Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Joseph Rotunda

Many of us have passed by Rotunda Pool in Newark on our way to St. Lucy’s Church or coming out of Branch Brook Park and have not given it a second thought. It is, however, an important location in the community and New Jersey Italian heritage.

The Rotunda Pool plaque
Source: Newark Historical Society

Rotunda Pool is named after Private Joseph Ralph Rotunda Jr., the first soldier from Newark’s Italian-American community to die in World War II. The dedication of this pool stands a testament to his sacrifice, as well as the sacrifices of the countless Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian decent that fought on behalf of their new homeland. The official renaming from Clifton Pool to Rotunda Pool took place in 1966.

By the early twentieth-century, approximately 21,000 Italian immigrants made Newark the fifth largest Italian-American community in the country.

Private Rotunda was killed by a land mine while serving with Cannon Company, 168th Infantry, in Tunisia, Northern Africa, as part of the first invasion forces. He had only been overseas for three months. A letter to the family from Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, dated June 9, 1943, informed the family that their son was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

On June 16, 1943, the Newark Evening News reported on an announcement from the War Department which listed the death of Private Joseph R. Rotunda, Jr. as one of four soldiers from New Jersey to lose their lives in combat. In total 229 U.S. soldiers were reported killed in action in North Africa and 630 more wounded, 11 of whom were from New Jersey.

In February 1944, after seeking permission from Joseph Rotunda, Sr., officials from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) designated the Pvt. Joseph R. Rotunda Jr. Post (No. 848) in honor of the “first soldier from the First Ward to be killed in action in this war.” This post became the ninth V.F.W. unit in Newark.

So next time you ride past Rotunda pool, maybe take a moment and bow your head or tip your cap to the memory of Private Rotunda.

Italian Heritage in New Jersey: Connie Francis

When I thought about who I should highlight first this year during Italian Heritage Month, I wanted to go with a local hero. Yes, she is a favorite daughter of New Jersey, but she is also a favorite daughter of my hometown, Belleville.

Connie Francis, 1961; Credit: ABC Television, under Creative Commons License

Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, known professionally as Connie Francis, was born into an Italian-American family in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark. She attended Arts High in Newark for two years before attending Belleville High School, where she graduated as salutatorian from BHS Class of 1955. The high school auditorium is now named in her honor. Additionally, “Connie Francis Way” can be found at the corner of Greylock Parkway and Forest Street in Belleville, near the house in which she grew up.

Students sitting in that auditorium today may not know the importance of Concetta Franconero to our “Beautiful Village,” but those of us of a certain age certainly do. Early in her career, Arthur Godfrey made two recommendations to her. First that she drop the use of her accordion in her act. Second, that she change her name from Concetta Franconero changed her name to Connie Francis “for the sake of easier pronunciation.” So she officially became Connie Francis to the world.

Her life has been full of triumph and tragedy. She’s had many top songs we all know and love. I am particularly fond of Where the Boys Are and her rendition of Mama. She also acted in several movies during her young career. In the late 1960s, Francis went to Vietnam to sing for the troops. Through the years, she has performed charity work for organizations such as UNICEF, the USO and CARE.

Deep sadness struck her life several times, unfortunately. The first time was in Westbury, New York, following a performance at the Westbury Music Fair. Francis was the victim of a brutal rape and robbery after an intruder broke into her hotel room and held her at knifepoint. She nearly suffocated under the weight of a heavy mattress the culprit had thrown upon her. Her attacker was never caught.

In 1977, Francis underwent nasal surgery and completely lost her voice. She went through three more operations to regain her singing voice, but it took four more years to regain that lovely voice of hers.

In 1981, further tragedy struck Francis when her brother, George Franconero, Jr., with whom she was very close, was murdered by Mafia hitmen. Franconero, who had twice given law enforcement officials information concerning alleged organized-crime activities, was fatally shot outside his home in North Caldwell.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan appointed her as head of his task force on violent crime. She has also been the spokeswoman for Mental Health America’s trauma campaign. She worked hard to turn her personal tragedy into a story of triumph and inspiration for others.

In 1984, Francis published her autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now?, which became a New York Times bestseller.

Francis continued to perform and record and prove what Belleville and Jersey tough means. That’s why I felt she deserved to be the first person I honored during this year’s Italian Heritage Month.

October is Italian Heritage Month

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I am a proud New Jerseyan. I am also very proud of my Italian heritage. October in Italian Heritage Month and as I do each year, I plan on writing about New Jerseyans of Italian heritage that have made a significant impact on our state or our country.

Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent have a unique history all our own. More than 1.45 million residents of New Jersey reported having Italian heritage according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The town of Fairfield is home to the most residents with Italian heritage in the United States. Seven of the top 20 towns in the United States with the most residents of Italian ancestry are right here in the Garden State.

The great migration from Italy took place between 1880 and 1914; a total of 13 million Italians came to America and made it home.

At its height, Seventh Avenue in Newark was one of the largest Little Italies in the United States with a population of over 30,000 within one square mile. The center of that neighborhood was St. Lucy’s Church, built by Italian immigrants in 1891. St. Lucy’s holds the National Shrine to St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers.

That’s where the story of my family begins. The First Ward of Newark.

Like the countless other Italians that came to America, they came to build a better life for their family and future generations. They worked hard, many changed their names to sound American, they learned English, and became citizens. My Uncles joined the military along with the 1.5 million other Italian Americans during World War II, making up 10% of the total fighting force, eager to prove their loyalty to their new home country. While they were off fighting against their homeland, however, tens of thousands of Italian immigrants in America were subject to curfews, forced from their homes, and lived in military camps without trials. They were considered Enemy Aliens.

These Italian immigrants came to America looking for a new home and were ready to prove themselves as good Americans and work. Unfortunately, they weren’t always able to find it. “Italians need not apply” was a common theme. We were looked down upon, no matter where we went in the country.

The lynching of eleven Sicilians in New Orleans in 1891 was the largest and most outrageous mass lynching in United States history. The lynchings took place on March 14, 1891. New Orleans Police Superintendent, David Hennessy was gunned down in October 1890. As he gasped his last breath, he supposedly uttered, “The dagos did it.” Officials quickly arrested numerous area Italian immigrants and attributed the slaying to “Mafia activity.” After a public meeting where people called the Italians “not quite white,” a mob gathered shouting “Hang the dagos!!” To avenge the murder of a popular police superintendent, unrestrained mobs went into the city jail and beat, clubbed, and fatally shot eleven Italian prisoners.

Dago. WOP. Guinea. Ginzo. Goombah. Just a handful of the names Italian immigrants and Americans of Italian descent have been called over the years. Each of which gets a giant eyeroll from me. They are meant to hurt. They only hurt if you let them. I remember hearing a story from my Aunt who said when they moved into a new neighborhood, a neighbor approached her mother (my Grandmother) and asked if they would be going to “our church,” to remind them they were outsiders. Without missing a beat, my Grandfather said “I though it was God’s church.”

From name calling, to lynchings, to being considered enemies of the state, to the stereotype that all Americans of Italian descent are “connected,” I say… whatever.

Let me tell you what it means to me.

Being an American of Italian descent is never forgetting where you came from and honoring it every day. It is about faith and family. It is recognizing our ethnicity is that last one it is “allowed” to be made fun of and not letting it bother us. Ours is a history of food, culture, art, and music that should be celebrated.

I am a New Jerseyan. I am an American. I am of Italian heritage. I hope you go on this historical journey on me for the next month.

It’s About Being Better

I started this blog to share with the world all that is wonderful about New Jersey. And I would say almost all my posts are positive and highlight what I love about the Garden State.

Sadly, this is not one of those posts.

Absolutely everyone who knows me knows I grew up a dedicated band kid. It shaped my young life. It taught me important skills beyond music. I learned about teamwork, pride, confidence, and the brotherhood that exists among all band members, no matter where they are located.

I am a proud kid from Belleville; what we lovingly refer to on our Facebook group as the Motherland. We may not have always liked each other, but we could always count on each other.

This is why I feel compelled to stick up for my fellow Belleville High students and, more importantly, my fellow band kids.

On September 10th, Belleville played our local rival Nutley for the Mayor’s Cup. I’ll be honest; I never paid attention to the game. I was there for halftime. While I didn’t get to the game in person, I was excited to see someone uploaded the halftime show to YouTube.

Well, I was excited.

Belleville, NJ Marching Band
The Belleville Marching Band with the Nutley football team warming up in the background and the referees chatting off to the side. Credit: Mitch Zoltowski

Excitement turned to immediate outrage. Not because of the band, but because of the Nutley football team. The band just started their halftime show when the Nutley football team appeared and actually had the audacity to start warm-ups ON THE FIELD! To make matters worse, the referees had a nice coffee clutch around the 20 yard line. The final insult is that this all took place on Belleville’s home turf.

I was completely appalled! These kids work just as hard as anyone else. They deserve respect. Where was the coach on the Nutley side? There was not one adult on the Nutley side that thought “this isn’t right?”

I feel coach Vick of the Nutley football team owes the Belleville Marching Band and their director an apology. He should lead by example and teach his kids that band kids, regardless of the town they are from, work hard and deserve their time on the field.

Coach Vick, you need to be better. And you need to teach your kids to be better.

Shame on you.

9/11: Twenty Years Later

Where were you on 9/11?

It’s a question all of us have asked each other; for those of us who were alive and old enough to remember.

Americans seem to find themselves asking that type of question every so often when a major event happens.

  • The Pearl Harbor attack
  • The assassination of President Kennedy
  • The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr
  • The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Just like everyone else, I remember every single moment of that day. The perfectly blue sky. The confusion as we tried to understand what happened. The panic as we realized we had colleagues on planes that morning. The relief when we knew they were safe. The profound sadness when we learned two colleagues from different offices were on the hijacked flights. The shock when word made it around the office that the sister of another colleague was in one of the Towers. The focus when I drove to School 9 in Belleville to check on the mother of one of my best friends from high school; her father worked in the Towers and thankfully made it home that day. As I drove down Greylock Parkway in Belleville, I couldn’t believe the Twin Towers just weren’t there. Memories run together and are separate at the same time.

A few days later I sat in shock as I thought about a job interview I had at the Towers not long before the attack. I was excited. My friend’s father coached me on how to maneuver through the security checks. I don’t remember the name of the company I was interviewing with or the name of the person from Human Resources. He was emphatic when he explained the job would be in the Towers; that it wasn’t a remote job. He told me there were people who didn’t want to work in the Towers after the first terrorist attack. I remember clear as day saying “lighting doesn’t strike twice.”

9/11 Memorial World Trade Center
A photo from my one visit to the Memorial.

Oh how wrong I was.

If that job had worked out, I could’ve been right in the middle of that chaos. That thought still gives me shivers.

Growing up in Belleville, my house backed up to Hendrick’s Field; the Essex County public golf course. Planes would fly overhead all the time as we were on the approach to Newark Airport. I rarely paid attention to the noise overhead. When I was little, however, I do remember having nightmares of planes crashing on the golf course and seeing the fairways on fire in my dreams. Once the planes started to fly overhead again and that familiar noise was in the sky, I now look up every single time.

I’m lucky. The person I was most worried about came home that day. I know thousands of families will never be complete again.

I’ve only been to lower Manhattan two times in the last 20 years. Once after “the pile” turned into “the hole.” Once after a seminar that was a few blocks away, I walked to see the memorial. I haven’t been to the museum yet.

All these years later, I’m still not ready. I can’t tell you why. I flinch when I hear someone use the term “ground zero” and they aren’t referring to the attacks. I get annoyed when I see people planning events – happy events – on 9/11 each year. I don’t understand.

We all have feelings about that day; sadness, depression, shock, anger. We felt it then and many still feel it.

But I’m here to tell you, we need to keep talking about it. You see, we have an obligation. We made a promise to never forget.

We now have an entire generation that were not alive when that horrible day happened. Just like how I wasn’t alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked. To me at first, it was just a date in history. Then I heard first-hand accounts from survivors, from men who enlisted to fight in WWII, from family members who did what they could to support the war effort. It wasn’t just history anymore. I understood more.

Just like our parents and grandparents had an obligation to us to provide their first hand accounts and talk about what they experienced, no matter how painful it may have been, we have an obligation to future generations to share our stories, no matter the pain it causes.

We promised to never forget. I intend to keep that promise.

Book Review: brat: an 80s Story

When anyone meets me for the first time, two things are obvious. I am a born-and-bred Jersey Girl and I am a Gen-Xer. I still love the music and movies of the 80s. Nowadays when I drive, there are very few radio stations I listen to; most of which are satellite and focus on music of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. My favorite movies included a small group of actors that came to be known as the Brat Pack. Everyone had their favorite. For me, it was Andrew McCarthy.

I saw a lot of myself in the characters he portrayed. In St. Elmo’s Fire, he played a wannabe writer who gets his first byline. I grew up wanting to do two things as an adult: be a writer and a photographer. While I never became a full-time accomplished writer, I do have a few bylines to my name and have a few blogs where I get to scrawl and scribble, even if no one really reads them.

So why am I telling you all this? Stick with me.

Whether it was because I was a teenager or not, the 80s were an awesome time in history (and yes, I used “awesome” on purpose). And the Brat Pack movies had a lot to do with it.

There were times watching McCarthy it almost felt like he wasn’t acting. As if those roles really fit his style. I now know in some instances that was true. Enter his book brat: an 80s story.

brat: an 80s Story by Andrew McCarthy

This fellow New Jerseyan shares his rise – and fall – and rise again in the fickle world of entertainment in his recently published book. Of course as soon as I heard about its release, I needed to read it. Trust me when I tell you, it did not disappoint. I read it over the course of two evenings. The last time I read something so quick was a book from another important figure from my youth; fellow Jersey Girl, Judy Blume, and the book was Summer Sisters.

I quickly switched back to 16 again, watching those movies, listening to that music, and doing things, well, let’s just say I am thankful social media wasn’t around.

As I read, and he mentions places in Jersey in the first few chapters, I found myself wondering if the arcade on 22 he went to was at Bowcraft (a home-grown amusement park), how everyone in Jersey MUST be good at skee-ball and if his brother ever played golf at Hendrick’s Field, the public course in Belleville behind my house. He talked about hanging out in Washington Square Park, which made me remember my first job in the City and walking over to the park and eating my lunch there while I watched the street performers. He talked about going with a friend to the second-hand clothing shops, which made me think of my regular visits to the Unique Boutique.  Like him, I went to the Raccoon Lodge. The biggest difference, however, is that he was 17. I wasn’t allowed into the City on my own until after I graduated from college. But I remember feeling just as wide-eyed as he describes his experiences of familiar places to me.

He spoke of the awkwardness of his high school years. While he was always self-conscious about looking too feminine, I was often self-conscious about looking too masculine. By the time I hit high school, my mother started to give up on getting me to “dress like a girl,” and I fell into the habit of oversized sweatshirts and jeans. I stuck to my denim jacket (complete with a music note of safety pins on the back), an Army Class A jacket I picked up at a second-hand store in Bloomfield, and my father’s camel-hair coat. Add to that my voice was kind of deep for a girl my age, which was quite obvious when I would shout over the marching band as drum major. Sophomore year I felt compelled to chop my long hair off, which completed that perfectly boyish look, even if that really wasn’t the goal. When a teacher from the high school first met my brother, he said to a colleague once he thought I was out of earshot “I’m trying to figure out if he’s more feminine or she’s more masculine.” And so it was and so it has been for most of my adult life. Many years later at a full-time job, I learned some of my colleagues referred to me as “Man Benschoten” instead of my proper last name. I never seemed to be able to outrun that “boy thing.”  Sometimes it still bothers me, sometimes I shrug and don’t care in full Gen-X fashion.

Like him, I enjoyed my time alone. For him, he smoked pot. For me, it was riding my bike over to the high school, climbing to the top of the stadium, sitting in the corner and reading. Smoking pot never even crossed my mind. As far as I knew, none of my friends did and my mother could have worked for the CIA. She found out everything. It wasn’t worth the risk.

“Like the first light of dawn, there is a transitory magic in it, a singular quality, something so fresh it seems it must be occurring for the first time.”

Like McCarthy, I found solace in the arts program. For him it was (obviously) drama and it started him down a successful path that led him to NYU. Me? Well, I never got out of the chorus/background dancers, with the exception of one actual line in the production of “It’s Christmas Charlie Brown” (“watch it lady, you almost made me drop my packages!”). I was in concert band, jazz band, chorus, orchestra, drama club, and marching band. I wasn’t “officially” on stage and light crew, but I helped out backstage with the plays before I summoned up the courage to actually try out. For me, that’s as far as my artistic journey went. I didn’t have “it.”

1986 Mercury Cougar
Me in my Cougar, 1988.
Yes, I thought I was that cool.

His announcement to major in acting when he went to college went over about as well as my announcement to major in journalism. I was pushed at every opportunity to become an attorney. When I came home with my declaration form for the Communication Department, well, I’ll just say it didn’t go over well and leave it at that. Like McCarthy, I stuck to my guns and kept with it. And I discovered I did have an aptitude for certain parts of the process. For me, it was print production and typography, along with writing.

We both had our own departmental champions. For him it was Terry Hayden. For me, it was Dr. Don McKenna and Professor Pete Rosenblum. That dynamic duo were my supporters at every turn. They told me about this thing called “prepress.” Where I get to be involved in the actual process of preparing work to go to press. I was in love. Like McCarthy, I was eager to learn all I could. Also, like McCarthy, some teachers were less than thrilled with my feeble classroom attempts. We both struggled with speech class. My prim and proper professor attempted to remove the Jersey from my accent and teach me a proper mid-Atlantic speech pattern (think Katharine Hepburn). Shocker – it didn’t work. I passed, but I think only because I just kept showing up to class. I didn’t care. I dove head first into learning all I could about prepress and writing.

Throughout the book, he has the ability to weave stories of experiences of his past and how those experiences affected his career as he continued to learn and hone his craft. I took special attention to how he handled anxiety while shooting his first feature movie, Class, and how as a director he quietly says “aaaand… action” instead of yelling “ACTION!” like we all see in the movies.

He told his mother he was a pessimist. I call myself a realist. I think they are two sides of the same coin.
Just about the same time he was becoming interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, I was becoming more and more interested in the technical aspects of photography and press work. As a girl, however, opportunities at the time were limited. At one job, I did become friendly with a stripper (not THAT kind) and would let me watch him work during my lunch and would occasionally let me make bluelines. Every so often I was told I was told I had aptitude. And just like McCarthy was told “you became a pro on this one, Andy,” I would fly high.

One page 130, he finally gets to my favorite of all the Brat Pack movies; St. Elmo’s Fire and devotes a solid twenty-something pages to it. His character, Kevin, felt like it had followed me around my entire life. Cynical, sarcastic, in the background of the group, the oversized clothes, the camel-hair coat. His behind-the-scenes account of the “Respect bongo” scene, my favorite of the entire movie, was just wonderful.

He talks about his use – and abuse – of alcohol. The year he went into rehab was the year I graduated from college. He faced his demon head on and won. Instead of thinking of it as the end of his career, he continued to push forward. He found his way to… writing.

I also give him a lot of credit for how he handled the end of his father’s life. Gracious is hardly enough to describe how he faced the situation.

Overall, I really enjoyed his writing style and his ability to construct some beautifully written sentences. Over time he came to accept his role as a member of the Brat Pack. He now understands that for many of us fellow Gen-Xers, those movies hold a special place for us. For that, I am thankful.

I hope it is a little easier bein’ you now, Mr. McCarthy.

The End of an Era: The Fireplace

Over the last year or so, New Jersey has seen many wonderful businesses close for good. Last year I shared my memories of Rosebud’s in Belleville, which closed forever. The independently-owned pharmacy I used for over a decade closed earlier this year. Now, I am sad to share the news of another closure; The Fireplace of Paramus.

The Fireplace, circa 1965. Source: The Fireplace.

The Fireplace has been a favorite of many since the mid-50s. My husband loved this place. He took me there for the first time in the early 90s when we were dating. Family-run since the beginning, it has been a favorite dinning spot for decades.

Sadly, now it is gone.

The constant barrage of pandemic-related issues over the last 18 or so months just wore down the family. They had no choice. A few days before the end of July, the following post appeared on The Fireplace’s Facebook page.

Source: The Fireplace’s Facebook page.

Fans were shocked and saddened to say the least. On the last day of this great restaurant, people lined up early, as they didn’t know how long they would be open. By 3:00 p.m., they ran out of food. The Fireplace was officially history.

News outlets from all over the tri-state area covered the last day. People reminisced about going with family and friends over the years. A Friday night dinner spot. Burgers after a movie. The memories went on and on.

Now The Fireplace itself is the memory.

I’ve said this in the past and I’ll continue to say it. I know it is tempting to just jump on Amazon and place an order with free two-day shipping. Super Walmart’s are popping up everywhere; and while they create a lot of jobs, they can decimate locally-owned businesses. I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid Amazon and shop local. Will something cost a dollar or two more? Probably. But remember you are supporting your local community. When your town is running a local breast cancer walk, who are the sponsors? When you go to a little league game, who are the team sponsors and pay for the small billboards in the outfield? Amazon? Nope. Walmart? Hardly. It’s your local diner, hardware store, and pharmacy. Members of your community. Your friends and neighbors.

Shop small.

NJ State of the Arts

It’s been awhile since I posted. Like many, life has been full of challenges as of late, but I’m doing my best to pull myself out of this slump. I’ll spare you all the details.

It is important to look for inspiration in times of crisis. And while there has been much sadness, there has certainly been much inspiration around us. Some of it comes from the compassion of our healthcare workers; some from the tenacity of our front-line workers; for me, a lot of it comes from the beauty in nature and the art that surrounds us.

Enter State of the Arts.

This wonderful program is presented on PBS and is a co-production of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and Stockton University. For the last 40 years, State of the Arts has told the stories of creativity in New Jersey. We are lucky to have such a wonderfully active community of artists, musicians, dancers, performers, and more in the Garden State and sadly not enough people are aware of it. State of the Arts works to bring these brilliant people into the light.

I look forward to every new episode and enjoy going back and watching my favorite segments over again, as well as learning more about the artists presented in each short.

A favorite recent short is “Kea’s Ark;” the story of self-taught engineer Kea Tawana from the Central Ward of Newark, who build the skeleton of a massive ark from found objects in her community during the mid-1980s. Having been born in Newark and growing in the next town over of Belleville, I found this story particularly fascinating. It also shows how important it is to share a story like this. I lived approximately 15 minutes away and had no idea this amazing structure was even erected.

I also draw great inspiration from Kea’s self-taught story. As someone who never had any formal art training beyond piano lessons as a child, I always felt I had an artist’s soul, but I’ve always been afraid to share and explore it. Kea’s story is a good reminder that you don’t need a formal education to cultivate and share your creativity. You just need to be willing to try.

I hope you will check out this amazing series on PBS. It will certainly feed your inner artist as well as teach you more about the creative people and places in our great state.

Always Bee Prepared

Nature is a truly amazing thing. Whether you like to go for a hike, fly fish, or something else, being outside is always an adventure.

Last night’s nature adventure took place at the local Roxbury Community Garden. This is my third season at the garden and it has been a great experience. I’ve met wonderful people and have enjoyed the satisfaction of planting something and watching it grow and provide food. Gardening has also been a great respite from the craziness of every day life.

Last night it also provided bees… lots of them.

Seven thousand to be exact. Roxbury is lucky enough to also offer an apiary. It is right next to the garden, so the bees can swing by and borrow a cup of pollen when they need it. Well, yesterday they decided to make a break for it.

Swarm! Swarm! Swarm!

When I arrived at the garden last night there were plenty of people taking advantage of the beautiful weather. I noticed “bugs” in the area and thought to myself that anglers fishing would certainly appreciate the evening hatch. Until I arrived at my garden plot and realized those bugs were actually bees and they decided to take up residence in my plot.

Yikes!

Honey bees are a an important part of our ecosystem. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service point to general strengths in honey bee colonies. In 2017, the United States had 2.88 million honey bee colonies, down 12 percent from the record high 3.28 million colonies in 2012, but down less than 1 percent from 2007.

We had quite the discussion as to what we should do. I decided to do what my mother always told me when I was a child and needed help; “ask for help from the friendly policeman.”

I called the Roxbury Police dispatch and explained we had a swarm at the garden and wanted to know if they had any way to contact the Environmental Commission, as they would know how to contact the bee keepers. They said they would see what they could do and would also dispatch an officer.

I was able to capture some of the fascinating process on video.

Luckily, our Garden Manager, Anne, arrived shortly after calling the police and helped us find a solution. As a member of the Roxbury Environmental Commission, she was able to reach out to a few people and come up with a plan. Enter Ken Hyman, Bee Keeper (and Anne’s neighbor).

Ken and his wife are bee keepers and bee conservationists, as well as members of the New Jersey Bee Keepers Association. They were able to come and collect just about the entire swarm of 7,000 bees safely.

An officer arrived at the garden as well to check and make sure no one was injured or stung, which we very much appreciated.

The bees moving to their new temporary home.

It was a long and fascinating process. We were all appreciative Ken and his wife were able to come so quickly and volunteer their services to resolve this specific issue. We were also appreciative the Roxbury Police checked on us to make sure no one was injured or had any allergic reactions.

So what do YOU do if you ever have a swarm of bees in your backyard?

First and foremost, do NOT take a care of Raid or other bug spray to it. Honeybees, unlike yellow jackets, are happy little insects. They pollinate flowers and make delicious honey for all of us to enjoy. According to the New Jersey Beekeepers Association, across the United States, and especially in New Jersey, the increase in development has caused a decrease in the plants and habitat that are critical to the survival of our pollinators. This reduction of food and habitat has drastically reduced pollinator populations. Widespread use of pesticides and herbicides are also influencing this decline.

The best thing to do is contact a beekeeper and ask to have the bees relocated. If we had not been able to relocate those bees, they had a very small chance of overnight survival. If you would like to encourage bees and other pollinators, do not use harsh chemicals on your lawn or in your garden. If you have a birdbath, change out the water regularly to avoid mosquito growth and provide stones or sticks in the water so they don’t drown when they land for a break and a drink. Plant a pollinator garden to encourage bees and butterflies.

If you are a Roxbury resident and are interested in joining the apiary, contact the Roxbury Environmental Commission.

It just goes to show, you never know what wonders of nature you will experience. Yesterday I was privileged to see and experience one of nature’s life cycles.

It’s Spring: Get Out!

Let’s face it; we’re all sick of being stuck inside. As the weather continues to improve, the masses will head outside to the many wonderful parks and open spaces throughout New Jersey. As families continue to cancel vacations and choose to stay local, some of the hidden gems of The Garden State may not stay quite as hidden. Here are some suggestions as you and your family head outside.

Frenchtown, New Jersey

Be a tourist in your own backyard

You could live in New Jersey your entire life and miss out on some of the best attractions, parks, museums, and more within a short drive from your home. Start your day by checking out the New Jersey tourism site to see what is right near you. The site not only provides information about places to go, it also has a calendar of events so you can get out and enjoy a special event. Like jazz? How about the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May. Want to learn about how Revolutionary soldiers survived winters during the war? Experience America’s first national historic park, Morristown National Historical Park. There’s something for everyone.

Take a step further and do even more local research by looking at county and town or city websites. The Morris County website can tell you all about the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. The Essex County website will tell you when to visit Branch Brook Park in Newark and Belleville to see the cherry blossoms in bloom (hint: it’s now!). Every town in New Jersey offers something interesting. I bet there’s even something in your own hometown you may not even know is there!

Know before you go

COVID rules are continuing to change at a dizzying pace. Make sure to go online and check the current rules so you are properly prepared. This will help avoid frustration and disappointment when you head out.

Leave only footprints

Last year, our parks saw traffic that was unprecedented. Unfortunately, some visitors did not treat our parks with the respect they deserve. Last summer Hedden Park in Morris County was closed for two weeks to repair damage from park visitors that included hauling out trash, stream repair, and taking care of damage from a dumpster fire.

Please do not leave trash behind, move rocks in streams, or harass or feed wild animals. And absolutely please do NOT leave behind PPE garbage. PPE like masks and gloves are threatening wildlife everywhere. Leave the electronics in the car (or even at home!) and enjoy the beauty of nature around you. Make sure to carry in/carry out. Take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Get out!

So take advantage of the nice weather and finally leave your home confinement. Check out one of the great New Jersey museums, visit Branch Brook Park, go down the shore, enjoy some Kohr’s frozen custard, and take a walk down the boardwalk. Just get out!