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How Volunteers Brought a Large Celebration to a Small Town

Sophie Heyman

By Sophie Heymann
Mayor, Closter Borough

 


The Borough of Closter covers three and a half square miles at the very northeastern tip of New Jersey. On April 25, 1710 the first deed to property in what is now the borough was signed, between Resolvert and Barent Naugle and an English land speculator. When one of the borough historians, Tim Adriance, a direct descendent, informed Closter’s Historic Commission of that momentous occasion, in the fall of 2009, it was decided to celebrate that date.

 

The Historic Commission, led by their dynamic chairwoman, Irene Stella, and I decided to call a meeting of various components of our community to gauge their interest. That very first meeting gave an indication of the enthusiasm we would encounter. But because of the pressure of year-end activities, the ad hoc committee didn’t really get off the ground until after the first of the year.

The decisions we made at those first meetings culminated in a community-wide, month-long celebration, 33 separate events, the involvement of nearly 100 volunteers, full-page media coverage in four newspapers, a TV program, and thousands of attendees. And we accomplished all that without using one cent of borough funding, and with only limited support from one borough employee and a librarian. Fund-raising, planning, graphics, photography were all done by volunteers, who also prepared the exhibits, guided the tours, decorated the venues, served the refreshments, prepared the games, edited copy, played the music, and did the myriad other tasks that were required.

At first, our expectations were rather modest. Not having a clue as to the potential power of our brochure as a fund-raising instrument, we settled on a minimal budget, subsidized by the Historical Society. The chairman of our museum board, Kurt Haiman, volunteered to design posters and have them printed at no cost. Our borough historian, Tim Adriance, volunteered to provide artifacts and several lectures. Our superintendent of schools, Joanne Newberry, suggested she would encourage classroom projects as well as a concert of period pieces by our middle school orchestra, and our recreation commissioner, Jim Oettinger, said he would coordinate the annual Little League parade with the celebration.

But when word of our plans got out, many other eager groups asked to join. Civic pride runs deeper in Closter than we anticipated. Help came from Jerry and Louise Boyarsky, who offered help in fundraising. Their efforts helped us revise our budget, as follows:

Brochures................................................. $1000
Newspaper ad.............................................. 500
Program support.......................................... 500
Clearwater (river boat)................................. 2000
Gift to donors.............................................. 500

Help also came from Jeanne Stella and Lewis Bosco, who designed a superb brochure, at no cost to us, and the very many other volunteers who supported various events at their own cost.

Tim Adriance not only came through with his own participation, but also arranged for a reenactment of an actual raid that took place in Closter during the Revolutionary War. He also scheduled a speaker, Arnold Brown, who discussed the black colony in Closter.

Other residents offered their services:

• a local nursery school, Lindgren’s, provided a Saturday morning of 18th and 19th century games for kids;
• a local businessman, Joe Miele, hired a horse and carriage, as well as a hay wagon for tours through town;
• two members of the Historic Society, Bill Cahill and Doug Radick, volunteered to give guided tours through our historic district;
• the library volunteered to direct a week-long scavenger hunt;
• a former councilman, Joel Zelnick and his wife, Francine, mounted a program of by-gone music; and,
• our Nature Center hired a storyteller to talk about Indians and early settlers in the Closter area.

We finally had to say, ”enough.”

militia re-enactment firing muskets

The hard work was still ahead: We needed to find storefronts to exhibit the posters made by our fourth graders, and for some of the artifacts and maps provided by the Historic Commission. We had to organize the activities so that there would be a minimum of conflicts and enough volunteers. The Historic Commission’s members, Jennifer Rothschild and Bobbie Bouton-Goldberg, prepared a 40-foot wall of maps and photos of Closter’s history, and artifacts and exhibits were skillfully displayed at the Belskie museum by their volunteer curator. There were refreshments to be arranged for, for a myriad of events, and the Council Chambers needed to be decorated for our reception, a job very skillfully performed by landscape architect and head of our Closter Improvement Commission, Eric Mattes, with plant materials loaned by our local nursery, Lupardi’s.

The heavens smiled on us, and the weather held out for all the outdoor activities. Many of the indoor events were oversubscribed, as was our final event, a sail on the Hudson River sloop, Clearwater, listed on the National Register of historic sites. And there is a post-event to look forward to.

The Annual parade of the 12 fire departments in our mutual aid district will be taking place in October in Closter. The Sheriff’s office is helping as well, by sending its equestrian parade team.

people on a tour in Closter
Citizens of Closter enjoy a house tour to celebrate the town's 300th anniversary.

We are still gleaning kudos—especially for the “thank you” gift we provided for our major donors and volunteers: a memory stick in a leather case, containing roughly a hundred photographs of all the events.

Many New Jersey towns were established, as was Closter, in the early 1700s. Celebrating this event is a spectacular means of building pride and esprit-de-corps, and providing our children with a very personal history lesson. Even in these less than favorable economic times, there are merchants and residents who are ready to provide what they can because of the love and respect they have for their hometowns.

In many cases, you just need to ask. Closter’s “Promotions in Motion” a candy manufacturer, provided a goody bag for each of the Little Leaguers in the parade. One of our Planning Board members provided the coffee and tea for our reception. If we hadn’t encouraged a network to reach out in an ever-widening circle, we would not even have known about these generous citizens.

To get started, it takes only one person with fire and enthusiasm to encourage others, especially one or two with creative ideas, and one with organizational skills and attention to detail. Each town certainly has outstanding photographers and artists happy to apply their skills for such a cause. Schools are eager to participate in projects that deal with their own town’s history. And it is much easier to recruit volunteers for a one-time cause than for ongoing activities.

I encourage any other community fortunate enough to contemplate noting a historic anniversary to embrace the opportunity. All of us in Closter will be happy to share our experiences.

 

 

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