South Orange Villager of the Month
Past Villagers of the Month
The Villager of the Month award honors diversities whether physical, religious, racial, or other characteristics which have contributed to making south orange the vibrant community it is. Students may also be nominated if they have exhibited an outstanding commitment to their community.
In order to nominate a candidate, they must live or work in South Orange. Current Village employees and sitting members of Village committees are ineligible for the Villager of the Month Award. (They are eligible for other Village recognition).
Nominations are reviewed by the Community Relations Committee.
Please visit the South Orange Villager of the Month Award to nominate someone today!
2021 Villager of the Month Award Recipients
William "Bill" Dahn, November 2021
How long did you live in South Orange?
Amy and I lived in South Orange for 26 years—from March 1995 until May 2021. We raised both of our boys here and they are both graduates of Columbia HS. When bought an old Victorian in Montrose Park back when no one wanted to live in those drafty old barns and over our time there renovated the entire place and saw and lived through the spectacular rebirth of Montrose, including it being designated as a Montrose Park Historic District.
Describe your work/involvement in the South Orange community.
Originally, my involvement in the community consisted of coaching soccer and baseball in the Rec Leagues when my boys were young. Later I got involved with the Columbia High School Music Parent’s Association and was on the Marching Band Pit Crew for 6 years. I joined the Board of Adjustment in 2006.
What about the Zoning Board made you serve for 15 years?
The Zoning Board is always dealing with applications that require some sort of variance approval from the Town Zoning Ordinance so I think it is very important for such a Board to have an Architect to help the other members of the board truly understand what the applicant is proposing and also to be able to ask the applicant’s professionals pointed questions that only someone in the business would know to ask.
During my professional career I have appeared before Boards of this type on a regular basis in support of projects being proposed by my clients and I also know that from the applicant’s point of view the best Boards are those that have at least one Architect on it. I feel that the Zoning Board has to work very hard to balance the wants/ needs of applicants with the general good of the Town. Many of our applications are small scale residential applications that may have come before us because of a peculiarity in the shape, size or configuration of buildings on the site. In most of these cases there were no objectors and we tried to work with the applicant to get them to a point where an approval works for them and is conforming with the Zoning Ordinance to degree possible, given the project constraints.
The Board also gets the very large applications involving conditional uses or non-conforming uses that have impact on numerous neighboring properties, not to mention Town infrastructure. In these cases there quite often was vocal opposition to the proposal. In these cases the Board has to tune out all the noise to a degree and thoughtfully and carefully come to a conclusion. Quite often these cases end with neither the applicant nor the public being totally happy—which usually means the decisions was correct.
What project did you approve of that you felt made the best impact on South Orange?
We waded through a project in the Montrose Park district that we had in front of us for over 5 years. We initially denied the application. The applicant appealed the decision and got our initial approval overturned. The Town appealed that overturn to the appellate court and that court remanded the case back to us with specific instructions as to additional testimony we needed to hear. Without getting into the minutia of the case, it was a long and demanding process. Ultimately, we granted the applicant approval but with a large number of conditions and restrictions aimed at minimizing the impact on the surrounding neighborhood. While I am sure there are people who live in the area who were not happy with our decision I felt that the Board did an excellent job of listening to hours or testimony, sorting through it all and coming up with an approval resolution that addressed the concerns of the neighbors to the degree that we could while still allowing the applicant use of the property, as allowed by the Zoning Ordinance. It was not fun and it took a long time to come to the conclusion but I am proud of the decision the Board made.
What are your favorite things about South Orange?
What I liked best about living in South Orange was the quality of the housing stock—particularly in Montrose Park. As an Architect, my spare time (and many vacations) are spent looking at buildings. Montrose Park has an amazing inventory of different styles which provides an endless source of details to study. I have always considered myself a modernist but after living in (and renovating) an 1895 Victorian for over 25 years, I have come to have a deep appreciation for the skill and detailing involved in these buildings. We moved because our plan was to downsize and we are exploring the opportunity to build a new house from the ground up (rigidly Modernist, or course). In addition, we made many great friends here in South Orange. Be it through kids activities, involvement in school events, being active in the Montrose Park Historic District Association we have met countless great people over the years. We still live close by and our plan is to stay local to maintain those relationships.
In what ways has the South Orange community supported you?
I am not sure that there was overt support from South Orange—at least in relation to my time on the Board of Adjustment. I think that actually is a good thing because I always felt that the BOA needed to operate outside of any political influences or pressure-- either for or against-- when processing applications. I guess you could say that the support came by allowing us be independent and not feel any sort of pressure to decide one way or another.
- How long have you lived in South Orange?
We moved here in February 2015, having timed our move to ensure our son was eligible to sign up for spring recreation baseball! - I kid you not.
- Describe your work/involvement in the South Orange community.
I began volunteering for the baseball program as a team manager. Then, I raised my hand to rebuild our website and establish a social media presence. Eventually, I joined the Baseball Executive Committee and I've chaired sportsmanship, as well as co-chairing technology and serving as a rules commissioner. Since the summer of 2020, I've served as the Vice President of the Executive Committee. In addition to my work with our recreation baseball community, I also serve on the board of the Columbia High School Baseball Boosters.
- What impact do you think that moving forward with baseball in a pandemic had for the kids as well as the community?
I'm so proud of what our big team of community volunteers, alongside the South Orange Recreation department, has pulled off. We've successfully offered two spring recreation seasons and two summer travel seasons during the pandemic. It's been so refreshing for kids and parents to enjoy a "normal" activity like a baseball while the pandemic changes and challenges our daily lives. Kids can see friends and make new ones while also improving baseball and sportsmanship skills. Our youth umpires get to develop their leadership skills and confidence. For families, baseball has offered a chance to connect on the sidelines while our hundreds of volunteers have hopefully found meaning and satisfaction in making this program possible.
- What is your favorite thing about South Orange?
I love cheering on a game at a Meadowland baseball field while also getting to enjoy a concert kicking off at Flood's Hill. You can't beat that combo! Although our cool antique manual scoreboard at historic Cameron Field is a close second for me.
- In what ways has the South Orange community supported you?
We moved here from Texas and we didn't have many local connections. In these last six years, we've made so many wonderful friends through baseball, our son's school life, and the various community activities our family is involved in (such as the SOMA Cookbook Club!). I never feel alone in South Orange... I know there's always a friend or neighbor if I need anything or just want to connect. Our son--a teenager now--has thrived here, thanks to support and mentorship from teachers, neighbors, coaches, and the parents of his friends.
Columbia High School Graduate, Class of 2021
How long have you lived in South Orange?
Since 2005, just before I turned 3.
Describe your favorite thing to do as a Student in South Orange.
My favorite thing to do as a student in South Orange is to go on drives with my friends throughout town. We’ll usually stop somewhere downtown to get food first, and then drive through the reservation and Newstead enjoying the food and views.
Tell us what inspired you to be a champion to the environment.
I was inspired by other youth activists leading climate strikes across the country and the world. Their use of their voices as young people to push for change motivated me to do the same on a local level. Reading about the science behind the climate crisis was also extremely motivating -- once you know the facts about the danger our planet is in, it's hard not to take action.
You have been very involved with social justice work, please tell us 1 of the proudest moments that you had from that time.
One of the proudest moments I’ve had as an activist was at a Climate Crisis Teach-In that I organized with fellow CHS students in December 2019. The event was organized 100% by students, led by the Students for Justice club and the Environmental Club. Held at the Woodland, it was a space for activists, teachers, and organizations to share ways for community members to lead more sustainable lives. Though it was a smaller, less flashy event than the climate strikes earlier that year, it had just as much positive energy and left me with just as much hope for our planet.
What are some changes that you pushed for in the school?
My biggest priority as Student Representative to the BOE was to ensure that student voices were being heard and listened to in every decision made. I did this by distributing student surveys periodically along with advocating for students to have a place on Board committees and in other important discussions. I've also advocated for the increased usage of restorative practices to move our district away from the trend of disproportionately suspending Black students, ensuring that proper processes are in place for handling instances of sexual assault, and making our virtual learning situation more manageable and equitable.
If you had to leave a message for other students coming through the SOMSD, what would it be?
Use your voice! If there's something you see that you want changed, tell someone and take action! As students, our voices can have so much power, and we can make positive change if we speak up for what we believe in.
How has the South Orange community supported you?
I truly don't think I'd be who I am today if I didn't grow up here. Watching community activists use their voices to better our community and our country inspired me to be able to do the same. As I began to explore my interests in activism and politics further, the community was there to support me. I've been given a plethora of chances to use my voice, whether at protests supported by the town, through political campaigns for members of our Board of Trustees or in the day-to-day conversations with neighbors. While we have a lot of work to do to become a more equitable town, I'm grateful to have spent so much time here.
Where are you heading after graduation?
I’m off to Stanford next fall! I'm hoping to study a mix of political science, education policy, and mathematics.
- How long have you lived in South Orange?
- I have lived in South Orange for almost 40 years. I moved here with my husband and, at the time our only child from the Vailsburg section of Newark. We were very impressed with the connection and diversity in the Tuxedo Park neighborhood, and that's where we settled.
- Describe your work in South Orange.
- We were very impressed with the connection and diversity in the Tuxedo Park neighborhood, and that's where we settled. Almost immediately, I became active in the neighborhood association that had been formed there. I served two terms as President and enjoyed every minute of it.
By extension, I grew to appreciate other neighborhoods in town and what they contributed to the fabric of our community. Lately, as a logical extension of the work that I do as an employee of the EPA (solid waste prevention and sustainability), I've turned my attention to helping to sustain and even improve environmental conditions in town. I joined the Environmental Commission and have been very impressed with the level of knowledge and commitment of my fellow commissioners, some of whom have different expertise than I.
- Tell us about your involvement in the South Orange community.
- A few years ago, I attended a webinar that explained the Repair Cafe. Recognizing the opportunities to build community as well as avoid disposal of household items, I vowed that we absolutely had to have that win-win program in South Orange/Maplewood. I was lucky to have connected with Cathy Rowe who shared my enthusiasm. Together, we made presentations in various community groups and enlisted talented volunteers to help repair household items that might have gone to incineration. Such repair also reinforces the owners' appreciation of the value of their belongings. In pre-COVID times, we held Repair Cafe events at Morrow Church in Maplewood and we could enjoy the cafe aspect of the event as well. Now we have the sessions outdoors at the Skatehouse and consider ourselves fortunate to be able to continue the program. We had one just last weekend. We got thank you notes from the volunteers who enjoyed sharing their expertise!! The "customers" all left with newly functional items and smiles on their faces.
- What is your favorite thing about South Orange?
- I hope to continue working as a member of the Environmental Commission to continue to help our community become a zero-waste community. I also hope to become more involved with the Senior community to help maintain its vibrancy. It's obvious that South Orange is a place where people continue to want to stay.
- How has the South Orange community supported you?
- There are many aspects of South Orange that I enjoy, such as the concerts and the library. I love knowing the library staff and feel that they personalize my experience there. It makes the town seem homey. However, my very favorite aspect of South Orange is the town pool. I was thrilled that it was open last year during a very challenging summer. I used to really enjoy bringing my family there when my children were young. I enjoyed the exercise and the easy opportunities to socialize and conduct neighborhood business. Now, as a more mature adult, I highly value the serenity and calm of my pool experience. It was invaluable and really made my day!
TapInto SOMA Article: Volunteers Sew, Glue and More at the First SOMA: Two Towns for All Ages Repair Cafe
Village Green Article: Don’t Toss It — Fix It! Repair Cafe is Back to Help South Orange-Maplewood Recycle
Dr. Hugh Synder
How long have you lived in South Orange?
I have lived in South Orange for 16 years with my wife, Caroline, and my son, Brodie, and daughter, Logan, and a rotating pair of wiener dogs, currently Ginger and Zeus.
Describe your work in South Orange.
I am a Family Physician serving many South Orange Residents from my office in Summit and had a satellite office in town from 2016-2018. I host medical Students in my office from Rutgers Medical School's Newark Campus. Pre-Covid-19, (and post!?) I volunteered one night a month at a Medical Student-Run Free clinic in Newark for uninsured patients.
I was Medical Director of the Seton Hall Student Health Center from 2010-2018, where I treated Seton Hall students and taught Seton Hall Physician's Assistant students. I have been also been the Medical Director for the Village of South Orange since 2013.
Tell us about your involvement in the South Orange community.
I partnered with President Sheena Collum and Trustee Stephen Schnall and the South Orange Recreation Department to organize the SO Fit program from 2015 to 2017.
To help my community, I also acted as Neighborhood Watch Captain coordinating Crime and Safety communications between police and residents.
- Sponsored an outdoor viewing of "Field of Dreams," at Floods Hill for the movie's 30 year anniversary in 2019. Its theme about second chances resonated with me at that point because I was returning to work after being out on disability.
- Coached the goalies in the Maplewood Lacrosse Club the year my son played on the team, and last year I retired from my small role helping organize our neighborhood block party.
- AND, the year my son played Cal Ripken Little League, I brought a camp stove and cooked and gave away hotdogs during afternoon games. Soon other parents started bringing sides and beverages, and we had the best season ever! And our team won their age group!
What is your favorite thing about South Orange?
My favorite thing about South Orange is the people. I love living among my friends and patients alongside Seton Hall students and professors and coaches and Jespy House clients, the talented musicians and artists, the friendly restaurant owners, local handymen and contractors, and the mechanics at the garage that keep my old jeep running and the pest control specialist that helps me get the squirrels out of my front porch roof.
Additionally, I think the police do a great job and my interactions with them have made me feel safe and protected. One time we thought we smelled something burning and called the fire dept, they noticed that all of our smoke detectors were old and replaced them before they left.
How has the South Orange community supported you?
The South Orange community really came through for our family when, in 2018, at age 48, I woke up with my right arm, leg and face paralyzed from a stroke that occurred while I slept. This community of friends, neighbors, and patients completely supported us through a difficult time. Someone donated a laundry pick-up service. A neighbor gave me an antique wooden wheelchair, so I could recover "period-appropriate" to our Montrose Park Historic District home. Before I was able to drive on my own, people gave me rides.
Perhaps the most personal support I got was from friends and neighbors while I was alone in my house while out of work on disability, who took the time to pick me up to go out for lunch at one of the downtown spots. We would sit at an outside table, and people walking by would stop and wish me luck in my recovery. I really was buoyed through that storm by the community. And still when it snows someone always clears our sidewalk before I can get my teenager out of bed to do it.
The Village Green Article on the SOFIT Challenge
Proclamation Delivered on March 8, 2021 Board Meeting
Video: Coming Soon
South Orange Resident
Currently raising two boys in South Orange
Environmental Commission Alternate Board Member
Responsible for managing an environmental blog, South Orange Duck Pond Facebook page
Works closely with the library to help educate the children on the environment
Create Fireside Storytime working with the South Orange Fire Department and the South Orange Public Library
Received a Grant from ANJEC to help cull the invasive species in the South Orange Duck Pond
Co-Founder of the Meadowland Park Conservancy
Proclamation Delivered at Lee Boswell May Street Dedication
Video: Coming Soon
- Longtime South Orange Resident
Raised 2 Children in South Orange
Former President of South Orange Historical and Preservation Society
"Downtown After Sundown" Live Music Concert Summer Concert Series
24-Hour Live Music Jamboree
Ballot Box Bonanza
During COVID-19, Gregory Burrus worked closely with the South Orange Village Center Alliance (SOVCA) in order to create engagement in the downtown area surrounding the businesses by bringing music back to the downtown area. Gregory Burrus recruited bands to work every weekend through the end of Summer, Fall, and Winter.
*Photo Credit: Gregory Burrus
Food Pantry at Our Lady of Sorrows
Our Lady of Sorrows is a Mend Food Pantry
The Pantry is open on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month.
What Can You Do as a Resident?
- The Food Pantry organizes their food needs and volunteer opportunities on our Sign-Up Genius: http://bit.ly/OLSPANTRY and via emails.
- Food donations can be brought to The Rectory front door at 217 Prospect Street. Drop-off hours are: 7am-4pm Monday to Saturday; and 8am-noon on Sunday.
- For monetary donations, which allow us maximum flexibility in managing our food supply, checks (payable to OLS Food Pantry) can be mailed to the Parish Office at the above address or donations made online at https://olschurch.com/parish-
2020 Villager of the Month Award Recipients
PROCLAMATION HONORING AND COMMENDING THE MAPSO YOUTH COALITION AS "VILLAGERS OF THE MONTH" FOR AUGUST 2020 FOR THEIR WORK IN THE TOWNSHIP OF SOUTH ORANGE VILLAGE <p>
WHEREAS, it is the intention of the Village President and the Board of Trustees of the Township of South Orange Village to monthly recognize individuals in the Village for their noteworthy contributions to the betterment of the Village; and
WHEREAS, upon recommendation of the South Orange Community Relations Committee (CRC); the Township of South Orange Village ("Village") is pleased to honor the members of the MAPSO Youth Coalition for their social justice work in the Village; and
WHEREAS, Carmen Maitinez, Former Director of the Oakland Library, said: "The more we increase the active participation and partnership with young people, the better we serve them. And the more comprehensively we work with them as service partners, the more we increase our public value to the entire community."; and
WHEREAS, in early June 2020, the MAPSO Youth Coalition formed and is composed of youth from South Orange and Maplewood to promote racial justice in policing, education and action. These youth, up to the age of 26, have worked to embed anti-racism in SOMA, Essex County and NJ at large; and
WHEREAS, many of the MAPSO Youth Coalition faces have become familiar to the community as they took part in other groups that focused on climate change, student rights and rights for the disenfranchised; and
WHEREAS, during the height of the COVID pandemic, the country witnessed the murder of a George Floyd in Minneapolis by a Minneapolis Police Officer and the subsequent Black Lives Matters protests that began forming; and
WHEREAS, the youth that makeup MAPSO Youth Coalition organized quickly to create and promote visible protests and events through our community. These protests and events created a way for the South Orange community to take part locally and provide our community with a way to express their views on racial inequities and negative policing practices. Recognizing the continued impact that COVID has on the community, each protest and event encouraged people to be socially distant and to wear face coverings; and
WHEREAS, the first event that the MAPSO Youth Coalition organized was a Juneteenth Celebration, which celebrates the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States which happened two years earlier under the Emancipation Proclamation; and
WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition next focused on the importance of voting and understanding who our elected officials were by co-hosting a Town Hall on Freeholder Candidate Q&A Forum; and
WHEREAS, recognizing injustices for students in our schools, they assisted on creating a Student Bill of Rights to be provided to the local elected officials; and
WHEREAS, the next event was an Independence from Independence Day Walk and Rally in conjunction with SOMA Justice that focused on recognizing Juneteenth and educating the community on the disparity of perceived freedom by recognizing Independence Day over Juneteenth; and
WHEREAS, since then, the MAPSO Youth Coalition has attended many BOT meetings, the Community Police Collaborative and more to ensure that they are being heard; and
WHEREAS, the MAPSO Youth Coalition continues to have an important impact in creating dialogue around social issues within our community. They embody traits and characteristics in youth that we want to see in our leaders in recognizing an issue, bringing attention to it and providing forums and solutions to rectifying it. They continue to grow in numbers to more than 30 youth and are constantly mentoring the next generation; and
WHEREAS, our South Orange community prides itself on the diversity of our residents and in 2017 declared that "Everyone Belongs Here". In order to continue to ensure that is occurring, we honor organizations like the MAPSO Youth Coalition in keeping us motivated, bringing light to the tough issues in our community and looking out for their fellow citizens. NOW, THEREFORE, I, SHEENA C. COLLUM, Village President of the Township of South Orange Village, County of Essex, State of New Jersey, on behalf of the residents of the Township of South Orange Village, the Village Board of Trustees and myself, hereby do recognize and commend the MAPSO Youth Coalition and its members as "Villagers of the Month" for August 2020 for the work they have done in, and their wonderful contributions in the Township of South Orange Village and I encourage all citizens and residents to celebrate the valuable contributions of this dynamic group of youth and to encourage the members of MAPSO Youth Coalition to keep up the outstanding work.
FLAG (Front Line Appreciation Group) of South Orange and Maplewood
View Proclamation awarded on September 14, 2020
Founders/Members: South Orange Residents Ava Martin, Barbara Santoro, and Roshni Patel
Has over 1,300 members
YouTube Video (video credit Jamie Meier of Live Love Lens)
Kudoboard of Participating Restaurants
Article about FLAG's partnership with the Columbia High School Prom Shop
Participating South Orange Restaurants
|Cait and Abby's|| La Villa Mexican and Salvadoran Food
|Giorgio's Ristorante|| Pirate's Pizza
||Town Hall Deli|
|Grid Iron Waffle Shop|| Sonny's Bagels
||Walia Ethiopian Restaurant|
|Inkosi Café|| The Dancing Blender
|Jackie and Son|| The Order
View Proclamation awarded on September 14, 2020
Founders/Members: Jacob Ezzo, Zubin Guha, Nino Badridze, Jesse Busch, Devyani Guha, Irene Langloi, Mark Litwin, Jim Myracle, Luke Nunn, Brad Schenker, Kevin Wadsworth, and Christina Wright
Delivered 47,712 face shields, 14,645 ear savers, and supported 39 hospitals and included the distribution of face shields to our local South Orange EMS, Police and Fire Departments
SOMa Sewing Volunteers
View Proclamation awarded on September 14, 2020
Founders/Members: Alba Hochman, Jean Ng-Gilio, Maria Sensenic, Tina Kelley; More than 517 volunteers
Donated 30,000 masks to hospitals and non-profit organizations including 1,000 to the Navajo Nation
2019 Villager of the Month Award Recipients - No One Nominated
2018 Villager of the Month Award Recipients
There’s a moment in many a young life when, suddenly, your brain clicks in and your outlook changes forever. For Chaz Gordon, that moment was after a group skating lesson at age 8. As he unhappily compared his performance to that of the older kids in his theatrical skating troupe, his dad, Ken Gordon, launched into the first serious talk Chaz recalls about self-motivation. “Never give up,” said Ken. “You have to keep pushing.” His mom, Lynn, a former national figure skating champion, chimed in too: “When you feel you’re about to fall back, that’s when you give 10% more.”
Steeled for “pushing through,” Chaz became a top-level competitor with the U.S. Figure Skating Association. He brought home bronze and silver medals from Logrono, Spain in 2013, and Paris in 2015. He got there practicing 2 to 3 times a week, 1 to 4 hours per session. He spent 10 years with Bravo Theater on Ice at Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, the only competitive theatrical skating troupe in New Jersey. Realizing the mirrored skills between skating and dance, Chaz took up hip-hop in middle school, then became a dance performer, choreographer and instructor for the Columbia High School Special Dance Company. For Chaz, “pushing through” meant more than athleticism. He graduated from Columbia High in June with a perfect 4.0 average. He was a mentor and coach to multiple youth groups, founder of an annual coat drive, and a leader in the North Jersey Chapter of Jack and Jill of America. Now, he’s an aspiring clinical psychologist, aiming to follow in his mother’s professional footsteps.
As he heads to college this summer, Chaz leaves with a foundation of care nurtured by his family and the community of South Orange. Here, he volunteered at two food pantries and served as a skating mentor to Special Olympics athletes. He treasures his four-year participation in the Minority Achievement Committee at CHS. MAC, as it’s called, inspires academic excellence among African-American students. In his third year, Chaz joined MiniMAC, taking the program to Jefferson Elementary School. As MiniMAC progressed through the school year, discussions between older and younger students grew more serious, and once, Chaz opened up about a defining personal experience. A local police officer “tried to make me feel like I was out of place,” he told the kids. “It was very scary to me.” Some of the kids were shocked. Some got emotional. Most said Chaz didn’t deserve the treatment he got. “It was eye-opening for them and it made them appreciate the lessons of MiniMAC because it’s all about who they are as people. We try to teach selflove.” Later this summer, Chaz is off to UCLA to study psychology and try out for the school skating team. He hopes someday to be a psychological researcher, studying the impact of the classroom setting on minority students. It’s an aspiration worthy of his racially aware upbringing in South Orange. Chaz Gordon will be prepared for his future. After all, he knows from his family about pushing through, and from his community about sharing his heart. What more could he need?