Teacher, policeman and fire dept. honored

WEST ORANGE — The West Orange Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards dinner, recognizing an educator, a police officer, a business and a fire department for their actions during the past year.

After introductory remarks by Board Member Adam Wolf, Pastor Terry Smith of The Life Christian Church gave a keynote speech, first praising the people of the township.

“It takes good people doing great things from a variety of sectors to make this wonderful community work,” said Smith, who went on to talk about overcoming difficulties.

“To do great things, we have to joyfully face the challenges,” Smith said.

The Educator of the Year award was presented by Acting Superintendent of West Orange Schools Hayden Moore to West Orange High School teacher Catherine Connors.

Connors teaches science but is also an advisor for the student council, the Health Careers Club, a trustee of the scholarship fund, on the Food Advisory Committee and established the intergenerational reading program among other things.

“I am mystified how she can do all this and more,” Moore said.

Connors said West Orange was the place where she found her love of teaching and her home.

“Every day I get to go to school and do what I love and I learn as much from my students as they do from me,” Connors said.

The Police Officer of the Year Award was presented to Bret Wagner, who was chosen by his peers in the department for the honor. The award was presented by Police Chief James Abbott, who cited Wagner for his work with people in crisis.

“It’s a tradition with police that you salute a superior officer,” Abbott said, turning to Wagner and raising his hand to his eyebrows, “so I salute you.”

Wagner thanked everyone in the department with particular emphasis on the Community Service Unit and said he’s still a little surprised that he’s a police officer and has been one for so many years.

“I truly believe you don’t choose to be a police officer, it chooses you,” Wagner said.

The Firefighter of the Year Award is normally given to an individual but this year the entire department was recognized. Fire Chief Anthony Vecchio noted that the

Chamber of Commerce had not given out these annual awards in three years because of the pandemic and his department had been on the front lines during that period.

“The West Orange Fire Department, donned head to toe in PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), and saw it up front,” Vecchio said. “We confronted the virus with the courage and professionalism you have come to expect.”

Vecchio, who said everyone in the department had been infected with COVID at least once, symbolically presented the award to two firefighters representing the entire department: Frank Noborine, president of the Superior Officers Association, and Daniel Carrion of the Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.

The Business of the Year Award was presented by Chamber President Tez Roro to Kessler Institute and special awards were given to longtime chamber members Roger Schneider, owner of Schneider Hardware, and Dr. Ira Sonet, a dentist practicing in the township since 1984.

Teacher of the Year Catherine Connors speaks after receiving her award.
Photos by Joe Ungaro Police Chief James Abbott, right, speaks before handing the Police Officer of the Year award to Bret Wagner on the left.
rom right, Fire Department Chief Anthony Vecchio with firefighters Frank Noborine and Daniel Carrion, who were presented with the Fire Department of the Year award
Roger Schneider, owner of Schneider Hardware, and Dr. Ira Sonet, a dentist who has practiced in the township for nearly 40 years, were both given special awards for their contributions to the chamber and township.

“I would not have wanted to work anywhere else in the world other than West Orange,” Sonet said, adding that Schneider was “the voice of the chamber.”