ATLANTIC CITY, NJ – Clark Recreation Director Ralph Bernardo was named “Professional of the Year” by the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association at its annual conference awards dinner on Tuesday evening.  The NJRPA is a not-for-profit organization representing over 700 professionals and volunteers working in state, county, municipal and private recreation throughout the state.

“This is like the Oscars, I’m overwhelmed,” Bernardo said. “It’s a tremendous honor.” 

Bernardo said he has been inspired by many of the recreation professionals he knows through the organization, but he dedicated the award to just one.  Jean Foley, a Clark resident and the Union County Recreation Bureau Chief, died on Monday.   Bernardo called Foley a long-time friend and mentor when he began his recreation career eight years ago and throughout his time on the job.

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Bernardo was nominated for the recognition by Clark Councilman Bill Smith, council liaison to the recreation department.

“We, the council and Mayor, and the residents of Clark are so thankful and appreciative of all his hard work and dedication,” said Smith. “We feel that no one deserves the ‘Professional of the Year’ Award more than Ralph Bernardo!”

Although Bernardo said he was surprised when he won the award, others in Clark are not.  Facebook lit up with “likes” as word of Bernardo’s award got out.

“Is it a surprise? NO,” said Mayor Sal Bonaccorso. “Ralph is the best recreation director in New Jersey, bar none. I am so proud he represents our community.”

Bernardo said he is happy to have found his niche in recreation after a 22-year career in corporate advertising.

“I’m blessed that I am doing something that I love every day,” Bernardo said.