Former residents have been leaving their mark on Union City lately, in more ways than one. For some, permanent recognition has taken the form of historical markers that have been popping up around town, and for others, by way of “change of address.”
Last week alone portions of two Union City streets were renamed in honor of citizens who have made a difference in the city.
On Oct. 12 Mayor Brian Stack and the commissioners took to the corner of 35th Street and Bergenline Avenue for the naming of “Felipe Gomez Way,” which now constitutes 35th Street between Bergenline Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard.
And on Oct. 13 the same crew hit the streets along with students from St. Augustine’s School to rename 40th Street between New York Avenue and Palisade Avenue “Sister Roberta Way.”
“It’s not just to honor the people but also to serve as an educational tool.” – Lucio Fernandez
The street renaming is “honorary” though, Fernandez said, created by a resolution that is passed through a Board of Commissioners meeting – you won’t find “Sister Roberta Way” on Google Maps.
But, he added, it’s the intangible sense of pride that is created through historic recognition of people which have often positively impacted generations which is most important.
“It’s not just to honor the people but also to serve as an educational tool,” said Fernandez.
According to Fernandez the signs are a “cost effective” way of honoring those who have contributed to the city, the signs generally cost approximately $100 or less.
The ‘way’ to freedom
Dozens of members of the Cuban community came out last week to honor Felipe Francisco Gomez Morales, a Union City resident who spent fifty years of his life in the United States fighting for the right of the Cuban people to return to a free Cuba.
Born on Oct. 4, 1930 in Cuba, Gomez graduated as a teacher of agriculture, but after political changes swept Cuba, he entered the army in 1948.
He became a Free Mason in 1956 and worked as a policeman, until the Cuban revolution in 1959, when he and four men left Cuba on a small boat.
He initially settled in Miami and eventually moved to Union City along with a growing population of Cuban exiles.
He established a newspaper to communicate the plight of the Cuban people and contribute to the political discourse in his second homeland and received numerous proclamations and awards for his work within the exile community.
Renowned as a public speaker with a deep knowledge of history, Gomez helped and inspired countless members of the community.
On Wednesday, 40th Street was lined with current students and alumni (including some ‘famous’ alum faces like Union City Commissioner Christopher Irizarry and Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio) of Saint Augustine School who joined together to honor their former principal, Sister Roberta O’Hea.
Born in Dorchester, Mass., O’Hea was a member of the Sisters of Charity for 52 years. She came to St. Augustine parish in 1959 and over the years taught in the elementary grades, the Apostolate for the Deaf, and ultimately served as principal from 1978 to 2009.
Known as a beloved but firm leader, O’Hea injected a spirit of fun into the school through music, pageants, chess clubs, band activities, and plays.
But she was particularly renowned for the Christmas pageant and for the flag display at the opening of Catholic School Week.
Through her leadership, the school was the first Catholic School in Hudson County to achieve Middle States Accreditation in 1992.
O’Hea died on June 6, 2009 after a long struggle with cancer.
In honor of her life’s work and dedication to the residents of Union City, the street right beside her school has now been renamed “Sister Roberta Way.”
While honorary streets are given to those who have made a significant contribution to the Union City community, historical markers are a special honor bestowed upon those Union City residents who have made contributions beyond their community as another component of recognition.
Famed boxer Joe Jeanette, novelist Pietro di Donato, and most recently painter William Ranney have all been honored with historical markers.
“My overall plan with the markers is one day we’ll have enough to have city historical tours,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez said the city is working on several additional historical markers to be added over the next few months and who will receive the next historical honor in Union City is still up for grabs – but it could be a woman. Although streets in Union City have been renamed for a few females there has not yet been a historical marker honoring a woman.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.
The Union City ‘Way’
Approximately half a dozen streets have been renamed in honor of former residents or other individuals who have had a positive impact on the town. Here’s just a few of the honorary street names you might notice during a walk around town:
“W.S. Merwin Way” – 4th Street between New York and Palisade avenues
“Dr. Castillo Way” – 35th Street between Bergenline and New York avenues
“Julia Valdivia Way” – 30th Street between Summit and Central venues
“Celia Cruz Way” – 43rd Street between Kennedy Boulevard and Park Avenue