This is a press release from Essex County. Press releases are official statements that have not been independently verified.
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced the four winners and four honorable mention recipients of the 2020 Essex County Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest. Normally announced in May during Older Americans Month, the awards were delayed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Listening to our senior citizens read their stories during the awards ceremony is one of my most favorite events. The writers’ vivid recollections stir up great memories and share lessons they have learned during their lifetime,” DiVincenzo said. “Unfortunately, the coronavirus forced us to cancel our in-person celebration of our talented writers and the ongoing concerns for public health means we won’t be able to reschedule. As with each year, we were impressed with the entries and did not want to completely deprive our seniors of this much anticipated event,” he added.
Selected as winners of the 2020 Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest were South Orange resident Lorraine Kerry Barnett who wrote “The Fatality of Dreams,” Montclair resident Rikke Beal who wrote “Kikke Kissing Louis Armstrong,” Caldwell resident Eva M. Ogens who wrote “Love in a Jar” and South Orange resident Janyce Wolf who wrote “The Day the World Changes.” Receiving honorable mentions were Montclair resident Roger Birnbaum who wrote “Off to War,” Bloomfield resident Alfred Sonny Piccoli who wrote “Remembering Downtown Newark in the 1960s,” South Orange resident Terry Salley who wrote “O My Grief” and Bloomfield resident Paula R. Zaccone who wrote “What Grandma Didn’t Tell Us.”
South Orange resident Lorraine Kerry Barnett wrote “The Fatality of Dreams,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. While in college, Ms. Barnett was taking a summer literature course. One day, her professor asked her what she wanted to do after graduation, and she replied that her dream was to attend graduate school. Instead of support, the professor questioned her goals and told her “graduate school is not for everyone.” “He wanted me to know that there were limitations to what I should or could aspire to become,” she wrote. This bias did not discourage Ms. Barnett, who four years later would earn her Law Degree from Rutgers School of Law and be sworn in as an attorney.
Montclair resident Rikke Beal wrote “Kikke Kissing Louis Armstrong,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. Growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark, Ms. Beal and her friends adored Jazz music. When they learned Louis Armstrong was going to perform at the KB Hall and then was rumored to play in a jam session at a local club, they skipped class and bought tickets. After enjoying the concert, they rushed to the club, where Mr. Armstrong mingled with the audience. “I got closer and closer, but still could only see his back. Finally, I was close enough to reach out touch his shoulder. While my posse cheered in the back, I placed a big smacking kiss on Satchmo’s back, right between his shoulder blades,” she wrote.
Caldwell resident Eva M. Ogens wrote “Love in a Jar,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. In rich detail, Ms. Ogens wrote about the homemade jelly and pies her mother made – how her father grew the fruit in their backyard and how the family, under the guidance of her mother, would cook the fruit and jar it. These delicacies were enjoyed by the family and shared with neighbors and friends as gifts. “I am continuing the legacy of making homemade pies, cakes, cookies, jam and jellies to grace the tables of family and friends,” Ms. Ogens writes. “I am perpetuating and sharing the love that was so sweetly packaged in that jar of jelly and reinforcing the value of homegrown goodness and love,” she concludes.
South Orange resident Janyce Wolf wrote “The Day the World Changes,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. Her story focused on the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the grief and uncertainty it caused. “We can see the results of the 9/11 attacks in two ways. In many ways, the world is not a better place: wars, more surveillance, hucksterism, racism, economic instability. But individually people drew together, learned from each other, helped each other. Many people grew to know more about the world outside their own lives,” Ms. Wolf writes. She sees many similarities – both good and bad examples – happening now during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Montclair resident Roger Birnbaum wrote “Off to War,” which received an honorable mention award. Mr. Birnbaum was 6 years old when World War II began. His mother immediately joined the US Army Nurse Corps. Although he was too young at the time to understand, he explains that his mother was a pioneer, a female who wanted her independence at a time when women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands. After the war, she earned a bachelor’s degree and took a job as a school nurse and teacher. “My mother, while loving and devoted to her family, believed that women should have an identity separate from their husbands and children, the freedom to pursue their own intellectual and career interests, and their own source of funds and bank accounts,” he writes.
Bloomfield resident Alfred Sonny Piccoli wrote “Remembering Downtown Newark in the 1960s,” which received an honorable mention award. Mr. Piccoli shares his memories of growing up and spending time in Downtown Newark. He writes about visiting Bamberger’s and discovering their giant toy department, even though he could not afford to buy any toys. There were other department stores, Military Park, arcades with pinball machines, the Army & Navy Store, movie theaters, Woolworth’s, the Newark Public Library and the historical Newark Fire Museum. While writing about the Seated Lincoln Statue in front of the Historic Essex County Courthouse, he writes, “While I sat in contemplation next to Lincoln, I felt I belonged and was a part of this diverse, great city. This strengthened by faith in humanity, leading to my better understanding and acceptance of others.”
South Orange resident Terry Salley wrote “O My Grief,” which received an honorable mention award. Mr. Salley shares his deep love for his wife, Marilyn, and the last days before her death. The couple recently moved from Brooklyn to South Orange so they would be closer to their children. After moving, however, Marilyn, became ill. To cheer her spirits, the family gave her a party at the Highlawn Pavilion and made her wear a tiara because she was the “queen” of the family. After the party, however, Marilyn had to be admitted to the hospital and then hospice. Mr. Salley spent days in the hospital with his wife and recounts the last moments he spent with his “Earth Angel.”
Bloomfield resident Paula R. Zaccone wrote “What Grandma Didn’t Tell Us,” which received an honorable mention award. After her grandmother immigrated to America from Italy around 1900, little information about their lives in their home country was shared with the family. In fact, when Ms. Zaccone and her husband were planning a trip to Europe, her mother said there probably were no living relatives from Cassano. Ms. Zaccone still visited the town and, to her surprise, stumbled upon distant relatives and cousins, who welcomed her into their homes and celebrated the discovery of long, lost family members. “My Italian discoveries have linked multiple generations of family in two countries” and their bonds continue today, she writes.