Hundreds of people filled the Conrad Rotunda of the historic Brennan Court House in Jersey City on March 25 to pay tribute to nearly a score of women from every corner of Hudson County in recognition for their services to the community.
Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico co-hosted the event that also marked the celebration of Women’s History Month.
The ceremony honors by citation 18 remarkable Hudson County women who have made a difference in the community and world in a variety of fields from education to support of veterans.
DiDomenico called these women “she-roes,” heroic people who do good things often without public accolades.
“I am fond of saying that I was raised by women,” said County Executive Tom DeGise, whose mother and older sister raised him after his father’s death when he was still a small boy. “That is why I appreciate so much this chance each year to honor Hudson County women who have made a powerful, positive impact on our community.”
DiDomenico, who currently serves as the lone woman on the nine-member Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, also served as the event’s mistress of ceremonies, and said she felt privileged to honor these women.
Each year, these ceremonies have a theme, and this year, it was “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.
Margaret Abrams was honored for her role as Domestic Violence Response Team Coordinator of Hudson County for Jersey City’s WomenRising, Inc., but was also honored for her role in establishing the Bayonne-based not for profit organization Remember Me John Jack Santopietro, Inc. after the death of her son in a traffic accident in Bayonne. The organization is designed to educate motorists about motorcycle awareness to reduce fatalities.
Beth Achenbach, a Jersey City artist, curator, organizers and performer, also serves as special events director for the Jersey City Lesbian and Gay Outreach and has been instrumental in bringing the LGBT community and local businesses together.
Geraldine V. Calabrese, of Bayonne, is a nurse and child development specialist who had dedicated her career to children with special needs.
State Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham was the first woman to be elected as senator in the 31st district. She currently serves as majority whip and chairs the senate Higher Education Committee among a host of other key positions. As chair of the Glenn D. Cunningham Foundation, she helps provide financial assistance to college bound students throughout Hudson County.
Union City’s Teresita Diaz is principal of Colin Powell Elementary School, president of the Grace Theatre Workshop has received awards such as Hudson County Teacher of the Year and other honors.
Karen Davis Farage, president and co-owner of Pole Position Raceway in Jersey City, has served executive terms for a number of prominent corporations, and development CAReS (Cancer, Alzheimer’s Recovery and those in need) which has contributed more than $150,000 to date to these and other causes.
Ellen Felicetta is director of development at Concordia Learning Center at St. Joseph’s School for the Blind in Jersey City.
Theresa V. Ferraro served as chair person of the North Bergen Housing Authority for 38 years. She also served as public safety commissioner, adding female officers during her tenure.
Pamela Garner currently serves as Hudson County register, but has served in a number of capacities prior to her current position from special education teacher to a commissioner on the Jersey City Housing Authority.
Nancy Garriga started participating in and fundraising for the March of Dimes, United Way and the American Cancer Society. In 2010, she started a family tradition of giving Thanksgiving turkeys to food kitchens and senior citizens. Having once been diagnosised with breast cancer, she became a team walker for the Making Strides against Breast Cancer Walk in Lincoln Park.
Catherine Hecht is one of the founding members of the Jersey City Lesbian & Gay Outreach organization which started Jersey City Pride in 2001. She is an activist for social justice.
Debra Italiano is founder and chair of Sustainable Jersey City, an organization that brings resources to green neighborhood initiatives and structure s a framework for civic leadership. A successful business woman, Italiano has worked for several prominent Wall Street firms.
Desha Jackson is the first African American woman hired by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s office, and has served as an attorney for number firm and government agencies, including the attorney general’s office of New Jersey. She also founded Jersey City Fashion Week from which some of the proceeds are donated to community causes.
Angela Maio, a licensed clinical social worker and board certified diplomat, has specialized in Combat Post Traumatic Street Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma. After working in the Veteran’s Administration, she transferred to the Secaucus Veterans Center where she also organizes several successful group activities for veterans.
Maggie Redden, a paraplegic polio survivor, currently works as the transition coordinator for Heightened Independence & Progress, which helps disabled people work towards self-sufficiency through centers in Jersey City and Hackensack.
Beverly Savage has been the executive director of Hudson County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in Jersey City since 2005 – an organization that advocates on behalf of children in the foster care system and seeks permanent homes for them.
Elsa Schwarz belonged to the Maryknoll Guild in Chile and Guatemala where she helped to educate women and children. In Columbia she continued her charity work through the America Women’s Club and the International Red Cross, and once in the U.S., she joined the Executive Service Corp working on projects throughout the world. A member of the Anna Klein School Board of Education, she serves as a commissioner for the Guttenberg Housing Authority.
Marianne Wuillmey founded the Weehawken Environment Committee and was instrumental in defeating a proposed storage tank facility and chicken processing plant on the Weehawken waterfront. She also helped save the Weehawken water tower, and campaigned for open space preservation in the Meadowlands.
“Marianne is an example of the kind of people we have in Weehawken,” said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner. “She dedicates her time to our community.”
A semi-retired civil defense litigator, Wuillmey continued to serve as a landlord/tenant counselor for the Township of Weehawken.
“When congratulating two of the women award recipients that I served on the Huddle Zone 2 Committee Board with during Super Bowl XLVIII,” said Lee Penna, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Secaucus Public Library, “Karen Davis-Farage of Pole Position Raceway and Desha Jackson of the Founder of Give to Live and Organizer of Jersey City Fashion Week, they both expressed how humbled they were by being recognized and honored for their achievements and contributions to their communities. I feel very grateful to know these extraordinary women.”
High school student recognized
Beyonce Wilson, an honors student and student athlete cheerleader for the academy of Arts at Henry Snyder High School, received the Willie Flood Community Service Award for her work with Team Walker, and activities at Gethsermane Baptist Church. Wilson volunteers her time and is involved in fundraising efforts that benefit a risk teams. Her goal is to become a lawyer and effect change in the lives of those in the community.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.