Pride in Cranford Awards to highlight Irene Volunteers

CRANFORD — Susanne Capece has devoted 31 years volunteering her time to others, but her quiet selflessness really shined right after Cranford was devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.

It was then that this longtime resident went throughout the flood area picking up laundry soaked in muddy floodwater, took it home to wash, fold and return to those who were trying to cope with the tremendous loss suffered during the storm. In fact, Capece took home so much laundry, her washing machine ran day and night for weeks.

This is just one story about the seven volunteers being honored at the Annual Pride in Cranford Awards banquet being held at the Grand Centurions in Clark Wednesday.

It has been several years since the Cranford Chamber of Commerce held the awards banquet, according to Barbara Bilger, former mayor, chamber treasurer and, in addition, chairwoman of the Pride in Cranford Awards banquet.

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“Last year Irene hit so we never held it. The year before we had a chamber sponsored cruise, so we are behind in honoring those who give so much to the community day in and day out,” Bilger said.

This year, in addition to the seven residents recognized for volunteering their services over a period of many years, there also will be a second category of 20 organizations that gave their time and effort to help their neighbors during and after Tropical Storm Irene.

“This was such a tragic time for the township, so many people could not live in their homes, others were devastated by the damage, and yet their neighbors and even strangers came to their aid,” Bilger said.

‘The Magnificent Seven’

Capece, Bilger pointed out, has spent 31 years volunteering for various organizations in Cranford. Not only has she been involved with the Green Thumb Club helping to beautify public sites throughout the township, but she also is a St. Michael’s Church volunteer and sits on the Cranford Senior Housing Board. Capece’s own 98-year-old mother resides in Cranford Senior Housing.

“Even though she keeps herself very busy, Susanne still found time during Irene to not only take in flood victims wash, but she also went all over buying bleach for  residents who were trying to clean their basements,” Bilger said, adding that Capece even pitched in to help these residents tackle their mud filled homes.

“Susanne is a very special person, she truly is a person who quietly volunteers behind the scenes and does it with such love,” Bilger said.

Gail Orshak, the wife of the township’s former postmaster, is another longtime volunteer who is affectionately known as the “happy bunny” by youngsters for many years.

For the past ten years, Bilger said, Orshak has been the friendly Easter Bunny who greets children at the annual Easter events.

“This is not a very easy job, but Gail has never said no to our request and has made many Cranford children happy at Easter time,” the former mayor said.

When it comes to Christmas, Bilger said, few would deny that Don Sweeney has been a great Santa Claus the last 15 years.

“You can tell that Don is a Santa who loves children and he takes the time to speak with each child as they are sitting on his lap,” Bilger explained, also adding that Sweeney also rides the Christmas Trolley around town each year, singing holiday songs with children and their parents.

William Curtis, Bilger said, is another volunteer who has devoted years to the Cranford Historical Society. Serving as a trustee with the society since 2000, Curtis has been responsible for maintaining both the Hanson House on Springfield Avenue and the more than 100-year-old Crane-Phillips House Museumon on North Union Avenue adjacent to the municipal building.

“In 2004 he restored the original wet plaster Township Seal plaque, which was created in 1962 by renowned artist Leslie Crump,” Bilger said.

Another volunteer, Lynn Petschow has given many volunteer hours of time and energy working for the Cranford Baseball League, even serving as past treasurer.

“During the holiday season, Lynn worked behind the scenes with her late husband, Kurt,” Bilger said, explaining that this couple was “the backbone to his many years of service to this community.”Lynn, along with her husband, helped set up Christmas decorations downtown.

“Lynnis an example of a person that truly contributes to the success of events, offering her time when needed,” she added.

The list is long when it comes to Paul Lioy and his accomplishments related to the environment, Bilger said. Founder and president of the International Society of Exposure Science, named b yRutgers in 2008 as Distinguished Alumnus in Mathematics, Engineering and Physical Sciences, he was on the executive committee of the New York and New Jersey Consortium for National Children’s Study. He also is the author of the book “Dust,” the inside story of its role in the Sept. 11, 2001 aftermath and just received the Frank Chambers Award for Lifetime Achievement in Air Pollution, just to name a few.

Matt Polsky, co-founder of the District Environmental Education committee that created and conducted a district recycling assessment, Bilger said, supported district recycling efforts and provided information on renewable energy.

“He has worked for many years with the Cranford Public School district on many projects that provide solutions for a better, safer and healthier Cranford,” Bilger noted.

Those involved with the 20 organizations that will be honored at the chamber awards dinner were nominated by residents who had words of praise for each of these volunteers who came to the aid of those in need during Tropical Storm Irene.