News Department

Gottheimer hosts Fifth District ‘Hometown Heroes’ awards

NORTH JERSEY — U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored local first responders, veterans, life-saving bystanders, volunteers, community leaders, and residents during his Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center.

Gottheimer honored more than 35 residents as Fifth District Hometown Heroes to acknowledge 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 here today, whose quiet power of service goes on every day without the recognition they truly deserve. They just do it because they care. Today is their day. Without the people we are recognizing today, our communities would not be as strong as they are, and North Jersey would not be the great place that it is,” Gottheimer said. “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.”

“In a time fueled by hyper-partisan cable news and social media, our Hometown Heroes don’t get caught up in fiery tweets and extreme language seeking to divide us. I’m focused on putting country over party, and that’s exactly what our Hometown Heroes do. They focus on getting things done and helping our community, state, and country. We have to remember that we are all Americans — our enemy isn’t each other. Our enemies are China, Russia, and Putin, and we are all in this together,” Gottheimer said.

The July 2022 Fifth District Hometown Hero Award honorees in order of appearance:

  • Shaun Hutchinson, Park Ridge, Bergen County — a 20-year U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in special operations, who is now the Bergen County Division Director of Veterans Affairs, where he runs a “Hire a Vet Program,” provides transportation to Veterans Affairs medical centers, and helps fellow veterans cut through red tape to access transitional housing and support resources.
  • Regina & Dimitri Viadro, Glen Rock, Bergen County — who organized an “Art for Peace” silent auction to support the people of Ukraine, raising $20,000 for the Lelaka Foundation to send critically needed medical supplies to Ukraine. They also volunteer with organizations to connect people escaping the war in Ukraine to jobs and resettlement assistance, and to provide translation services.
  • Dr. Matthew Murphey, Ridgewood, Bergen County — a 20+ year Ridgewood resident, who has served as the Superintendent of the Ramsey Public Schools since 2012 and is retiring, who has been a positive force in the community, organizing the Walk-and-Talk-a-Thon and the Stigma Free Initiative.
  • Daniel Ricciardella, Westwood, Bergen County — a lifelong North Jersey resident and LiUNA Local 79 member, who was stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge when he saw a person exit their car and climb over the bridge railing. He was able to grab them as they let go of the bridge, telling the person “there is always another way” — helping save the person’s life.
  • Teri Capparelli, Westwood, Bergen County — a twenty-year Westwood resident, who helps nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, building a home recently for a deserving veteran and his family; running “Women Build” to bring together women to volunteer and break barriers; and, during the pandemic, she led “Desks for Homes,” delivering desks to students in need.
  • Search & Rescue K-9 Remi, Maywood, Bergen County — posthumous — Bergen County’s first K-9 bloodhound, which had more than 300 saves, made a name for herself by finding a missing 13-year-old, outperforming some of the latest drone technology and helicopters. Remi’s handler, Detective Christopher Nichols, accepted the award on her behalf.
  • Jeff Pavell, Haworth, Bergen County — a 25+ year Haworth resident, who is a physician and Chief of Rehabilitation Medicine at Englewood Hospital, where he helps save lives — who has volunteered thousands of hours and also serves as President of the Haworth 5K, which has raised $500,000+ to help local nonprofits, like the Haworth Volunteer Ambulance Corps, and funds high school scholarships.
  • Dianna Morrison, Sussex Borough, Sussex County — a 50+ year Sussex Borough resident, who helped relocate the Harvest House free lunch program to the Sussex Community and Cultural Center when they lost their previous home, helped local nonprofits successfully receive grants to benefit the community, successfully helped the town receive a donated playground, and runs produce markets at the Community Center.
  • George Carter, Oradell, Bergen County — posthumous — who was a 60+ year Oradell resident focused on serving his community, by reading to elementary students and local schools, serving with the Oradell Swim Club, Oradell Zoning Board, and Oradell Library, and serving as Master of Ceremonies for Memorial Day festivals, Fourth of July parades, and September 11th services.
  • Ellen Meixner, Vernon, Sussex County — who was born and raised in North Jersey and a 43-year Vernon resident, who supported elderly residents throughout the pandemic, volunteering with Vernon CARES, delivering meals, helping take seniors to shop, to doctor appointments, helping get their vaccinations, and helping an autistic adult who lost their mother secure assisted living.
  • Anne Brenneke, Waldwick, Bergen County — a Resident Nurse celebrating 50 years of service at Valley Health System, with awards from Columbia University and NJDOH, who has helped care for countless patients, and who established Valley’s first outpatient ostomy clinic — the only nurse-run outpatient facility of its kind in Northern New Jersey.
  • Chris Illescas, Westwood, Bergen County — a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed to Kuwait, who currently serves in the Army National Guard, and who helped save the life of a car crash victim after witnessing the crash on the Garden State Parkway. A “Bergen County Veteran of the Week,” he also volunteered to deliver thousands of COVID-19 vaccines at the Meadowlands site, works with Habitat for Humanity, and serves as Vice Commander at Lodi American Legion Post 136 and Quartermaster at Lodi VFW Post 5082.
  • Sam Doran & Maclane “Mac” Doran, New Milford and River Edge, Bergen County — two brothers, both police officers. Mac, with the River Edge Police Department, helped rescue a troubled 14-year-old who began drowning after jumping in the Hackensack River and who was then taken to a hospital for treatment. Two months later, Sam, with the New Milford Police Department, found the same teenager sitting on the New Bridge Road Bridge railing, and talked for more than half an hour, helped calm them down, and turned a fist bump into an opportunity to pull the teen down and off the railing to safety.
  • Dee Gillen, Haworth, Bergen County — who works to reduce addiction and overdoses so that no one has to go through the loss that she’s experienced. In 2019, she started the Black Poster Project, with 50 posters that reflect the faces and information of overdose victims. Since then, the project has grown to 460 posters, representing souls lost across the U.S., and she brings together grieving families, people in recovery, and local communities, to educate about the dangers of alcohol and drug use.
  • Thomas Jung, Old Tappan, Bergen County — a 47+ year Old Tappan resident, a life member of the Old Tappan Volunteer Fire Department, rising to the rank of chief. He currently serves as the president of the department, department engineer, and head of driver training, in addition to serving as a senior leader in the Department of Public Works and the Borough’s Recycling Coordinator.
  • Allen Weitzman, Fair Lawn, Bergen County — a 40+ year Fair Lawn resident, Vietnam War veteran, and architect, who helped design the Fair Lawn Community Center, volunteers as the Vice President of the Fair Lawn Economic Development Corporation, spearheaded the Facade Improvement Program, serves as the Chair of the Current Events Club at a Paterson Senior Center, and a local chair for Heroes to Heroes — a veteran organization to support veterans suffering from PTSD, to eliminate or reduce suicide among veterans.
  • John Clark, Westwood, Bergen County — realized during the pandemic how many people run by his house every day, so he made a point to make sure he and his wife waved to all of them, even during cold winter months. As time went on, the town grew to know John and his house as the nice community member that would always say hi. His “followers” started beeping and honking, stopping to chat, and a few even stopped to give him ice cream
  • Edward Clark, Oakland, Bergen County — 25-year Oakland resident. On the Shade Tree Commission, he is responsible for crafting and implementing a new updated tree protection ordinance, which was adopted by the town earlier this year. He also oversees a Tree Inventory Project, where he helps the Borough map all of the street trees in an online database. He even serves on the Bush Plaza Park Committee, which is tasked with developing the borough’s downtown corridor into a passive park.
  • Bryan Wiescenski, Westwood, Bergen County — Lieutenant in the Teaneck Fire Department, committed countless hours towards fire safety education in Westwood and throughout the greater community. Member of the Teaneck Fire Department honor guard and color guard and has even performed at minor league baseball games and for the Giants at Metlife stadium. Committee chair for the Teaneck Fire Department uniform specs committee, Fire Department’s Turnout Gear committee chair. Selected as Firefighter of the Year by the Teaneck FMBA Local 242, where he is a member, and by the Teaneck Chamber of Commerce in 2017. Auxiliary police officer with Teaneck Police Department for five years, Westwood Senior captain at Westwood Volunteer Fire Department, and a Training Officer at Westwood Volunteer Fire Department.
  • Vincent Vicari, Mahwah, Bergen County — Lifelong Bergen County resident. As a board member of the North New Jersey Chamber of Commerce or the Regional Director of the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at Ramapo College, he has proven to always support businesses in need of assistance. He helped lead and put together Ramapo college’s specialized Economic Recovery Task Force — teams of students and professors that — free of charge — aid small businesses as the state recovers from the pandemic. He has even partnered with the Westfield Garden State Plaza to open the mall to small businesses. Winner of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association’s Executive of the Year Award 2021.
  • Raymond Cordts, Augusta, Sussex County — posthumous — known as Mr. Sussex County. Accomplished musician, he studied under the first seat clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera and played for the New Jersey All-State Band. Served as the President of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce in 1993, and as the director, secretary, and treasurer of the Sussex Rural Electric Cooperative. Worked in many nonprofit positions, such as at the SCARC Foundation, which helps those with developmental disabilities. Recognized with awards like the SCARC Distinguished Citizen and the Boy Scouts of America Patriot’s Path Distinction.
  • Chris Wyman, Vernon, Sussex County — Lived in Vernon for twenty-nine years, U.S. Navy Veteran who served during the Vietnam War era. Member of the Wallkill Valley Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1002, he presents his program called “Honoring a Veteran” at high schools and libraries, and he has even been awarded an Appreciation and Recognition Certificate by the U.S. Department of the Interior Fish and Wildlife Service for his work in the Double V Rod & Gun Club, helping disabled veterans. Now, you can find Chris throughout New Jersey working as a photographer — a passion for which he has received many awards. True historian of North Jersey.
  • Timothy Erstling, Upper Saddle River, Bergen County — Served with the Maryland State Police for nearly seven years, then applied to serve in the Upper Saddle River Police Department. Saved the lives of dozens of residents, received numerous awards, been assigned as a field training officer, and more. During Hurricane Ida, he utilized a high water rescue vehicle to save the lives of twenty-four motorists stranded inside their vehicles. On top of that, he has literally pulled victims out of burning cars. After the Uvalde shooting, he began volunteering his time to provide security at local schools, and he is focused on community policing.

Hometown heroes who were not able to attend include:

  • Dre Gibbs (posthumous award), Wyckoff, Bergen County, Coach
  • Larry Inserra, Mahwah, Bergen County, Business owner
  • Bob Cook, Alpine, Bergen County, BergenPac Board
  • Anthony Mobilio, Lodi, Bergen County, Lodi Police Department Lieutenant
  • Susan Zabransky, Saddle River, Bergen County, Organized memorial run for daughter
  • Mary Jo Harris, Washington Borough, Warren County, Volunteer and on BID
  • Kenneth O’Donnell, Bogota, Bergen County, Police Officer
  • Megan Ackers Smith, Emerson, Bergen County, Church pantry volunteer
  • Carol Greene, Mahwah, Bergen County, Historian
  • Anthony pall, Branchville, Sussex County, NJ State Trooper
  • Julio Rodriguez, Vernon, Sussex County, NJ State Trooper
  • Alex Helmer, Allendale, Bergen County, Police Officer

To view the video of the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards ceremony, click here.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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