RELEASE: Gottheimer Hosts Fifth District “Hometown Heroes” Awards

Hometown Heroes honors veterans, first responders, students, volunteers, & community leaders

Above: Congressman Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero honorees today.

HACKENSACK, NJ — Today, Friday, July 9, 2021, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) honored local first responders, veterans, students, life-saving bystanders, volunteers, Scouts, community leaders, and residents during his Fifth District Hometown Heroes Ceremony, held today at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center. 

Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards were presented to more than sixty Fifth District residents today to recognize their dedication to helping improve the lives of their neighbors, families, and communities.

“We are lucky to have so many unsung heroes in our communities, whose quiet power of service goes on every day without the recognition they truly deserve. They just do it because they care. Today is their day,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “It goes without saying that the past nearly year and a half has been an incredibly challenging time for our country — with a pandemic looming over us, sick loved ones and neighbors, and a drumbeat of economic uncertainty. If you pick up the paper, turn on cable news or flip through social media, there is far more attention being placed on what's going wrong with America, and far too little attention on what’s going right. We should focus more on what unites us, as opposed to what divides us — and spend more time focusing on those who give back to our country and communities.”

Gottheimer continued, “Today’s Hometown Heroes were all nominated by leaders from our community — including our elected officials, nonprofit and faith leaders, friends, family members, first responders, and neighbors who believe that they truly deserve the title. These individuals come from all walks of life, but they all share an idea that is particularly special: they embody our Jersey Values and make our community such a special place to live, work, and raise a family. They help us build the more perfect union we should all be fighting for. We should all work to live up to their example.”

Video of the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards ceremony can be found HERE.

The July 2021 Fifth District Hometown Hero Award honorees in order of appearance:

Robert Byrnes Jr., New Milford, Bergen County — a career firefighter and current Captain at the Bergenfield Fire Department who has received multiple honors for his two remarkable life-saving rescues: a 65-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl at the local high school. 

Ken and Jacquie Lunden, Liberty Township, Warren County — an impressive couple who has gone out of their way for over three decades to support essential services, sponsor vital community projects, and care for their neighbors. Ken serves as a volunteer firefighter and EMT, Jacquie serves as the President of the Ladies Auxiliary, and they have both taken on leadership roles at the Mountain lake Community Association. 

Reverend Frank Fowler III, Hackettstown, Warren County — posthumous — a giant in his community who passed away earlier this year. Reverend Fowler served as the Senior Pastor of the Trinity Church and consistently dedicated himself to serving his neighbors with everything from running food pantries to a church thrift shop, as well as supporting children with disabilities. 

Ross Herbert, Closter, Bergen County — the decorated Captain of the Closter Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Corps, who stepped up throughout the pandemic to handle 417 ambulance calls, as well as to support neighboring EMT teams by briefing them on COVID-19 safety protocols.

Christopher Bianchi, Demarest, Bergen County — a career law enforcement officer and Chief of the Demarest Police Force, whose unwavering dedication to protecting his residents has made his community a safer place to live. Throughout the pandemic, Chief Bianchi supplied first responders and neighboring agencies with PPE and served as a resource to anyone who needed assistance. 

Karen DeMarco, Dumont, Bergen County — the founder of the Food Brigade who has facilitated the delivery of over one-million pounds of food to those in need in North Jersey. Inspired by the show of support from her community after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Karen decided to pay-it-forward and feed others who could not support themselves and their families. 

Lisa MacClements, Fair Law, Bergen County — the facilitator of Fair Lawn for All Ages, an organization that supports programs and resources that help make the community more age-friendly by supporting seniors and instilling the values of service onto the younger generation. 

Mike Richards and Kyle Sander, Frankford, Sussex County — the Sussex County Fairgrounds Manager and Groundskeeper, respectively, who served as the backbone for their community’s vaccination site by shoveling snow and caring for volunteers. Their efforts ensured that their neighbors were able to receive these life-saving shots. 

Lisa Bufalini-Saavedra, Glen Rock, Bergen County — the founder of Glen Rock Angels Feeding Oasis, an organization that stepped up throughout the pandemic to serve more than 29,000 meals to those in need. She also coordinated and recruited more than 200 volunteers to join this effort. 

Julia Decker, Green Township, Sussex County — a Junior at Newton High School who partnered with Love Without Boundaries to raise money for orphaned and vulnerable children suffering from cleft lip or palate in China and Cambodia. After an anonymous donor sponsored her lip repair surgery when she was a three-and-a-half, Julia was motivated to give back. 

Bob Wolff, Hardwick, Warren County — a dedicated community leader for over forty years who has volunteered as a firefighter at the Stillwater Fire Department, served on the Hardwick Township Grants, Open Space, and Agricultural Committees, and sponsored countless community events. 

Louisa Giberti-Toledo, Hillsdale, Bergen County — a former First Lieutenant in the Army Reserves and a current Heart Transplant Nurse Practitioner at Newark Beth Israel Medical center whose outstanding service has permanently bettered her community and her country.    

Kyle Wilson, Lafayette, Sussex County — a dedicated, live-saving medical practitioner who serves as the Assistant Manager at the Emergency Department of Newton medical Center and as a mobile intensive care nurse for Hunterdon Medical Center and Atlantic Mobile Health. 

Jessica Card, Liberty Township, Warren County — a Physicians’ Assistant who made it her mission throughout the pandemic to find vaccine appointments for her neighbors. What started as a favor to her friends expanded into a vast network of community members in need who Jessica served with relentless dedication.

Anthony “TJ” Luna, Lodi, Bergen County — posthumous — a 38-year long, immensely dedicated employee of the Lodi School Board who we unfortunately lost to COVID this year. From serving as a custodian to the Supervisor of Buildings and Ground, TJ became family to everyone in the Lodi school community. He was a gracious custodian of the school grounds and a friend to so many. He will be dearly missed. 

Frank Hoogerheide, Midland Park, Bergen County — a community leader who has spent more than 25 years combatting food insecurity for students and churchgoers throughout his community. Every winter, Frank, the founder of the Midland Park United Methodist Church’s Super Bowl Food Drive, leads a canned soup drive and donates thousands of cans to local banks that feed people in need. 

Laura Mickley, Montague, Sussex County — the Director of Norwescap Child and Family Resources Services who has been on the front lines of child care for 16 years, providing invaluable support to families and providers across northern New Jersey. Throughout the pandemic, she stepped up to address the emerging needs of her community by providing essential childcare to frontline workers who had to put their lives on the line for all of us. 

Larry Bauer, New Milford, Bergen County — known as “Mr. Teaneck” by his friends and colleagues due to his outsized leadership role in his community. From serving as the President of the Teaneck Chamber of Commerce, to supporting the Teaneck International Film Festival, the Pride Awareness Advisory Board, and the Historic New Bridge Landing Commission, Larry has truly gone out of his way to make Teaneck a better place to live for all of his neighbors.  

Joanne Scalpello, Harrington Park, Bergen County — the Director of the Norwood Food Pantry that serves between 50 to 100 households each week in an area where food insecurity is especially stigmatized. For the past 38 years, Joanne has never turned down an opportunity to try out an innovative approach to addressing hunger in her community.

Caron McCormick, Oakland, Bergen County — an all-around community leader who has served as the Vice-President of the Sports Association in Oakland that offers youth sports and academic classes, the head of the Oakland Youth Arts Program, and the co-founder of Let’s Talk Oakland, an initiative aimed at changing the culture surrounding mental health.  

Catherine Yaxley-Schmidt, Oradell, Bergen County — Chairwoman of the Board of Health for Oradell for 18 years and a member of the town’s Office of Emergency Management. She played a crucial role in Oradell’s COVID response by serving as the lead of its Task Force, through which she helped local schools, recreation parks, and facilities keep up with CDC updates and protocols. 

Ed Hill, Paramus, Bergen County — a Scout, leader, and incredible volunteer who has served as Den Leader, Assistant Cub Master, and Scoutmaster. He also founded the Mobile Emergency Response Kitchen (MERK), which brings together Paramus Scouts to respond to natural disasters, emergencies, and community needs.

Carissa Stricker, Ramsey, Bergen County — the Chief of Mahwah EMS who stepped up throughout the pandemic to provide the best care possible to the township while always keeping her team safe. She ensured that her team had enough PPE and responded to over 1,400 calls in 2020. 

Dawn Cetrulo, Ridgewood, Bergen County —  the Director of the Ridgewood Department of Health who has handled the responsibility of maintaining the health and safety of her community with great dedication and pride. She ensured that Ridgewood was able to promptly establish a vaccine clinic, helped her community maintain schooling throughout the pandemic, and constantly kept residents informed on developments and updated guidance. 

Ridgewood Feed the Frontlines — Stacey Antine, Jeanne Johnson, Jennifer Williams, Joan Groome, Karen Hughes, Paul Vagianos, David Warshaw, Scott Lief, & the Bergen County Food Security Task Force — what began in March 2020 with $100,000 in private donations to purchase 8,000 meals from Ridgewood restaurants to feed Valley Hospital frontline workers, expanded through a $1 million NJEDA grant for Ridgewood’s Feed the Frontlines to manage a schedule of 20 restaurants cooking meals, coordinate 400 volunteer drivers, and provide 1,200 meals a day to hospitals, first responders, and food pantries.

Arlene Faustini, River Edge, Bergen County — a nurse with the River Edge Health Department for nearly 30 years, who worked tirelessly to help River Edge through the pandemic, by coordinating a drive-through COVID-19 testing site for local residents, and helping families and seniors cope with uncertainty and fear throughout the crisis.

Allen Meisenkothen, Michela Sales, & Madison Sales, Sussex Borough, Sussex County — who noticed smoke at a nearby home and called 9-1-1, knowing there was an elderly wheelchair-bound resident inside. Allen ran into the home to rescue the elderly resident, wheeled them outside, and then ran back inside to save the resident’s dog as well.

Nancy Palamara, Teaneck, Bergen County — helped lead Holy Name Medical Center’s COVID-19 crisis response, overseeing six clinical service lines to care for patients and safeguard staff, as well as the pharmacy’s participation in developing groundbreaking investigational therapies and conducting clinical trials, and helped roll-out and maintain one of Jersey’s largest and most efficient vaccination distribution systems — helped administer 200,000+ vaccines.

Michele and Lewis Kadell, Upper Saddle River, Bergen County — who own and run Paterson Park Apartments, the first permanent, supportive housing for homeless and disabled veterans in the state — built in 2012 — now helping house 35 veteran residents and families. Michelle helps lead NJ SOS VETS to offer Suicide Prevention Seminars, and helps lead an Unmet Needs Fund to financially support hard-pressed veterans. Lewis’s own construction business has helped elderly residents with emergency home repairs free of charge.

Mark Ramundo, Waldwick, Bergen County — a volunteer firefighter for the past two decades, who is now helping keep Waldwick green, through his work as Executive Director of the Waldwick Environmental Advisory Committee and the Waldwick Green Team, leading styrofoam recycling collections, helping manage stormwater, organizing educational outreach to the community, and hosting clean-up days.

Captain Derek Martino; Lt. Courtney Jozoski; Firefighter Joseph Fox, Jr.; Firefighter Rich Maguire; Captain Ronald Hartrum, Washington Borough, Warren County — bravely and selflessly put their own lives on the line by staying in a burning house, while facing heavy fire and with their tanks running out of air, to find an elderly resident on the second floor and help carry them out of the window.

Lisa McKoy, Westwood, Bergen County — helped lead a group of Westwood Borough volunteers assisting Hackensack Pascack Valley Hospitals on Westwood’s Vaccination Days. She worked long hours and went door-to-door in her neighborhood to reach out to seniors without social media, helping get hundreds of Westwood seniors, residents, teachers, and workers vaccinated.

Johnny & Alissa Vitale, Park Ridge, Bergen County — the owners of Cafe Anello and Sogno Coffee House in Westwood, visited more than 30 regional hospitals to feed more than 38,000 meals to frontline workers, first responders, and residents in need — keeping the community updated with regular social media videos for their program now known as “Anello Feeds First.”

Dr. Lisa Tank, Woodcliff Lake, Bergen County — the Chief Medical Officer at Hackensack University Medical Center, helped lead medical staff through the pandemic, developed critical COVID-19 patient care guidelines to treat the virus, and established a patient office-hours program for families to connect with each patient via iPads.

Tony Gallopo, Newton, Sussex County — posthumous — a Navy veteran who served as Vice Commander of the New Jersey American Legion and Commander of Post 86 in Newton, was instrumental in the fight to open the Northwestern Jersey community’s first Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic, boosting in-person psychiatric care at the clinic, and ensuring local veterans could access the care they deserved.

Julie Krcmaric, Norwood, Bergen County — who, with her husband, have a special needs infant — Emmeline — who has Congenital Hyperinsulinism, a rare disease. Julie, a Norwood native, brings awareness to rare diseases, comforts other parents through difficult times, and spearheaded the creation of a library for patients at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Michael Hosier, Lodi, Bergen County — a two-decades long leader at the Boys and Girls Club of Lower Bergen County who served as the Director of Operations for the majority of tenure. He oversaw the Lodi clubhouse, managed employees, and always put the needs of children in Lodi ahead of his own. 

Nick Pachnos, Frelinghuysen, Warren County — a volunteer firefighter at the Green Township Fire Department for 27 years who has served as the Department’s Chief and the Coordinator of his town’s Office of Emergency Management. He has helped his town navigate intense disasters and implemented a new system, called Reverse911, which helped open lines of communication between town officials and residents. 

Dr. Heba Abdulla, Franklin Lakes, Bergen County — the founder of the American Muslim Community of Franklin Lakes and a doctor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Chilton Memorial Hospital. Heba has sponsored a variety of initiatives across the Muslim and medical communities, including an interfaith group at the El Zahara Islamic Center, the Women of Colour Engage program, which unites women around issues of equal justice, and also provides free skin cancer screenings to anyone in her community who needs it. 

Brian Ford, Newton, Sussex County — has served as a recovery coach at the Center for Prevention and Counseling since 2017, where he works with individuals seeking treatment and recovery support — following his own struggle with addiction. Throughout his career, he’s worked in law enforcement, addiction counseling, and as a wellness coach. 

Jack Erhard, Haworth, Bergen County — a dedicated public servant who has consistently used his professional experience for the benefit of the town. He supported the effort to replace the Ivy Avenue Bridge, the centerpiece of Haworth, and serves on the Shade Tree Commission, through which he works to preserve his communities trees and landscapes. He is a passionate member of the Haworth community who works every day to protect the environment and the town’s infrastructure. 

Janis Woersching, West Milford, Passaic County — the COO of the SCARC in Frankford for the past 16 years, through which she acted as the COVID response coordinator and chief motivator for employees and families. She has dedicated herself to serving children and adults with developmental disabilities and leads programs and services to approximately 500 people in her community. 

Peter Diestel, Allendale, Bergen County — the president of operations for Valley Health System, has worked for more than a quarter century in service to New Jersey. Healthcare. Peter has helped lead Valley’s efforts to lower ER wait times and ensure the health system could care for both patients and their frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeanne Russell & Danielle Centurione, Park Ridge, Bergen County — Jeanne, a school nurse, and Danielle, a physical education teacher and EMT, helped save high school student Nicole Larghi, who has an inherited heart defect. The student came to the nurse’s office feeling faint, then fell to the floor. Jeanee and Danielle administered two-person CPR. The student was revived once local police arrived to shock her at least six times with an automated external defibrillator.

Below: Congressman Gottheimer with Fifth District Hometown Hero honorees today.