The tables were filled in the main ballroom of the newly-renovated Schuetzen Park Banquet Hall, now renamed “The Boulevard” at 3167 Kennedy Blvd., as nearly 1,000 North Bergen seniors attended the annual Senior Citizen Picnic on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
Attendees had the opportunity to munch on hot dogs, sandwiches, and crumb cake over a glass of wine, as well as mingle with city and county officials. Most of them also took advantage of the large dance floor and live DJ.
Many attendees also walked away with trophies from a dance contest, followed by a raffle with a number of different prizes.
“I have come to the picnic for the last six years and I love it,” said Elsa Nazar, a senior resident of North Bergen for the past 20 years. “I like the community and I like to enjoy the company of the other seniors. Other places don’t do events like this. They focus on young people, but we need it more than the young people.”
Resident Nina Orel, 83, said this was only her second time at the picnic. She said she believes events like the senior picnic strengthen the town and the community.
“It brings the town and the community together in one place to support each other,” said Orel. “It’s unbelievable. You know how there is physical therapy? Well, this is a mental therapy for me to go out and talk with people and attend events like this.”
Mayor Nicholas Sacco and several commissioners welcomed the seniors to the free event as did Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, Rep. Albio Sires, and several other town administrators and officials.
“I have attended the picnic for the last 20 years and I hope to go to another 20,” DeGise laughed. “Everyone takes care of their seniors but nobody does it as well as North Bergen. They have the best dancers too.”
Mayor Sacco originally started the annual Senior Citizen’s Picnic, which celebrated its 27th anniversary this year.
It was originally held outside but was moved indoors years ago after rain forced the township to rethink.
“We started with only 300 people and we’ve grown to over 1,000,” said Sacco. “It’s become a wonderful event.”
He said the picnic is an important community event which allows the town to give back to their senior citizens, whom he believes are the “backbone” of the town and country.
“They are the foundation of our country,” said Sacco, adding that many have served in the United States military.
He recalled one senior picnic that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, and the seniors rose to recite the pledge of allegiance.
Karen Pianese, who is the township’s director of community service, and Executive Director Gerald Sanzari of the North Bergen Housing Authority, helped the mayor coordinate the event and provide volunteers to serve the food.
Under new ownership
Murphy Vandervelde and his sister Anne-Marie Vandervelde bought the Schuetzen Park campus in 2016. Originally thought they would tear down the event space where the picnic was held.
He said after conducting feasibility studies and speaking with the mayor and his administration they realized it would be possible to keep the event space with a little work.
Murphy Vandervelde explained that over a time period of about eight months they were able to renovate the building’s interior. “It needed a lot of work,” he said. “It had to be taken down basically to the studs.”
Anne-Marie Vandervelde said she and her brother came to realize that many people in the community were tied to Schuetzen Park Banquet Hall in one way or another, whether they attended a wedding reception there, a local dance, or the Oktoberfest, which used to be held annually on its grounds.
Murphy Vandervelde said this is one of the reasons why they were glad that the first event held in the newly-renovated space was the annual Senior Citizens Picnic, which was postponed from September due to the renovations.
When asked why they decided to change the name to “The Boulevard” Anne-Marie Vandervelde said: “100 years ago [that name] represented a demographic that no longer represents the majority of the population here. We wanted a name that everyone can relate to, to help knock down walls.”
The campus where the banquet hall is found also includes Hudson Hills Senior Living, the Act Now Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease in New Jersey. Come this November, Helix eSports which will be gaming facility with over 150 gaming stations and private gaming rooms.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment online at hudsonreporter.com