(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its 2019 Italian Heritage Month Celebration on Wednesday, October 23, 2019, at the Hall of Records. The ceremony commemorated the heritage and culture of the Italian-American community.

Freeholder President Brendan Gill began the program with welcoming remarks, recognizing the vast diversity that exists in Essex County. District 4 Freeholder Leonard Luciano led the program, celebrating the Board’s honorees: the Honorable John M. Alati of Verona, Michael J. Parlavecchio of Millburn, Leslie Pogany of South Orange, and Joseph S. Zarra of Nutley. Also recognized were members of the Nutley-Belleville Columbus Day Parade Committee.

The Honorable John M. Alati is the current President of the UNICO Foundation, and served as the President of UNICO National from 2002-2003. He has served as Chairman Emeritus of the Conference of Presidents of Italian American Organizations from 2005 to present day. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the Italian American Museum of New York City, the Columbus Heritage Coalition, and the Columbus Educational Foundation. In addition to his leadership in the afore mentioned organizations, he served in a variety of elected and appointed government positions over the course of the last 20 years, including the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Chairman of the Irvington Democratic Committee; Commissioner of the Essex County Board of Elections; and Executive Director of the Essex County Improvement Authority. He has been married to his wife Linda-Gail for 46 years and they have two children, John and Danine, a son in-law Juan, and a grandson Luca.

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Michael J. Parlavecchio is a former Assistant Prosecutor with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, and current Counsel to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders since 2003. He is also Counsel to the law firm of Bevan, Mosca & Giuditta, in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and represents the Townships of Bloomfield and Belleville as their Township Attorney. He has also served the community through public service as Vice-Chair of the Millburn Board of Adjustment, coaching with the Milburn Recreation Department, and as a member of the Millburn Soccer Club’s Board of Directors. He also serves as an Advisory Board Member of Hockey in New Jersey, a non-profit organization founded to promote hockey and serve children in the City of Newark. Michael has been a resident of the Township of Millburn for over 16 years, where he lives with his wife, Caryn, and their two daughters, Ella and Rosie.

Leslie Pogany is the owner and operator of Bunny’s Sports Bar, located in the heart of South Orange Village. She is a second-generation Italian, born to Sabino “Harry” and Vivian Cucciniello, and started working in the family business as a child. She developed her entrepreneurial spirit from her father, grandmother, uncles and aunts who owned and operated their store as a tavern and eventually a full-service restaurant. Leslie and her late husband, John took full ownership of Bunny’s in 1999. She is a lifelong resident of South Orange who loves her community. Over the years, she has contributed generously to South-Orange-Maplewood athletic teams including: Seton Hall University, Columbia High School, Seton Hall Preparatory Academy and her church, Our Lady of Sorrows. She has also served as District Leader of the South Orange Democratic Committee, Board member of the South Orange Village Alliance, and President of the South Orange Chamber of Commerce. Leslie was happily married for the last 40 years to her husband, John who recently passed away. They have three children, Stephen, Noelle, and Ryan, and three grandchildren, Alexa-Hortenzia, Ella, and Liam. 

Joseph S. Zarra is the Essex County Superintendent of Schools with the New Jersey State Department of Education, and is in his 45th year as an educator. He is a member of Nutley UNICO; the Nutley Third Half Club; the Nutley Educational Foundation, and is a trustee on the Essex County College Board of Trustees. While working in the Nutley School district for 30 years, he held the positions of History Teacher, Department Chairperson, Football and Wrestling Coach, Athletic Director, High School Vice Principal, Principal, and Superintendent of Schools. In addition to his years of service as an educator, he served in the New Jersey National Guard for 20 years. He has been married to his wife Donna for 41 years and they have two daughters, Erica and Jessica, who are also educators.

The Board of Freeholders also welcomed representatives of the 37th Annual Nutley-Belleville Columbus Day Parade and Italian Heritage Committee, Inc., and recognized their dedication in promoting Italian culture and hosting the annual Columbus Day Parade. Reverend Thomas D. Nicastro, Jr., Parochial Vicar to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Nutley offered the opening and closing prayers, and attendees were entertained by the thrilling voice of Daniel Drew who is an actor, singer, and dancer based in Newark. A catered reception for the honorees and their guests followed the program.