MONTCLAIR, NJ – James A. Firebrace,Jr. has been a well-known presence in the Montclair community for several decades. In addition to being a teacher in the East Orange School District, Firebrace, who is a lifelong resident of Montclair, has taught tennis to countless people in his spare time.
On Saturday, the Nishuane Tennis Courts were renamed after Firebrace among a cadre of family members and friends. At least 100 well-wishers stood on the Nishuane Tennis Court to acknowledge the man who gave much of his life to the Montclair community.
Mayor Robert Jackson shared a story of when he was a kid and thought that Firebrace owned Nishuane Park. Jackson expressed that each time he visited the park as a kid, Firebrace was there.
Jackson addressed the crowd saying, “We acknowledge him for what he has done for our community.” Firebrace was caretaker and tennis coach at Nishuane Park for more than 40 years. “Mr. Firebrace was such a presence here in this park that I though he owned the park,” Jackson chuckled.
Several colleagues and friends also came forward to tell Firebrace how much he has meant to them and the Montclair community. Jim Knox, friend and colleague of Firebrace said, “We played with Jim down here. If you could get on, we played.”
Among those present were Fourth Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville, Councilor At Large Rich McMahon, Director of Parks and Recreation Pat Brechka, Former Mayor Ed Remsen, Former Councilor Sandra Lang, Former Councilor Roger Terry, Pastor Emeritus John Thomason of Union Baptist Church of Bloomfield.
Fourth Ward Councilor Dr. Renee Baskerville said that she and her sister Leslie were fortunate to have Firebrace in their lives. “…our lives are richer because of him.” Baskerville continued, “The council wanted to provide an endearing memento.”
A temporary plaque was unveiled to a cheering crowd. "There will be permanent signs on the gates", Jackson told the crowd.
Firebrace’s sister, Caroline Hinton, then said a tearful prayer and blessed the courts.
Firebrace addressed the crowd with tears of joy in his eyes. In a sentimental speech, Firebrace gave thanks to those that made the honor possible and then spoke of highlights of his tenure such as when Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson came to Nishuane Tennis Courts to play with him.
Firebrace addressed the crowd, “Nishuane Park has always been a special place to me. When I started working here 40 years ago, I never thought that I would last as long as I did." Supporters reacted to Firebrace's humble words with applause. "Nishuane Park is like a second home to me so I can’t express enough how much this honor means to me.”
Edith Phillips, cousin of Firebrace and East Orange Resident said, “It is well deserved. They said some very nice things about him and it’s all true.”