BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Six notable members of the community received honors for their contributions to the township in both their professional and personal lives at the 14th Annual Berkeley Heights Good Scout Award Dinner. The honorees: Margaret Illis; Michael Koubek; Sal Passalacqua; Angela Penna, and Elisa and Eric Probst, were recognized for their leadership within the township and for how they embodied the values included in the Scout Oath and Law. Members of Boy Scouts of America Patriots’ Path Council Troops 68 and 368, hosted the evening at the Primavera Regency on Thursday, Oct 3.
Previous Good Scout Award recipients and event co-chairs Louisa Grossman and Pam Yoss, served as MCs for the fund-raiser, which benefits Scouts who live in underserved areas of New Jersey. Members of troops 68 and 368 led the Opening Ceremony Flag Detail. Scout leaders Mitchell Szalus of Troop 368 and John Koubek of Troop 68 spoke and Jack Flood, a Patriots’ Path Council executive board member spoke to the enthusiastic crowd.
Margaret Illis, who is co-chair of Relay for Life of Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Mountainside and Summit, has a long history of working with both the Girl, Cub and Boy Scouts.
She served as a troop leader and member of the leadership team for more than 10 years with the Girl Scout and became a pack committee chair with Cub Scout Pack 468. When her second son moved up to Troop 368, she turned her efforts to fund-raising for the troops high adventure trips, trained Cub Scout leaders and more.
In 2003, Illis attended her first Relay for Life of Berkeley Height, New Providence, Summit, and Mountainside. She became a “team parent” for a team organized by her daughter in 2008, and later joined the leadership team, holding various positions until, three years ago, becoming a co-chair of the event - a position she continues to hold.
Illis thanked Bill, her husband, who she said “supported her in every turn, cooked dinner for the kids when I was at meetings,” and more. She also thanked her four kids, who “sometimes wished I was more available,” but who always “pitched in to help,” as well as her friends, “Scout parents, and those who watched the sun rise … at Relay.”
Illis recalled, “A lecturer advised us to live your values locally,” which, without realizing it, she had been doing and were her “guiding principles … family, community and helping others,” she said.
“All my volunteering had been to build a stronger community,” she concluded.
Michael Koubek, who serves as the committee chairman of Scouts BSA Troop 68, first began working with the Scouts in 2009, when his sons joined Cub Scout Pack 268. He was Pinewood Derby chairperson for two years and, in 2011, began volunteering with Troop 68, supervising trips and later, was a member of the troop committee.
An active parishioner of Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church in New Providence, he continues his volunteer efforts, and is a member of the Knights of Columbus Council 783. He is a member of the “Pit Crew” for the GL Marching Band Parent Organization.
The son of an Eagle Scout, he is the father of an Eagle Scout, and a Star Scout, and a daughter who volunteers her time within the community. His wife, Roberta has been the coordinator of Troop 68’s participation in the Rubber Ducky Festival.
Koubek gave credit to his family and children for, wiithout “their support and guidance I would not be receiving this honor.”
He said he has gotten more out of volunteering than he ever expected. “Scouts learn about leadership, not only about how to lead, but how and when to follow and when to be part of a team … about paying it forward, doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
He concluded by saying he has learned “Volunteering is investing in our youth and community; that committing our time and energy teaches an important lesson of love for our community and of being an example of future leaders … A wonderful community doesn’t just happen, that good people stepping up in generosity of spirit makes it happen, so they can be the ones to set the same example for their young when the time comes.”
Sal Passalacqua spent his youth in Brazil and Italy before moving to New Jersey at the age of 15, where he made pizza in a relative's shop. He cooked his way through high school and college and, at 20, opened Dimaio Cuina.
He attended the New York Restaurant School, chosen for an internship with the Food Network where he met and worked with Chef Emeril Lagasse, for whom he has served as executive chef and with whom he has appeared on TV shows, including the Home Shopping, Network, QVC, and more.
Some 41 years after he opened his restaurant, he continues to be the Chef-Owner of Dimaio’s Restaurant and is a beloved fixture in the community.
Passalacqua thanked the Boy Scouts, his wife who has supported him in “pretty much everything I do,” his brother who is a “chemical engineer during the week and sous chef on the weekends, and his sister and brother-in-law who are our counselors and friends.”
He said he appreciated being named a Good Scout “because of what it stands for. Boy Scouts’ values are something we need to have more of today.” He said he was always interested in being a good citizen and receiving the award “means I am doing that, even though I feel what I do is something people should do. Giving back to your community is just natural.”
Angela Penna first volunteered in the school district in 2007, when her son entered the pre-Kindergarten program at Mary Kay McMillin (MKM) Early Childhood Center, as a special education liaison for the PTO. She continues to be an active member of the district’s Special Education Parent Advisory Committee and Special Education Liaison.
During the intervening 12 years, she has served as a volunteer member and co-chair of many Parent Teacher committees at all levels and as a member of every school PTO Executive Board, as president or vice president. She is currently in her third year as the BHPTO president.
She has served as co-chair for the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation (BHEF), and has been a trustee for the organization since 2015. She has also worked as a Communication Liaison for the Berkeley Heights Youth Soccer Club and was an active member of the Girl Scouts Troop #40922.
Penna congratulated the other award recipients and thanked those who volunteer at the schools and elsewhere, who “make so much possible for the community through education,” and her family, which stood by her when her volunteering at times "consumed her."
She left people with this thought, “If you want to see change, get something done, get involved. It’s so much better use of your time than criticizing from the sidelines.” Then reminded people to vote in the upcoming elections.
Elisa and Eric Probst met in 1987 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA., where they adopted the Jesuit value of “service for others,” which they said each of their parents exemplified. Since that time, they have volunteered their time, energy and talents to many organizations.
Elisa began volunteering with the Berkeley Heights Girl Scouts in 2005, eventually became a troop leader and is now the service unit manager. She also served the District PTO in a variety of roles, including President at three of the schools and chair of multiple committees through the years.
Eric served the Cub Scouts as a leader and “Voice of the Pinewood Derby,” even after his sons left Scouts, PAL Soccer Coach, BH Youth Soccer Club coach and board member, Berkeley Swim Club Board President, and Republican Municipal Committee Member, District 3.
The Probsts were introduced by Anthony and Maureen Pergola who raised their children “side by side” in this community with the Probsts.
Elisa said when she learned they were to receive the Good Scout Award, she thought about why she volunteered. “After a lot of soul searching, I realized it is part of my being, my DNA. It is who I am.” She spoke of growing up with parents and grandparents who volunteered. She thanked everyone who “supported me with everything I’ve done in town … if even one person or child has a positive experience or sense of comfort and peace as a result of my service, I am satisfied.”
Eric said he found it “funny they are honoring somebody who can’t start a fire and whose claim to fame is having a big mouth and announcing Pinewod Derby races.” He thanked “friends who are here, who make living in this community so very special” and the boys he coached over the years.
Berkeley Heights has a very active Scouting program for more than 170 youth in three Cub Scout packs (for boys and girls ages 7 to 11 years) and two Boy Scout troops (for boys ages 11-18), sponsored by the Rotary Club of Berkeley Heights. Berkeley Heights is a part of the Watchung Mountain District of the Patriots’ Path Council, Boy Scouts of America. In this district, some 3,000 youth are served by over 70 Scouting units throughout Union, Morris and Somerset Counties.
For more information on Scouting in Berkeley Heights, attending the event, and sponsoring the program journal, contact Jennifer Volz, Development Director, at 973-765-9322 ext. 249 and/or firstname.lastname@example.org.