Since the early 1990s, Secaucus has made a point of planting new trees each year, and for the 10th consecutive year, the town received a Tree City designation from the state.
While the planting of trees is part of a year 'round program, residents, officials, school kids and others gather this time each year to make note of the progress and to renew their energies through poetry, song and speechmaking.
Unlike the celebrations back in the 1990s, the last two years have borne a somewhat sad note in the usually upbeat event. Last year's ceremony marked the first after the attacks on the World Trade Center, and this year's followed a war in Iraq.
Deputy Mayor John Reilly orchestrated the ceremony. A celebrated fire department hero as well as a veteran of the Vietnam War, Reilly introduced the speaker and performer, each adding to the mixed feelings of pride and hope the day inspired.
Although rain had peppered the ground earlier in the day, sunlight broke through the clouds just as the ceremonies began at 9 a.m. Local ministers framed the event with prayers. The library's schoolchildren offered their salute to the flag. The talented singer Lindsayann Collazo belted out her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner amid the flapping flags and bowed heads.
Mayor Dennis Elwell, a decorated Vietnam Veteran, took note of a new master plan for the Meadowlands that would preserve the existing unfilled wetlands as a park. He offered a proclamation and gave praise to New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Executive Director Bob Ceberio for helping to make the preservation possible.
In addition, Elwell went on to say, "Many people don't understand what difference trees make. But if you put your hand over your mouth and try to breathe, you'll get an idea of why we need trees. If there are no trees, there is no air. Everything would be clogged up. They are a necessary part of the natural food chain."
In this regard, Elwell honored members of the Secaucus Shade Tree Committee that has played an active part in making Secaucus greener since 1992.
The students from Huber Street School sang several songs, celebrating the final, if reluctant, arrival of spring. This was followed by a special rendition of taps played on a bugle by resident Brian Beckmeyer.
On hand were three currently activated members of the military: Chris Snyder, Harry Baichak, and Police Officer Ed Gramp.
What is Arbor Day?
Arbor means "tree" in Latin. The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, the brainstorm of a man named J. Sterling Morton, who wanted to make up for the massive loss of trees he saw going in on that state. Since then, Arbor Day has been celebrated in every state, usually on the last Friday in April.
This year, Secaucus celebrated the event a few weeks later than usual, partly because of cooler than usual weather.
As in the past, Jack Shuart, an assistant regional forester with the state Department of Environmental Protection, awarded Secaucus the Tree City designation, saying how well Secaucus has maintained its tree planting programs over the last decade.
Tree City, USA began as a 1976 Bicentennial project co-sponsored by the National Association of State Foresters and the USDA-Forest Service.
To become a Tree City USA, Shuart noted, a community must meet four standards: have a tree board or department, pass a tree care ordinance, have a comprehensive community forestry program, and hold an Arbor Day observance. This year the town again received a Tree City USA Growth Award for demonstrating progress in its community forestry program. "And Secaucus has lived up to each of these things," he said.
Representing PSE&G - which was honored by the town for its contribution to the local environment - Richard Dywer recalled lying down in Jersey City's Lincoln Park as a boy with his father, watching the clouds, listening to the birds, and coming to understand how important little things were - such as trees.
Dr. Robert Berkes of the Shade Tree Committee received special recognition for his activities over the last decade.
A few added features
Laura Soto-Bayomi, Miss Little Secaucus for 2002, introduced Michele Taliento and Nina Pesci, who shared the title of Miss Little Secaucus for 2003.
Pesci serves as this year's under-7 Little Miss Secaucus, while Taliento serves as the eight and older title holder.
Soto-Bayomi said there is a competition for the title that includes demonstration of a talent as well as formal wear dressup.
Robert Critelli was recognized as the winner of this year's Arbor Day essay contest for his piece, "What trees mean to me."
Edna Duffy, a member of the Shade Tree Committee, gave awards to 0poster contest winners including Molly Mancuso, Caitlin Wolf, Thomas Kessler, Amanda Lew, Ria Patal and Christy Soba.
Clarendon School students presented an array of environmental songs, and students from Immaculate Conception School presented songs closing the ceremonies.
Capping the ceremony was a rendition of "God Bless America" by middle school student Jennifer Petronzio that left many in the crowd buzzing.