Giving Back

Neighbor Tells Grandma of Roxbury Kid With Cancer to Clean Her Yard, Town Responds in Force

Letter left in mailbox of Elise Ryan
Elise Ryan, left, talks with neighbor Joan Starego
People clean the yard of Elise Ryan

ROXBURY, NJ - The dark side of humanity presented itself last Friday to Landing resident Elise Ryan. It came in the form of anonymous letter, stuck in her mailbox, telling her to "show some pride" and clean up her property.

The bright side of humanity showed up today. Dozens of Roxbury residents - including many young people - converged to tidy up the grounds of Ryan, the grandmother of 10-year-old Matt Adonis, a beloved Roxbury athlete undergoing treatment for a brain tumor.

The message was clear: You don't chastise the property-upkeep efforts of a 70-year-old widow who's been stretched thin trying to help her grandson fight for his life. At least not in Roxbury.

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In fact, that message was spelled out on a series of handwritten signs - crafted by Succasunna resident Robert Katz and Matt's mother, Alyssa Adonis - attached to Ryan's roadside fence. "To my neighbor who left me a nasty letter about my yard in my mailbox and didn't sign it ... My priority is my 10-year (old) grandson who has been in the hospital fighting for his young & precious life," say the orange signs. "I have been busy caring for his twin sister, their house and pets!!"

Ryan has an idea who stuffed the nasty-gram in her mailbox. But she's not looking to retaliate. "Whoever it is, I forgive them," she said today, as leaf-blowers hummed, a riding mower churned and her yard quickly became aligned with the letter-writer's rude request. Ryan said the ugliness of the note's author's heart is "their problem, not mine."

'Find the time ... Show some pride'

"Please take some time and clean up your property," said the typed missive. "If you found the time to put up Christmas decorations, perhaps you can find the time to take them down."

Ryan, who lives with her dog, named Captain, acknowledges she hadn't put away some gingerbread men. But the outdated decorations weren't the only things that annoyed the self-anointed Succasunna Road Property Maintenance Patrol.

"Clean up the leaves and twigs," they advised. "There is usually trash on your sidewalk or in the road after the animals go through it on Tuesday night. That is never cleaned up. Show some pride in your property and the property of your neighbors."

Ryan, who has lived in the house 40 years and has been alone there for eight, said she last did a property clean-up in the fall. She also said her daughter actually had made an appointment with a company to come and do some yard-work as a birthday present for Ryan. That was before the letter arrived.

When it did, Alyssa Adonis became upset and posted it on Facebook. That led to the big turnout of helpers who showed up today, including members of Matt's sports teams, the Roxbury High School Interact Club and other groups.

Patrick Tucker, a Roxbury High School graduate who owns Tucker's Lawn & Landscape, showed up to help. Roxbury High School sophomore Adam Reingold - who has a venture called Adam's Lawncare - piloted a riding mower. Roxbury Rotary Club member Steve Alford manned a leaf blower. 

Roxbury Councilman Richard Zoschak was there too, expressing amazement at the number of helpers scurrying around. "I think it's a darn good turnout her to help these people," he said. 

Joan Starego, who lives across the street from Ryan, had tears in her eyes. "I've known this lady for 40 years," she said. "She would give the shirt off her back." Starego said the letter "is the meanest thing anyone could do" to Ryan, who is a cancer survivor.

As the volunteers did their best and TV crews filmed the action, Adonis expressed thanks that she lives in a town with plenty of good people to offset the jerks.

"Everybody is so unbelievable, kind and forgiving here," she said. "I can't believe it. This town of Roxbury has been awesome to me."



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