WEST ORANGE, NJ – The vision of 9-year-old Emily Rintzler came to fruition on Saturday with the dedication of the Mayor James Sheeran Park at Collamore Circle in West Orange. More than 100 residents came out for the dedication ceremony for this small park that honors the memory of West Orange residents who dreamed big during their lives.
“It was Emily’s idea to create a nice neighborhood park,” said Mayor Robert Parisi. “I talked to her about Mayor Sheeran, who lived on Collamore Terrace, and she thought it was a good idea to name the park after him. She also wanted to have a lending library here, and we set out to make it happen.”
Council President Susan McCartney, a 36-year Collamore Terrace resident, helped to oversee the project. Along with the lending library, the parklet has two benches that memorialize Jonathan Selikoff, Avery Thompson and Mackenzie Fitschen, and honor Max Manshel for his lifetime of inspiration and community activism.
Sheeran’s daughters, Jaime Sheeran Maniatis and Kim Sheeran Zoller, were on hand to unveil the large park plaque remembering their father’s heroism during World War II, and his service to West Orange, where he served as mayor from 1958 to 1966.
The plaque notes how Sheeran as a member of the 101st Airborne paratrooper division jumped behind enemy lines during D-day. He escaped from German capture to the French town of Domremy, birthplace of his mother, before rejoining his unit. Sheeran fought in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of Bulge.
In his tribute to Sheeran, West Orange historian Joe Fagan said, “We will never forget James Sheeran, who was a courageous World War II veteran…He was West Orange strong.”
Fagan then read a poem “Crickets of the Hedge Row” that he wrote to honor Sheeran’s bravery during World War II. He put the poem in frames with actual sand from Normandy, and presented it as a gift to Sheeran’s daughters.
Both of his daughters thanked Emily and all those in West Orange who played a role in bringing this parklet to fruition.
“I am feeling the spirit of my dad and mom here today,” said Sheeran Zoller, who flew in from Colorado for the dedication. “He always said dream big…Dad was bigger than life. He never gave up on his dreams.”
Sheeran Maniatis also said she felt her father’s presence at the ceremony.
“He is humbled by the appreciation you are giving him,” she said. “He loved this town.”
Parisi presented Rintzler with a West Orange Pride Award in recognition of her commitment to the people of her neighborhood with the creation and development of the park.
Tears flowed with the unveiling of the plaques honoring the memory of Selikoff, Thompson and Fitschen.
Isabelle Selikoff, John’s mother, said he was a loving and caring father, husband and son until he succumbed to ALS at the age of 47.
“John’s philosophy was resist and persist. This was always part of John’s passion to this universe and to his family,” she said.
Thompson’s mother, Stephanie, said her son was “fearless and passionate.”
“He had no fear,” she said. “His motto was ‘dream big’…He sang, rapped, performed all while battling late-stage cancer. He lived more in his 17 years than other people do in their entire life.”
Garrett Fitschen, Mackenzie’s brother, said, “I can’t think of a better way to keep my sister’s memory alive. No one loved to read more than Mackenzie.”
The Fitschen family donated 16 books to the lending library for “the 16 outstanding years she spent with us.”
Manshel was visibly moved by the tribute, and thanked everyone for coming to the dedication. His lifetime of service to West Orange includes being deputy mayor, former West Orange Planning Board attorney, West Orange Democratic County Committee District leader and a member of the West Orange Environmental Commission.
Rintzler, a fourth-grade student at Gregory Elementary School, said she loves to read and hopes everyone in the area will take advantage of the lending library, and enjoy a good book under the beautiful cherry blossom tree.