WEST ORANGE, NJ - Around 150 members of the West Orange community, from babies to “Old Timers,” gathered on Sept. 12, at Colgate Field, to celebrate the 39th Annual Old Timer’s Day, where they commemorated West Orange sports heroes who are also known as the “Colgate Kids.”
The honorees were: Ricky Buro, PJ McMahon*, Jimmy Laing, John O’Connor Jr, John Curry*, Mike Wilk*, Brian Murphy, Jimmy “JT” Tiernan, Bobby Bontempo, Jimmy Voelbel and Frank Eaton (*posthumous).
Although the gray and cloudy weather threatened a storm, observers still flocked to the field to honor the honorees. The atmosphere was full of sociability and camaraderie where old and new friends caught up.
“We were the luckiest kids in the world in the world to have a park like Colgate,” said honoree Ricky Burro. “We were the Colgate Kids.”
“The most important thing growing up in the park was the life lessons,” said honoree Jimmy Voelbel. “Everything I learned, I take with me every day.”
Honoree Brian Murphy said that this park has a legacy that has carried on for generations. He said that all of the older guys took them in and raised them.
Honoree Jimmy “JT” Tiernan added that the park was “a great place to grow up in and a great community to be a part of.”
After the awards ceremony, the crowd gathered around the field to watch the “Old Timers” in their element. Many of these men hadn’t played baseball for years, but were still able to keep up for the two inning exhibition game. An excited crowd cheered on the “Old Timers” shouting “homerun!”
Current members of the Old Timers Day Committee were also in attendance. Even Vinny Santucci, an original member of the Old Timers Day Committee was able to attend.
The committee said it has more projects planned including the addition of the “Wall of Fame” in the Kennedy Fieldhouse, which includes a bulletin board with photos and news stories about the “Colgate Kids.”
“Colgate was everything to us,” said presenter Bobby Huegel. “Colgate will continue to remain a tremendous part of the lives of those that live in West Orange as they look forward to next year’s 40th Annual Old Timer’s Day.”
About the Honorees (*posthumous):
Bobby Bontempo, who graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes and Mountain High, was a Colgate fixture who played in the baseball and basketball programs at the park. He said he fondly remembers his Babe Ruth League stint with John Healy as his coach. He also said that Colgate was the center of his youth and the place where he and all of his friends met and socialized every day.
Ricky Buro was the third brother to be honored at Old Timer’s Day. He got his start in the Reserve League baseball program. He was a “standout” player for Washington Motors in Little League and a two-year captain of the Lourdes baseball team. Buro also excelled in football for the PAL and played in basketball programs at the park too. In addition, he had a solid sports career at WOHS.
John Curry* was the youngest of the six Curry boys—all of whom were honored at Old Timer’s day. From the time he could walk, Curry tagged along with his older brothers to the park. Curry wore an eye patch as a youth and would hang it on Kay Voelbel’s fence at the park entrance and pick it up on his way out. He also spent time at the town pool and participate in all the programs offered at Colgate. Curry was honored this year with his best friend Mike Wilk.
Frank Eaton was another Lordes kid who thrived at Colgate. He said that as a youngster, he split his time at Colgate and the Community House. Eaton played all sports but said football was his favorite. He played for the PAL under Coach Jim Ganning along with his teammates Buro, Steve Hodgin and Chris Panzulla. Eaton went on to Our Lady of the Valley High School where he played four years of football. He said he fondly remembers the 4th of July bus rides to the St. Cloud Swim Club and the thousands of pick-up football and baseball games at Colgate.
Jimmy Laing said he thanks the “older guys” from Colgate who pushed him to “be the best he could be.” Laing rose through the baseball ranks playing for both the town and PAL Little League programs. Later, he played on West Orange’s first traveling baseball team, on the Lourdes team, and the in Babe Ruth program. However, he made his real mark on the gridiron. After excelling for the PAL and Edison teams, he earned Second Team All Essex County honors as a quarterback with Mountain High School. He was a team leader when Mountain upset the state’s sixth ranked team, Morristown High. He said that one of his favorite memories was seeing John Mooney “swish” a shot in Edison gym by banking it off the side wall of the building.
PJ McMahon* could roll out of bed into Colgate Park from his house on Franklin Avenue. McMahon played in all baseball and softball programs but friends said he really loved his time at the PAL. His true love at Colgate was the horseshoe pits—he never missed a 4th of July Horsehoe Tournament. Friends said that what separated PJ from the average Colgate Kids was a great sense of humor, an infectious smile and caring heart of gold.
Brian Murphy is part of one of West Orange’s legendary families. He cut his teeth at John Healy’s Reserve League and continued to play baseball for the town Little League, PAL and Babe Ruth programs. Murphy also played basketball in the PAL and the various leagues at Colgate. After a three-sport stint at Edison, Murphy went on to play baseball at Mountain. As an adult, Murphy played softball in the West Orange Men’s league and the North Jersey Police League.
John O’Connor, Jr. said he credits West Orange for providing him with the security of a great neighborhood and for developing lifelong friendships. He played in all of the youth programs at Colgate and the PAL. O’Connor said he played both baseball and basketball for Our Lady of Lourdes under a “great coach”—his dad. He continued to play both sports at Mountain High School where he earned conference and county honors in baseball. He later played baseball at Montclair State and semi-pro ball for the Jersey City Otto Macks.
Lim “JT” Tiernan played in both the Reserve League and the various Little League baseball programs. He excelled at Edison Jr. High in basketball under Coach Roger Blind and in football for Coach Mike Pizzi. Tiernan said he also credits John Rooney as a coach and mentor who had great influence on him. Tiernan then went on to play three years of varsity football at Mountain High School. In addition, he has given back to West Orange as a volunteer coach in flag football, basketball and baseball.
Jimmy Voelbel was the “kid next door” to Colgate Park. He said his house was a way station for scraped knees, thirsty kids and team captains calling for players to avoid the “dreaded” forfeit. Voelbel went through the system starting at the Reserve League and working his way through the baseball scene. He said he credits Colgate and his role models including John Healy, Beaver O’Connor, Mike Shannon and John Rooney, with teaching him valuable life lessons.
Mike Wilk* was a “Colgate Kid,” who played “tons of baseball” at the PAL and Colgate. Friends said that one of his fondest memories was playing Little League with his “best buddy” John Curry on the Morsell Dry Walls team. Wilk also loved playing pick-up football and basketball at the park and topping off the day with a swim at the Ginny Duenkel Pool.