Worthwhile residents to receive 2016 Maple Leaf Awards

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — On Sunday, May 15, Joanne Beckerich, Linda and Gordon Barnes, and Virginia Kurshan will be honored as recipients of the Maple Leaf Award for their extraordinary volunteer and community service, according to a recent press release.

“Whether the volunteer work of this year’s recipients has been given for service to maintain and preserve the character of Maplewood, contribute to the care and well-being of Maplewood’s children and adults, facilitate the gardening enhancement of Maplewood, or contribute to Maplewood’s holiday celebrations, these volunteers are exceptional individuals whose dedication and service have made Maplewood a better place to live,” award Chairwoman Mary Devon O’Brien said in the release. “This year’s Maple Leaf Award recipients includes both relatively longtime and newer residents of Maplewood.”

The 48th annual Maple Leaf Award ceremony and brunch, which will be held at Pantagis Renaissance on Route 22 in Scotch Plains, and will begin promptly at 12:30 p.m., so people should plan to arrive earlier in order to find seating. Reservations and payment in advance are required. For attendance information, call Mary Devon O’Brien at 973-763-4135.


Joanne Beckerich

Beckerich grew up in Williamstown in southern New Jersey. She moved to New York City in 1979 to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, and subsequently worked in the display and exhibit design field. In 1984 she married her husband, Eric, and they lived in Hoboken for 13 years. While in Hoboken, Beckerich managed a health food store, then attended Cook College, where she majored in horticulture and landscape design. She volunteered at a number of New York City community gardens and at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and worked for the New York State Parks Department before having her son, Eric, in 1994. She started a Hoboken chapter of what is now Mothers and More, and she became active in the Maplewood chapter after moving to the township in 1997. This involvement helped her meet many new people and quickly feel comfortable.

When Beckerich moved to Maplewood, she was immediately drawn to the Hilton Neighborhood Association, wanting a chance to get to know people in the community and to help keep the neighborhood nice. She was active on the HNA board from 1998 to 2008, served as HNA treasurer for three years, helped to plan meetings and activities, and moderated candidate debates.

Beckerich became involved in 1998 in the Maplewood Garden Club, and was soon recruited for several committees, including community projects, Dickens Village conservatory, plant sale, newsletter and garden walk. She designed the Hilton Rain Garden and contributed her design expertise to many other projects around town. She served as president of the MGC from 2008 to 2010, and has served as chairwoman of the Plant Sale Committee since 2011. Each year, nearly $20,000 in proceeds from this fundraiser benefit Maplewood Township.

Beckerich began volunteering at the Tuscan School library when her son entered kindergarten, and went on to the Maplewood Middle and Columbia High schools’ libraries. Her involvement with the schools led her to become certified as a substitute teacher. She has subbed in the classrooms and library at Tuscan School and has filled in for an extended period when one of the Tuscan librarians was recovering from surgery.

Meanwhile, she worked as a freelance landscape designer, creating new gardens and outdoor spaces for customers throughout the area. In 2005, she was hired by Maplewood Memorial Library, where she still works. She is the coordinator of programming for adults, oversees the library’s art exhibits and periodicals department, generates all library publicity, including fliers, print, online and social media, and works at the information desk. She serves on the strategic plan and Ideas Festival committees, and creates the library’s annual reports.

In recent years Beckerich has become involved in the local arts community through her husband, an active sculptor — one of his pieces is on permanent exhibit in the Wildflower Sculpture Park in South Mountain Reservation. She has helped install B. John Kaufman’s Fourth of July projects and joined the board of Gallery 1978 in 2014, where she helps publicize gallery exhibits and events.

Beckerich always seeks to try new things and broaden her world, and Maplewood offers no end of opportunities to do just that.


Linda and Gordon Barnes

The Barneses are lifelong residents of Maplewood with family histories going back to the early 1940s in the township. In 1975, Linda and Gordon Barnes, who had attended the same church since childhood, married and since then have had two children, Christopher and Jennifer.

Growing up in Maplewood on Tuscan Road, Linda Barnes attended Tuscan School, Maplewood Junior High and Columbia High School. At age 16, she began working part-time after school at Slapin-Lieb Insurance in Maplewood. After her graduation from CHS, she attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, from where she graduated with a degree in marketing. After college until 1979, she continued working at Slapin-Lieb full-time as an underwriter, receiving her solicitor’s license while there. In the mid-1980s, she began working part-time for Personal Asset Management Corp., and continues to work there 30 years later as a trust administrator.

When their daughter was a Girl Scout, Linda Barnes was the “cookie chairwoman” for one year, and then supervised Girl Scout trips, including camping trips at the Girl Scout Oval. From 1995 to 1999 she co-chaired the Gymnastics Parents Association for CHS gymnastics and was an avid supporter of CHS gymnastics when the program was under threat of cancellation by the Athletics Department. Linda Barnes also chaired the annual car wash fundraiser and the senior dinner, among other activities, to raise money for uniforms and equipment.

Linda Barnes’ support of gymnastics continued from 1992 to 1999 with the YMCA gymnastics programs, supporting the programs in general but especially the Aces Gymnastics Team and serving as president of the Gymnastics Parents Association. For the team, she coordinated all travel and hotel accommodations for multiple out-of-state national competitions and supervised all fundraising functions.

In appreciation, in 1997 Linda Barnes received the Judge Harry W. Lindeman Award for Outstanding Adult Member from the YMCA:

Linda Barnes joined the South Mountain YMCA board of managers and has served as a volunteer there for more than 17 years, continuing her support to this day. While on the board, Linda Barnes served as chairwoman of the program committee, as a member of the executive committee and as a member of the associate program committee for multiple years. For two years, she co-chaired the “Friend Raiser” Spring Fling to raise awareness of the YMCA and its programs throughout the community.

During this time she also actively participated in The Monster Bash, Healthy Kids Day and Storyteller for the YMCA’s annual campaign. Both Linda and Gordon Barnes have volunteered many hours for the YMCA Haunted Mansion, selling tickets, setting up and tearing down props, and monitoring the event for several years.

Gordon Barnes was raised on Lancaster Avenue, and attended Clinton School, South Orange Junior High and CHS. While a senior at Columbia, Gordon Barnes began a career with AT&T through an apprentice program with New Jersey Bell Telephone Co. Next month Gordon Barnes will celebrate his 45th service anniversary with AT&T. Over the years, he has held a number of positions including national service manager, a position in which he was responsible for service level performance for several Fortune 500 companies; project manager; corporate security manager assigned to executive security for the office of the chairman; and senior investigator.

From 1990 to1997, Gordon Barnes volunteered with Boy Scout Troop 2, quickly becoming an Assistant Scoutmaster and, in the fall of 1995, becoming Scoutmaster. In those volunteer positions, he oversaw weekly Troop meetings; and organized, supervised and participated in numerous overnight packing trips and Klondike Derbies, as well as the annual 50-mile bike hike and whitewater rafting trips.

For five years Gordon Barnes served as an adult summer camp leader at the TL Storer Scout Reservation in New Hampshire, and in 1995, he led a group of Scouts on a strenuous 10-day trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico. His proudest accomplishment while at Troop 2 was contributing to several Scouts attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. From 1993 to 2000, Gordon Barnes volunteered with the CHS marching band, where he joined the “pit crew,” which then consisted of only two other fathers; however, by the time he left, the crew had grown to nearly a dozen members. His volunteer work included serving as “chief mechanic” to convert a series of decommissioned school buses into the band’s equipment transportation. In 1998, with no children of his own in the band, Gordon Barnes continued to volunteer with the group, driving and moving equipment for performances and competitions.

Both Linda and Gordon Barnes volunteered for Cub Scouts Pack 19 from 1987 through 1990. They served as den parents, planning activities for weekly den meetings and encouraging the boys to earn advancement awards. Gordon Barnes attended monthly planning meetings for the pack and supervised camping trips and the summer camp; the couple organized Pack 19’s first soap box derby and first Pack Olympics.

From 1993 to 1997, the Barneses served as volunteers for the CHS Music Parents Association and supported all fundraising activities. For several years they also organized a main fundraiser, a car wash, held twice a year, and also chaperoned numerous events and competitions, including the Toronto Band trip.

The Maplewood Civic Association was fortunate that Linda and Gordon Barnes have also volunteered their support of the MCA’s Maplewood Holiday Decoration Awards by photographing houses and award ceremonies.


Virginia Kurshan

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Kurshan earned a master’s degree in art and architectural history from Northwestern University in 1979, moved to New York City after college, and met husband Richard Wener on a blind date when he was visiting from Chicago. After several years of long-distance romance, they married in 1975. They found Maplewood by accident, but were attracted by its physical characteristics. In 1979, knowing that this was where they wanted to live, they bought the home where they still live. They raised three daughters who went through the South Orange-Maplewood public schools: Rachel Wener, a lawyer who works and lives with her wife, Sarah Heim, in Philadelphia; Leah Wener, a landscape architect who lives in Brooklyn; and Rebecca Wener, who is finishing a masters of public health degree after several years working in the health care field

Kurshan began her career on the staff of New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980 and is still working there more than 35 years later. She has researched buildings throughout the five boroughs and has written hundreds of designation reports of their history and reasons for designation.

Kurshan’s early volunteer activities related to her daughters’ lives, including volunteering at the daycare center and at PTA organizations at Clinton, South Orange Middle and Columbia High schools. She created an art calendar as a fundraiser for Clinton School and taught crafts in the after-school program there. She also taught architecture at the Adult School summer program for children. Along with her husband, Kurshan is also involved in Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange. Serving on various committees and as chairwoman of the family committee at the Academy for Jewish Studies, she also created costumes for the “Oheb Shalom Players.”

In the 1980s, Maplewood underwent a review of its master plan and Kurshan suggested including historic preservation, as she knew what could be accomplished when she served for three years on the West Orange Historic Preservation Commission. In 1998, when Pierson’s Mill was under threat of demolition, she helped organize interested citizens to find alternatives for the building and to work for the property’s preservation.

After working to get the Maplewood Township Committee on board, she was appointed to an ad-hoc citizens committee to study a preservation commission for Maplewood. She helped research the ordinance that created the Historic Preservation Commission and has served as its chairwoman since its inception in 2002.

Under her leadership, the commission has been classified as a Certified Local Government by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office, has conducted nine architectural surveys, designated numerous local landmarks,and has worked to educate the public about Maplewood’s historic architectural heritage. She has also worked with the Maplewood Planning Board, the Maplewood Memorial Library, the Durand-Hedden House and the township to promote and preserve the special physical quality and sense of place of Maplewood.