Enjoying a summer concert at a gazebo in Florham Park made such an impression on Susan Ransegnola that she envisioned a beautiful gazebo in Jefferson Township where concerts and special events could be held. It was fate that she happened to have a conversation with Jack Kelly, then President of the Jefferson Arts Committee, to find he had a similar vision as well. They soon found other interested residents and approached the township council in hopes of their dream becoming a reality. With encouragement from the governing body, the Jefferson Township Gazebo Committee was formed in 1998, and Ransegnola volunteered to start the fundraising efforts with a donation from her own family.
Kelly and his wife Rose, along with Ransegnola and her husband Nick, were joined on the new committee by Ben and Debbie Smead, Linda Bormann, Horace Chamberlain, Melissa Dugan, Aileen Maloney, Darin and Julie Mastricola, Patti Otto, Roberta Shaw, Roland Sparling, and Phyllis Toli. They elected a Board of Directors to pursue the project, and President Jack Kelly, Vice President Susan Ransegnola, Secretary Debbie Smead, Treasurer Rose Kelly, and Directors Patti Otto and Aileen Maloney prepared a constitution and by-laws that were adopted on November 18, 1998. It was decided the gazebo should be sited in the Jefferson Township Municipal complex, and the committee was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation on December 12, 1998.
Inspiration from Towns Near and Far
Committee members visited gazebos in the area as close as Dover and Rockaway and as far as Cape May to get an idea of the type of gazebo structure that would fit the character of the township and would be feasible to build and fund. The committee launched a donation campaign, and Jefferson businesses responded enthusiastically, adding to the substantial donation from the township itself. Ransegnola coordinated various fundraising events, ranging from a community cookbook to a petting zoo to further finance the project.
On February 17, 1999, the Gazebo Committee met with the Township Council and outlined their choice for a location and the construction plans. The council granted authorization for the committee to move forward, and they began to research companies that built large gazebos. The Kellys went to Lancaster, PA to determine if Amish contractors could build a gazebo to their specifications, and Amish Roadside Structures indicated they could build a 25-foot, 12-sided gazebo that could be mounted directly onto a concrete base.
Darin Mastricola and Jack Kelly met with the Town of Dover Engineer Michael Hantson to discuss Dover’s gazebo. Hantson, also a township resident, explained how the gazebo was selected, reviewed the construction details, and presented the committee with several drawings. With the assistance of then Jefferson Township Engineer David Hansen and Darren Phil of Suburban Engineering, a specific site was selected on municipal property at 1033 Weldon Road. The Jefferson Township Planning Board provided a courtesy review of the plans and discussed the location and construction, approving the site plan on August 10, 1999 and memorializing it on September 14, 1999.
On December 20, 1999, the committee ordered a Victorian-style gazebo from Amish Roadside Structures for $14,850, with construction scheduled for the spring of 2000. They held a groundbreaking ceremony March 4, 2000, Victor Simonelli of Oak Ridge completed the concrete base for the gazebo, and Ed Newsom of Lake Hopatcong installed the preliminary electrical work.
A Dream Realized
Amish Roadside Structures arrived in Jefferson at 6 a.m. on the morning of April 29, 2000 and completed the construction by 4:30 that afternoon! The entire cost of the gazebo upon completion was $35,000. PNJ Landscaping completed the landscaping and construction of the walkway and apron, and NJ Master Gardner Roberta Shaw took over maintenance of the areas and the Buy-a-Brick program for The Walk of Pride so the public could purchase commemorative brick pavers.
The committee held a dedication ceremony on Sunday, June 4, 2000 with Darin Mastricola as Master of Ceremonies. Mayor Russell Felter welcomed visitors, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen was the guest speaker, and the Jefferson Township Community Band performed the very first concert at the new gazebo.
Plaques mounted on large stones at the site memorialize the members of the original gazebo committee; the names of the contributors to the Gazebo Fund; those members of the Jefferson Arts Committee who have passed away — Debbie and Ben Smead, Marian Petti, Alfred Sorokach, Anne Littlehales, and Brooke Hardy; and the original Gazebo Committee members who have passed away — Debbie and Ben Smead and Patti Otto.
In March of 2006, the Gazebo Committee dissolved the corporation and became part of the Jefferson Arts Committee, and the gazebo itself became the property of the Township of Jefferson.
The gazebo serves as a community gathering place for wedding, holiday, and prom photographs, and mayors marry many couples inside the structure. Each December, the gazebo is adorned with white lights as the site for the township Christmas tree for the annual tree lighting ceremony and Santa’s arrival. The gazebo serves as the starting point of the Junior Woman’s Club’s annual Wrobo Run, the Police Department’s Annual Night Out, JTCONNECT’s Light-a-Luminary event, and some of the Jefferson Township Public Library’s special events.
The brick walkway around the gazebo was extended several years ago to provide a larger performance area for the musicians and singers to use outside of the structure itself and large enough for dancing as Debbie Smead envisioned years ago. Since 2001, the Jefferson Arts Committee, the Township of Jefferson, the Jefferson Township Public Library, and the free will donations of appreciative concert attendees have allowed exciting free concerts featuring professional entertainers to continue on summer nights.
Last year, the Arts Committee installed new interior and exterior LED lighting and a paddle fan and hope to upgrade the landscaping, add a few benches on the grass, and replace the pole lights on the walkway. Some of these improvements will be financed from generous donations recently made in memory of Patricia Otto and past donations made in memory of the Smeads.
As the 20th anniversary of the Jefferson Township Gazebo approaches, it still stands majestically beside the entrance driveway leading into the municipal complex. It’s a beautiful landmark, and the site is expected to continue to be used for township events and activities for many more years to come.
As Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”