FAIRFIELD, NJ — Gary Odendahl was honored by his family, friends and colleagues for his 53 years of service to Fairfield Township at an outdoor ceremony and reception held at the municipal building on Thursday, Sept. 10.
Joseph Catenaro, township business administrator, along with Councilmen John LaForgia and Joseph Cifelli, presented Odendahl with a plaque. Catenaro thanked him for his many years of dedication and hard work and jokingly said, “Now no one will know where anything is. We will have to keep you on retainer.”
Odendahl humbly thanked everyone.
He also was presented with a silver watch, because as his colleagues knew, he does not like gold. Colleagues said Odendahl did not want any recognition for his work, but they couldn’t let his retirement go by without any acknowledgement. They also got two cakes for the reception. One was a regular vanilla and chocolate cake, but the second one had to be a carrot cake, his favorite.
Odendahl worked 25 years as a Fairfield police officer, five years as a dispatcher, and 23 years as the township’s head of maintenance of building and grounds. His responsibilities included maintenance of the municipal building, police headquarters, recreation offices and firehouses.
He was raised in West Orange until his family moved to Fairfield in 1956. Odendahl said that life was much different in Fairfield back then. There were many farms, and everyone looked out for each other. He went to seventh and eighth grades in Fairifield, but he went to Caldwell High School because West Essex was not built yet. Right after high school, he joined the navy for four years with four of his classmates, Rich Vanderhoof, Butch Lebeda and Steven Lenart, all from Fairfield, and Jack Fera from Caldwell. Right after the service he did odd jobs until he joined the Fairfield Police Department.
Odendahl’s three sons, David, Eric and Gary, Jr., were at the ceremony and reception, along with his daughter-in-law, Donna, and grandson, Hain. His sons have great memories of their life in Fairfield on Park Avenue, where the family kept their horses. The sons said that they got their love of horses from their dad and grandparents, Harry and Evelyn, who were both trick riders. Harry was called the oldest Fairfield cowboy. Odendahl does not ride many horses now, but he does ride his Harley-Davidson. He has been to Sturgis, South Dakota and Daytona, Florida for the motorcycle events.
Jim O’Connor, a colleague of Odendahl for 23 years, said, “Gary is the type of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. He is an all-around hard worker, and it’s been a pleasure working with him for these last 23 years. Gary is known as “The Duke” because of his love for the actor John Wayne.” O’Connor said, “To prove it, Odendahl even has a tattoo on his arm saying “The Duke.”
Dennis Roon, who worked with Odendahl for 20 years in the department of public works, said, “Gary was a great person to work with.”
Director of Recreation Tony Pompei and Barbara Luzzi, recreation secretary, both said that they are going to miss Odendahl. Pompei said, “Gary was always there to greet us every day.”