WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Chamber of Commerce (WOCC) experienced record-breaking attendance at its 45th annual Mayor's Breakfast breakfast last week at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, where more than 200 local business owners, township employees, high school students and community members packed the ballroom to hear Mayor Robert Parisi's annual state-of-the-township address

In addition to recognizing some accomplishments from 2018 and upcoming projects slated for completion this year, Parisi also honored the achieviments of a handful of outstanding West Orange students as well as the 2019 "Citizens of the Year" and "Employees of the Year." On behalf of the entire chamber, West Orange Councilwoman and WOCC Mayor’s Breakfast event chair Susan McCartney thanked all who were able to attend the event.

“In 1997, over 20 years ago, I became a chamber member when I called Roger Schneider to let him know I was opening First Mountain Preschool approximately 500 feet down the road from the Wilshire Grand Hotel here on Pleasant Valley Way—right next door to Firehouse No. 4,” said McCartney. “As chair of this annual event, you will understand that as an educator for over 20 years, I will never tire of honoring and recognizing the achievements of our young students, and I appreciate the 2019 hopeful, inspiring message delivered by Mayor Robert Parisi.”

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In recognizing local students for their success in the classroom, on the athletic fields, on stage, in music and in public service, Parisi said that "nothing makes us prouder than to see and to celebrate the successes of our children," and that West Orange has a lot to be proud of. To read about the many students and athletes honored during this event, click HERE.

Acknowledging the more than 300 township employees who "do all they can to make those neighborhoods home, making them safe, secure and in cleaning, paving and plowing the roadways that take us out in to the world in the morning, and when the day is done, bring us back home again,” Parisi named Michael and Giuseppe Elifani of the West Orange Department of Public Works (DPW) as the 2019 "Employees of the Year."

Parisi said both men embody the township’s expectation of its employees to “provide a variety of services, to solve unique problems, to respond any time of day or night, to do it properly, do it quickly and to do it all with a smile."

Michael and Giuseppe are alumni of West Orange Public Schools and began their careers with the local DPW in January of 1984, climbing the ranks from entry-level positions to heading the Shade Tree Division and Sewer/Pump Station Division, respectively.

“They represent the best of local government and they have set a very high example of excellence for generations of co-workers,” said Parisi. “We offer them our thanks this morning, perhaps long overdue…Both [of their DPW] divisions require unique skills and a willingness to respond to frequent emergency situations day or night—emergencies that often have residents at their most stressed. They have made careers of not only fixing the problem, but restoring confidence in our residents.”

The award for “Citizens of the Year” went to Rich Rizzilo, a West Orange Public Schools alumnus, and his wife, Linda, who together have been an integral part of the West Orange community and particularly its school system since returning to West Orange after marrying in 1971.

“Each year at this breakfast and throughout the year, we celebrate the success of our students and pride in our schools—Often blind to the countless people that contribute to that success each year,” said Parisi. “For more than four decades, behind the scenes and in front, Rich and Linda Rizzilo have done all they could to see that each student has every chance to be a part of that success.”

In addition to years and titles in PTA service, Linda was among the original organizers of West Orange High School's Project Graduation, serving the program for more than a decade and as its director for many years.

Rich served on the West Orange Board of Education from 1998 to 2004, helping to “guide the district through successful expansion of our schools and the construction and opening of Liberty Middle School,” according to Parisi. He has also served as a trustee of the West Orange Scholarship Fund since 2001 and currently serves as its president, leading to the more than $700,000 that has been provided to high school students in the last 18 years.

“They have been a fixture in school circles and in the West Orange community for more than 40 years,” said Parisi. “Their contributions in that time, and even today, remain immeasurable and we offer our thanks for a lifetime of caring.”

Also recognized was Bruce Buechler, who served 20 years on the West Orange Zoning Board, including serving as board chairman for several years. Buechler recently stepped down from the zoning board after being approved by the New Jersey State Senate to be appointed a Superior Court Judge.

“His expertise and professionalism have impacted countless applications, large and small, that have impacted our community,” said Parisi in thanking him for his service and congratulating him on this new position, which he will be sworn into shortly.

Shout-outs were also made to longtime resident Ken Mandel, who created the township’s annual Classic Film Festival that is currently in its 14th year, as well as township historian Joe Fagan, who has been named a Deputy Grand Marshal of the township’s 67th St. Patrick’s Day Parade, scheduled for March 10.

During his address, the mayor described many township accomplishments over the past year, including downtown development, the purchase of 1,000 homes by new homeowners, the installation of a traffic light at Alisa Drive in conjunction with the West Orange Board of Education and Essex County and the rebuilding of the Ginny Duenkel Pool headquarters.

He also mentioned some upcoming projects he looks forward to, inluding the township's intention to bid on the Rock Spring Golf Club property, continue redevelopment projects, pave several miles of road, address the need for more senior housing as well as a senior citizen center, discuss the possible relocation of the West Orange Public Library and construct a new animal shelter.

He also said that the township intends to partner on the installation of GPS technology on all school buses, providing easy tracking of the buses and ease in locating during storms or in emergency situations.

Other specific projects include installing a second building in the Valley’s Central Avenue redevelopment, which he said will provide much-needed affordable housing in West Orange, as well as the $20-million renovation of the Essex Green Shopping Center, which is currently before the zoning board and will include more retail space, better access to the complex, cosmetic updates and more.

The owner of Avenue Hotel, formerly the Turtle Brook Inn, is also slated to appear before the zoning board to apply for a complete rebuilding of the property to include retail space and luxury apartments, according to Parisi.

“We are West Orange,” Parisi said as he concluded this year's community address. “We may be different in how we look, how we got here, how we think, the way we live, in what we eat or how we pray—but we are bound in a commitment to this home and to each other. And though we may disagree at times, with each success, as with each failure, together we help to define what it means to be West Orange—for a success for any one of us is a success for all of us.

“Beyond the familiar streets and neighborhoods, we share a responsibility to the children that count on us, the businesses we count on, the public servants, serving our schools and the township and to each neighbor, to each other. 

"The process can be hard, but difficult or not, that responsibility should not limit us in our hopes or in how big we dare to dream. We should be bold—in our own lives and in the dreams we dream for each other. We should commit that each year can be better than the last and that each new day is a step toward believing that."

Parisi's state-of-the-township address in its entirety can be found here.