SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Borough of South Plainfield’s Public Celebration’s Committee is busy putting the finishing touches on the 62nd annual Labor Day Parade, which will step off this year on Sept. 2. 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the American Legion and the borough’s 2019 parade will coincide to reflect the theme ‘Veterans…Always Serving.’ In honor of the military, the committee has selected one representative from each of the military service branches to lead the parade as Grand Marshal. 

“The recognition we give our veterans for their service to our country will not ever fully repay their sacrifices for us,” said Committee Chairperson Amy Johnson in a release. “The veterans we acknowledge this year served not only their country, but their community as well.”

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This year’s Grand Marshals are John G. DeAndrea – Navy, nominated by his friend Richard Frank; Robert A. Bengivenga, Sr. – Army, nominated by his friend John DeAndrea; Michael J. Keith - Air Force, nominated by his friend Lucy Demico; and Joseph T. Ball, Jr. – Marines, nominated by wifeAnn Marie Ball.

“We were looking for honorees who served in the military, came back to their hometown, and continue to serve and that is exactly what these four gentleman have done,” Johnson toldTAPinto South Plainfield, noting that each of the honorees have ‘quite a resume of volunteerism.’ “They are all involved in a wide range of different organizations, hold leadership roles, and have also given back behind the scenes.”

Additionally, this year’s, the parade committee will also pay special tribute to Joseph Vella, a 98-year-old resident and active member of the American Legion who served in the United States Navy in World War II. According to the committee, Vella ‘represents all the veterans who we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for their sacrifices and service in preserving our freedom.’

“These five veterans proudly served our country and returned to serve our community in many ways,” states the release. “There are many others who have done the same, and we salute and thank every one of them, along with those who are no longer with us.”

Joseph T. Ball, Jr. 

A lifelong resident of South Plainfield and member of the United States Marine Corps, Joseph T. Ball, Jr. served multiple tours in Vietnam from 1966 to 1970. Upon returning to his hometown, Ball volunteered with the South Plainfield Girl Scouts from 1978 to 1982 and, over that time, helped build their floats and drive the trucks for the Labor Day Parade. He is also a member of the South Plainfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #6763. 

On a professional level, he worked in sanitation before taking on a job first as a truck driver and later an office supervisor for what was then United Steel Deck of South Plainfield.  Following his retirement in 2009, Ball began volunteering at South Plainfield Senior Center, offering his assistance to members in need of a handyman. 

“He is such a dependable and giving person and truly reflects the theme of always serving – first in the military and now for the community,” said Ann Marie Ball, noting that her husband is always there to help the seniors of South Plainfield. “He is someone they can call and rely on. I am very proud of him and happy for this opportunity to honor him.”

 “It was a shock,” said Ball, telling TAPinto South Plainfield. “There are a lot more people out there deserving of this and it is a great honor. I can’t believe it.”

Ball has resided in South Plainfield for 70 years; he and his wife Ann Marie have one child and two grandchildren. 

Robert A. Bengivenga, Sr. 

Robert A. Bengivenga, a resident of South Plainfield for almost 50 years, served in the United States Army from 1962 to 1965 followed by three years in the Reserves. 

On a local front, Bengivenga served on the Plainfield Rescue Squad from 1969 to 1989 and served with the South Plainfield Police Reserves for six years, retiring with the rank of sergeant. He is a lifetime member of both the South Plainfield Historical Society and American Legion Chaumont Post 243 where he served as vice commander, commander and, most recently, executive board chair. Bengivenga is also a member of the Green Brook Flood Control Commission, a trustee on the South Plainfield Library Board, and a member of the Plainfields’ Chapter of UNICO as well as a former charter member of the South Plainfield Cultural Arts Committee, past member of the former Philathalian Society in Scotch Plains, and former chair of the South Plainfield Statue of Liberty Restoration Commission.

“Through his volunteerism, Bob has shown pride in our town and has made a significant contribution to it through creating partnerships with members of the public, with other community organizations, as well as business and local government,” stated DeAndrea in his letter nominating Bengivenga.

“I am humbled, thankful and honored to be chosen to represent the Army as Grand Marshal,” said Bengivenga, adding that ‘there are so many others Army veterans who do so much for the community and who are as deserving.’ “People do not realize how much these other fellows do and I am honored to be part of this year’s parade honoring all veterans. It is a wonderful thing.”

Bengivenga grew up in Plainfield and relocated to the borough in 1970. He and his wife April have two children and three grandchildren. 

John G. DeAndrea

John G. DeAndrea enlisted in the United States Navy during the Korean War, serving from 1951 to 1955 on the destroyer USS Harwood. He was discharged as a Second-Class Electrician Mate. 

DeAndrea was a member of the South Plainfield Jaycees (1964 to 1972) and the recipient of the ‘Jaycee of the Year’ Award (1966). He is a current member and former president of the Plainfields’ Chapter of UNICO, a life member of the Italian-American Progressive League in South Plainfield, and active with both American Legion Chaumont Post 243 and Knights of Columbus Council 6203. 

“John has dedicated a good portion of his life volunteering and helping others. It is an honor for me to nominate [him] for Grand Marshal,” stated Frank, former commander of the American Legion Post 243, in his nominating letter. “It’s a symbol of appreciation for him for not only serving his country, but serving his community.” 

DeAndrea told TAPinto South Plainfield that he is ‘elated’ as well as ‘surprised and grateful’ to have been chosen as a Grand Marshal. “I am looking forward to joining the others and waving to everyone as we go by,” he said. 

A resident of South Plainfield for 87 years, DeAndrea and his wife Fran have two children, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

Michael J. Keith

Michael J. Keith was born in Piscataway and relocated to the borough in 1975. He graduated from South Plainfield High School and served in the United Air Force for 27 years, retiring as Master Sergeant. 

As a member of the Air Force, Keith was based around the world and also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Throughout his career, he was the recipient of numerous awards and decorations, including the Air Force Commendation Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the NATO Medal. Keith also received the NCO of the Year Det. 5 602nd Tactical Air Control Wing at Ford Ord, California and the Commandant’s Award NCO Leadership School Mather AFB, California. 

During his tenure with the military, Keith was active with the American Red Cross and, after moving back to the borough in 2012, he volunteered with the South Plainfield Girls Ponytail Softball League. 

“Spending 27 years in the military, fighting for the freedom of all of us, he is deserving of it,” Demico told TAPinto when asked why she nominated Keith for Grand Marshal.“He has been through a lot through the years…but he did it for the people. He put his life on the line for everybody for a long time.”

“I have really never been one for pomp and circumstance but this is truly an honor and humbling at the same time,” said Keith when asked how he felt about being named Grand Marshal. “I can hardly wait and I am kind of excited. It will definitely be a fun and interesting day for me.”

Joseph Vella 

Joseph Vella, 98, served in the United States Navy in World War II as a Chief Petty officer. He fought with the fleet in the Okinawa Gunto Campaign, Eniwetok and Saipan and was awarded the Navy Letter of Commendation for Heroism while serving in the Pacific. Following his active duty commitment, Vella went on to serve 37 years in the U.S. Naval Reserve.  

A resident of South Plainfield for seven years, Vella was the founder and chairman of the Gran Centurions in Clark, NJ; served as New Jersey Commander of the former Grasselli Veterans Post; and was Junior Vice Commander of VFW Post 673 in Jasper, IN. He also served as a director of the Greenbriar Woodlands Community Association in Toms River for 13 years and was the founder of its emergency management team.

“Joe is representing all the veterans who we owe an enormous debt of gratitude for their sacrifices and service in preserving our freedom,” stated the committee in its release. 

The 62nd South Plainfield Labor Day Parade will step off at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 2 from the PAL building on Maple Avenue and conclude at South Plainfield Middle School.  Food, vendors, music, and other activities will be part of the Labor Day celebration at the conclusion of the parade. The evening will culminate with live music and a fireworks display at Spring Lake Park, beginning around 8:30 p.m. 

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