Icons of Secaucus

Statues and plaques honor beloved residents

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The animal shelter will keep Susan Pirro's memory alive.
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Jonnie Scheiner is remembered with this tribute near Mill Creek Point.
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The animal shelter will keep Susan Pirro's memory alive.
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Jonnie Scheiner is remembered with this tribute near Mill Creek Point.

Secaucus has a number of monuments honoring important people of the past, most on the lawn of town hall. Others are in remote locations.

Amico transformed Secaucus

For most residents of Secaucus, the center of town is the Plaza section, where Front Street intersects with Paterson Plank Road. Here the city has planted flowerbeds. A statue of Christopher Columbus stands guard, and an electronic board informs people of upcoming events.

The area also has a number of park benches where weary wayfarers can pause when shopping at local stores. One bench is perpetually occupied by a lone figure in bronze reading a bronze copy of what was once the official paper of the town, The Secaucus Home News.

The weekly newspaper, launched in 1910, published its final issue in 2017. For more than a century it was an important voice in the community, even quoted in The New York Times when pressing issues emerged.

The bronze figure is as legendary as the paper. He’s former Mayor Paul Amico, who was born a few years after the paper was established and lived until age 103.

Paul Amico’s 28-year career as mayor saw the most significant development in the history of the town. Yet he fought to keep the small-town feeling.

Amico came to Secaucus in 1919 at the age of six. His parents had moved out of Little Italy in New York City seeking elbow room. His father worked on the New York Central Railroad. At 13, Amico started to work behind the counter for Marra Drug Store, near where his statue is.

Amico later helped transform Secaucus’s economy, stagnating with a dying farm tradition, to one of office buildings and shopping malls without losing the small-town feel.

Amico replaced grammar schools, built a high school, and expanded sewage treatment facilities. He saw the lack of these things as limiting the ability of the town to grow.

Development, Amico believed, was a necessary evil that allowed the town to give residents a better way of life. The more industry that came into town, the more services the town could provide. He compared it to a family trying to send its kids to college.

Ponti plaque installed in June

A stone with a plaque honoring Fred Ponti is near Huber Street School in the North end of Secaucus. Ponti worked as an educator for 37 years.

He was a longtime resident of Secaucus, where he taught social studies and became principal of Secaucus Middle School and Huber Street Elementary School. He retired in 2011 and died after a battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 67.

He had a passion for education, cars, and music, sometimes performing as drummer at the Jersey Shore.

In April, the town planted a tree in Ponti’s honor as part of National Arbor Day. In June, Mayor Michael Gonnelli and others installed the plaque at the school where Ponti taught.

Pirro loved animals

Another tribute is at the far southwestern part of town, down Meadowlands Parkway near the start of Castle Road.

Two decades ago, Hartz Mountain donated a building to the town to serve as an animal shelter. The building has been expanded, and a dog run added near it. Councilwoman Susan Pirro regularly hosted fundraising events for the shelter, such as an annual Halloween fundraiser. She was a volunteer for the Secaucus Citizens Animal Care Committee.

Pirro became a leading advocate for animals, especially strays. She worked diligently to make sure the shelter helped them and raised funds for various animal causes.

When Pirro died two years ago, Chris Conte, manager of the Secaucus Animal Shelter, said, “The animal world lost a true fighter.”

Mayor Gonnelli announced in March that the animal shelter and the dog run would be named for Pirro.

Pirrro left a legacy of helping and a void that will be hard to fill.

She was a former Secaucus school board member, serving for six years before joining the council. She was a former PTA president, resurrecting the town’s PTA in 1998, and helped oversee town recreation programs. She also volunteered with the Secaucus Municipal Youth Alliance.

Scheiner shines on

Though part of a historic area that once was home to Tony’s Old Mill, the monument to Jonnie Scheiner is on the Mill Creek Point walkway. To the side of the walkway is a rusted cross made from the steel of the fallen World Trade Center. A small plaque is attached to the wooden post that holds the cross.

Scheiner, sometimes knowns as “J Shine,” was only 19 when he died near this spot in 2010. It is believed that he took his own life.

He was a member of the Secaucus Fire Department, a member of the Sons of The American Legion, The Boy Scouts Order of the Arrow, and was a talented musician.

Colorful flower arrangements show that his memory is being kept alive.

For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com