SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A large crowd filled the South Plainfield Public Library the morning of June 25 as two sections of the building were dedicated in honor of two women whose devotion to the library, both personally and financially, helped make the expansion possible. Local and state leaders, library representatives, and community members joined family members and friends for the official dedication of the Natalie Bergen Multipurpose Room and the Frances J. Greany Memorial Children’s Room.
“I am overwhelmed by the number of people who have come out today to honor these two wonderful ladies,” said Library Director Linda Hansen. “They both dedicated their time, their love, their care to the library and are both a big reason why we were able to have this library.”
Among those in attendance were State Senator Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr. and Assemblymembers Nancy Pinkin and Robert J. Karabinchak, South Plainfield Mayor Matt Anesh, members of the borough council, members of the library board of trustees and members of the Friends of the South Plainfield Library. During this time, special proclamations and resolutions were also presented to Bergen's family and Greany's former coworkers.
“Benjamin Franklin said that investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” said Diegnan, noting that the first public library was created in on July 1, 1771. “Natalie and Frances carried on what Benjamin Franklin believed [and] this says a lot about our town and our priorities. It really is an honor to be here and honor both of them, two women who did the right thing for South Plainfield for so many generations to come.”
“One of the things Natalie and Frances had in common was a love for this institution, clearly not what it looks like today, but I think that is what their goal was. How lucky are we as a town that people dedicated and bequeathed so much money so that our library could be better than it was when they were in town,” said Anesh.
The mayor added, “Libraries are very important part of town and although they have changed over the years, institutions like the South Plainfield Public Library have changed and molded to those changes but are still just as important. Without the dedication of these two ladies, we wouldn't be where we are today.”
Natalie Constance Ciccone Bergen was born Oct. 13, 29129 in Jersey City and passed away on Feb. 13, 2013. Bergen and her late husband, Jimmy spent most of their life in South Plainfield where they raised six children. Although she was a trained opera singer and pianist who was accepted into Julliard, unfortunate circumstances prevented Bergen from attending and instead she went on to earn a degree from what is now Kean University and spent many years as a teacher, working for the Fanwood/Scotch Plains, Plainfield and South Plainfield school districts.
Bergen was also extremely active within the South Plainfield community as member of the Cultural Arts Commission, Board of Health, Public Celebrations Committee, Federated Women’s Club, Suburban Women’s Club, Rescue Squad Auxiliary, and the South Plainfield Democrats. Additionally, Bergen was involved with Sacred Heart’s Adult Choir, Altar Rosary Society, and PTA as well as Girl Scout and Boy Scout volunteer for many years.
Bergen was also instrumental in establishing the Friends of the South Plainfield Library. Through Bergen’s hard work and dedication, the Friends raised considerable amounts of money for the library used to fund various adult and children’s programs as well as purchase numerous pieces of technology and furniture. In 2010, she was recognized with an award from the Libraries of Middlesex County Automation Consortium.
“Natalie believed the Friends would be a good way to help the library with fundraising and with volunteers,” said Jean Tietjen, the eldest of Bergen’s six children. “She also had a personal goal to get the community’s youth involved not only as readers but also as a source of input and inspiration to the Friends.”
According to Tietjen, her mother’s hope for the Friends was that the group would also be helpful in getting additional space added to the library building or possibly even a new building. At the time of her passing, Bergen’s goal to see an improved library was in the final stretch of becoming a reality and bequeathed money to be used toward the project.
“The library was always a source of inspiration to her in that it provided recreational reading and information helpful for her personal and working life,” Tietjen said, adding her late mother was proud of the Friends work and their dedication to preserving supporting and strengthening the library.
“On behalf of my family, I want to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to Linda, the library staff, the Celebrations Committee, the Friends and the South Plainfield Library Board for honoring our mom, dedicating the multipurpose room in her name…” she said. “Natalie Bergen would be very humbled and honored.”
In addition to Tietjen, Bergen’s sons Tommy and Richard attended the dedication ceremony as did Richard’s wife, Rita. Two of Bergen’s five grandchildren, Luke and Noah, were also in attendance.
Over a dozen former colleagues were on hand to celebrate the dedication of the children’s room in honor of the late Frances J. Greany who, according to those who knew her, ‘had a true love for children’s literature’ and her local library.
A longtime resident of the borough who lived most of her life on Maple Avenue, Greany was an elementary teacher for the Piscataway School District for over 36 years, an avid patron of the South Plainfield Public Library, and a member of its board of trustees from 1993 to 1998. When Greany passed away in 2005, she bequeathed the South Plainfield Library a sizable amount of money and her generous donation helped fund the new children’s library.
According to MaryLou Decker, a retired Piscataway teacher who taught kindergarten alongside Greany at Piscataway’s Knollwood School, her late friend was dedicated to instilling a love for reading to her students. “She loved children’s literature and would read to her students whenever she could,” said Decker, noting that books by Eric Carle along with Norman Bridwell’s Clifford series were among Greany’s favorites. “Our kindergarten classrooms were directly across form each other and every day she would send over books to share with my class.”
Decker described her former colleague as someone who was ‘had a great sense of humor and was always friendly and happy.’ She said Greany often gave special ‘banana cards’ made out of large yellow construction paper folded in half with a hand drawn banana and the words ‘Thanks From the Bunch of Us’ written in calligraphy to those who helped out in her kindergarten classes.
“She deserves a banana card from the bunch of us thanking her for what she unselfishly made possible here,” Decker said, adding that her late friend would have turned 70 this year. “What a special birthday gift to her and what a beautiful and generous legacy she had provided for all the children of South Plainfield,” said Decker. “I’m sure Fran is on her little cloud today looking down with pride and joy at what was accomplished here.”
Eleanor Signorelli of Piscataway, shared a message from former Knollwood principal Harvey Yonowitz, and Pat McFall, a resident of Scotch Plains who served as principal at Knollwood from 2001 to 2005, spoke fondly of her former teacher.
“She was a wonderful person who loved children and her job and who always had a smile on her face,” McFall said, noting that Greany would be humbled and amazed by what was dedicated in her honor. “This is her, this is what she was all about. I just wish she was here to see the legacy she has left.”
Following the dedication ceremony, attendees gathered upstairs for a reception while families flocked the Frances J. Gearny Memorial Children’s Room to sign up for the 2016 summer reading program and the Natalie Bergen Multipurpose Room for a special performance by Presley and Melody. The day’s events were sponsored by both the Friends of the South Plainfield Library and the Suburban Women’s Club.
“Today’s dedication was nothing short of humbling,” said Darlene Cullen, president of the South Plainfield Library Board of Trustees. “Frances Greany and Natalie Bergen will live on forever, not just as a memory, but also in providing the support that will enable future generations of South Plainfield children to read, write and become more educated.”
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