Everywhere one turned in the main ballroom of the facility, there was another bright smile coming from a woman who was in her ninth decade on the planet. It was incredible to see so many people unabashedly free to declare their chronological ages.
"I've been living in North Bergen for 30 years and I'm 93 years old," said Anne Zando, who was proud to tell anyone and everyone her age. "At my age, I have to make due with whatever I have left. I think this day is wonderful, and I hope I'm here for many more to come."
"I've lived in North Bergen all my life and I'm 90," Dorothy Sperl chimed in. "There aren't a lot of towns that do this, but I think we all look forward to this day. I think that's what keeps us young. We're able to get out and enjoy a day like this."
More than 1,000 of North Bergen's golden sect got together for the annual picnic, which is held every year at Schuetzen Park right around the same time of year.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who sponsors the event, remembered the senior picnic that occurred six years ago.
"We were all here on 9/11 and I think we were all shocked, not knowing what was going on," Sacco said. "We stood here silent and sad, but as a nation and as a community, we stood together. I feel nothing but warmth and love from this room. I can tell that the picnic gets bigger each year, because the dance floor gets smaller. But we always make it a good party for the seniors."
The senior citizens were treated to hot dogs, corn, soft drinks, even beer. They later had cake and coffee, all free of charge.
Trophies for dancing
There was also a dance contest with trophies awarded to the best dancers.
"I won the waltz contest a few years ago," Zando said with pride. "I'm sorry I can't dance anymore, because I'm a little unstable when I walk. I miss being out there."
When Zando glanced out to the dance floor, she noticed one thing.
"There are a lot of young seniors out there competing this year," Zando said. "I wonder if they're really seniors. They look so young."
Zando, who has five great-grandsons, said that she always looks forward to the picnic.
"It's a great chance to get out and see friends that I don't see all year," Zando said. "I think it's a wonderful thing that they have this for us. I look forward to the day for a long time, because I know it's going to be a good party. I'm just happy to be here. I'm happy to be anywhere."
Terry Giordano was one of the younger ones at her table.
"I've been living on 81st Street in North Bergen since I was seven years old and I've been living there 81 years," Giordano said. "So you can figure out how old I am. I come every year to this party and as long as I can make it, I'll be here. If I'm alive, I'll be here."
Josephine Guglielmo said that she remembers Mayor Sacco when he was a little boy.
"He used to play ball with my son [Ralph]," Guglielmo said. "I'm thankful to him for giving us a nice party. We're all having a good time. It's very nice."
By the way, Guglielmo just turned 95.
"I think this is what keeps us all young," Guglielmo said. "It's all about getting out and seeing others."
Ellen Durante also had a nice time, listening to the music, watching everyone dance.
"I love the whole deal," said Durante, who has lived in North Bergen for 31 of her 89 years on this good earth. "I'm enjoying it very much. It's great that we have this, because we're all together in one place."
Key to living long
So what's the key to North Bergen residents living so long?
"It just must be the good life," Durante said. "I guess we're doing the right thing, because we're all still here and we keep coming."
Sacco said that he enjoys throwing the party for the seniors, stemming from an idea that took place more than a decade ago. Originally, it was a concept started by Commissioner Theresa Ferraro, who is also a senior citizen herself.
"The seniors deserve it," Sacco said. "They've done so much for this country and for the community of North Bergen. A day like this doesn't measure up to what they truly deserve for all they've done."
Ferraro, along with Community Service Director Karen Giannaros and Housing Authority Director Diane Pierano-Ingvaldsen, work so diligently each year to assure the success of the picnic.
"It really is a joint venture," said Ferraro, who has been involved with the senior picnic since its inception 13 years ago. "We really get a kick out of it. It's a big job, but we enjoy doing it. It was wall-to-wall seniors. This is Nick Sacco's pet project. He loves this day more than any other. This is his way of saying 'Thank you' to all the loyal seniors who live in the town."
The township's senior citizen clubs get involved, and the township provides free transportation to the seniors who want to attend.
"All the senior clubs were notified in advance," Ferraro said. "They all anticipate this day long in advance."
Ferraro said that she was proud of the countless number of volunteers.
"The workers in the town, mostly from the Housing Authority, all give up their day to help out," Ferraro said. "Everyone volunteers their time, even the members of the Police Department come and help out."
Sacco likes the idea that all the township's seniors come together for this one day.
"You get all the different senior groups from all over together here at one time," Sacco said. "We advertise it, send fliers out and even provide the transportation. It's become a good community event. The seniors really deserve it."
And it's part of the secret to staying young. Just look at the 90-plus crowd in attendance.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org