SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - "He was an ambitious, driven dreamer," said Plainfields' UNICO Chapter President Jason Risoli when describing Christopher Columbus to a packed room at South Plainfield Borough Hall on Monday. "He was the first imigrant to the United States. A bit of Chris lives in all of us."

Risoli's words were echoed by many of the speakers who came to honor Columbus on this national holiday. Former UNICO National President and longtime South Plainfield resident Renato Biribin said the celebration is about more than a day off or a sale at Macy's. "It is a celebration of a man with a  vision and determination to sail," he told the group.

The annual celebration brought out more than a dozen dignitaries, including Congressman Frank Pallone, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, mayors from nearby towns, Borough Council members, and members of the Board of Education.

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Diegnan called the spirit of Columbus the spirit of America and pointed to the explorer's "resilience and courage," while acting Mayor Ray Rusnak invoked former President George H. W. Bush and spoke about how Columbus set his sail higher, sought a new horizon, and followed his imagination.

The Plainfields' Chapter sponsors the Columbus Day celebration each year.  As part of the event the members place a wreath in front of Borough Hall to honor Columbus, and they raise the Italian flag, which flies as a reminder of the explorer's trek to America over 500 years ago.

This year's event was chaired by April Bengivenga, along with Master of Ceremonies Robert Bengivenga Jr. and Debbie Boyle, who served as vice-chair. In an annual tradition, the SPHS Marching Band opened the celebration with the "Star Spangled Banner" and closed it with "God Bless America." Bengivenga commented "what a great celebration Columbus Day has become. This is a day that everyone celebrates heritage as one."