WEST ORANGE, NJ — In addition to delivering his annual “State-of-the-Township” Address to a room full of local residents and business leaders, Mayor Robert Parisi also honored various students and named the 2020 Citizens of the Year and Employees of the Year during the West Orange Chamber of Commerce (WOCC) Mayor’s Breakfast held last week at Wilshire Grand Hotel.

Eleven outstanding West Orange High School (WOHS) seniors were recognized for exceptional performance in academics, sports and community service, including: Anika Fernandez (Class of 2020 Valedictorian), Brett Zeligson (Salutatorian), Emily Baker, Simone Byun, Jackson Edwards, Gustav Hall, Ashlea Hume, Elijah Millington, Natalie Nevins, Shrey Sanghvi and Maya Tobin.

“Special things happen in our schools and with our students every day,” said Parisi. “Some of these successes have become so routine that we come to expect nothing less.”

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Parisi praised the WOHS Mountaineers Marching Band for finishing first in-group for the third consecutive year and first overall in at the North Jersey School Music Association Regional Competition. The group also brought home awards for best music, best marching band, best overall effect, best color guard and best overall percussion.

Lauding newly hired football coach Darnell Grant, who is ranked in the top 100 all-time of New Jersey high school coaching among all sports, the mayor also commended the WOHS football team for qualifying for the state playoff and defeating the defending state champions in the first round in a demanding division this season.

Further applauding members of the school community, Parisi recognized the four Class of 2019 graduates who are currently attending the United States Military Academy at West Point—including Colin Morgan, whose brother, CJ, was killed in a training accident over the summer while serving as a cadet.

“[The Morgans] turned this tragedy into a living tribute to CJ,” said Parisi. “The family organized a foundation, a golf outing and created the Christopher CJ Morgan Scholarship as part of the WOHS Scholarship Fund.”

According to Parisi, the foundation raised more than $100,000 in less than six months, making it the largest endowment within the nearly 100-year-old WOHS Scholarship Fund.

Parisi also announced that WOHS Principal Hayden Moore was named “Administrator of the Year” by the New Jersey Association of Student Councils. (CLICK HERE for the full story.)

The mayor welcomed newly elected West Orange Board of Education members Jennifer Tunnicliffe and Gary Rothstein and thanked members Terry Trigg-Scales, Cheryl Merklinger and Ken Alper their continued hard work. He also officially welcomed Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone, who is currently serving his first year in the position after a lengthy search process…

Stacey and Rob Reese, the creative force behind making the West Orange Farmer's Market a raging success, were recognized as Citizens of the Year.

After many failed attempts by others, Parisi explained that the couple revitalized what is now a successful and dog-friendly Farmer’s Market that includes pet-adoption events in addition to selling an assortment of food items.

Parisi stated that the couple has “raised expectations to a new higher standard,” and the underlying sentiment expressed by those in attendance was that the couple brought the entire West Orange community together in a meaningful way. The market will open to the public again on May 16.

Recognized as the 2020 Employees of the Year were Cpt. William Holder and firefighter Matthew Keenan from the West Orange Fire Department (WOFD), who were both seriously injured in July.

While Keenan and Holder were tending to the victim of a motor vehicle accident on I-280, their ambulance was struck from behind and subsequently struck a fire truck, throwing several first responders to the ground, the mayor explained. The violent crash caused five firefighters and two police officers to be hospitalized; and both Holder and Keenan still have long roads to recovery ahead.

In his remarks, Parisi reminded the community of the important role all first responders play in safeguarding township residents every day.

As he praised the many other West Orange Township employees who ensure that the town runs smoothly on behalf of the 50,000 residents, Parisi spoke about some of the highlights from the last year.

Standout events he mentioned included the annual West Orange Street Fair, the 4th of July fireworks, Coffee with a Cop, the second annual West Orange Idol competition and “Barktober” dog costume contest, movie night at the pool, drive-in movie night at the high school and the Mayor’s 5K benefiting ovarian cancer research.

He also complimented the success of the new West Orange Community Band, Pleasant Valley Productions at OSPAC, the West Orange Carnival at the high school and the township’s many flag-raising ceremonies as well as the Christmas, Hanukah and Kwanza celebrations.

As he does each year, Parisi encouraged the community to attend the 2020 West Orange St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 15, where Lt. John DeMars will be honored as one of this year’s Deputy Grand Marshals for his years of service to the Township of West Orange.


Front row (L-R) Elijah Millington, Shrey Sanghvi, Jackson Edwards, Gustav Hall, Brett Zeligson.

Rear (L-R) WOHS Principal Hayden Moore, Mayor Robert Parisi, Maya Tobin, Emily Baker, Simone Byun, BOE member Gary Rothstein, Natalie Nevins, BOE President Ken Alper, Ashlea Hume, Superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone, Anika Fernandez, BOE member Jennifer Tunnicliffe, BOE Vice Presdient Terry Trigg-Scales.