By Steve Sears
Turkey Brook Park in Mount Olive is home to many things, but perhaps the main one is reflection.
There is Memorial Park, which upon entry can be viewed and visited to the right, where remembered are fallen war heroes.
Now, a short drive halfway into the park yields a new point of memory. The Mount Olive Board of Education has purchased a bench that was donated in memory of the Paramus student and teacher, Miranda Vargas and Jennifer Williamson, both who died in a fatal Route 80 bus crash in May of 2018.
The bench, after “Paramus Strong, May 17, 2018 Donated by Mt. Olive Township Schools Transportation Department” was inscribed on it, was placed in the Dog Park section of Turkey Brook Park off of Flanders Road in Budd Lake on Friday, May 17, 2019. The dedication ceremony took place on the one-year anniversary of the devastating accident. There were about 60 people in attendance at the ceremony, including Town Council President Joe Nicastro, Vice-President Alex Roman, Councilman John Mania, and Mount Olive police officers. Bus Driver Sherry Ottoson sang “Amazing Grace”.
The bench sits side-by-side with a large stone bearing the inscription, “Dedicated to those Lost in the Paramus Bus Tragedy and the Heroic Actions of our First Responders.” Located in a quiet area of the park, the new bench is the perfect spot to sit, enjoy nature, and contemplate and remember.
Members of the Paramus School District were invited but were unable to attend due to memorial ceremonies planned in their own district.
“The decision to purchase the bench was made by the Transportation Department staff,” says Pamela Nicholais, Transportation Department Supervisor, who spoke at the event. The bench was paid for by Transportation Department Members through contributions, and the purchase price was $720.00. “The Transportation Department felt it was a good gesture to honor everyone affected by the accident,” says Nicholais. “Our hearts go out to everyone affected.” Nicholais, speaking at the event, said, “We come together as one unit, as a school transportation department, to dedicate this park bench to remember the Paramus School District, known as ”Paramus Strong”. She then added, “We remember The Paramus School District. We feel their pain, their sorrow, their loss, for all the affected people, and especially for families of student Miranda Vargas and teacher Jennifer Williamson.”
Nicastro also offered the following. “This was a very nice thing for the Mount Olive Department of Transportation to do in remembrance of the lives lost on that tragic day. I want to thank all those bus drivers who have a huge responsibility each day as they transport our children to and from their homes. I want to thank them all for their work and dedication to the safety of our children.”