EAST HANOVER, NJ — The Fairfield Golden Agers club celebrated its 50th anniversary with a luncheon held at the Hanover Manor, where club members honored their foundress and 60-year Fairfield resident Mary Scangarello, who died last year at the age of 95.
In speaking about the Scangarello family, Golden Agers president Joni Doncoes read a statement she and former mayor Ted Nalesnik had written many years ago.
“In 1957, a young, idealistic couple named Tom and Mary Scangarello moved into Fairfield with their three children,” she read. “They did so in anticipation of leading a typical, quiet, suburban life. But Mary’s housewife role was not to be. Her desire to volunteer her services led her down another road and in many directions.
“The mayor at the time, Steve Szabo, recognizing her abilities, appointed her to the recreation commission. The year was 1962. That very act launched her into a 33-year career of service to the municipality.”
Smallheer added that Scangarello’s husband, Tom, was the “greatest assistant” and “always there to help.”
“He assumed many roles, including Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny,” said Smallheer. “So there goes the old adage: ‘Behind every successful woman is a successful and supportive man.’”
Fairfield Mayor James Gasparini, council members Thomas Morgan and Michael McGlynn and council president John LaForgia attended the luncheon along with township administrator Joseph Catenaro, Police Chief Anthony Manna, recreation director Anthony Pompei and township clerk Denise Cafone. Paulette Calasibetta, Scangarello’s daughter, was also present.
Gasparini congratulated the Golden Agers and wished them many more years of success. The mayor also presented Smallheer with a proclamation and a plaque with the history of the organization engraved.
It stated that the first meeting of the Fairfield Golden Agers was held on April 24, 1968 in the basement of the municipal annex, and was attended by 25 senior citizens. The first installation of the club was on May 23, 1968, and the first officers were ER Jones, president; Tricia Jansen, vice president; Jennie Wolski, treasurer; and Cecilia Lagatare, secretary.
The first rule adopted by the club was that the Lord’s Prayer would be recited at the beginning of every meeting—a rule that remains today.
The Golden Agers’ mission statement is “to provide a venue for senior citizens of Fairfield to meet and participate in various, interesting activities, including but not limited to, a social, recreational atmosphere. To provide a meaningful, fun experience and entertainment for seniors and to keep them informed of activities in the town and other information of interest to seniors.”
In the early years of her career, Scangarello worked as a volunteer recreation commissioner. She spent countless hours in the role of superintendent of parks and recreation.
Under her leadership, recreation grew to a 39-acre park at Hollywood Avenue, five satellite parks, plus utilization of school properties for summer programs and sports. She developed programs that reached out to every member of the community from Busy Hands, a preschool program, to the Golden Agers and to all those in between.
The Golden Agers’ tribute to Scangarello included the following statement:
“The recreation program Mary established was so successful that it became a model for surrounding towns. In addition to the amazing array of sports, cultural and community recreational programs and events she instituted, she also achieved many singular awards and distinctions. Although her remuneration was minimal, her integrity was impeccable.”
Rita Arata was among those who spoke about Scangarello, saying that she “was a lovely woman.”
“My father, Vito Androccio, known as Mr. Vito to the students, was a custodian at both Fairfield schools,” she said. “My father and Mary worked a lot together. Mary did a lot for our community.”
Peg Johnston remembers her boys going through the recreation program.
“Mary had a very calming influence on them,” she said. “We have programs in town today because of her. She gave us much and did it willingly.”
Scangarello’s daughter said she was moved by the Golden Agers’ actions of honoring her mother. When addressing the audience, she stated that her mother had a favorite quote, “What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others lives in immortality.”
Smallheer acknowledged this quote in relation to Scangarello’s life.
“We tried to estimate how many individual lives Mary has touched,” said Smallheer. “We estimated about 50,000 people have directly benefited by her efforts. How many of us will leave this type of legacy?”
“Mary epitomized the truly giving person,” said Marie Gilbert, Scangarello’s assistant of many years. “She unselfishly gave of herself for the good of her fellow citizens and especially gave her love to our children.”
Calasibetta said that her mother had another quote saying, “May the best day of your past, be the worst day of your future,” a quote that Calasibetta said she adopted and still uses today.
“I remember Mary singing 'God Bless America' and 'The National Anthem' at the Fairfield fireworks when they were held at Churchill School,” said Manna, who stated that he remembers Scangarello well.
Barbara Corbo, a 46-year Fairfield resident, added that “Mary was very good to our town.”
Arlene Minardi, Golden Ager treasurer, described Scangarello as “an elegant lady.”
“She was a lady of class,” said Judy Niedz.
Justin Lizza, whose five children went to recreation, said that “Mary was a lady’s lady, and “was always very proper.”
Fran Bikoff, a long-time Fairfield resident and member of the Golden Agers, said that the the Golden Agers are asking the mayor and council to publicly display a painting of Scangarello by Nancy DeBlasis, the present-day Golden Agers’ second vice president. He said the Golden Agers would like the painting to be displayed in the new recreation building near the Busy Hands’ room in remembrance of all that Scangarello did for the community.
Other Golden Agers’ present day officers include Geri Helou, first vice president and Loretta Lowe, secretary. Music for the event was by provided by Mark and Ted.
Fairfield residents must be 55 years or older to join the club.
Township leaders honor Mary Scangarello, Golden Agers foundress, at Golden Agers 50th anniversary luncheon.
Bottom row (L-R): Denise Cafone, township clerk, Anthony Pompei, director of recreation, Councilman Michael McGlynn, Council President John LaForgia and Township Administrator Joseph Catenaro.
Top row (L-R): Police Chief Anthony G. Manna, Nancy DeBlasis, Golden Agers’ 2nd vice president, Arlene Minardi, Golden Agers’ treasurer, Joni Doncoes Smallheer, Golden Agers’ president, Geri Helou, Golden Agers’ 1st vice president, and Loretta Lowe, Golden Agers’ secretary.