My Paper Online Online Local Community News for New Jersey Sat, 03 Aug 2019 22:30:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 First Former WOHS Student Graduates US Air Force Academy Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:28:06 +0000 By Anya Bochman

Photos: 1)  2)  Photos courtesy/Joseph Marchesini

A 2015 graduate of West Orange High School (WOHS) made history for her former school when she graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy at its commencement ceremony on May 30. Gina Arrabito, a West Orange native, became the first female cadet from WOHS to graduate from a military academy, and the first former WOHS student of any gender to graduate from USAFA. 

Joseph Marchesini, a retired U.S. Air Force Major and Arrabito’s former ROTC program director at WOHS, administered her officer’s oath at the commencement ceremony. Marchesini, who has known Arrabito since 2013 and wrote USAFA admissions in support of her application to the academy, had nothing but praise for the newly minted second lieutenant.

“As for work ethic and passion, [Arrabito] has impressive amounts of both. I spent seven of my 20-plus active duty years training college students to be lieutenants. Of those 300 or so I helped train, she is in the top five for work ethic, discipline, commitment and leadership potential,” Marchesini said. “And that was when she was in high school.”

Joseph Marchesini administers Gina Arrabito’s commissioned officers oath.

Marchesini related that Arrabito did not always dream of a life in the Air Force; in fact, she would often jokingly blame him for her career path. The lieutenant was always interested in military service; one of her grandfathers served in the Army and the other in the Navy. Still, Marchesini said that the Air Force specifically first interested her in his program at WOHS. Arrabito enrolled in the retired major’s Air Force Junior ROTC program in 2013, and quickly stood out amongst her classmates.

“She took to the training well and I noticed very early she was a natural leader, so I started talking up the Air Force Academy as a post high school option,” Marchesini said. “What interested her in this career path is a better question for her to answer, but I can tell you she has spent her life selflessly helping others and now wants to be a combat rescue pilot.”

Arrabito is scheduled to start pilot training in Texas in February. This training could last up to two years, and then Arrabito will be relocated on assignment. 

During the commencement ceremony, Arrabito recited the commissioned officers’ oath, something that every US military officer must do before they assume officers’ rank (“commissioned” here means to be appointed by the President). A commissioned officer of equal or higher rank must read the oath, with the graduating cadet reciting back the words. 

Traditionally, the officer to be commissioned chooses someone important in her life and training to read or administer that oath. Marchesini felt honored to accept when Arrabito asked him to do this at her commencement ceremony. The two have remained close over the years, and Marchesini’s words of hope for Arrabito as a second lieutenant underscore the bond they share.

“I’ve come to think of [Arrabito] as another daughter, so first and foremost I hope for her to be safe. Beyond that I wish for her to be happy and content in her chosen profession and as an officer in the United States armed forces, serve our country with honor,” Marchesini said of his hopes for Arrabito’s future.

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West Orange Athletic Director Named AD of the Year Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:25:09 +0000 Photo: Courtesy of WO Public Schools

By: Danielle Incognito


Ron Bligh, Athletic Director at West Orange High School for the past ten years, has recently been named Athletic Director of the Year by the Super Essex Conference (SEC) and the Essex County Athletic Directors Association. He was honored with the prestigious award at the 42nd Annual Scholar Athlete Awards Ceremony, which was held at Mayfair Farms in West Orange.  There, he was surrounded by friends, family, and even students. Bligh said, “I got to share it with my family and closest friends, and what made it more special, was that my sister and brother presented it to me.” They are both Athletic Directors from Essex County. He was proud to say, “I am a member of a fine group of people.”


Bligh has had a love of sports from the beginning. He’s had a 40 year involvement in sports communities. Over his career, he had transitioned from player, to coach, to principal, and then to Athletic Director.  He fell in love with sports at an early age. It began as a young athlete when he recalled, “My dad was my first coach, and in my home, it was always a family affair.” His family gave him a strong work ethic. They also taught him to be generous, to care, and to be committed. At an early age, he learned that care and commitment to kids was the most important thing.  He enjoyed and took part in wrestling, football, baseball, and track.


He became a physical education teacher and coach at Bergenfield High School and Irvington High School. He proudly acknowledged, “I have always looked up to my coaches.  Good coaches are good teachers. I’ve tried to make every position I’ve held a team one.”


Later on in his career, he became the head of the Physical Education/Health Department at Irvington High School and then the principal of Union Ave. Middle School in the same town. “I have always thrived on the competition and made great friends along the way,” Bligh said.


Over the years, Bligh has received many awards, and his accomplishments and contributions have been acknowledged. Moreover, he has served on many important committees and commissions.  In his current position as Athletic Director of WOHS, he has done great things for the girls program, especially. In 2018, the girls’ program was named the number one athletic program in Essex County (a first SEC Ronald SanFilipo Cup for the program). 


When asked what made his latest award so special, Ron Bligh replied, “Get a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.  Teaching and coaching allow you to make a difference in the life of a child, and Oh, what a rewarding feeling.” He has been inspired by his career in education and athletics, and he wants people to know that most of all.


He shared the night with sixty-six scholarly students who were also recognized for their great contributions to athletics.  The night was applauded and celebrated by parents, coaches, teachers, and administrators who came to honor the athletes, along with Ron Bligh.

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West Orange Students Form Human Chain to Benefit Local Food Pantry Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:21:14 +0000 By Anya Bochman

Photos courtesy/Cynthia Cumming

The Holy Trinity West Orange (HTWO) food pantry was started in 2002 as a community response to the growing needs West Orange residents witnessed at Christine’s Kitchen, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church’s weekly free hot lunch program. The number of guests served at Christine’s each week ranges from 75 to 100; parishioners and clergy realized that these patrons still lacked food the other six days of the week – especially toward the end of the month, when welfare and food stamps were running low. As such, the food pantry was created. 

Open the fourth Monday of the month from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and the third and fourth Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., HTWO food pantry runs on food donations from Holy Trinity parishioners, various local agencies and the Community Food Bank of Hillside. Other support comes from West Orange schools, businesses, organizations and individuals who either donate food or provide financial support. 

Cynthia Cumming, who works for the West Orange school district, has been the pantry’s administrator for the past ten years. Every year, she applies for a grant to the local diocese to cover the cost of her services in running the HTWO food pantry, tasks that include PR for the organization and acquiring groceries from the food bank. Cumming relies on help from volunteers, such as members of the National Council of Jewish Women. A large portion of the support also comes from the West Orange community.

“We do food drives as part of keeping the pantry open, and the community always helps us out,” Cumming said. “We are lucky and blessed to have the community.”

One of the major annual events that supports the food pantry is the soup drive by the students and staff of Washington Elementary School. Originally started by teacher Linda Perna, the drive uses the proximity of the school to the pantry to center on the concept of a “human chain” of students; children hold hands to create a “chain” that stretches from their school to the pantry in a show of solidarity.

In early June, a pair of West Orange police officers helped close off Franklin Avenue, where the children were lining up class by class.

When the students reached the pantry, its staff tasked them with sorting out the donated food. Over all, the children volunteers hand-delivered and sorted 1,225 cans and packages during the event. As they worked, they chanted the phrases “Pass That Soup” and “We Will, We Will Pass It” (Cumming explained that the latter is a reference to the popular Queen biopic that came out this year).

“The annual soup drive is the highlight of our year,” Cumming said. “It helps the kids have a sense that they are part of a bigger picture.”

The student participation is particularly poignant because Washington Elementary is a Title I school and more than 70 percent of the students there receive free lunch.

“The students definitely like the idea of giving, and some of them may be food insecure themselves, so they know how important it is to have access to food,” Cumming said. “Some people don’t give kids enough credit, but they really enjoy participating in the soup drive.”

The food pantry is a 501C3 nonprofit, tax exempt organization that provides healthy meals to approximately 500 people a month. It receives State and Federal food subsidies each month and is partnered with Meeting Emergency Needs with Dignity (MEND). Community support such as that offered by the annual Washington Elementary soup drive is crucial to keeping the pantry stocked. 

“It was a very nice day this year, and a good experience for all,” Cumming said of the drive. “The kids had fun and the teachers were happy, and of course, the pantry received donations.”

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Vee Popat, Popular West Essex Middle School Principal, to Further His Career in South Carolina Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:17:50 +0000 By Steve Sears 


Vee Popat, Principal of West Essex Middle School for the past six years, is departing for Greenville, South Carolina where he will assume the Director position of the Fine Arts Center.


Popat, who has 17 years experience in public education, leaves not minus a deep affection for the area and the students he served. “West Essex has been amazingly supportive!” he says. “From the Superintendent, to the parents and students, to our Faculty and Staff – everyone has been so kind to me and my family as we went through this change.  I have always been treated with respect by the community – they gave me time to learn my position, supported our initiatives, and entrusted us with the education of their children. The experiences I have gained in my six years at West Essex have had a profound impact on my personal and professional growth, and I will always be grateful for my time here.”


For Popat, whose wife’s family lives in Greenville and both also have a lot of extended family there, the new location is certainly familiar. “We have visited Greenville many times and have enjoyed our experiences with the city and surrounding areas.  Considering the age of my children and the importance we place on our family, this was the ideal time for us to make a move.” And the position he inherits is right up his alley. “In researching the move, it just so happened that the position of ‘Director of the Fine Arts Center’ was open.  Though my career has progressed into building-level leadership, I have always maintained my passion for the arts. Outside of school, I continue to perform professionally as a jazz saxophonist, and I maintain a studio of students who I teach on a weekly basis. My children are heavily involved in the arts as well.  The position I earned in Greenville allows me to continue my work as a building-level leader in an environment that offers the highest level of arts education.”  


Popat first served as a teacher for nine years as a band director prior to moving into administration. The majority of his career as a music educator was in the award-winning programs of the Randolph school system, he earned “Teacher of the Year” honors in 2007 (Randolph Middle School) and 2011 (Ironia Elementary School).  In the fall of 2011, he was promoted to the role of Supervisor of Arts, leading the Music, Art, Dance, Family/Consumer Science, and Mass Media programs.  


“After 11 years in Randolph, I moved to the West Essex Regional School District to lead the Visual and Performing Arts Program.  An opportunity came up to interview for the Middle School Principalship, and since I was very happy in West Essex, I decided to go for it.  I served as Middle School Principal for six years before making the decision to move my family out of state.”


Popat and his wife Heather have been married for 13 years, and are parents to twins, Nate and Charlotte, who are 10, and another daughter, Addison, who  is 3. “There is no more challenging and satisfying job than being a parent. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” he beams. He feels equitable support between he and his wife aided the move and their future. “We (he and Heather) have always supported each other in our careers and at home.  We believe that we should be growing as much individually as we do together.”


Popat speaks about the value of educating. “Creating opportunities for students and educators to grow.  Fostering an environment that is simultaneously challenging and supportive. To me education equals opportunity – it is the basis for a successful life, and I feel blessed to play a role in molding the future of our country.”

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37thANNUAL VERONA LABOR DAY CLASSIC Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:15:19 +0000 Verona UNICO is pleased to announce the 37th Annual Verona Labor Day Classic to be held on Monday, September 2  at Verona Park. There will be a 1 mile fun run and health walk around Verona Park at 9:00 AM. followed by a five kilometer race at 9:30 a.m. This is one of the best 5K races held in northern New Jersey on a fast USATF certified course through the streets of Verona with the start on Lakeside Avenue and a scenic finish in Verona Park.


Verona UNICO organizes this event with the Essex Running Club and it serves as a major fundraiser for UNICO charities which include local volunteer and non-profit organizations as well as scholarships for Verona High School graduates. Platinum sponsors for the race are Hillcrest Farms (Verona), Fleet Feet Sports (Montclair) and Pigerno-Giordano Construction. Gold sponsors are Verona /UNICO National, Verona Place Apartments,Willing Hearts Consignment Shop, SC Schumacher Chevrolet Auto Group, Eight Hills Caterers, Bagelwich Bagel Bakery, Bella Gente Ristorante, Hill Publishing Inc,McEnerney,Brady & Co. and Verona PBA.


The 5K race is a USATF-NJ Grand Prix event with awards and Fleet Feet incl running shoes to 1st overall M/F, gift certificates to the top 3 finishers in 5 year age groups. Electronic chip timing of the 5K race will be performed by CompuScore and complete results will be published on their website at There will be finisher ribbons for each child competing in the 1 mile Fun Run. Bagels, fruit and other refreshments will be provided after the race at the finish area.


Pre-registration for the 5K is $25 (USATF-MEMBERS $20); race day registration is $30. Pre-registration for the 1-mile Fun Run and Health Walk is $15; race day registration is $20. All pre-registered entrants are guaranteed the official race t-shirt. All others will receive a shirt while supplies last.


You can download an application from or register online at or register There are no extra fees for online registration. Online registration will close at midnight on Saturday August 24. Race day registration and packet pickup begin at 8:00-8:45 AM at the boathouse in Verona Park. You can also register in person at Fleet Feet Sports, 603 Bloomfield Ave. Montclair thru Sunday, September 1 cash or checks only and there will be early packet pickup at Fleet Feet Sports on Saturday August 31 (Noon-7 p.m.) and Sunday, September 1(Noon-4 p.m.).


For more information please visit the Essex Running club website at or call Bruce Snogans from Verona UNICO at 973-239-5888.

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Papermill Trained Actress, Ali Stroker, Makes Tony Awards History Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:12:29 +0000 By: Stefanie Sears


Ali Stroker made history at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards hosted by James Corden at Radio City Music Hall on June 9. She was the first person who uses a wheelchair to ever be nominated and receive a Tony Award for acting, winning the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Ado Annie Carnes in the reimagined 2019 Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Also nominated alongside her in the category was Lilli Cooper as Julie Nichols in Tootsie, Amber Gray as Persephone in Hadestown, Sarah Stiles as Sandy Lester in Tootsie, and Mary Testa as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma!


Past notable credits of Stroker’s include being a finalist on The Glee Project, a guest star on“Glee, originating the role of Anna in Deaf West’s 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, and playing Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2011 at Paper Mill Playhouse, where she had trained in the Summer Musical Theater Conservatory program. 


At the Tony Awards, Stroker performed Ado Annie’s solo number I Cain’t Say No and then Oklahoma with the rest of the cast. Much like the liberated Ado Annie, she is unapologetically herself.


At age 2, Stroker suffered injuries from a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down due to a spinal cord injury. Finding it difficult to participate in extracurricular and athletic activities growing up, she discovered at age 7 that she could act and sing just like anyone else. She starred in a fun backyard production of Annie, directed by her 12-year-old neighbor Rachel Antonoff. For the first time, she was in control of why people were looking at her. She was powerful because she was a star.


Originally from Ridgewood, Stroker attended New York University to study drama. Though she has faced some difficulty in the busy city, such as being unable to hail a cab, managing New York gave her the confidence to handle any surroundings.


When she was first cast as Ado Annie, the Circle in the Square Theatre was not equipped for someone with a wheelchair to get onstage. On Tony Award night, Stroker waited in the wings of the stage when her category was being announced, wearing a yellow gown created by Antonoff, now a fashion designer.


Stroker’s victory raises awareness and makes the need for representation and accessibility for those with disabilities that much more apparent.


Upon receiving her award, Stroker lifted up her trophy, stared into the camera, and while trying to hold back tears, said, “This award is for every kid watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation, or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena. You ARE.”


This statement was met with applause and cheers, with a very determined and satisfied Stroker nodding at the camera with a smile forming on her face. 

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Recalling James Caldwell’s 1779 Aid in Organizing of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:06:45 +0000 By Steve Sears 

James Caldwell may have never been Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell, but he did have a hand in getting things organized.

The First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell will celebrate the 250th anniversary of its official 1784 founding in 2034, but 240 years ago, on July 17, 1779, Caldwell, in the first step towards organizing a congregation, was given a tract of land in what is now the center of the Borough of Caldwell for the First Presbyterian Church in Horse-Neck.

Per the church website, the tract was gifted  “for the purpose of erecting a proper building and buildings for the support and conveniency of the public worship of Almighty God, and for the support and comfort of such minister of the Gospel of the Presbyterian denomination…and also for the use of a place for burial for said Congregation and Inhabitants.”

Dr. Richard Sommers, who began his First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell Pastoralship in May of 2007, says, “FPC has been an integral part of the Caldwells since its founding; its physical location, as well as its extensive ministry into the community for more than 200 years, has served as a foundational, stabilizing aspect of life in the Caldwells.  Of course, the connection the church has with James Caldwell and Grover Cleveland alone make it historically significant, but its significance goes far beyond history. I remember several Octobers ago during the annual street fair when the church was opened, a Caldwell resident walked in the sanctuary and noted, ‘I’ve lived here all my life, but this is the first time I have actually been inside the sanctuary.  And though I am not a member, this church is very important to me and to this community.’”

Per Ray Liptak, who with others helps maintain artifacts and historical documents that comprise the FPC Heritage Room, a handwritten survey from 1779 describes a parcel of land 90.47 acres in size. “As you can read the survey was done at …’ye request of the commity (committee) Appointed and Chosen for that all that tract’. There is a separate Indenture where 50 acres of land was sold at auction and received by James Caldwell,” he says.

An indeed Caldwell and Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, played a huge role in the congregation’s history, as well as the church’s first pastor, Stephen Grover. Richard Cleveland, the President’s father, succeeded Grover as pastor, and also named his son – Stephen Grover Cleveland – after him. The President was born in the manse of the church, which now serves as the Grover Cleveland National Historic Site about a mile from the church building. 

The FPC Heritage Gallery room contains much history, including three original documents dated from the mid to late 1770s, one the before mentioned survey, carefully protected under archival plastic. “This stuff,” says Liptak, “is not very easy to read. They had very fancy style handwriting and the spelling is interesting,” he said while attempting to decipher it.

“He was a trusted individual,” says Liptak of Caldwell. 

A recommended work to learn more about Caldwell is Lynn G. Lockward’s A Puritan Heritage: History of the First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell. Published in 1955, it is available at the Caldwell Library and via interlibrary loan.

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Agnes St. Vil Awarded Investors Bank Best Teammate Award Mon, 05 Aug 2019 22:03:27 +0000 West Orange High School’s (WOHS) Agnes St. Vil is a recipient of the 2019 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award. Agnes, the manager of the Mountaineers’ wrestling team, was honored for manifesting the strength of character, sportsmanship and supportive spirit vital to a team’s success. WOHS Athletic Director Ronald Bligh said: “Agnes was the best manager we’ve ever had, and she worked tirelessly during the season to make sure the wrestlers had what they needed to succeed.” The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center hosted student-athletes from member schools the Super Essex Conference (SEC) along with their families and coaches for the awards event. Museum Executive Director Eve Schaenen said: “The Best Teammates Award allows us to recognize young people who are embodying the positive ideals that Yogi lived by, both on and off the field.”

Photo by Matt Healy

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Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center 2019 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award Mon, 05 Aug 2019 21:59:20 +0000 Student-athlete Michael Maida, who attends James Caldwell High School, has received the 2019 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award. Michael, who plays on the Chiefs’ varsity baseball team, was recognized because he exemplifies the strength of character, sportsmanship and supportive spirit that are vital to a team’s success. The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center hosted student athletes from member schools of the Super Essex Conference (SEC) along with their families and coaches. Eve Schaenen, the Museum’s Executive Director, said, “The Best Teammate Award allows us to recognize young people who are embodying the positive ideals that Yogi lived by his entire life, both on and off the field.”

Photo by Matt Healy

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Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center 2019 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award Mon, 05 Aug 2019 21:56:38 +0000 Student-athlete Frank Rizzo, who attends West Essex High School in North Caldwell, has received the 2019 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award. Frankie, who plays on the Knights’ varsity football and wrestling teams, was recognized  because he exemplifies the strength of character, sportsmanship and supportive spirit that are vital to a team’s success. The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center hosted student athletes from member schools of the Super Essex Conference (SEC) along with their families and coaches. Eve Schaenen, the Museum’s Executive Director, said, “The Best Teammate Award allows us to recognize young people who are embodying the positive ideals that Yogi lived by his entire life, both on and off the field.”

Photo by Matt Healy

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