WEST ORANGE, NJ — Residents young and old gathered at historic Colgate Park on Saturday, Sept. 8, for the 42nd annual Old Timer’s Day, which honors local sports heroes who grew up around the park and spent their childhoods on the fields and playgrounds, kicking or throwing a ball around. Donning jerseys that honored West Orange businesses of the past, like Ullmann’s Candy Store and the Stark 5 and 10, honorees and parkgoers took one another on in a game of softball on Colgate Field.
Nine current and former West Orange residents were honored at the event: Rocco Barbaro, sisters Marybeth Curry and Valerie Coughlin, Steve Dolce, Steve Hodgin, John “Otto” DeGennaro, Paul Pane, Paul Fagan and John Shauger.
It was a day of looking back as the honorees described their days as children playing in the park. Barbaro, who grew up playing baseball, thanked his former coaches and teammates, from his Little League days all the way up through his time playing at West Orange Mountain High School.
“I have some really great memories at Colgate Park,” Barbaro said at the event. “The time I spent here with all of you provided a lifetime of memories.”
Curry also spoke about the people she spent time around as a child at the park, saying there was always someone to play with there.
“I grew up at this park,” she said at the event. “I came here all the time. There was always someone here for you. Thank you very much for this honor.”
DeGennaro described the many friends he made while playing in a weekly football game at Colgate Park with the other children in his neighborhood.
“I spent many a time here,” DeGennaro said at the event. “We used to play football every Sunday. My brother and my cousins were my best friends. We were a pack of buddies. Thank you for this and thank you for coming out.”
While sports featured prominently in the stories honorees told during the ceremony, they weren’t the only town events described. The 4th of July fireworks were once held at Colgate Park, and Coughlin reminisced about her time watching them there.
“I grew up playing kick the can in the street with all the neighborhood kids,” Coughlin said at the event. “And then I moved onto softball and basketball. I have some really good memories here; my favorites are all from the 4th of July with the fireworks and the band and the games.”
West Orange historian Joe Fagan introduced his brother, Paul, at the event. Paul Fagan recently retired from working for the U.S. Postal Service, and became a deacon at nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
“I can’t say how proud we are of him and how proud my mother and father would be if they were here,” Joe Fagan said at the event. “They would be beaming with pride.”
“I remember coming here for the fireworks, and how they ever did fireworks on this field is beyond me,” Paul Fagan said at the event. “There are some great memories here for me.”
Steve Hodgin grew up playing in the park, and said that one of the West Orange police officers who would clear the park out after the sun went down was often his own father. Hodgin played every sport he could at the park, joking that his dreams of becoming a professional athlete never worked out.
“We would come down here to play baseball and hope that we would have enough people to cover third base and home, and we would stay until there was no light,” Hodgin said at the event. “Like a lot of kids, I wanted to be a pro athlete. I was going to play basketball, and we all know how that worked out. Then I tried football, and then there was baseball. Thank you all for coming here today and thank you for honoring me.”
Pane had a slightly different experience than the other honorees, not having lived in West Orange until he was 13 years old. But as a teenager, Pane said he still spent time at Colgate Park.
“I didn’t move here until I was 13 years old,” Pane said at the event. “So I missed out on all of the baseball and that fun. But I spent a lot of time at those picnic tables over there. We would hang out every night, and we played football here. It’s an honor to be honored, thank you so much.”
Presented with his award from his brother Tommy Shauger, John Shauger also grew up playing on several baseball teams at Colgate Park. Sometimes the brothers were on the same team and sometimes they played against each other, Tommy Shauger said at the event.
“We used to play baseball here all the time,” he said. “One time I was playing third base and he hit a line down third and it went right between my legs.”
John Shauger also described the baseball teams with which he played, in addition to his other special memories from the park.
“I have so many good memories here,” John Shauger said. “I met my wife at the Ginny Duenkel Pool over there, and I proposed to her at the park. We’re still together 40 years later.”
Dolce was the final honoree to receive his award. He was described as a football, basketball and baseball player in his high school days in an introduction by his longtime friend Mike Shannon. Dolce went on to play football at Syracuse University.
“I always told my kids, ‘it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up,’” Dolce said at the event. “Colgate Park is the exception to that. Everyone hung out here growing up. This place was magical to me.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic