Editor’s note: This story was published exclusively in The Jefferson Chronicle DIGEST magazine prior to being made available online. To receive the DIGEST magazine when it is released digitally, subscribe free.
The Jefferson Township Chamber of Commerce Awards Dinner evolved this year to incorporate the Citizen of the Year designation.
Mayor Eric Wilsusen noted that former mayor Russell Felter established the Citizen of the Year in 2000, and the announcement was made at Jefferson Day each summer. With the recent change in format for that event and chamber president Bret Hartman’s wish to include the designation in the organization’s annual community recognition event, the current Citizen of the Year was announced at the re-titled Jefferson Township Awards Dinner. The event was hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on April 11 at Casa Bianca in Oak Ridge.
Christopher Brancato emceed the event, which was attended by members of the chamber as well as local dignitaries including the entire Town Council, new administrator Debra Millikin, administrative assistant Joanne Meyer, schools superintendent Jeanne Howe, and high school principal Timothy Plotts.
Citizen of the Year
Wilsusen had requested nominations from the community for the annual Mayor’s Citizen of the Year award. Council member Kim Finnegan nominated Janet Boetticher, this year’s recipient.
Boetticher has been a Sunday school teacher, Camp Aldersgate volunteer counselor, and youth group leader for Hurdtown United Methodist Church. She volunteers with Family Promise, a charity that helps homeless and low-income families, and Operation Christmas Child, which delivers toy-filled holiday shoeboxes to children around the world. In addition, Boetticher is a volunteer coordinator for NORWESCAP, a nonprofit organization serving low-income residents. She started a Girl Scout troop in conjunction with NORWESCAP’s Pathways 2 Prosperity program and has volunteered as a troop leader for 20 years. Boetticher also serves with the Jefferson Township Municipal Alliance, JT Connect, high school parent-teacher-student association, and Jefferson Child Care and Education Center.
It was no surprise to most attendees when Russ Felter was presented with the Lifetime Achievement award. Ray Fernandez spoke about Felter’s many years of commitment. His numerous contributions include service on the Town Council, Planning Board, Morris County Republican Committee, and Lake Hopatcong Commission. He was also the director of public safety.
Felter was instrumental in acquiring a great deal of open space in Jefferson, including land used for the new Liffy Island boardwalk and trail. He was involved in establishing senior housing in Oak Ridge, supporting Dial-a-Ride, and volunteering for senior services. In addition, he got Camp Jefferson off the ground, improved recreational fields, and added lighting. Felter’s support for veterans is evidenced by the veterans and 9/11 memorial at the municipal complex.
Last and certainly not least, Felter served as Jefferson’s mayor for a whopping 20 years. Fernandez joked that Felter is very young to receive a “lifetime” achievement award, but having dedicated 24 years to the service of Jefferson Township, he is truly deserving of the honor. Felter told The Jefferson Chronicle, “I am going to continue to serve the town in various ways; it’s who I am.”
Public Servant of the Year
The Public Servant of the Year award was presented by chamber vice president John Tully to Kristine Wilsusen and the Municipal Alliance. Wilsusen has been the community health educator since 1993 and chairs the Municipal Alliance. She is a founding member of JT Connect, was instrumental in bringing the “stigma free” designation to Jefferson, and is active in the mayor’s wellness campaign. Wilsusen was vital in establishing the town’s Center for Addiction Recovery, Education, and Success, making Jefferson the first New Jersey town to have a CARES drop-in center (weekly coffee and conversation at the Rescue Squad building on Route 15 South). Wilsusen is also a religious education teacher at Star of the Sea Church. She thanked her mentor, Debi Merz, and fellow volunteers, including Janet Boetticher.
Nonprofit of the Year
Jason Nicholas presented the Nonprofit of the Year honor to the Jefferson Arts Committee. The committee was formed in 1987 and coordinates events such as Jefferson Fest, Christmas in the Village, the free summer concert series at the municipal gazebo, and bus trips to theater events. Performance organizations under the umbrella of the committee include the Community Players, Community Chorus, and Community Concert and Jazz Bands. Carol Punturieri, president of the Jefferson Arts Committee, thanked Jack Kelly, who founded the organization. She encouraged others to volunteer to ensure the continuation of these enriching activities.
Educator of the Year
David DeVries, high school visual art/photography teacher, received the Educator of the Year award. DeVries took the opportunity to announce a joint project with the Chamber of Commerce and his students, who are well versed in Photoshop and can create posters and brochures. The students will provide free services to businesses, with grades for their efforts. They will wear business-appropriate attire to interview store owners and determine their needs, helping them to prepare for real-world experiences while assisting Jefferson establishments. The proposal drew gasps of appreciation and applause from the crowd.
Business of the Year
Portofino Ristorante was awarded the Business of the Year designation for its dedication and commitment to the township through, for example, sponsorships and the Jefferson Rotary. Mary Milliken accepted the award on behalf of owner Mendi Asani, who was not available due to a recent birth in the family.
The State of Jefferson
Mayor Eric Wilsusen spoke about the state of Jefferson and projects that are under way.
His team is working on streamlining processes, including the implementation of new municipal management software. The public will have easier access to records and be able to request road repairs online once the system is up and running.
Plans for the proposed medical building at the former Pathmark site in Lake Hopatcong will be presented to the Planning Board shortly. Designs for a Wawa convenience store and gas station at the front of the property are not yet scheduled with the board. Wilsusen commented that he understands residents’ preference for a supermarket at that location. However, there was no interest from retailers due to current demographics and proximity to other planned mega-supermarkets nearby.
New apartments will be built on Hellers Lane behind the QuickChek on Route 15. The Betsy Ross Diner will move soon to its new location in Oak Ridge.
A Winning End to the Awards Dinner
After the ceremonies, there were door prizes and a 50/50. The pot was won by Father Matthew Twiggs of Oak Ridge, who donated his prize to David DeVries to assist with the new student project.