Sussex County Freeholders Approve Veterans' Cemetery, Support Agro-Tourism

Karelann Herkaler-Artale supports the efforts of the Vietnam Veteran's to build a cemetery Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Country Administrator John Eskilson, Dennis Mudrick and Gail Phoebus Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Freeholders Gail Phoebus, Rich Vohden, and Parker Space Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Gary Modla thanked the Freeholder's for their support Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Freeholders Parker Space, Phillip Crabb, and attorney Dennis McConnell Credits: Jennifer Murphy
Sue Shake, of Sussex Vo-Tech's Board, introduced Gary Modla Credits: Jennifer Murphy

NEWTON, NJ – At the Jan. 30 meeting, Sussex County Freeholders were introduced to the new superintendant at Sussex County Vocational Technical High School: Gary Modla. Modla was a History teacher for nine years in Dover, then became teacher and football coach at Boonton High School, and was principal there. Sue Shake, Sussex Vo-Tech Board Member, said, “We feel really lucky to have him here at Tech.”

The board passed a resolution to allow for the development of a Veterans' Cemetery on Rt. 94 in Sparta. John Harrigan, a Vietnam Veteran who is actively involved in the project, attended the meeting to ask why the easement on the side of the property was so large. 

“It’s going to be 100 feet, each side,” he said. “A brand new road only requires 50 feet. We lose 180 graves that way.”

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Attorney Dennis McConnell responded that it is an old rail right of way. The county needs to retain rights to use the property, as it is a critical link to the Paulinskill Trail. 

The project was applauded by both freeholder Phillip Crabb, and Karelann Herkaler-Artale, from Lafayette, who said her father is buried in the Veteran’s Cemetery in Wrightstown, which is too far for her to visit. 

“It’s so wonderful to see something positive and beautiful come into our county,” she said.

She then asked the freeholders to crack down on drivers who pass a school bus while students are boarding or disembarking.

Crabb reported that recently the county hosted an Air Brake System Seminar, to which mechanics from Hamburg, Sparta, Chester, and instructors from Vo-Tech High School were invited, in addition to county mechanics.

Crabb said, “Whenever a new vehicle is purchased, there is built-in training, an opportunity that’s never been taken advantage of before. This endeavor represents the first such, not only for county mechanics, but as a shared services opportunity with other municipalities, and the instructors from Vo-Tech to pass on to the students. There are more classes planned for the spring, including an in-depth electronics training, associated with the heavy duty dump trucks that the county has on order.”

Demolition is complete on the Franklin Viaduct.

Crabb said, “If you want to see what it looked like 80 years ago, now’s your chance."

One of the abutments on the side of the Wallkill River may be retained, if that works out, the job may finish under budget. 

Crabb warned, “The next phase is pile driving, there’s no getting around it, it will be very noisy. We will try to get through it as quickly as we can.” 

Freeholder Dennis Mudrick acknowledged the great job performed by the road crews throughout the county, calling Sussex County the “Gold Standard on roads taken care of.”

Freeholder Gail Phoebus reported on Jan. 17 that she attended a panel, organized by Dr. Koss, psychiatrist, which brought all the different disciplines of Human Services together in one room for a forum on mental health. Many different non-profit organizations gave presentations. The objective is to streamline the process of getting help. There were 60 community leaders that participated.

Freeholder Richard Vohden attended the County Historical Society meeting at the County Museum. There is a 16 member Board of Trustees with very impressive biographies, including a museum curator, historians, school administrators, a library director, a library media specialist, authors, and a Board Certified Genealogist. They are devoted to revitalizing the museum and bringing educational/historical programs to interest the public and encourage tourism.  The museum is home to a mastodon skull from Stillwater, many Civil War relics, and maps from the 1800’s. 

Vohden also attended the Friends of Waterloo meeting run by George Graham, Stanhope Councilman, where the history from 1863, as well as future plans for the site, were discussed. During the 70’s and 80’s, Waterloo Village brought thousands of people to Sussex County.

On Jan. 27, the annual “Farm to Fork Dinner” was served by famous Sussex County Chefs at Andre's Restaurant on Spring Street. This seven course dinner featured locally grown food, paired with chef’s choice of wine for each course, again, bringing business to the county. 

Vohden will be attending the Board of Agriculture next week concerning efforts to stimulate agro-tourism. They will be applying for grants for advertising and marketing. Vohden pointed out that thousands of people come to Sussex County to hunt, fish, visit our zoos, attend the State Fair in Augusta, visit the mines and forges, and the art community at Peters Valley. 

He said, “I would like to have a serious conversation about setting a policy that we support economic development in Sussex County through eco/agro-tourism.”

Freeholder Director Parker Space thanked Governor Chris Christie for vetoing the minimum wage increase. Space underscored the difficulty small businesses have in keeping their head above water during these tough times. He supported Christie’s idea of increasing by $1 over a three-year period.

Space then congratulated Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-24) for his nomination from Christie to the position of Sussex County Surrogate. Chiusano’s appointment still has to be confirmed in the Senate.

Space reported that he attended a birthday party for one of the residents at The Homestead Nursing Home. After a series of contentious meetings regarding the sale of the home last spring, he took time out to speak with familiar faces from those meetings.  He reported that everyone there seemed in good spirits, with 70 percent of the same people working there, and the residents did not really see much change.

John Eskilson, Sussex County Administrator noted that the county will see a big decrease in Worker’s Comp fees, and in other insurances this year, as a result of the sale.

Ann Smulowicz, from Wantage, requested that the freeholders continue to take a dim view of “double-dippers.” 

She also praised the historical society’s efforts. Smulowicz memorialized a brother and sister duo, by the name of Blair, who were descendants of slaves. The pair lived in a small shack on Rt. 23, near Wallkill Valley High School. 

Freeholder Crabb said, “I went to High School with relatives of the Blair’s. The place they lived was the original slave quarters of the big white building, the name escapes me at the moment. It wasn’t even on the tax map. Tragically, they froze to death on the same night, as they had no heat.”

Smulowicz continued, “At the time, I wanted to have their place preserved, but no one was interested. The historical society would have been useful. The place is now razed. There’s nothing to do now but remember their quiet dignity and that they had value. I’d like to preserve their memory in a final acclamation of the decency in which they lived their lives.”

Vohden commented, “Peter Lubrick, Ph.D., will be writing a history of African American families of Sussex County. I will mention this family to them, in hopes they will be included in his book.”



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