A pioneering space engineer, a local school superintendent, and the youngest municipal clerk in New Jersey history were among the women honored in a Women’s History Month ceremony late last week.
In an event held at the William J. Brenan Courthouse in Jersey City on March 22, this year’s theme was “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.”
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop each handed out citations to women in their town who got the honor.
The women did not give speeches, but spoke with the Reporter separately at the event.
“I’ve been blessed to work with the Mayor for 16 years, and I really enjoy it a lot,” said Barillas. She came with her husband Adrian and 6-year-old daughter Ava.
After the festivities concluded, she added, “The event went really nicely, actually. I didn’t expect it to be what it was, but it was a really nice time.”
“I got many people to work together—everybody works together, other women work together.”
— Guadalupe Chong
Of Erin, Mayor Sacco said, “Erin Barillas is an outstanding public servant who has dedicated her professional life to the Township of North Bergen. She does an excellent job as our Municipal Clerk and I am very happy to see her hard work each day honored by this award.” Barillas first started working as town clerk in 2009, at age 25. This made her the youngest clerk in state history.
“I’m surprised,” said Guadalupe Chong, the Weehawken honoree. She has worked or volunteered for every recreation program in the township since 1987, in addition to having worked in the Weehawken school district as a teacher’s aide for 27 years. “I got many people to work together—everybody works together, other women work together.”
“She’s had a lot of support from a lot of different women in their lives, be it through work, community,” said son Alex. “Everyone has been supportive of her and what she does.”
“Guadalupe is involved in every activity that we have in town,” Turner said before handing her the proclamation. “She does social work in the summers; she helps the schools on the weekends. We thank you so much.”
“I’m very happy that I’m being recognized tonight,” said honoree Clara Brito Herrera, who works as West New York’s superintendent of schools. “I really didn’t expect it to be such a beautiful event. Sometimes you go through life working and doing the best you can. Very few times you get recognized for what you do and I’m very honored that my name was put forward for this.”
Speaking about Herrera before handing over her award, Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez said, “She is a trailblazer. She worked very hard to get where she’s at, and she doesn’t stop.” Herrera is the first ever Latina superintendent of schools in West New York.
“It feels wonderful to know that all the work and all the commitment that somebody does is recognized by their peers, and the mayor and council,” said Delores Loppe, the Guttenberg honoree. She has worked for the town since 2004 and currently acts as a secretary for its public works department. “I couldn’t have worked with a better group in my life. I’m glad I was born in Guttenberg and I’m glad I still live there.”
“Delores has been involved in the town even before I got involved,” Drasheff said of Loppe. “We do a lot of events in Guttenberg. It’s a small town. But none of it would be possible if it wasn’t for people like Delores. It’s my honor on behalf of myself, the council, and particularly the residents of Guttenberg—we thank you for all your hard work over the years.”
From Jersey City, Jaclyn Fulop, wife of Mayor Fulop, received honors. She is the founder of Exchange Place Therapy Groups, an orthopedic rehabilitation clinic chain with locations throughout New Jersey.
Additional Jersey City honorees included Junie Jones, a community activist since 1996, and founder of the Morris Canal Community Development Corporation, a non-profit which works to create affordable housing for moderate to low income families in the city.
Lifelong Jersey City resident and honoree Neida Rivera has worked as a paraprofessional for Jersey City Public Schools for 15 years. She also performs community work for the less fortunate, including meal distribution during the holidays and gift distribution to children during “Dia De Los Reyes” (Three Kings Day celebration in Mexico, held every Jan. 6.)
As an associate engineer for the Boeing Company, a major contractor with NASA, Marion Johnson tested where the rockets attached to Saturn V—the rocket that transported the historic Apollo 11 astronauts–would land in 1969.
As an African-American woman, in an industry not known for racial diversity at the time, she was seen as a pioneer. Her legacy has drawn comparisons to the recent “Hidden Figures,” film, which tells the real-life story of three African-American female mathematicians who calculated flight trajectories for NASA.
Hoboken’s Neeta King, an Indian immigrant who owns a small jewelry store in the town, also received honors. She coordinates philanthropic events in addition to running her business.
Bayonne’s Gail Godesky also earned honors. A graduate of Bayonne High School in 1970, she later earned national accreditation with honors from Fairfield University’s. In 1988, Godesky began a career with Provident Bank; by 1997, she’d transitioned to an assistant vice president. That same year, she left the bank for other career opportunities, returning in 2005
“This event has a special place in my heart,” said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise—the only male speaker–to the audience. “My dad died before my second birthday. I was raised by a mom and two sisters.” He noted recent attacks on women’s reproductive rights. “It’s time to start throwing women into the political process. Fights that we won 30, 40 years ago need to be fought again. All women that are here tonight—we need more women in politics.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org