FAIRFIELD, NJ — Mary Scangarello, former Fairfield Township supervisor of parks and recreation, was honored by her family and friends at a high tea party held at the Hollywood Avenue Recreation Center on Wednesday.
Scangarello and invited guests from the Boonton Township Victoria Mews Assisted Living received a tour of the new recreation complex named in honor of Scangarello. Anthony Pompei, current director of recreation, led the tour, and Scangarello was able to see the “wall” in the park in her honor, and she got to visit the room designed specifically for Busy Hands, the special program she founded for pre-K children.
In reminiscing with her friend Fran Bikoff, Scangarello remembered moving to Fairfield in 1957 when Hollywood Avenue was a “gravel road,” and said her three children walked from Henrietta Drive to Churchill School because “traffic was almost nonexistent.”
The township has gone through many changes since then, but the name Mary Scangarello has not been forgotten as the township recently named the new recreation complex in her honor.
“Through the latter part of the twentieth century, Mary had a profound effect on the developing town of Fairfield and the many thousands of children and adults who passed through her loving and capable hands,” said Bikoff.
In 1957, there were no parks, no recreation and no library, but Scangarello had a vision. She began as president of the PTA.
In 1962, as president of the PTA, she was invited to attend the first meeting of the newly appointed recreation commission. The topic of needing a library was discussed. There was no budget, so Scangarello immediately got the ball rolling.
The PTA held a book fair at Churchill School. It was “Bring a Book, Buy a Book.” Family services held a white elephant sale. The boy scouts handed out fliers.
When they had $200, she took out a big ad in the newspaper saying, “Come to the Churchill Auditorium and Bring a Book from Home.” And she said, “And then the books poured in.”
The first library repository, a bus with no wheels, was donated by Kevah Konner, a local bus company. It was said that the bus filled up so quickly that Scangarello asked Joe Gallo, a local storeowner, for help.
He gave them some space by his lamp store, but the store was prone to flooding. So next, the books were moved to the first Fairfield schoolhouse on Fairfield Road that is now a barbershop. After a few years, Scangarello applied for government funding.
The town then took over, and the books were moved to the municipal annex. She said, “We did it! Fairfield had a library.”
In 1962, when there was an opening in the recreation commission, Scangarello, who had come to Mayor Szabo’s attention because of her work on the library, was appointed. As the only woman on the commission at the first meeting, she was given the job of secretary, but this is not where she remained.
She listened to the business being discussed and, according to Bikoff, Scangarello asked, “Gentlemen, please tell me what recreation we are commissioners of?” She was told, “there is not much interest in having recreation in this town.”
She said, “Would you mind if I tried a program with your permission?” They agreed, and they never knew what hit them. She was off and running.
She called the Methodist Church and asked the minister if there was an interest in recreation. He said he had boys who would love a basketball clinic. Dr. George Kroll, a local doctor and resident, agreed to be their basketball coach.
The clinic quickly went from 13 to 56 boys. They continued with volleyball, arts and crafts, and much more.
In 1962, she began the tradition of the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which still exists today.
Scangarello began as a volunteer recreation commissioner for six years, and eventually became a town employee for 27 years as superintendent of parks and recreation.
Mary’s husband Tom Scangarello was always there to help his wife, she said. For decades, he was the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause at these events.
“Without her husband, Tom, there would be no Mary,” said Bikoff. “Tom was her partner and behind the scenes supporter. They were a fantastic team.”
In 1992, they were named Couple of the Year at the Optimist Club Testimonial Dinner.
The Scangarellos had three children Peter, Paulette and Diane, who attended school in Fairfield and went on to graduate from West Essex High School.
Since Scangarello was always involved in the PTA, she wanted to run for PTA president, but was told she would never win. She said that she detected feelings that perhaps Fairfield was “not considered socially equal” to North Caldwell, Roseland, and Essex Fells.
Ultimately, she did run, and in 1964 she was welcomed as the first West Essex High School PTA president from Fairfield.
“Mary is charismatic, and she got things done,” said Bikoff. “She was a visionary.”
Next she envisioned a park system and pool. With little funding and make-do facilities, she established programs such as arts and crafts for all ages, basketball, soccer, wrestling, aerobics, Busy Hands, The Golden Agers, cheerleading, twirling, cultural programs, adult and child theater groups, ice skating, skiing, Easter egg hunts, Halloween art contests, Fourth of July parades, summer camp, king and queen of recreation, just to name a few.
It was said that other towns saw Fairfield as a model for parks and recreation because of her many innovative programs.
According to Bikoff, there was no money for music at the first Fourth of July parade.
“Mary had everyone singing all the way down Fairfield Road. They made their own music,” said Bikoff.
Bikoff said that because the pay for recreation was minimal, Scangarello worked part-time for 25 years for Dr. Kroll.
For decades, Scangarello also led the local chapter of the March of Dimes, an organization that funds lifesaving research and programs and works to end premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality, and she also was the local president of the Soroptomist Club, an international volunteer organization working to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. She was district director of the Soroptomist Club and was responsible for managing 28 local clubs, which she considered “a challenge.”
In 1974 the Fairfield Kiwanis Club selected Mary to be Woman of the Year, the first woman to be so honored.
“I consider myself lucky to have personally worked with Mary for so many years,” said Marie Gilbert, Mary’s friend and secretary for parks and recreation for more than twenty years. “Mary was an inspiration to watch as she skillfully planned the many programs that she ran with such elegance and perfection. She tended to every detail, and I will be forever grateful for all she taught me. I learned from the very best teacher of all.”
Karen Dee, director of activities at Victoria Mews, said Mary is “thoughtful, kind, and always willing to lend a helping hand.”
“Mary has been such a delightful addition to our Victoria Mews’ family,” she said.
Diane Dowling, Scangarello’s daughter, said Mary is a “wonderful grandmother” who adores her grandchilder.
“Adam was the first grandchild, and my mother would always take him on ski trips with recreation,” said Dowling, who said her second child, Kara, is loved just as much. “My mother was always excited about Kara’s accomplishments. I liked our Fairfield home and our many neighbors.”
She also did not forget her father on this day, calling him “a saint.”
Paulette Calasibetta, Scangarello’s older daughter, said that her mother was a “fabulous cook.” She said she feels gifted in having to have responsibilities around the house because she said that she learned so much.
Calasibetta also told some little known stories about her mother.
“My mother was a character,” she said. “She loved to entertain.”
She not only entertained with her delicious food with family and friends, according to Calasibetta, but if anyone really knew Mary, they would know that she loved to sing.
“When visiting Milan, my mother somehow got permission to sing on stage just for her friends at La Scala Opera House,” said Calasibetta.
Calasibetta also remembers all the themed parties thrown by Dr. Kroll. She said that the children were “required” to go and that the themes were “always clever,” requiring special food and costumes.
It was said this week that Mary has been smiling since the party, and the residents of Victoria Mews have not stopped talking about the day. Everyone was impressed with Mary’s accomplishments.
Nancy DeBlasis, a member of the high tea party committee, did a portrait of Scangarello that is displayed in the recreation activity room, along with a poster that was hung up on the door that said, “Welcome to Mary’s Tea Garden.”
The high tea party was organized by Marie Gilbert, along with Fran Bikoff, Eileen Campolattaro, Nancy DeBlasis, Pam Danko, Arlene Minardi and Rose Ann Torchia.
The group received a thank you letter from the family saying:
“On behalf of my Mom and sister, Diane, I want to thank you for honoring her with such an elegant affair. Your efforts did not go unnoticed, attention was paid to every detail, transforming the community room into a Magical Tea Party with all the special personalized touches Mom so greatly appreciates.
Fran was not only informative, but warm and engaging Nancy's lovely art work gracing the entrance and wall, the fine linens, china, and even the lace window curtain with blue bows.... how ‘Maryesgoe!’
The luncheon was delicious with all the special touches of a High Tea. The service from every lady serving was warm, friendly and impeccable!
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You honored Mom the way she should be honored for all her years of service to the community.”