Giving Back

Volunteer Spotlight: Bob O'Toole Has Deep Roots and Years of Service in Cedar Grove

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The opening of the Robert J. O'Toole Community Center with Armando Fontoura, Kevin O’Toole, Peter Tanella, Robert O’Toole, Young-Ok O’Toole, Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Leonard Luciano & Patricia Sebold Credits: Essex County
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Volunteers are  the back bone of our communities -- they make Verona and Cedar Grove the wonderful towns that they are.  TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove will recognize the volunteers that support and inspire our residents in an ongoing "Volunteer Spotlight" series.  If you have a suggestion of a individual or organization that deserves recognition send it to jmoreno@tapinto.net. 

CEDAR GROVE, NJ - Bob O'Toole has called Cedar Grove home for more than five decades and has spent much of that time giving back to his community.  

As a devoted husband, a loving father of seven and an Army veteran, O'Toole is no stranger to doing things for others. Even while working hard to support his family, O'Toole has always found time to give back to the community that he has called home since 1962. In addition to a variety of organizations that he has given his time to, O’Toole served on the Cedar Grove Township Council for 12 years, including three terms as mayor and three as deputy mayor. 

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During that time, he was a staunch advocate for Cedar Grove in all things, but most especially in limiting the development of the Hilltop property.  His advocacy was recognized when the community center at the new Cedar Grove Park was named after him:  The Robert J. O'Toole Community Center.

O'Toole said his love for Cedar Grove began long before he lived here.

"When I lived in Montclair as a youngster, my best friend and I used to pack a lunch on a Sunday and we used to hitchhike," O'Toole said. "I thought it was pretty nice to come up to this area and walk around, and I said at that time I'd like to visit that town."

Even with the idea of visiting Cedar Grove as a high school student, O'Toole never had any future plans. He joined the Army after graduating high school and served two terms for a total of six years. He spent much of his time in Korea, where he met his wife of 60 years.

O'Toole first saw his wife Young-Ok O'Toole at the end of his first enlistment in Korea. Young-Ok O'Toole herself had been through a lot, being born in North Korea and having to walk for three weeks down to South Korea with her family while trying not to get caught. Once she managed to settle in South Korea, Young-Ok O'Toole got a job washing clothes, which is where O'Toole first spotted his future wife.

"The day I saw her I knew I wanted to marry her. At first look, she was just the cutest. She was cute and beautiful and everything," O'Toole said. "I just kept pestering her and coming back to where she was washing clothes, and kept throwing what little Korean that I knew and she kept ignoring me until I finally broke the ice. We went for a walk and that was it."

O'Toole's time in Korea was coming to an end, but he knew that he could not let that relationship go.

"My time was just about up," he said. "And I told her, I'm coming back to marry you."

That, he did. After arriving back in the U.S., O'Toole reenlisted and volunteered to go back to Korea, and against the wishes of both his and her family, O'Toole married his bride. After spending some time in Korea, the couple moved back to the U.S. and lived in Bloomfield for a few years before planting their roots in Cedar Grove.

"Since the time I was a kid hitchhiking up here, and even today, I love this town," O'Toole said. "I love the people in this town. Anybody would help you out if you ask for help. That's the type we have in this town."

That friendliness is part of what has always motivated O'Toole to volunteer in the community and be a part of several different organizations. O'Toole joined the fire department when he moved into town and spent 45 years with the department. He also used to coach little league baseball and football, served as a Cub Scout master and helped out his friend Pete Cardiello every Saturday for 10 years at the recycling center.

Another event O'Toole and his wife got involved in and stayed involved in for 50 years was the St. Catherine Carnival. The couple would help clean up after the carnival at night, and O'Toole even served as chairman for a number of years. He and his wife only stopped doing the clean up two years ago.

Getting involved in the community is something that runs in the O'Toole family. Both O'Toole's son Kevin and daughter Eileen have been serving the community in different ways for years.

Kevin O'Toole first ran for town council and became mayor at the age of 25, and served three terms before being elected to the state assembly. He participated in more than just politics though. Kevin O'Toole took over as chairman of the St. Catherine Carnival after his father stepped down from the role. He also coached little league basketball and started up his own law firm in town.

Eileen O'Toole has created quite a life for herself in town as well. Eileen O'Toole, the third daughter of O'Toole, served as mayor before becoming a police officer in town and working her way up to lieutenant in the department.

Both Kevin and Eileen O'Toole have lived in Cedar Grove their whole lives, something O'Toole said he is grateful for.

"Eileen and my son have been guardian angels to us," O'Toole said of having his children live in town near him. "I couldn't ask for nicer children. They really watch over us in the house, not that we can't take care of ourselves, but they make sure we're doing the right things."

Now that O'Toole is retired from his long career of running printing presses and working at a paper manufacturing company in New York City, he spends a lot of his time taking care of his wife, who is dealing with some health issues. Although he himself is not in the best health, having been in the hospital multiple times recently for heart problems, O'Toole said it is his turn to take care of his wife after all these years of her taking care of him.

"My job is to take care of her and that's OK because she took care of me for all these years," O'Toole said. "So now I'm going to take care of her for the rest of our lives."

O'Toole also enjoys keeping busy by working outside and taking care of his yard and garden. And of course, the dedicated family man and kind community member always loves to lend his time to the town that he loves.

"You volunteer because there's a job that has to be done. You're not doing it for compensation or anything else. And then somebody else will step in and do it," O'Toole said. "This town is loaded with volunteers. There are so many people who volunteer for all different organizations. It's a volunteer town. It wouldn't be the town it is without all the volunteers. I love this town."

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