MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville Township Chamber of Commerce held its 52nd annual banquet and awards program March 7, honoring twelve local “individuals, businesses, and organizations who have made a significant contribution of service to our community and business environment,” stated Chamber President Ken Young.  “The Chamber is proud to honor this year’s award winners for the example they set, the leadership they provide, and the difference they make in Montville Township.”

Citizen of the Year

Owner of White House Designs for Life Karen Arakelian was honored as Citizen of the Year.  Arakelian founded the Gloria Foundation and opened Design Consign, a shop from which she donates the profits to support domestic violence organizations.

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“Because of the Academy Awards and the Grammies, everyone’s talking about domestic violence,” stated Arakelian in her acceptance speech.  “But we’re all still in the dark.  No one knows the depth of what goes on out there.

“When I started the Gloria Foundation, I thought I was going to donate profits from parties.  But it wasn’t all that easy.  After I opened Design Consign, women would walk in with teeth knocked out, and they would say, ‘thank you so much for doing this.’  […] It’s been much more emotional than I expected.”

Arakelian told the shocking story of how a friend’s niece had recently been discovered to be the victim of a shooting – by her husband.  Relatives could not contact the woman and sent the police to her address, where the bodies of her, her husband, and her 18-month-old child were found. This is a person from Montville.

“There are success stories of women who get out of it and go on to have successful lives,” stated Arakelian.  “That’s the goal of the Gloria Foundation, to help these women.  That’s why I started it, but it means a lot more to me now that I’ve seen [domestic violence] first-hand.”

Oganization of the Year


Homeless Bus, owned by Anna and Mark Landgrebe, was honored as Organization of the Year.

Carl Grau, who introduced the team, stated, “I asked various people here what they did last Saturday night.  Some said, ‘We went out to dinner.’  Some said, ‘I stayed at home on the couch.’  Anna and Mark Landgrebe went to a place on 54th and Lexington.  It wasn’t a BYOB, it was a BYOD – bring your own dinner.  Their menu is typically a turkey sandwich and a snack and their 200-plus weekly guests give rave reviews.”

Mark Landgrebe started the Homeless Bus in 1992.  He used it to deliver meals to the homeless in Manhattan on holidays, but realized the need was deeper. 

“These are people just like us,” Mark stated.  “They just have more unfortunate circumstances.  I couldn’t believe the amount of gratitude these homeless people gave us, for just one meal a week.  That’s how I decided to do this on a weekly basis.  For 22 years we did this as a family, out of our own pockets, then in the beginning of 2014 we started accepting donations.”

Anna Landgrebe continued, “We started accepting donations of money, food, and toiletries from the Montville community and beyond.  We honestly couldn’t understand why people wanted to get involved.  But to our surprise, we were likely a catalyst for others looking to make a difference in the world.  Since then, Montville Township has been most supportive of our mission.  Churches, synagogues, schools, businesses, and organizations have become a part of what we do.

“Restaurants like Red Barn in Towaco and Montville Bagels have provided weekly support to us, and thanks to the ‘Montville Moms’’ Facebook page, we have moms who make weekly pickups and deliveries for us.  Montville Township is not only where we proudly live, but it has become a huge part of Homeless Bus and everything that we do on a weekly basis,” Anna stated.

Public Service Award

Nancy Mertz was given the Chamber’s Public Service Award.  Mertz, who has been director of Social Services and Senior Services for Montville Township for more than four years, thanked the Chamber of Commerce and the law firm Casha and Casha for the senior seminar they host every year that benefits the seniors she works with.  “This generation is incredible.  I go to work every day with a generation that believes in family, country, and working hard.  It’s really very inspirational,” stated Mertz.

Read about TAPintoMontville’s interview with Nancy Mertz HERE

Beautification Award

The Chamber’s Beautification Award was given to Donna and Vincent Rienzi, owners of the Towaco Village Center since 2010.  Presenter Larry Casha told attendees that his first law practice had been in the building across from the train station.

The couple hails from Belleville and Nutley, towns which had a town center, and when they moved to Montville Donna complained that she had to get on the highway to shop.

The couple thanked their carpenters and architects.  They stated their architects later teased them, “You built it exactly how we drew it!”

Business of the Year

Lakeland Bank was named Business of the Year.  “I’m surprised they haven’t won before,” stated Young in his introduction.  “Originally begun by Paul Lubertazzi as Metropolitan State Bank, they’ve been recognized by Forbes as one of ‘America’s 50 Most Trustworthy Financial Companies,’ and they’ve been official sponsor of Montville’s Fourth of July celebration for years.  They are Montville’s own community bank.”

Vice President and Branch Manager Drew Ter Waarbeek accepted on behalf of Lakeland and stated, “Mr. Lubertazzi was a great mentor.  He said to always give great customer service, and always be involved in the community.  To this day, we still follow those same core values. I know Mr. Lubertazzi is smiling down right now, because the Montville branch of Lakeland Bank, formerly Metropolitan, was his pride and joy.”

Silver Service Award

Ladis Karkowsky was given the Silver Service Award.  Karkowsky has served on the Planning Board for 22 years and was chairman for three years.  He was a CCD teacher at St. Pius X Church and an assistant girls’ softball coach.  He has held leadership positions in the Kiwanis Club and volunteered for Project Promotion and Project Graduation.

Karkowsky stated, “I’ve gotten back more than I gave.  I have met many people who have become long-time friends.  I give thanks to the Montville community.”

Township Committee

The members of the Montville Township Committee were all present for the awards ceremony and presented additional recognition to the honorees.

Legacy Members

Six businesses were honored as being “Legacy Members” – twenty or more year members:  CohnReznick, LLP, Joe’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, Mundi Westport Group, Petals of Pine Brook Florist, Kessler Rehabilitation, and Marotta Controls, Inc.


Music and the sound system for the evening were provided by Freddy Puente.