Bayonnewoman pleaded that her sister be recognized at HCCC graduation
Petition to honor the late Tara Balcer got action
by Rory Pasquariello
Reporter staff writer
May 23, 2018 | 3278 views | 0 0 comments | 131 131 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hudson County Community College observed a moment of silence for Tara Balcer, an early-childhood education student who died in January.
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When Tara Lynn Balcer died in January at the age of 33, she was starting a new semester at Hudson County Community College (HCCC) where she’d studied sign language and hoped to teach students with special needs. The family did not want to disclose the cause of death. Balcer would have graduated on May 17; her sister, Andrea Buzinkai, 45, of Bayonne,requested the school observe a moment of silence for her late sister – a request initially declined in favor of a mention in the yearbook.

The request was finally fulfilledafter Buzinkai started a petition that garnered the support of nearly 900 signaturesand the attention of News 12 New Jersey.

“All I basically wanted was my sister’s name mentioned because if she weren’t deceased, she would have been walking down the aisle that day,” said Buzinkai.“Out of respect, I thought they should acknowledge her. When they did the moment of silence, it was beautiful.”

The moment was observed when Balcer’s name would have been called to come to the podium to accept a diploma. Buzinai said it helped the family gain some closure, but Tara’s death was just the latest in a series of family tragedies.

A string of deaths

The sisters lost their mother, Kathy, in March 2015, which swept the sisters into a wave of depression. Five months after Kathy’s death, Kathy’s sister died, so Tara and Andrea lost their aunt. Buzinkai also lost a half-sister and her biological father within the past four years.

“It’s been a domino effect in my life losing everyone,” Buzinkai said.“They were my everything. They were my best friends. Now it’s me, my daughter, and my stepdad.”

Buzinkai has leaned heavily on her 75-year-old stepfather since Tara died.

“I tell you, my heart was broken because my little girl wasn’t there,” said Frank Balcer, who lived with Tara until her death.

Frank Balcer’s older brother died a week after Tara. “He said, ‘I’ll say hi to Tara for you,’” said Balcer. “But it’s not supposed to be this way. Tara is supposed to see me go, not me see her go.”

Frank Balcerraised Tara and Andrea alongside their mother, Kathy,while living in Secaucus and commuting to work at Maxwell House in Hoboken. Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli was among those who got the word out about the petition and moment of silence.

One of Frank Balcer’sfavorite memories of Tara is of the family going on vacation to Pennsylvania, where he had a trailer on a small piece of land near a lake. Frank fondly recalls Tara’s encouragementone night when he was struggling to turn the electricity back on after a power outage. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, Daddy, it’s going to be dark soon and we’ll have a nice camp fire.’”

Tara lived with her father in Secaucus until her death. “I was grateful that they mentioned her name,” he said.“She did so good in school, was on the honor roll. It made me feel proud, but it hurt.”


“When they did the moment of silence, it was beautiful.” – Andrea Buzinkai


Helping others

Before attending HCCC, Balcer was in and out of retail jobs until her mother died. After a year of mourning, she regained the strength to take a next step by going to school for early-childhood education.

“She always did want to help people,” her father said. “She was the kind of kid that if kids were fighting in school she would try to break it up. I was so proud that she did that.”

Through her studies, Balcerrealized her love for children with disabilities and learned American Sign Language. She started a YouTube channel to teach kids how to sign, which inspired Buzinkaiand one of Tara’s close friends to enroll in a sign language course starting this fall with the same professor who instructed her sister.

“She inspired me,” said Buzinkai of her younger sister. “She inspired so many people,” including Balcer’s boyfriend,a musician who is teaming up with Buzinkai to organize a tribute concert in Secaucus over the summer.

The plans are barely formed, but Buzinkai said that her daughter plans to sing, and one of Balcer’s best friends wants to sing a song in sign language in the same spirit as Balcer’s YouTube channel.

Rory Pasquariello can be reached at

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