MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Robert J. Miller Oysterfest kicked off on Saturday, Sept. 16, the third year that the melanoma awareness fundraiser was held at The Woodland in Maplewood. Honoring the life of resident Bob Miller, who died from melanoma in 2014, the event provided free skin checks as well as live music, food and children’s games.
Money raised at the event went to the Enright Melanoma Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises sun-safety awareness and prevents and treats melanoma with early detection and education. The Oysterfest name and the event’s tagline, “Get naked in the ’Wood,” comes from the time of year the event is held.
“September through November are the months that oysters are the most prevalent,” event committee member John Meade said at the event. “And it’s still a nice and warm time of the year.”
Meade, the owner of St. James’s Gate Publick House in Maplewood, got involved with Oysterfest because he was a friend of Miller and his family.
“I knew his family from coming to my restaurant,” Meade said. “It was upsetting when he passed away and I wanted to do something for them. This was the perfect marriage.”
Meade stressed the importance of the available skin screening at the event.
“Melanoma is one of the toughest cancers there is. Nobody knew that years ago, so it’s important to get screened, especially if you have the Irish curse,” he joked, referring to the pale skin that many people of Irish descent have.
Meade said that in the last few years, three or four people found potential melanoma when their skin was checked at the event.
“We can point them in the right direction and get them to doctors, and hopefully save some lives,” he said.
Filling the Woodland parking lot and the first floor of the venue, Oysterfest was estimated to draw about 2,000 guests. Featuring live music from south Jersey band Brian Kirk & the Jirks, a wine tasting, pig roast, games, face painting, and local restaurants and business booths, the fundraising goal was to match last year’s earnings of $40,000. According to Grace Miller, Bob’s widow, the event far exceeded that goal.
Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca and Deputy Mayor Nancy Adams were on hand to enjoy the day and had read a proclamation officially declaring it Oysterfest Day in Maplewood.
“This is the third year and it gets better every year,” DeLuca said to the crowd at the event. “Melanoma is a very serious skin cancer and you really need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. This is the best way to bring information about this disease to the public and get checked. We’re here because one of our own had to deal with this disease and we want to make sure we’re raising funds and raising awareness.”
Grace Miller spearheaded the planning of the event and the fundraising efforts that started earlier in the year.
“He loved Maplewood,” Grace Miller said at the event about her husband, who was an architect who renovated historic homes in Maplewood and surrounding areas. “So we wanted to honor him but also help others. When melanoma is detected early, it’s treatable.”
While the majority of the money is donated to melanoma research, a portion of it is saved and donated to families in the area who have outstanding medical bills and needs.
“It can help with bills so that families don’t have to go through the stress that dealing with it causes, and what me and my girls went through,” she said. The Millers’ four daughters are Eve, 15, Margot, 14, Lilyb, 12, and Poppy, 8.
“I think this is the best form of therapy for them and for me,” Grace Miller said about her daughters. “We can raise money and honor Bob at the same time. I’m so grateful to everyone who comes. This is Maplewood at its best.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic