WEST ORANGE, NJ – Amid the roar of the police motorcycles leading the motorcade, the sounds of a bagpiper playing the Navy Hymn and an honor guard of West Orange Police and Fire Personnel, Scott and Mark Kelly arrived at Town Hall on May 19, Kelly Family Day, to receive the first ever Mayoral Medals from their adopted hometown.
The simple ceremony included elements of many facets of the Township. Deputy Mayor Ralph Panciello lead the more than 200 people present in the Pledge of Allegiance and the Roosevelt Middle School Quartet playing the National Anthem in front of an audience that ranged in ages from toddler to seniors, all there to honor the Kelly astronauts, their parents and family.
After a morning witnessing the renaming of their old grammar school to Kelly Elementary School (article here), the retired astronauts got a brief overview of the history of West Orange and their place in it from Town Historian Joe Fagan, emcee for the ceremonies, who put the Kelly brothers’ return to town in context of the other historic aviators who have been here.
“The birth of aviation, and by extension, manned space flight, can trace its roots back to the Wright Brothers, who were the first to achieve sustained flight in 1903,” he said. “In 1913, ten years after that historic flight, Orville Wright landed in West Orange, welcomed here by Thomas Edison.” He went on to list other great aviators who have come to town: Charles Lindbergh, who flew over the Atlantic solo in 1927 and welcomed in 1929, again by Edison; and Wiley Post and his navigator Harold Gatty, the first aviator to fly around the world solo in 1931, welcomed two months later by town officials.
“The Kelly Brothers now join them, as a new chapter of aviation history is written,” he concluded.
Mayor Rob Parisi said, “What a wonderful day in the Town of West Orange” as he got ready to present the first mayoral medals to the duo. “We are incredibly proud of the both of you, of what you’ve done, and more importantly, grateful that in all your accomplishments and all your travels you’ve never forgotten where you come from.” He then draped the medals on each man, to much applause from the crowd.
Police Chief James Abbott surprised Richard Kelly, Scott and Mark’s father, by calling him up for a special mayoral proclamation. The proclamation focused on Richard's service in the police department for more than 25 years, and his wife Patricia’s service on the force, becoming the first female police officer in West Orange and the first woman to pass the men’s physical fitness test, a feat that won a big round of applause from the audience. The proclamation officially declared May 19 Kelly Family Day in honor of all the Kelly family.
Council President Victor Cirilo and Councilwoman Michelle Casalino presented an honorary citation on behalf of the Town Council, as their fellow Council Members Joe Krakoviak, Jerry Guarino and Susan McCartney looked on. “The Township Council appreciates their service to our country and their dedication to our community,” read Casalino. “They are true Township heroes and the Town Council wishes them continued success in the future,” she concluded from the citation, adding her personal thanks “for always coming back and paying it forward.”
In addition to the medals, the Kelly’s were also given special personal gifts from the Township, including specially designed commemorative bags embroidered with the Town seal and Kelly Family Day date, Mountain HS Ram baseball caps, personalized with their name and graduation year and “Stories of West Orange,” a book authored by Joe Fagan.
One additional gift came from the history vaults. Fagan presented the duo with “framed 1871 municipal bonds, issued by the Township of West Orange for the paving of roads, and containing the earliest example of the Town Seal, which we still use today.”
In their comments to the audience and Township, Mark Kelly began by joking, “This has been a wonderful day for us. It was really great growing up in this town, and I have to say to the mayor, I really like what you’ve done with the place…it looks great.”
“In a 25 year career with NASA, you get a lot of accolades, acknowledgements, but I gotta admit, I don’t think we’ve been acknowledged in a way like we’ve been today,” he added.
Introducing his brother, he acknowledged Scott’s more than 200 million miles in space circling the Earth, to which Scott responded, joking, “It would be really great to have those frequent flyer miles.”
Speaking of the return from his 340 days in space, Scott said, “Gravity is great, I like gravity, but it also hurts a little bit. I’ve been back on Earth a little over 2 ½ months, and I’m still trying to recover from the experience….my legs are sore and my feet are really hurting.”
But he acknowledged he loved his time in space, adding, “It’s doing something really, really hard, doing something that challenges you, doing it as a team, and it’s great to have had West Orange behind me…I always felt West Orange was part of my team.”
Scott also surprised Fagan, telling him that he had taken one of Fagan’s four books with him to read about West Orange while he was on his mission, and he was going to sign it and return it to Fagan to become part of the Town’s history.
As they made their way back to their cars to leave, Scott and Mark were mobbed by polite but numerous men, women and children looking for a picture with them. They were gracious to the end, stopping and speaking with numerous people young and old before departing.
As they left, Mayor Parisi summed up the entire day in a few simple words, “This was a great day for West Orange.”