The extreme cold and snow flurries did not dim the joy felt by those that attended the ceremony, especially Union City's 2004 Irish-American of the Year, Helen Gordon.
Bagpiper John Nisbet of Kearny was also on hand to play the bagpipes, giving the proceedings a true Irish sound and flavor.
Joining Gordon and Nesbit was Union City Mayor Brian Stack, Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez and Veterans Affairs Director John McMahon.
The ceremony was Union City's way of celebrating not only the St. Patrick's Day holiday, but of embracing and celebrating the legacy of Irish Americans in Union City's history.
While it may seem difficult to believe, Union City's neighborhoods were at one time predominantly Irish. With the waxing and waning of economics and society, many of the original Irish families who built the majority of buildings in Union City moved out. But a hardy few remain, and Helen Gordon is one of them. And it is for that reason that she was recognized last week.
"I'm overwhelmed, very proud. It's an honor," said Gordon at last week's ceremony. Gordon was surrounded by eight of her eleven children and at least two of her great-grandchildren. Said one of her daughters, Susan, "We're very proud of her. God bless her."
Gordon has lived in Union City for 49 years and is retired from the Jonathan Logan Company, a garment factory that used to exist in North Bergen, back in the days when North Hudson was the garment/embroidery capital of the world. Gordon admitted to "seeing a lot of changes over the years," the main one being the exodus of the factories overseas. That, more than anything else, contributed to many Irish families leaving the area.
As Union City Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez greeted the crowd of folks last week, he looked at the falling snow and joked, "Welcome on this beautiful day." At that, Gordon could be heard joking, "St. Patrick cursed us today!" Fernandez introduced Union City Mayor Brian Stack and as he took the lectern, Stack cracked, "What Lucio isn't telling you is that his fiancée is Irish, so I guess today, he's half Irish, half Cuban."
Added Stack, "While the Irish may not be the majority anymore in Union City, we cannot forget the contributions that they made to Union City and how they helped it become a pleasant place. They really paved the way for other immigrants into this city."
As Gordon came to the podium to say a few words, she became overwhelmed with emotion and just uttered a heartfelt "thank you" to the mayor and the crowd, most of whom consisted of her children and other town dignitaries.
Veterans' Affairs Director John McMahon presented Gordon with a few gifts and then read some well-known writings about Irish people and the Irish experience, one of which read,
Be they poets or kings or farmers
They're a people of great worth
They keep company with angels
And bring a bit of Heaven
Stack opined, "The Irish have brought a bit of Heaven to Union City as well."
West New York's Irish-American of the Year
West New York's St. Patrick's Day celebration was, at press time, scheduled to be held in the court chambers on Friday March 19. And West New York's Irish American of the Year is Anastasia Langan.
When asked how she felt to be recognized by her town, she said, "Well, I am thrilled. I've been in West New York for a long time, since I was 18 months old."
Continued Langan, "This makes me think of my mom and dad. They were really good people. They put up with a lot. They had it tough when they came here, you know, 'Irish Need Not Apply' and all that. But they educated myself and my three sisters, Mary, Emily and Helen. But it's hard for the Spanish too. Every nationality goes through that when they first come over to a new country."
Interestingly, Langan was married to the West New York Commissioner James Langan, who left just before Albio Sires came into power nine years ago.