MONTVILLE, NJ -“Parks and Recreation-The Benefits are Endless” are the words on a plaque sitting on the desk of Maryann Witty, the Montville Township director of parks and recreation. These words sum up the spirit of this remarkable woman who has served Montville for 38 years. Witty said that even as a young girl she was planning neighborhood parades and recreational activities, so it is no surprise that she has spent her entire adult life serving her community in this field.
In 1962, when Witty was in fourth grade, her family moved from Rahway to Piscataway. After graduating in 1971 from Piscataway High School, she attended Middlesex County College for two years knowing that she wanted a career dealing with people, and at one point, she even thought she might want to go into nursing. After Middlesex County College, Witty attended Montclair State where she got her Bachelor of Arts degree in parks and recreation administration. Witty was one of the first classes to graduate with this major since it was a new curriculum for Montclair State.
After getting her degree and working as a life guard and summer activities coordinator at Willow Lake in West Milford, she heard there was a secretarial job opening in the Montville Township recreation department. In October 1976, she got the job working for Pete Tillotson, who was the part time recreation director. However, since it was not what she went to school for, she was not happy with the secretarial position and applied elsewhere. She was offered a job in Woodbridge working in a special needs facility, but during the interview process, she felt it would be too emotionally draining. She decided to stay in Montville when Tillotson offered to promote her to the assistant director position, and in 1978, she was offered the full time director of recreation position and was happy to accept.
Forty years ago in 1974, Maryann Umholtz met Dean Witty at Montclair State, and in June of 1977, they were married. Her husband grew up in Towaco. He went to Boonton High School because Montville did not have a high school at that time and graduated high school in 1970. He graduated from Montclair State in 1977, where he got his teaching degree. He now is a health and physical education teacher at Columbia High School in South Orange/Maplewood. He also was their head lacrosse coach. Now he is the assistant lacrosse coach at Bernards High School and is a member of the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
After they were married, the young couple lived in Lincoln Park for about five years, and in May of 1982, they bought a house in Montville. She said that she was so happy to be part of the township. She added, “I cannot stress enough how much I love this community.”
The Wittys have two sons. Their oldest son Kyle is a police officer in Bergenfield, and his wife Stephanie is a high school English teacher in Cliffside Park. Kyle and Stephanie have two daughters: Lina, who will be three years old in January, and Colette, who was just born this October. Maryann’s younger son Trevor works in Towaco as a plumbing apprentice/journeyman for Donaldson Plumbing. Both sons were involved in recreation and high school sports.
The Witty family has a long history in Montville Township. She said that the core of the Witty family is in Towaco, and “I think it is very cool.” Being involved with the history of the township “has a charm about it.” Dean’s maternal grandmother owned the Bausch candy store located in the center of Towaco during the 1960s. Ward Witty, Dean’s grandfather, and Albert Witty, his father, both served on the Montville Township Committee. Ward served from 1917 to 1936, and Albert served from the 1960s until his death in 1976. Marge, Dean’s mother, was the township’s tax collector from the 1960s until the 1990s. Maryann’s brother-in-law Leigh Witty served on the Board of Adjustment and was a Towaco fire commissioner. The Witty family still is dedicating themselves to Montville Township.
Maryann said that there is something about Montville that makes families want to stay there. She said that her family does not have such a bond with Piscataway.
When Witty started working for recreation, her office was in the Sisco dairy farm’s barn. “It was a very unique place to work,” she said. The recreation office was at one end of the barn near the ice house, and the health department was at the other end near the Sisco’s farm house.
She admits to being very sentimental, and when the barn, which is now the Community Center, and the old ice house, which is now Youth Services, were taken down and the buildings raised, Witty took pieces of each original buildings’ foundations and kept these pieces of Montville Township history in her office all these years.
When the barn was razed, she requested that pieces of the wooden planks, which made up the back wall of the barn’s community center room, be saved. She still has those planks from the building and plans to use them to make frames to display pictures of the old community center.
When asked what she was most proud of, she said that she was most proud of being “part of the growth” of recreation and parks in the community. In the beginning of her career, the recreation programs that were offered were the “typical recreation activities,” but now the programs include a variety of activities such as science programs, cooking, tiny tunes, which is a musical program for tots, a special needs program, archery, gardening, just to name a few. She said, “We weren’t shy about trying new things.” She is proud to be open minded to new activities suggested by the public. She said, “If you want to do something healthy, why not? Recreation can be a means of a healthy way to decompress and recreate yourself.” Witty added that knitting, crocheting, quilting, and gardening are more than activities. They are social events. Recreation is much more than sports.
She also is proud of the development of the two large parks in the township. The Community Park and the Camp Dawson property have become huge areas for large groups to enjoy a variety of recreation activities.
As for the future of recreation, she sees private businesses getting more involved in offering recreation activities. There are businesses in karate, dance, soccer, etc. “They are making a living catering to the masses and are competition for us,” Witty said. With so much emphasis on competition in children’s lives, it can “burn the kids out because they are starting so young.”
As for hobbies, Witty loves to garden, and she said that she loves “to get her hands dirty.” She also enjoys hiking.
When asked about the one thing people don’t know about her, Witty had to think for a while. Then she started to smile and came up with an answer. She loves Bingo. She said that she was the first person to win the progressive prize at St. Pius X. She remembers the prize was $1,800. As she said this, her friend and co-worker Theresa Sullivan added that Witty shared the prize money with her. Witty said, “How could I not? She came to Bingo with me.” Someone else might not have been so generous, but that is not Maryann Witty. She is dedicated, generous, and a hard working woman.
She said, “My job always has been my life. My work is your play.” At the end of the year, Witty will be retiring and looking forward to “playing” and “relaxing” at her shore home in Manahawkin.
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