Leggiero was the president and CEO of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation, a non-profit health care agency that provides services and screenings to low-income people in West New York, Union City, North Bergen, and several neighboring towns.
Leggiero was also a town commissioner in Union City.
He was honored on Wednesday, Oct. 5, by his family and friends, who placed a special memorial plaque and photograph at the NHCAC headquarters in West New York.
"Michael Leggiero was unique among men, a beloved friend and colleague, leaving a legacy that will continue to impact the lives of thousands of people for many years to come," said Ann T. Dudsak, NHCAC interim president and CEO. "The memorial is only fitting for one who has accomplished so much."
Honored guests at the memorial ceremony were Leggiero's nephews and his wife Lois Leggiero.
"I am just so uplifted and overjoyed for this special tribute for Michael," Lois Leggiero said.
The celebration comes at a bittersweet time for Lois Leggiero, who would have celebrated her 35th wedding anniversary with Michael last Monday.
"I was always so proud to be married to such an extraordinary man," said Leggiero. "He was a very special person. He loved people and cared about the community, and that was the driving force behind everything he did."
Leggiero died last year after a long bout with cancer.
He first joined the NHCAC in 1971, where he started working alongside Ann Dudsak. Throughout his three decades of service, the NHCAC grew from a solitary center with a $3 million budget to a prestigious organization with eight health center sites around NJ - four of which are in North Hudson - and 20 community programs, which annually serve over 70,000 New Jersey residents.
In loving memory
After months of going through an operational transition period to keep NHCAC running efficiently, Leggiero's NHCAC family wanted to properly honor their good friend's memory and establish a lasting memorial within the halls of their organizations.
"Because of the many intense challenges we at North Hudson have faced since Michael passed away, this day did not come as soon as I would have liked," said Dudsak. "Thankfully, I can be here with you today to honor Michael and make sure his memory is properly recognized."
At the main headquarters of the NHCAC at 5301 Broadway, West New York, a portrait of the late CEO, which will forever adorn the adjacent wall of the entrance, was unveiled by tearful family and friends. So was a memorial plaque paying homage to Leggiero's community service to the people of North Hudson and the legacy he left behind.
"Michael was one of a kind; a jewel in a world where few individuals do what they say, say what they mean, and put their passion where their heart is," said Celina Gray, media relations director for NHCAC. "It was time to create a permanent memorial to Michael, so that people who didn't know who he was had the chance to learn a little bit about him, and for those who did know him a chance to remember him for all the work he did."
The plaque alludes to Leggiero's career at NHCAC, which spanned more than 30 years. The memorial was a collaboration between his family, those who new him best, and his colleagues at NHCAC and in Union City.
The plaque also included excerpts spoken at his funeral service earlier this year, including one by longtime friend Rep. Robert Menendez: "It's his life's work that we should cherish here today. Michael lives on through the thousands of lives he touched. Today we grieve, but tomorrow we serve."
Friend and colleague
Hosting the memorial ceremony were Dudsak and Gray. Gray, who will be leaving NHCAC within the coming weeks, wanted to remember the man whom she revered and worked alongside with for many years.
"Michael Leggiero and Ann Dudsak brought me to North Hudson; they were my team along with so many other individuals," said Gray. "[To] Lois and the Leggiero family, I just want to say that it was indeed a privilege to have worked with Michael, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing him with me."
Dudsak, who has worked for the NHCAC since 1965, said, "I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to help build this extraordinary organization, but I have to say that what made that journey so remarkable was having a partner like Michael Leggiero to work with. Memories of those wonderful times will be with me always."
The NHCAC receives funding from the state, county and municipal levels.
Continuing Michael's work
To continue Michael Leggerio's work, his family also made a special donation Wednesday through funds from the Michael A. Leggiero Foundation. They will fund a new vision testing system called Sure Sight that measures visual acuity far and near, peripheral vision, muscle balance, color perception, and depth perception for young children and adults.
"What we had [up until now] was an eye chart to check vision," said Gray.
Patients look through a mini-viewer to identify screens, which can determine vision health, which helps because members of the community don't always have access to an optometrist.
The same plaque and portrait at the main headquarters in West New York will be placed in all the satellite health centers and organizations of the NHCAC.
"Michael Leggiero was my best friend, and I worked with him for 35 years," said Dudsak. "I know the kind of man he was and the dreams he had, which all came true, and [through this memorial] he will always be watching the center."