her community through her work at Spectrum for Living, a nonprofit that helps adults with developmental disabilities by providing quality housing and clinical services.
Vinod Chadha, Old Tappan, Bergen County — is a founding member of Hindu Samaj, a temple in Mahwah, and the Coordinator for the Bergen County Chapter of Manavi, an organization that supports abused women and domestic violence victims. He has been a leader in his community for decades by supporting local organizations, helping serve meals to school children, raising funds for cataract surgeries in India, and working to support those less fortunate.
Joe Zbierski, Midland Park, Bergen County — is currently serving his 28th year with the Teaneck Fire Department, running into fires when others are running out, for his whole career. He is the Battalion Chief of the 4th Platoon and has routinely put everything on the line to make life-saving actions. He bravely served at at Ground Zero following the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Rose Curry, Montvale, Bergen County — has served Montvale and North Jersey for decades, serving as Montvale PTO President and VP, working in Broadway and regional productions, directing area high school musicals, volunteering with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Tri-Boro Food Pantry, and Meals on Wheels, and most recently served as Councilwoman for the last decade. After her years of dedication and work with the Montvale Public Library, as of last month, the library now bears the honorary name of Rose S. Curry.
Muhammad Haque, Paramus, Bergen County — is a Managing Partner of the Fusion Muslim Community Center of North Jersey, who led Fusion to partner with New Bridge Medical Center to provide culturally-sensitive long-term care for elderly and disabled Muslim community members. Dr. Haque also volunteers at the Bergen County Correctional Facility to help administer vaccines.
Moish Tov, Ridgewood, Bergen County — the founder and CEO of JoyDew Foundation, a nonprofit that provides job training and employment opportunities to young adults with autism. Moish also works as a Board Member at the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence and the Giving Hope Network, and has shown a deep understanding of the needs of the autistic young adult and adult community, and made his mission to create meaningful life opportunities for them.
Matt Tiedemann, Waldwick, Bergen County — Lieutenant Tiedemann has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the Office of Emergency Management and working tirelessly in the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department. From coordinating PPE distribution to working with FEMA to launch New Jersey’s first government-run drive-thru COVID-19 testing center at Bergen Community College, to supporting the Bergen County Food Security Task Force.
Virgil Rome, Fredon, Sussex County — from working as a Detective in Sussex County’s Prosecutor’s office to retiring after serving as Undersheriff in Sussex County, Virgil has dedicated his life to serving Sussex County. He “retired” in 2010, only to come back two years later to continue helping the community as Emergency Management Coordinator. He then moved to become the Sussex County Fire Marshal and he will soon start his fortieth year as a Sussex County employee.
Lisa Bontemps, Westwood, Bergen County — when the COVID-19 pandemic began, she organized a new fresh food distribution center out of her church, that has since grown to serve more than 300 hot meals every Tuesday, along with fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, and other non-perishables. This program began with no budget, but from her desire to help her community, it is now helping hundreds of members of the community facing food insecurity. She has also led efforts to improve Westwood AARP.
Andrew Esposito and David Wells, Maywood, Bergen County — saved the life of a 92-year-old swimmer while serving as lifeguards at the Maywood Municipal Pool, by responding in record time after seeing the swimmer unconscious, then delivering CPR and calling an ambulance. Thanks to their quick responses and life saving actions, this woman survived.
Tony Cerbo III, Branchville, Sussex County — under his leadership and working closely with the community, the Christmas Tree Farm at Cerbo’s Greenhouse and Garden Center has provided hundreds of military families with Christmas trees through their Trees for Troops program. They’ve included the community by providing so local residents with the opportunity to chip in and give back to those who always have our backs.
Justine Van Blarcom, Vernon, Sussex County — is constantly working to support our troops and veterans, by managing the Wreaths Across America program in Vernon Township’s Glenwood Cemetery, home to more than 200 graves of American men and women who protected our nation and our freedoms.
Joe Hession, Mountain Lakes, Sussex County — he takes opportunities as the President and CEO of Jersey’s SNOW Operating and partners with the Chill Foundation to help youth with a positive development program through outdoor activities. He has helped donate $50,000 to fight the opioid crisis, helped more than 55 small businesses get PPP loans throughout the pandemic, and helped start the Joseph P. Hession Foundation, a nonprofit that increases awareness and education related to drug and alcohol addiction.
Eddie Mindlin, Franklin Borough, Sussex County — a proud veteran of World War II who is now 96, he joined the U.S. Navy and served aboard the USS Satyr, a landing craft repair ship. He was part of the force that was preparing to invade Okinawa when the war ended and eventually became part of the post-war Occupational Force.
Abby Casario, Hampton, Sussex County — is an active volunteer in the Hampton Township Fire and Rescue, which she started volunteering with when she was fourteen. While volunteering, Abby took the initiative to reach out to NJ Assemblyman Parker Space and Senator Steve Oroho, and, together, they wrote legislation to give Junior/Cadet Members of any Volunteer Fire Department or EMS Squad in New Jersey the chance to do more on the squad. Now, thanks to this bill, several New Jersey Fire Departments are opening their doors to young people from 14 to 18 years old.
Jim McKim, Hardwick — is a retired engineer who has selflessly given his time and energies as a volunteer in a number of key roles in Hardwick Township over the past 26 years. His contributions as a member and Chairperson of the Land Use Board and Open Space Committee have made major positive impacts on the town.
Marcia Bradley, Stillwater — is a tireless volunteer who has started Community Emergency CERT chapters in Stillwater, Frankford and Hampton Township and helps mans every flu clinic, warming shelter and vaccine site in Sussex County. She personally holds the record for the most volunteer hours at the Sussex County Fairgrounds COVID vaccine site over any other volunteer in the County.
Joe D’Annibale, Newton, Sussex County — Sgt. Joseph D’Annibale is a long time Newton Police officer who stopped a building from burning down by breaking into the garage of the burning building and putting out the fire before it got worse and burned down the whole building and major business.
Suzi Marr, Washington Borough, Sussex County — she organizes clean ups throughout Washington Borough and along the Shabacong Creek, making sure the beautiful nature that we have in Jersey stays pristine and clean. Plus she is on many Washington Borough Boards, all as a party of her work to make the town a better place to live and work.
Sean Valle, Bergenfield — saved members of our community from a burning building this year. This September, Sean was on his way to work when he noticed smoke coming from a home and two people on the roof waving for help. He jumped into action, learning from the people on the roof that there were still people inside the house he started banging on the front door, which had flames coming out the top, to wake them up, all while yelling for someone to get a ladder. Thanks to Sean’s bravery and quick action, the people on the first floor woke up and got out of the burning house, a neighbor brought over a ladder and the fire department and police got to the scene.
Elizabeth Llorente, Oakland — isa journalist, who helps inform, educate, and keep me honest! She does her job with a never ending source of integrity and shows the world everything that New Jersey has to offer. Currently she works for AARP Magazine and has written for internationally recognized organizations like Fox News, the New York Times, Forbes, New Jersey Monthly, the Bergen Record, and more.
To view the video of the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards ceremony, click here.