BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Mayor Angie Devanney read a proclamation in honor of Tom Barton, Berkeley Heights Recreation Director since January 2002, who is set to retire on May 31, 2020.
Barton and his wife Joanne, a Woodruff School teacher and their two daughters lived in Berkeley Heights for close to thirty years prior to moving to Fanwood in 2012.
Barton was responsible for running winter, spring, summer and fall programs for all age groups and residents of Berkeley Heights; and is well known around town for his participation in and organization of special events such as the Memorial Day Parade, Concerts in the Park and the Winter Walk.
The proclamation said he had a special relationship with Santa Claus and was able to secure his visit to town hall to see all the children of Berkeley Heights.
Barton was responsible for the master schedule, helping out the BHPAL, BHYSC and other athletic groups in securing their practice and playing fields for their games and working with the senior citizens creating their bus schedule.
In addition to running the recreation programs in town, Barton is frequently seen helping out at Board of Education athletic events by keeping the time at wrestling matches, working on the chain gang at GL football games, collecting tickets at Fantastic Friday and Super Saturday; and has consistently volunteered his time to help at numerous Project Graduation events, even if that meant pulling all-nighters.
Barton has also been a member of the Peppertown Park Committee, Veterans Memorial Park Committee and the Senior Citizens Advisory Board.
"With his pleasant demeanor and desire to go the extra mile for the residents of Berkeley Heights, Tom Barton, also known as the Director of Fun, will be sorely missed by both residents and his co-workers when he retires as Recreation Director effective May 31, 2020," said Mayor Devanney.
Barton thanked Devanney and the council for the proclamation. "I truly have mixed emotions as I end my career here as a Recreation Director," said Barton. "I've gotten to work with so many fantastic people over the 18 plus years, many different mayors and administrators, many different council members, recreation commission members and township employees, our rec staff and our part-time rec employees. I've always tried to be as helpful as possible to everyone. Hopefully, I'll be able to say goodby to most of you in person before we move south in the middle of the summer. I also want to say thank you to my family for allowing me to work some crazy hours at times, to help ensure that our programs and special events, went off successful and as smoothly as possible. For me, it was always a labor of love."
He continued, "Berkeley Heights is a great place to live and raise a family. It's been a fabulous place for me to work all these years. And I leave with millions of fond memories. As Joanne and I get ready to start the next phase of our lives. Thank you again for this and I hope to see everybody soon."
During Council Reports, each council person gave their best wishes to Barton.
Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley, the most senior member of the council, said, "Tom, I worked with you for a long time. It's bittersweet -- because I just can't imagine summer camp without you -- or Santa visits -- there are so many memories of the parades. -- We do wish you luck and enjoy that granddaughter. Really, you will be missed by everybody in the Berkeley Heights' family that had the honor of working with you through the years."
Council President Alvaro Medeiros said, they will need a cardboard cutout of Barton so "we can post that at all of our events because they're not going to be the same without you. Congratulations to you and your wife. Best of luck."
Many of the community members that spoke at the meeting sent their best wishes and thanked Barton for his years of service to the town.
Recreation Commission member Debra Varnerin said she had the pleasure of working with Tom for many years as a Berkeley Heights Youth Soccer Club Board Member as well as a Recreation Commission member for the last two years. "In addition to all the wonderful things that the council and the Mayor has said about Tom this evening, he also holds many other positions -- I think he's treasurer for the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association, as well as treasurer for our newly created fundraising committee [benefiting the fields]. Like I said, I've worked with Tom for the past two years, very closely. I'm going to miss him tremendously. He is a man that will never be replaced. He goes above and beyond for everybody. It doesn't matter what day it is, what time it is, what needs to be done, whether it's running to BJs to get ice pops for the summer playground camp or borrowing the DPW pickup truck and moving old football equipment into a different shed so that we can open up the snack shack. I just want to say, Tom, that it's been wonderful and I hope we can stay in touch and I wish you all the best. Thank you."
The send-off for Barton continued Wednesday evening with a Zoom conference retirement party.
Recreation Commission Chair Ed Gallitelli facilitated the chat room of about 30 colleagues and each had the chance to say a few words to Barton.
Former Recreation Commission Chairman Dave Ronner was first to speak. "I've known Tom and Joanne, very good friends of ours, for 31 years. I first met Tom and Joanne when their daughter and our daughter were in nursery school together. And we served on the Rec Commission together in the late 90s -- and through the early 2000s. Early 2000s was a tumultuous time at the Rec Commission. And the Rec Commission went through the process of trying to find and select a director. And we did find and we did hire a director. However, that director did not work out. So then what happened after that was that Tom expressed an interest in becoming the commission director. -- I can say today, looking back what was an 18-year career -- and, we made the right decision."
"Tom personifies service to the community. He's always willing to help both the residents of the town organizing and directing commission programs, putting the winter program schedule, as well as summer programs and summer camp. Many organizations such as the PAL and youth soccer also depended heavily on Tom to provide practice time on the fields of Berkeley Heights. He made sure that he and his staff always had the fields prepared -- ready for game day. Tom is mainstay -- was a mainstay of the Memorial Day Parade. He always chipped in to help the organizers. He was always a site people looked for as he served up hotdogs at the Memorial Day Parade. He was also an integral part of organizing all the street fairs, organized the Christmas tree lighting and many other functions. He brought Berkeley Heights together, --There are many ways to describe Tom -- to be as a giving, caring individual and a great friend. He will really be missed. As he enters retirement, as a friend and an admirer of the job he performed over the last 18 years, I say thank you for your giving of yourself and to the town -- to make this recreational experience a top-notch program. Thank you Tom," said Ronner.
Charlie Pratt, a longtime softball coach, as well as holds other important winter time roles in the Township, said, "You were the ultimate volunteer. --The fact is that you just loved what you did. And we all know it because we'd go. You're the Oz behind the curtain. And Tom, as a friend, as my employer, and as an advocate of the North Pole, we all say thank you." Pratt's two daughters Kaitlyn and Jessica were on the call and said, "It's not going to be the same without you," said Kaitlyn. Jessica added, "You really made such a big difference to make, at least the memories in my life, my family's life, and I'm sure in so many others and I just want to thank you for everything you did. I want to wish you a happy retirement."
Recreation Commission member Christine Geertsma said, "Your ability to remain calm and you know, non-emotional when you're constantly dealing with a slate of emotional people in Berkeley Heights is what differentiates you from everybody else." She added, "I can say I never heard you say in my time on the Recreation Commission was 'no.' You always wanted to figure out a way to get it done -- even if that meant you are going to take it to the extra distance because you wanted to make these ideas and these events. You just always make everybody happy. And you always made sure that we all got what we wanted from all of these volunteer events. So thank you. Thank you so, so much."
Jeanmarie Cranston also served on the Recreation Commission with Tom, and said, "Tom took over the recreation, as everybody knows during a very tumultuous time, and created a program that all of Berkeley Heights is proud to call their own. --- He was always ready to volunteer even if it meant we needed help to grill 1000 hotdogs during the baseball parade. We had a lot of fun doing it though. I have to say my favorite interactions with Tom all through the years was on the sidelines or at the stands of a game because there were just too many to count. Basketball, softball, soccer, baseball, he was always there. Calm, cool, and collected -- the most level-headed guy in the room all the time."
Dr. Patrick Smith said, "Tom and I met through the 5k road races and then tons of other things. And one thing I can say about Tom, he's like the most honorable guy I ever met. I never had to worry about a minute. You know, if Tom said he was going to do something, it got done and it got done right."
Ana Minkoff, Berkeley Heights Township Clerk, said, "He's one of the people in Town Hall who is always smiling. I could be having the worst day and I see him and I automatically am calm."
Sean Manns, former BHYSC leader, said, "He would always be looking for the solution. And he's got a tough job because all of us are pulling him in different directions. And he managed to keep everybody happy. --- I don't think anybody else in any other town works as hard as Tom did."
Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley added, "You turned that summer camp into the Crown Jewel of Berkeley Heights. It is one of the most fantastic assets that we have as a community and it's on your's and Carolyn's back. And I can't thank you enough for that." Kingsley told Barton he must come back to christen the new Municipal Complex and the new home of the Recreation Department. Barton agreed, "I'm in on that for sure."
Recreation Commission member Debbie Varnerin said, "You always wanted to do whatever needed to be done to make sure that the kids could gain --whatever needed to be done --you were there."
Cathy Balsamo said, "No matter if it was for Autumn Lake, for the gym, for myself, I could call him anytime of the day, and he was there. No matter what he was doing, he would stop to help me."
Recreation Department employee, Margaret Bottone, said, "Tom is just the epitome of a gentleman. I loved working with him all these years. It was because of Tom that I'm with the Township. He gave me this great opportunity working at the rec was just a pleasure with you and Carolyn."
Former Councilman and Rec Commission member Craig Pastore remembered funny, "crazy things that we did on special events. Like cutting pants off of Elvis in the Summer-time [concert] because he was so hot -- the leather pants wouldn't come off [so] we had to cut them off of them. And then always missing the key for Santa's visit, -- and repairing the popcorn machines and snow cone machines. That was always fun. But behind the scenes -- always, you did a ton of work and nobody really understands how much time and effort goes into all the things that go into planning special events. It was a lot of fun working with you. And I can't wish you enough luck in the future."
Barton credits Pastor for showing him the way, "because you were involved in them before me. We worked out as a great team. And no one really knew what was going on behind the scenes. Just don't let them see you sweat."
Former Recreation Commission Member Mike Tomich said, "You've influenced so, so many young lives and made such a positive influence on these children."
Dennis Ryan, longtime Recreation Special Events Committee member, remembers the day Craig [Pastore] brought this guy in and said, 'Okay, here's the new recreation director. And he's going to be working with you on the Memorial Day Parade committee.' -- know that a lot of the things that Tom has been involved in, especially relating to veterans, has been a real honor to the Vets in town, the VFW." He also commended Barton on his taste in band selections for the summer concert series. "I know that he's always there early, bringing the lights out doing whatever it needs to set up popcorn and other tables, making sure the electricity is all run to the right places. Tom is there -- he's there for Berkeley Heights. He's there for all of us, and we really do appreciate him. I also enjoy playing pickleball with him. I'm going to miss that probably most of all."
Bethann Nikolich thanked Barton on behalf of the Municipal Alliance. "Thank you for your support and your encouragement for helping provide our town with substance abuse prevention programs for everybody. And it's been a joy to work with you and I'm going to miss you terribly. -- You have made the quality of life in Berkeley Heights better for all of us. So thank you."
John Haddad, who had spent many hours with Barton at wrestling matches, joked, "Please give it another shot. Retirement is very overrated," he said. " I think real estate just took a hit in Berkeley Heights. Great job, thank you so much."
Tiffany Escott, Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA, has worked with Barton for the past 17 years. "We spent our Mother's Day with him every year. So thank you to Mrs. Barton allowing me to have him for the Mother's Day 5K race. I could not have done it without you. -- You would do anything for everyone. I always felt that Y and the Rec Department had such a very strong and supporting relationship. I don't know many towns that have that type of partnership and relationship."
Howard Wolfish thanked Barton for helping to bring pickleball to Berkeley Heights. "You've been a big help to me in organizing a program that I brought to you. I don't know, maybe six, seven years ago, I said, 'Hey, Tom, let's try this thing called pickleball.' You were like, 'Well, okay,' so you came out, we drew the lines with chalk. You, Howard, Larry and I, and we played a game, you were in a long sleeve shirt and pants. We gave you a paddle, you said, 'this will work.' -- You're always there with encouragement and a can-do attitude. And you're also really good at delegating and letting us help you to be successful too. And I appreciate everything you've done for the program and your support along the way. You'll be missed as a friend and as a competitor. So good luck to you and your family and in North Carolina."
Cheri Pertesis and Jim Froehlich wore their party hats for Barton. Pertesis said, "Thank you so much for all that you've done for us. The Winter Walk would never ever be what it is if it wasn't for having you by our side. -- You're an amazing person. I'm sorry that I've only gotten to know you for six years and you're leaving in the worst year ever. To have to deal with the Winter Walk on our own." Froehlich added, "Happy retirement. Being a Grandpa - the most important job in the world."
Hilary Boothby, co-chair of the annual Winter Walk said, "It would not have ever happened without you. And we truly appreciate that. -- You've done so much for everyone. --- something that has always struck with me is you always use the word pal. And that's like, the best way to describe you is you're everyone's PAL."
Bobbie Peer added, "I just want to wish you the best and thank you for all your help with the Winter Walk and making the event as successful as it's been. So thank you and I wish you a very happy retirement."
Carolyn George, who has been by Barton's side in the Recreation Office for years, said with emotion, "You are my partner in crime. I will cry this out another time when we're alone. --- I love you and I'll see you in the office."
Barbara Russo, can't say enough about Barton. "Always. always smiling, always pleasant. Never in a bad mood. Always doing anything he can to help. Never says no. He's incredible."
Pam Yoss spoke about her time working with Barton, who assisted with the Berkeley Heights Education Foundation basketball game. "How many faculty basketball games have you been there for even when you weren't a trustee? You're always there. You're always available, no matter what the crazy issue that we ran into, and there might have been a few too many people in the gym a couple years. -- Whatever issues we ran into, you have been there, in and out and I just have always enjoyed working with you no matter what it was, and we will miss you so much."
Liza Viana spoke on behalf of the Township department heads and as an employee -- "Everybody is going to greatly greatly miss you and you are never going to be replaced. So thank you so much for everything you've brought to this town. It's been such a pleasure working with you and go love that grandbaby."
Police Chief John DiPasquale said, "It's amazing how much you've given to those programs and you go above and beyond. And obviously, you know, in my nine to five job my as a police chief -- you know, being in my 25th year, I've known you for your entire career. --- One of the great attributes and a lot of people touched on it, but you're a leader and you're a great leader, and you lead from the front -- you're quiet, you have a great demeanor, but you're the first one there, you're always chipping in ---- picking up chairs --- doing whatever --- and you're always the last to leave. You know, we've had a lot of things that we had to tweak over the years in terms of special events, which everyone that's been involved in that knows how challenging that can be. You were a calming force wherever those discussions were in the planning, and quite frankly, it was probably as critical component as any. And you're always flexible. Your responses -- I've never heard 'no,' it's always 'well, we could do something, I'm sure we could find a way.' You always found a way and, you know, in our business that's such an asset and I just can't thank you enough. We are truly going to miss you. I can't imagine the shoes that your replacement is going to have to fill but they are definitely big. And please enjoy your retirement, it's well deserved."
Barton's daughters Andi and Allie enjoyed hearing everybody's kind words. "I just I love it so much and it's anything that dad has taught me now has been that Berkeley Heights is just such a big piece of my life from the past. We were happy to share his time," said Andi. Allie added, "We're lucky to get to have him here and Nellie gets to have her pop here with us."
Gallitelli closed by saying, "It's truly been an honor to be part of what you've created and what you've brought on, and have given to this town. Knowing what we have, is going to be impossible to replace. But knowing that you are a phone call away is comforting. And that support that you've always given us, it's unwavering support. It's that dedication. It's that love. It's a all around good guy. We should all be as lucky to have such kind words said to us.
He read a statement from the "Direct team," the current commission. "We just want to say thank you for your 18 plus years of leadership, dedication and friendship to the township of Berkeley Heights in the Recreation. "Your warm hellos, positive attitude, willingness to jump in at a moment's notice and concern for all -- these traits reflect the true person you are. You will be missed is an understatement. We could not be happier for you Joanne, Allison and Andrea. Enjoy your retirement friend it's well deserved." or love.
Barton responded to all the nice words, "Over the 18 years, going back to the beginning with Dave and Craig and Santa Claus up there in the corner. It's all been good. It's been so much fun, best decision I ever made was to stop selling cookies and start selling Berkeley Heights and everything that I offer and what the recreation world has to offer for people. It's a great outlet. Everybody should do things with their kids and just get out of get outside, enjoy sports and enjoy parks. I just loved everything about it.
"We can't wait to get on to this next phase of our life. Not that we want to leave Berkeley Heights or anything like that, but just -- it's the next phase. And we're both ready for it. And, Joanne's worked extremely hard as a teacher even harder in these past couple months, teaching from home."
Barton's wife Joanne got the last word of the night, "I think that everybody understands that Tom really loved his job, and he was committed to making each of those committees and projects work and be successful. And it was through the help of everyone who's on the screen tonight that made him enjoy going there every day. And although we did share him quite often -- he would come home happy. -- And it was just great that Berkeley Heights has grown so much, and I think all his dedication and hard work was shown through all of your words. So we're very thankful for your friendship and you're thankful for the connections that he's had through the town and it's really made our time very blessed to know all of you. So thank you."
The community can all agree -- whoever replaces Tom Barton as Recreation Director has pretty big shoes to fill.