BAYONNE, NJ - For those who knew Margaret Wilk best, it is often the little things they remember, even though in her life, she was one of the most accomplished people in Bayonne.
Marge, as she was known to her friends, loved knickknacks and her desk in her various jobs usually had an array of small figurines – which she frequently changed to suit upcoming holidays, such as Christmas or St. Patrick’s Day.
Marge, who loved Bayonne and lived in a house on Avenue E until failing eyesight and poor health forced her to relocate, passed away in Manahawkin on July 3. She was 96.
A community activist and leader in Bayonne, Marge had a number of small rituals that she carried on for years, returning to Bayonne often to carry them out, such as helping friends collect souvenir coins.
Born in the city she called home nearly all her life, she was a parishioner at the recently demolished St. Joseph’s church. On Avenue E and East 25th Street, and a graduate of Horace Mann elementary school, and, at just 16, Bayonne High School.
She worked for the Bayonne Times from 1941 to 1960, starting in the circulation department, and soon became a critical person in the sales of display advertising, before she left work to get married and raise her kids. She took up a similar role for the original Bayonne Community News in the mid-1970s until early 2004 when it was sold to the Hudson Reporter.
Marge went to the Bayonne Community News shortly after its started in 1978 as a part time employee, and working her way into a full-time position, learning nearly every aspect of the job. She retired for a short period then was asked back. She started the newspaper’s bridal column and was for a long time the driving force behind its greeting section, and always had a hand in various promotions such as the Easter section. During her tenure at the Community news she handled accounts, sold advertising, even helped with layout.
“Being with the newspapers allowed me to meet and talk with various people,” Wilk said during a 2005 interview. Marge was famous for her office humor and her loyalty to the newspaper.
“I really missed working at the Bayonne Times,” she recalled once. “But I made a lot of friends when I came back to the Community News.” She frequently kept in touch with those she had worked with, even later when living out of town, calling up with her famous line, “I bet you’ve forgotten all about me.”
But nobody who worked with her ever forgot her.
“It was such a pleasure knowing and working with Margie,” said Lisa Culbert who worked with her before and after the sale of the paper in 2004. “She was a professional, gracious and a lot of fun. My years with the `old’ Bayonne Community news will always be cherished thanks to Margie.”
At the time of her retirement from the Bayonne Community News in 2005, locals praised her.
“Marge is someone who loves Bayonne,” said Henry Sanchez, a member of the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority, the Bayonne office of the American Red Cross, plus numerous other civic bodies in Bayonne.
“She is a wonderful person,” said Eddie O’Rourke, president of the Bergen Point Merchant Association.
Joe Ryan, city spokesperson, called Wilk one of the most civic-minded people in Bayonne. “She was an air raid warden during World War II,” Ryan said. “After the attacks on 9/11, she came to us and volunteered to do that again if we needed her.”
Never able to say “no” for a good cause, Marge helped prepare packages in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and was certified by the American Red Cross as a Shelter Operations.
Over her long life, she served as a summer manager for campgrounds in Connecticut and as a federal archivist at the Military Ocean Terminal, a job that fed her taste for history. She worked to preserve the history of Bayonne and honor the City’s rich past.
She often recalled curious details about the history of the city and was a quick reference to reporters needing a brief history of various aspects of it. She served as President of the Bayonne Historical Society for many years and was a founding Trustee and Secretary on the Board of the Bayonne Museum.
In 1999 Marge was awarded Volunteer of the Year Award by the Bayonne Historical Society and was recognized and noted in a joint resolution in the Senate and General Assembly by Senator Edward O’Connor and Assemblymen Joseph Doria and Joseph Charles for her volunteer efforts.
“Wilk began her remarkable career in volunteerism with the Bayonne Historical Society, an organization of residents dedicated to preserving the history of this great city,” said then Rep. Robert Menendez in his tribute read on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1999. “Serving as a trustee for this organization for many years, Mrs. Wilk worked to foster the growth of the society.”
In 2014 she was honored as a Bayonne Woman of Achievement by the Bayonne Historical Society in recognition for her lifetime contribution to the benefit of the people of Bayonne.
Wilk, Menendez noted, also served as a trustee on the Board of the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation and was the recording secretary of the Colgate Retirees Association. She was also a volunteer member of the Communications Committee of Bayonne in the Twenty-First Century, an ambitious plan to shape the future of Bayonne developed in the 1990s and was ultimately responsible for acquiring the 9-11 Teardrop Memorial and having it erected in Bayonne.
“Mrs. Wilk became an active member of numerous civic and educational organizations, playing a vital role in their growth,” Menendez said. “She served as recording secretary of Marist High School PTA, president of Holy Family Academy Mothers Club, and president of the Holy Family Academy Alumni Mothers Club for eight years.”
Marge was a member of the extremely influential Concerned Citizens of Bayonne and the Bayonne Animal League and was honored by Mayors Joseph Doria, Mark Smith and Jimmy Davis, all of whom proclaimed “Bayonne Margaret Wilk Days”, for her service to the community.
Even when retiring in 2005, Wilk refused to quit being involved. She did not want to lose touch with the community.
“There are a lot of things I want to see and do,” she said. “Maybe I’ll be another Grandma Moses. Maybe I’ll write a book. Maybe I’ll try and conquer the computer. But above all, I will concentrate on preserving the history of Bayonne by working with the Bayonne Historical Society and the Bayonne Community Museum. And if I were younger, I would run for councilwoman.”
“Mrs. Wilk exemplifies what we appreciate most in the human spirit and provides a living example of what we all should strive for in our everyday lives,” Menendez said.
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