Although only one senior citizen could be selected as Hudson County Senior Citizen of the Year at this year’s Senior Luncheon held on May 23 at a luncheon at the Casino-in-the-Park restaurant in Jersey City, in many ways all of the seniors – one from each of the 12 municipalities – were winners, as officials from around the county gathered to pay tribute to some of the significant efforts each has given to their respective communities.
Each year, municipal leaders select a senior citizen from each community who has shown outstanding service to their families, their neighborhoods, and the larger community.
This year, the Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services picked Joan E. Gasser, 62, of Secaucus, as its Senior of the Year, or as the honor is formally titled, “Hudson County’s Outstanding Senior.”
“The Senior Advisory Council of Hudson County puts hours of work every year into this decision.” – Tom DeGise
“Anyone who knows Joan Gasser would realize she is feeling very uncomfortable right now,” said County Executive Tom DeGise, who announced each of the seniors. “She does not enjoy being front and center. She is much happier in the background.”
Gasser volunteers a lot for a variety of services.
“There were 97 children who were comforted by the blankets she made last year for Project Linus,” DeGise said. “There are residents of St. Lucy’s and Hope House whose days were made bright because Joan stopped in to say hello.”
She has also volunteered for The American Cancer Society, United Way, and Project Feed. Regularly she volunteers at the Secaucus senior center and encourages the seniors that participate in its programs to find and share their unique talents. An employee at UPS for more than a quarter of a century, Gasser began her volunteer work there.
Bayonne’s Rakowski still going at 90
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith said Stella Rakowski, Bayonne’s senior of the year, amazed him, that her energy and her dedication were remarkable, and that even at the age of 90 she continued to give back to the community.
“What she has done for my life and our community has made a difference for all of us,” Smith said.
DeGise said the list of her honors over the years was too long to be read at the luncheon, but he did recall that being awarded MVP by the National Fraternal Congress of American.
“This award recognizes her volunteer efforts to strengthen her community through charitable endeavors,” DeGise said.
Rakowski retired from Western Electric after 22 years employed there.
“However, she has spent the last 27 years volunteering five days a week at the Bayonne Fourth Street nutrition site,” DeGise said. “She is not just an amazing 90-year-old, she is a more amazing exercise instructor. She teaches exercise classes for seniors three days a week.”
Although she has outlived her husband and her son, she still said God blessed her with a beautiful family.
“One of the adjectives that describes Stella is ‘inspiring,’” DeGise said.
Jersey City: Rose Dnistrian
Rose was unable to attend this year’s lunch, but DeGise celebrated her accomplishments, noting that her life’s work has been spent in the very building where the luncheon was being held where she worked for decades.
“Rose can be corrected described as generous, although most of her charity work is donated anonymously,” he said.
She supported many of the charity groups that held their events in the Casino, but was particular sensitive to the needs of the senior community.
“She worries if that they eat enough, and delights at them looking lovely,” DeGise said.
Guttenberg: Victor Conversano Sr.
Victor Conversano Sr. served the community of Guttenberg in many ways as police officer and coach.
“He joined the police force in 1966, rising to the rank of captain, serving in that capacity for 17 years until he retired in 1997,” DeGise said. “He also served as a Guttenberg Little League coach, winning the respect and admiration of players and parents alike. He continues to be active with the NJ State PBA and the NJ Honor Legion and the Fraternal Order of Police.”
Mayor Gerald Drasheff called him “a fixture in recreation,” and someone who is well known at every event.
North Bergen: Janet Scarnecchia
“It has been stated that Janet Scarnecchia is the happiest when she is making other people happy,” DeGise said.
A stage performer and health care worker, Scarnecchia often said that a smile was her greatest reward.
“When Janet is in the house or on the stage all spirits are lifted,” DeGise said,
She has volunteered for the Boy Scouts and helped her senior neighbors when ever she can.
“Janet has received many awards from many organizations, including recognition for her contributions to patients in hospice care,” DeGise said.
Weehawken: Catalina “Katy” Sosa
Described at a Weehawken community treasure, Katy Sosa has served her neighbors for the last 47 years in many areas.
“She is an activist for rent control, a board of education member who considers every child a part of her family, a volunteer in every recreation event sponsored by her township,” said DeGise. “She has been the driving force for senior citizens, championing their causes, lobbying on their behalf with representatives of all levels of government.”
Her office was her front porch.
“Katy and William [her World War II war hero husband] were available for the countless people who would stop by to seek their advice,” DeGise said. “It is obvious that Katy has contributed much to the community of Weehawken, but perhaps her most public contribution is her son, Robert, who serves on the Weehawken City Council.”
West New York: Yolanda Marin
West New York Mayor Dr. Felix Roque called Yolanda Marin “a mentor,” someone who was so instrumental in helping others in the community that it was hard to imagine not having her. She was always there for seniors, making sure they weren’t taken for granted.
DeGise said she brought this sense of compassion and volunteer spirit with her when she came to the United States from Columbia.
“She continued to care for and serve those she considered the most in need,” DeGise said. “She encouraged the younger members of her church in West New York to become involved in caring for seniors in the community. She encouraged the older members to support the single moms. She spends countless hours visiting the sick and volunteering as shelters. She has spent her entire life trying to make life better for others.”
She has been recognized for her work with the organization “Save Latin America.”
Hoboken: Richard Tremitiedi
A retired Hoboken Fire Chief after 35 years on the force, Tremitiedi serves as commissioner on the Hoboken Zoning Board of Adjustment and is involved with Hoboken’s Emergency Response team as its information officer. He recently received a citation from Gov. Christopher Christie and Lt. Governor Kim Guadano, which recognized his vital contributions to the safety of Hoboken residents during Hurricane Irene.
“His effort to implement and improve Hoboken’s fire protection resulted in the highest protection rating in the state,” DeGise said. “His focus on public safety has earned him many state accolades and the gratitude of his community.”
Tremitiedi also served in the U.S. Army Reserve, coached Hoboken Little League and was honored by the Hoboken Elks, the American Legion and the Hudson County Columbus Day Parade Committee.
Union City: Esilda Acebo
DeGise said Union City Senior of the Year Eslida Acebo could be most often found at the St. John’s Homeless Shelter.
She said “My English is not great, but I want to thank the community and my family.”