Every year the Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services has to make a tough choice, seeking to pick one senior citizen from the 12 nominated by each municipality to be “Hudson County’s Outstanding Senior” of the year.
While Helen Hams of Weehawken got the distinction this year as the May 29 luncheon at the Casino-in-the-Park restaurant in Jersey City, any one of the others were equally qualified since they all contributed significantly to their communities.
Each year, municipal leaders select a senior citizen from each community who has shown outstanding service to his or her family, neighborhood, and the larger community.
This person is selected from this group by a vote of the Hudson County Senior Advisory Council, composed of senior leaders from the county’s 12 municipalities. Just being honored as a nominee is a great accomplishment.
The following are the seniors nominated from each town.
Jersey City’s Shafgat Khan
At 69, Shafgat Khan’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of business professionals. With a Bachelor of Science in radiology from Punjab University in Pakistan, he served as the former manager of a large pharmaceutical corporation, while in his private life did all he could to help people around him. In Metropolis Tower in Jersey City (where he served on the board of directors for 25 years), he coordinated may of the senior activities, often educating fellow seniors on various programs and services, including access to farmers’-market vouchers. He served as president of Pakistanis for America, a nonprofit institution to help recent immigrants learn about the electoral process and services available to them, and did his best to “Americanize” many of those who recently emigrated from Pakistan. He has also served on the American Cancer Society of New Jersey and the board of International Institute of New Jersey. He currently serves on the Asian American Congress and the Hudson County Ethics Board.
Hoboken’s Vincent Wassman
In nominating Vincent Wassman, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer said he is committed to preserving Hoboken’s history and character as a member of the Hoboken Historic Preservation Committee. She called him “dedicated, loyal, determined, generous, proud, and public-spirited.”
“Helen has been a community treasure to Weehawken on many levels.” – Mayor Richard Turner
Weehawken’s Helen Hams
“Helen has been a community treasure to Weehawken on many levels, to both the VFW Post 1923 and the Grace Episcopal Church,” said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner in nominating her. “When Helen’s husband was alive, he was very active in the VFW, and she enjoyed going with him to all the FFW affairs as well as state and national conventions where they met many people.” Currently, Hams volunteers at the Grace Episcopal Church in Union City where she contributes time and assists the parish community in numerous ways. Born in Hoboken in 1927, she moved to Weehawken at six months old, graduating from Weehawken High School in 1944. She worked for Citibank for 45 years and met her husband by chance at a Sunday dance in the old VFW in Union City. She became more involved in the Post 1923 after her husband’s death.
“Over the years Helen filled many envelopes with poppies from her dining-room table,” Turner said. “Today, Helen still organizes a semi-annual trip to Atlantic City as a fundraiser to help raise money for the post.” She has served in her church vestry since 1988. “The vestry more or less runs the church,” Turner said. She is also treasurer of the altar guild, which orders bread and candles for services, and she washes and irons all of the communion linens. Every Sunday, she does special collections for masses. About 15 years ago, she joined the Weehawken Senior Citizens Club and has been very active. While her husband was alive, they drove seniors home. Now, she serves coffee and dessert at functions and cleans up the center after meetings. “Helen is someone who you want to have in your corner,” Turner said. “She is a fighter for the greater good and will stand up for you and your rights.”
When nominating Marie Fitzsimmons, Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith called her “a vivacious, energetic, happy, beautiful person” who was always willing to help people. Married for more than 50 years, she was a graduate of Bayonne High School, who went on to work for Western Electric for 36 years. One-time president of the Lucent Retirees, she was also a member of St. Henry’s Rosary Society. She often lectured seniors on various issues and continued to remain active in her church.
West New York’s Romelia Loynas
“Mrs. Loynas always leant a helping hand to anyone who needed it,” said West New York Mayor Felix Roque in nominating Loynas. “She and her husband Simon often worked with the local fire and police departments while running their hardware store. A factory worker at Better Belts on 61st Street and Filmore Place for 32 years, Loynas also served as a teaching assistant in the West New York School System for 11 years, where she worked one-on-one with special-needs students. She retired last June at age 77. “She had intended to be volunteering at the school and in he community until she was the victim of an accident this past year,” Roque said.
She and her husband owned and ran Palisade Hardware on 58th and Palisade Avenue for 34 years. Roque described her as “happy, outgoing, strict, hardworking, and dedicated.”
Guttenberg’s Patrick Forenza
Although Patrick Forenza was raised in West New York, he has lived in Guttenberg for more than 65 years, many of which have been devoted to the young people of Guttenberg and North Bergen. “He could often be found refereeing high-school basketball games and was the first ever high- school football coach for North Bergen,” said Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff in nominating Forenza. A high-school sports star who was inducted into St. Joseph High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, Forenza went on to earn a degree in physical education and a masters in administration and supervision. He worked in North Bergen as a teacher and later vice principal and principal at several schools. In 1972, he became superintendent of schools in the Guttenberg School District.
Union City’s Eloina Camejo
Eloina Camejo, 73, came to the United States from Cuba in 1960. A kind, helpful, funny person, Camejo is described as having a good heart and helping anyone that needs her assistance.
“She is well-known and loved by all who come in contact with her,” said Union City Mayor Brian Stack in nominating her. “Eloina loves people and enjoys their company. She’s a good companion and does her best to help the seniors in anything they need and never says no to them.” She is also a good cook by all accounts. When seniors go on day trips or food shopping, she is there to help. She likes playing bingo and going to the casinos when the seniors take their monthly trip to Atlantic City. She apparently can make others laugh in the bus, and enjoyed going out to the beach or on picnics. She often helps other seniors when they need to go to doctor appointments.
Secaucus’s Rita Casazza
When nominating Rita Casazza, Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli called her “a tireless worker who loves helping others day in and day out.” A retired seamstress, the 78-year-old Casazza continues to help people, even giving whatever she earns each week to local needy families.
She helps deliver food and clothing to homebound seniors, delivers bread each week to shut-ins and low income residents, and she volunteers at the local senior housing buildings. For the past 11 years, a group of women meet at her house to make rosary beads which are sent to missionaries.
North Bergen’s Melody Acosta
A teacher for 45 years in Bergen County, Melody Acosta has been described at “caring, attentive, efficient, understanding, and dedicated.” She works at the North Bergen Senior Center where she is well-known among seniors, even starting her own senior-citizen group after working hours. She organizes day trips and cruises for seniors and does fundraising for the needy. She is an employee of the North Bergen Nutrition program, working part time. However, it is because of her non-salaried “heart work,” Mayor Nicholas Sacco nominated her. “Melody’s commitment to the welfare of our senior residents is remarkable,” Sacco said. “Her mission, which she amazingly accomplishes, is to nourish the spirits of our seniors in every way at any time.”
She listens to the suggestions of other seniors and often passes them on. “She has the trust of many seniors due to her caring ways, and they turn to her for direction in so many areas,” Sacco said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.