Gottheimer Hosts Second Hometown Heroes Awards Ceremony at HackensackUMC Fitness & Wellness

Jul 03, 2018

Honors Heroes from Across the Fifth District

Yesterday, July 2, 2018, ahead of Independence Day on Wednesday, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) hosted his second Hometown Heroes Awards Ceremony in Maywood. At HackensackUMC Fitness & Wellness, Gottheimer presented awards to 24 of New Jersey’s Fifth District’s standout neighbors, friends, coworkers, and individuals who have volunteered, served, or worked to help others in North Jersey.

Each of these awardees were nominated by Fifth District mayors, community leaders, police chiefs, neighbors, coworkers, friends, families, and others in their community.

“Today’s awardees are bound by a shared sense of duty – to their families, their communities, and their country. They put the needs of others ahead of their own. None of these people stood up because they sought recognition, they did it because they wanted to do what was right,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “As families across North Jersey prepare for Independence Day celebrations this week, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the spirit, bravery, and compassion that make America the greatest country in the world. The 2018 Fifth District Hometown Heroes reflect all of that and more. Thank you to the Fifth District mayors, police chiefs, faith leaders, neighbors, coworkers, families, and friends who submitted nominations for this year’s awards. I couldn’t be more proud to honor these Hometown Heroes today.”

The 2018 Fifth District Hometown Heroes:

• Walter Caraballo of Blairstown
• Martin Diamond of Paramus
• Reverend Donna West of Hackensack
• Ralph Warner of Midland Park
• Pat Lynch of Newton
• Officer Lou Failla of Fair Lawn
• Lynne Kramer of Allamuchy
• Detective Randy Velez of Emerson
• Chief Clint Miller of Montvale
• Coach Glen Popolo of Ramsey
• EMT Amanda Hernandez of Bergenfield
• Members of Girl Scout Troop 19 of Teaneck
• Dianna Morrison of Newton
• OEM Director Roy Bauberger of Oakland
• Gayle Samitt of Woodcliff Lake
• Assistant Fire Chief David Berkenbush of Allamuchy
• Jane Damstra of Vernon
• Captain Ryan Shell of Bergenfield
• EMT Maura McLaughlin of Bergenfield
• Former Mayor Vince Barra of Allendale
• Gabby Cox of Franklin
• Jack Wallace of Franklin Lakes
• Lou Caruso of Green Township
• Deacon Robert Robinson and Rosemarie Sorce of Hackensack
• Sergeant Michael Graham of Northvale
• Andy Reithmayr of Haworth
• Captain Peggy Hissim of Oxford
• Mike Epstein of Paramus
• Officers James Warnet and Greg Slater of Bergenfield
• Patrolman Brian Depree, Firefighter Tim Riegel, and Chief Matt Ranone of Ringwood
• Maxine Shilan of Teaneck
• Officer Jonathan Bregman of West Milford
• Alma Mader of Wyckoff

Video of the ceremony can be found HERE.

Below: Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) celebrates with the Fifth District’s 2018 Hometown Heroes. From left to right. Front row: Walter Caraballo of Blairstown, Martin Diamond of Paramus, Reverend Donna West of Hackensack, Ralph Warner of Midland Park, Pat Lynch of Newton, Officer Lou Failla of Fair Lawn, Lynne Kramer of Allamuchy, Detective Randy Velez of Emerson, Chief Clint Miller of Montvale, Coach Glen Popolo of Ramsey, EMT Amanda Hernandez of Bergenfield. Back row: Members of Girl Scout Troop 19 of Teaneck, Dianna Morrison of Newton, OEM Director Roy Bauberger of Oakland, Gayle Samitt of Woodcliff Lake, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, Assistant Fire Chief David Berkenbush of Allamuchy, Jane Damstra of Vernon, Captain Ryan Shell of Bergenfield, and EMT Maura McLaughlin of Bergenfield.

Below are the biographies of the Hometown Heroes Award Recipients.

Today is a special day. We are here for the Fifth District Hometown Heroes Awards. We stand here to honor our standout neighbors, friends, coworkers, and individuals who have volunteered, served, or worked to help others in North Jersey. We are lucky to have so many unsung heroes in our communities, whose quiet power of service goes on every day without the due recognition they deserve. Today is their day.

It’s always important to thank others, but for the Fourth of July, we ought to take the extra time to appreciate those that make New Jersey such an incredible place to live, raise a family, work, and spend time. Today’s Hometown Heroes are what make North Jersey just so special.

That’s why these awardees have been nominated by mayors, police chiefs, neighbors, coworkers, friends, families, and others in their community.

From helping veterans to protecting our communities, to helping the less fortunate, these outstanding individuals come from all walks of life and all over New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District, from Allendale to Hackensack, from Paramus to Oxford Township.

Today’s awardees are bound by a shared sense of duty–to their families, their communities, and their country. They put the needs of others ahead of their own, and are committed to bettering the lives of other Jersey residents, especially those who need a helping hand the most. They are our firefighters, our first responders, our educators, and our family–our brothers and sisters and our sons and daughters. None of these people stood up because they sought recognition. They did it because they wanted to do what was right.

They did it because of what our founder Thomas Jefferson once said: “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

That’s what Jersey Values are all about. It’s what makes New Jersey such a special place to live. On behalf of the Fifth District, I couldn’t be more proud to honor them today.

When you think about what it means to be a hero, many ideas come to mind.

Many of us think of the brave men and women of our military, who put their lives on the line every day to keep our families safe and protect the freedoms we hold dear. Others think of the law enforcement officers and first responders — some of whom are being honored here today — protecting us every day from criminals and lone-wolf terrorists.

I know everyone here and across the region shares my heartfelt thanks for the bravery of these heroes.

And as many brave men and women on the front lines will tell you, there are countless others who also stand up when people need it most. The doctors, teachers, and local leaders, who save lives and dedicate themselves to strengthening our communities. There are heroes among all of us, far and wide and big and small.

Looking at this group of awardees today really hits that point home. Heroes go above and beyond the call of duty.

When I think about my heroes, I think about my grandfather, a World War II Captain, who embodied the greatest generation and the patriotism that gave them the courage to run into harm’s way.

That service and unyielding respect for the freedoms and values of our country were why he always told me, “complain, but with a solution.” I use that advice to shape my work in Congress and in the Fifth District. The challenges facing our country and state aren’t Democratic issues or Republican issues. It’s all about what’s good for New Jersey and our country. That’s what my grandfather’s advice and his service was all about. I respect the freedoms he fought to protect, which is why his advice shapes my work today.

And I see his commitment to service and helping others for the good of the country, our state, and our neighborhoods today. Our awardees likely didn’t even recognize their heroic moments as they were taking place. They simply refused to shy away from a challenge or a moment to help others in need. They offered solutions to daunting problems.

That’s the common thread that links this class of Hometown Heroes.

Without further ado, I am going to introduce our Hometown Heroes Award Winners. When the awardees are introduced, they will walk up here for a quick photograph and accept their award.

Our first hometown hero, from Allamuchy, is Assistant Fire Chief David Berkenbush, nominated by Allamuchy Mayor Keith DeTombeur.

David has served on the volunteer fire department for 21 years, getting the backs of others. He’s the Northern Coordinator for the countywide Rescue Task Force (RTF), Relief Association Secretary, Allamuchy Township Emergency Management Coordinator, and the township’s 9-1-1 Coordinator. David is a public servant and, in caring for his fellow New Jerseyans, is a role model for Allamuchy youth.

Thank you, David.

Next we have a whole group of heroes from the Bergenfield Volunteer Ambulance Corps: Captain Ryan Shell, EMT Maura McLaughlin and EMT Amanda Hernandez. And from the Bergenfield Police Department, Officers James Warnet and Greg Slater. These Heroes were nominated by the Mayor and Council of Bergenfield.

As you’ll all remember, in early March, North Jersey got dumped on with snow from a couple of back-to-back nor’easters. hundreds of thousands were without power after heavy snow totaling between one to three feet depending on what town you were in. On March 7th, Newark Liberty Airport closed, and the Governor closed the government, declaring a state of emergency.

But this crew of first responders knew that this danger made their job that much more important.

So that very day, when the storm was at its worst, these officers and the Bergenfield volunteer Ambulance Corps rushed through the snow to arrive to a house without power — getting there in fewer than three minutes — and fifteen minutes later, they’d delivered a new baby. Baby Collin.

Thank you all, for putting your lives on the line to take care of your neighbors.

Tragically, this year, North Jersey experienced a fatal bus accident as a bus full of Paramus fifth graders were on their way to a field trip. The accident killed two, and we’re still working on finding the answers necessary to make sure that this never happens again.

Thankfully, New Jersey has heroes who don’t think twice when they see an accident like this.

Our next hero, Walter Caraballo from Blairstown, nominated by Blairstown Police Captain Scott Johnsen, saw the accident and immediately pulled over, jumped out, and ran into the bus to help the injured fifth grade students and adult chaperones.

Walter opened the hatch to the bus and climbed into the bus, where Walter began handing the injured children out of the bus to other heroes that stopped to help. Once all the occupants were removed from the bus, Walter climbed back out of the bus and began to comfort and help as many children as he could.

One of the children he helped, Sophia, was able to give Walter her parents’ phone number. Walter hugged and comforted her while he called her parents and alerted them to the incident. Walter promised he would stay with her. Walter followed the ambulance that Sophia was in to the hospital and remained with Sophia until her parents arrived. Sophia and Walter have remained friends and talk often ever since the accident.

Thank you, Walter, for not thinking twice when you see your neighbors in trouble.

Our next hero is Detective Randy Velez from Emerson, nominated by Freeholder Ortiz.

Detective Velez has been a member of the Emerson Police Department since 2002, when he joined the department as a civilian dispatcher. While serving as a dispatcher, he was also enlisted in the New Jersey Army National Guard, which he served 8 years. In 2007, he was sworn in as a police officer for the Borough of Emerson.

In 2010, Detective Velez become a certified DARE Officer and has taught DARE for the past 8 years and is the current president of the Bergen County Juvenile Officers Association.

For both your military and civilian service to your state and country, thank you, Detective Velez.

Our next hero is Fair Lawn’s Officer Lou Failla, nominated by Fair Lawn Mayor Kurt Peluso and the Fair Lawn Council.

Officer Lou has been a traffic officer with the Fair Lawn Police Department for 25 years, and a fixture at the corner of 30th Street and Broadway for as long as anyone can remember.

He’s stood guard through snow, rain, and blazing heat to help hundreds of students of Warren Point Elementary School cross the state highway safely to get to school.

But he’s done so much more than that. He’s become a trusted resource to students, parents, teachers, and the whole community. Parents tell their kids that if they run into any trouble, they should go to Officer Lou. Some even have his cellphone number, which I’m told they use liberally.

Officer Lou retired this month after crossing his last student on June 25th.

Thank you, Officer Lou, for your service to our kids, our parents, and our community. And congratulations on your well-deserved retirement.

Our next hero is Reverend Donna West of Hackensack, an elementary school teacher at Nellie K. Parker School in Hackensack, nominated by Reverend Jackson.

Reverend West sponsored a program, out of her own pocket, to help feed the hungry in Hackensack. She also works with people at Trinity Baptist Church and Mt. Olive to help provide gifts for those less fortunate during the holiday season.

Thank you for your service to you community, Reverend West.

Our next hero is eleven-year-old Ralph Warner of Midland Park, nominated by Midland Park Mayor Shortway.

Ralph was struck in the head with a batted ball while pitching in the Cal Ripken Baseball Tournament in Aberdeen, MD. He suffered a broken skull and two brain bleeds, but was named “Player of the Game” by his teammates, who were the first in Midland Park history to make it to the champion section of the tournament.

In the ICU, Ralph was understandably nervous in the MRI. So the doctors asked if they could turn on music to calm him down. Instead, Ralph requested YouTube highlights from his favorite team, the Mets.

Ten days after the accident Ralph got back on the field and began advocating for safer youth baseball including banning new powerful composite bats and safer gear.

Thank you, Ralph, for your community spirit and dedication to your sport and teammates.

Our next hero is Chief Clint Miller, of Montvale, nominated by Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali.

Chief Miller has served our community with the Montvale Fire Department for an incredible 50 years. During that time, Chief Miller has served as Lieutenant, Captain, Assistant Fire Chief, and finally Fire Chief, a position he held for 16 years. After lifetimes of public service, first responders like Chief Miller deserve our deepest gratitude and I would give him 50 hometown hero awards if I could.

But Chief Miller’s heroism began far before he joined the Montvale Fire Department, when he served our country in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Since then, Chief Miller has been dedicated to his country and community.

Thank you, Chief Miller, for all you’ve done and continue to do.

Our next hero is nurse Pat Lynch from Newton, nominated by Ginnie’s House Events Coordinator Maryanne Mitchell.

Pat is a hero in Sussex County, where since 2002, she has volunteered at Ginnie’s House Children’s Advocacy Center as a Sexual Assault Forensic Nurse Examiner. Pat is the only Sexual Assault Forensic Nurse in Sussex County, New Jersey, qualified to respond to pediatric needs. She has responded to at least 42 frightened, sexually abused children who each needs diagnosis, treatment and to know that they will be okay. While Pat is clearly dealing with some of the worst imaginable situations, she’s proving to be one of our best.

Pat also volunteers at the Animal Rescue Shelter in Fredon and with the Byram Animal Rescue Kindness Squad (BARKS).

Thank you for your relentless service, Pat.

Our next Hometown Hero is Dianna Morrison, also from Newton, nominated by the organization Pathways to Prosperity.

Dianna provides amazing services for dozens of low-income people and people facing financial challenge. At Pathways to Prosperity she helps coach both adults and children, giving them literally a pathway to prosperity.

Thank you, Dianna, for helping your neighbors pull themselves up by their bootstraps and combat poverty in our communities.

Our next hero is Jane Damstra of Vernon, nominated by Mayor Shortway of Vernon.

Jane is the Director of the Vernon Township Senior Center. Under her leadership, the dedicated staff served 1,938 more meals last year than in 2016, and added 146 new participants. Jane and her staff put on events and activities for Vernon seniors including a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration, a Summer Picnic, a Halloween Party, and a Christmas Party.

For taking such good care of our seniors, Jane Damstra is a hometown hero.

Thank you, Jane, for your dedication.

Our next Hometown Hero is Lynne Kramer, Panther Valley’s former Board of Trustees President, nominated by Allamuchy Mayor Keith DeTombeur.

Lynne is the General Counsel to the New Jersey Council on Safety and Health, where she represents some of New Jersey’s hardest workers who have been injured on the job.

For her care for the community, careful oversight from the Panther Valley Board, and public service, today Lynne is a Hometown Hero.

Thank you, Lynne.

Our next hero is Roy Bauberger who serves as the OEM Director in Oakland, nominated by Oakland Mayor Schwager.

When the two nor’easters hit our community this past March, and thousands of homes were left without power, Roy was critical in leading efforts to keep families safe and get residents’ power restored.

Roy and his team faced two major snow storms, below-freezing temperatures, downed power lines, and home after home without power, heat, or running water. Yet they persevered.

Thank you, Roy, for your dedication to our community when our community needed help the most.

Our next hero is Martin Diamond from Paramus, nominated by Paramus Mayor LaBarbiera.

Marty is the President of the Paramus Children’s Foundation, which provides support for families in Paramus whose children are suffering from a critical illness or injury.

Recently, under Marty’s leadership, the Paramus Children’s Foundation raised over $40,000 for families affected by the Paramus Bus Tragedy.

Thank you for your commitment to your community, Marty.

Our next hero is Coach Glen Popolo of Ramsey, nominated by Ramsey Councilman

William Jones.

Glen has long been a Member of the Board of Public Works in Ramsey and a Recreation Commissioner. Glen is a hometown hero today for his dedication to the special needs community. Glen has set up and organized “Challenger Sports” for North Jersey’s special needs residents and families for sports every season: Baseball and Softball in the spring, followed by Track and Field in the summer, then fall soccer and winter basketball.

Glen is a founding member of RIFE (Ramsey is for Everyone), which provides monthly events for Ramsey’s special needs participants and families.

Thank you, Glen, for your deep commitment to keeping North Jersey stigma free.

Our next group of heroes is the energetic and civically engaged Girl Scout Troop 19 from Teaneck, nominated by Teaneck Mayor Hameeduddin and New Jersey Senator Loretta Weinberg.

For years, Troop 19 has pursued clean air and clean water, making public presentations, organizing petitions, and advocating to the township council for clean change. Their mission to educate and pursue the change they wish to see in the world influences my work and the work of civic leaders across the county.

If you didn’t know, up to 12 million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year.

I know that America is in good hands with leaders like Troop 19.

Thank you, Troop 19.

Our next hero is Gayle Samitt from Woodcliff Lake, nominated by Woodcliff Lake Mayor Rendo.

Gayle started a cancer walk, the “Mark Sammit 5K Run” in honor of her husband who passed away from Melanoma. Before his passing, Gayle and her husband along with their daughters launched the Mark the SPOT program in partnership with the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Mark the SPOT teaches hairstylists that “If you spot something, say something,” and educates them how to identify possibly cancerous marks on their customer’s heads or necks and how to communicate their findings in a way that does not panic but encourages the customer to seek medical attention.

As soon as her husband’s shiva ended, Gayle got up and plunged back into the project.

Gayle, thank you for the work you do to honor your late husband and serve North Jersey.

Finally, there are many Hometown Heroes who could not attend today’s awards, but deserve recognition nonetheless: Allendale’s former Mayor Vince Barra, Franklin’s Gabby Cox, Franklin Lakes’s Jack Wallace, Green Township’s Lou Caruso, Hackensack’s Deacon Robert Robinson and Rosemarie Sorce, Northvale’s Sergeant Michael Graham, Haworth’s Andy Reithmayr, Oxford’s Captain Peggy Hissim, Paramus’s Mike Epstein, Ringwood’s Patrolman Brian Depree, Firefighter Tim Riegel, and Chief Matt Ranone, Teaneck’s Maxine Shilan, West Milford’s Officer Jonathan Bregman, and Wyckoff’s Alma Mader.

For every single hero today, and to the countless others across the Fifth District, I want to thank you. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself.” These heroes have done just that.

I am incredibly proud of each and every one of you. You embody Jersey values. Please keep being a shining example for our North Jersey community. New Jersey is lucky to call you its own and again I want to thank you and wish you a happy Fourth of July!

Thank you and God bless you.

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