SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – When Harriet Wagner first started her job at the Borough of South Plainfield things were a bit different than they are today. Gas was just 48 cents a gallon, town records were compiled either by hand or using a typewriter, and the starting salary for her position was just a little over $5,000 a year.
Believed to be the borough’s longest tenured employee, Wagner joined the municipality in February 1974 and, following a career that has spanned more than four and a half decades, will retire later this month.
“It’s time,” Wagner told TAPinto South Plainfield. “I have been here 45 years and I am 87 years old. I want to do some other things for awhile.”
On the morning of Dec. 6, co-workers, elected officials, friends and families gathered in the municipal building’s courtroom for a retirement party in Wagner’s honor.
Councilman Derryck White delivered the invocation recognizing all Wagner has ‘done for so many people’ over the years. In his blessing, White wishes her ‘peace and comfort’ in retirement.
Councilman Robert Bengivenga, Jr. personally thanked Wagner, telling those in attendance that he ‘turned to her for guidance’ when first elected to the council 14 years ago.
“I learned a lot and I wouldn’t be the council person I am today..." Bengivenga said, adding, “I attribute much of my success to [her]. Thank you Harriet for all your years of service and all you have done.”
Borough Administrator/CFO Glenn Cullen shared some 'fun facts' about the day and year Wagner joined the town. He noted that over 16,000 days have passed since Wagner's first day of work and that he's yet to come across someone who didn’t like her.
“In this day and age, you hear a lot of people talk about ‘public servants’ and, nothing against elected officials, but a lot of times we forget who the unnamed, unknown public servants are,” said Cullen, getting a bit emotional before adding, “Thank you, Harriet.”
Among those family members gathered included Wagner’s children and grandchildren, with her grandson Mark Wagner thanking the borough for honoring his family’s matriarch. “You have all made this day perfect, talking about our grandma,” Mark said with his cousins Robert Wagner and Ryan Wagner by his side. “We truly appreciate that and everyone who had something to say about her.”
Wagner relocated to South Plainfield from Union in 1957 and in February 1974 was hired to work in the police department’s records room. Thirteen years later, she took on a position as registrar for the borough’s health department/vital statistics and for the past 32 years has been charged with filing all borough marriage licenses and birth and death certificates as well as handling animal licensing as well as licensing for all of the town’s food and beauty establishments.
“Harriet has been a familiar face and a tremendous asset to the borough for many years,” Mayor Matt Anesh, who was unable to attend the retirement party, told TAPinto. “I thank her for her dedication and service to the borough and hope that she enjoys her retirement. I know that she will remain an active resident in our community.”
Although she is retiring, Wagner isn't leaving South Plainfield and plans to remain a familiar face at borough hall, working as a part-time secretary for South Plainfield’s Health Advisory Group as well as helping with animal licensing during the municipality’s bi-yearly rabies clinics. Additionally, she is looking forward to having more free time to ‘clean out some drawers and closets’ and take part in some programs at the South Plainfield Senior Center.
“I really love South Plainfield and all the people I have worked with have been wonderful," Wagner said. "They are all caring people."