Former Township of Mount Olive Mayor Paul Licitra Honored with a Dedication at Turkey Brook Park

By Steve Sears

On Saturday, September 10, former Township of Mount Olive Mayor, Paul Licitra, was honored with a special plaque and dedication at Turkey Brook Park.

When Licitra served as Mayor from 2000 to 2004, it was his idea to create the park. Licitra has lived in Flanders since 1972, and Turkey Brook Park will officially celebrate 20 years in 2023. “I take credit for the formation of the park, trying to get it done, and the idea of it,” Licitra says. “I knew we needed the recreation. But anything else, especially the development of it, would have to go to the former mayors, and present Mayor Rob Greenbaum. He expanded my dream, followed my lead as far as Turkey Brook was concerned. And my dream of what it would look like, he made it a reality.”

267-acre Turkey Brook Park was originally the site of the former Bieler’s Farm. “It was purchased as open space, and you could tell it was quality soil when we purchased it,” Licitra explains. “We have an Open Space Committee that purchased the land, and what they wanted to do was keep it as passive recreation. But what myself and the Council decided at that point was that we needed recreation, and I knew we needed recreation for years, because I was involved in four sports in the town. We needed as much (recreation) as we could, because we were growing very fast. We were getting a lot of people and, while we had a great educational system – and we’ve always had a great educational system – we decided that we needed recreation fields, too.”

The few athletic fields that the township owned back then didn’t drain well, and there was only one baseball field. For all other sports, the town had to use Mount Olive Board of Education fields. Once the Township Council decided on what was needed, a firm called Olympus was hired to do a rendering of what the fields would look like. “We got all the Presidents of the leagues together, and did a needs assessment on what we were going to use in the future as far as population, as far as ball fields, what have you,” Licitra recalls. “We decided we needed at least three soccer fields, three softball fields, one regulation baseball field, and one football field. That’s what we planned for, and the rendering was beautiful.” Work was completed, but with an eye towards the future. Licitra explains. “You have to remember that as soon as we finished the fields, we had other needs for recreation. We had a lacrosse program that was expanding about that time, and lacrosse became popular. We weren’t current on our needs even at that point. We still needed to accommodate lacrosse.” 

In addition to the recreation and sports activities, Turkey Brook Park is home to the All Veterans Memorial, and also the 1865 Seward Mansion (or Seward House), which stands as a loyal guardian as you first drive into the park. “We decided to preserve it at first, make it a marker for the park,” Licitra says. “Over the years, good people like Thea Dunkel and Kathy Murphy, they got us some money for that to preserve it.”

For Licitra, Turkey Brook Park is one of his biggest accomplishments. “I’m proud that I had a part in it,” he says. “I look at it, and I always said that I’d love for my grandchildren to be playing there. I’m fortunate enough to have five of my six grandchildren live in Mount Olive, so they’re part of the community.” Licitra and his wife, Norma, have been married for 53 years, and they are parents to three children: Diana (Schwarick), John, and Susanne (Kessler), who is a 3rd Grade teacher in Mount Olive. The Licitras also have six grandchildren: Willie (20), Sara (17), Elizabeth (15), Emma (13), Kaitlyn (11), and Ava (7).

In addition to his time as Mayor, Licitra – a 50-year member of the Republican County Committee – has a long list of accomplishments and service to the community. Among the list, he was a town councilman from 1992 to 2000, has served as an Office Administrator to Senator Steve Oroho from 2008 to the present, is Sargent of Arms for the New Jersey State Senate since 2018, and is in his ninth year as Sports Ombudsman for Mount Olive Township.

On a recent weekend, Licitra and his wife visited Turkey Brook Park to see a football game that their granddaughter was cheerleading for. “As I said in the beginning, it has to be our ‘Main Street,’ the meeting ground.” Licitra says. “I noticed that it was packed and there was only one football game going on, and I said, ‘People just come here now on a Saturday night for comraderie,’ which is what we really, really wanted from the beginning.”

Turkey Brook Park is located at 30 Flanders Road in Budd Lake. For more information about what the facility offers, visit www.mountolivetwpnj.org.

 

 

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