Glen Ridge honors its volunteers

The borough of Glen Ridge, its Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club of Bloomfield-Glen Ridge, honored Former Mayor Stuart Patrick and all borough volunteers, on Wednesday, May 8, at the Women’s Club of Glen Ridge.

The event was emceed by Paul Weissenberger, the Kiwanis Club president-elect.

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This celebration of volunteerism is a Kiwanis Club tradition begun in 1983 as an acknowledgement of their mayor’s community service.

It was subsequently expanded to include all Glen Ridge volunteers. The honorees last week also included former business administrator and engineer, Michael Rohal, who retired in 2020 when the pandemic canceled the event.

Mayor Debbie Mans welcomed everyone saying that volunteers were the heart and soul of the community and that the former mayor had done more than his fair share of volunteer work.

There were upwards to 200 people in attendance. Entertainment was provided by pianist Kathleen Gaffney and the duo of pianist Bob Rodriguez and alto saxophonist Tom Colao.

The Rev. Audrey Hasselbrook gave the invocation. She thanked God “for the people who offer support.”

“Help us learn to do everything with a grateful heart,” she prayed.

Borough administrator and engineer, Michael Zichelli, and Former Mayor Peter Hughes followed.

Zichelli said Patrick had contributed to the community “in more ways than you can count.” Recalling Rohal’s contributions, Zichelli said he changed the borough before he even started working here. He explained that Rohal had previously worked for Montclair, helping to facilitate a direct NJ Transit link to New York City. Hughes said Rohal could be seen at many volunteer events and his door was always open.

“He is a real gentleman’s gentleman,” he said, adding that Rohal helped to make a friendlier community. “His input cannot be underestimated.”

Recounting Rohal’s impact, Hughes said the NJTransit train station was leased from NJTransit, by the borough, and upgraded into a community center, under him. Also, a Jitney service was established, the community pool built, the Shade Tree Commission reinstated and the roads were milled and paved “the right way” instead of spreading asphalt on top of “a thick, oily, gooey material” that residents tracked home on hot summer days.

Rohal was also extolled for his wise administrative work. In Trenton, Hughes said people did not know that he was the mayor of Glen Ridge, but they knew Michael Rohal was its business administrator.

Hughes also thanked Rohal’s wife, Jan, who was a library trustee.

“Michael was away from home a lot and we thank you for the support you gave him,” Hughes said.

Rohal acknowledgement was brief. He thanked the governing body, borough officials and colleagues for a “great 22 years,” and he thanked his wife.

Patrick, who served 2016-24, was then lauded. Hughes, his immediate predecessor, said the defining moment for Patrick was his leadership during the pandemic.

“It was an awful time for all of us,” Hughes said. “No one had to deal with something so sinister. You did a fantastic job during an especially difficult time. You should be proud of your service.”

Patrick, Rohal and all volunteers were then toasted. Commendations from Gov. Phil Murphy and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, among other state figures, were recognized. Following was a very funny and clever Glen Ridge-centric poem, dedicated to Patrick. It elicited explosive laughter and was read by its author, Councilman David Lefkovits. The benediction was provided by the Rev. Diana Wilcox, of the Christ Episcopal Church, and everyone gathered for a group photograph.