People who made a difference

“She believes. Mary DeCeseare believes.”

So opened the first-ever “Morris People” column I wrote for the Morris County (NJ) Daily Record in 2007. I wrote that weekly column until 2011, when we all were, well, discharged.

The goal of the column was to highlight one person’s life and activities.

The trick was to write the column in the voice of the subject, not in my voice, to highlight what they said, not what I wanted them to say.

Cleaning up, I found a file with maybe 100 columns, background and contact info intact.

Reading them, I rediscovered why I had suggested the project: The people I spoke with made a difference.

I write fiction now, mysteries mostly. Check me out on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The lives that these columns represent are reflected in my fiction. It is a reminder of the close world we inhabit.

So from time to time, I think I’ll sprinkle  a few posts  here to celebrate their lives.

So in no particular order, some lives.

Mary DeCeseare, who believed, sets the tone.

In 2000, she and her friend Gloria Touhey  founded the Silver Brigade, Denville senior citizens pushing for tax relief.

“The big deal candidates would offer sympathy and encouragement, but no solutions,” she said.

“They’re saying the same things today,” she said.

When asked by friends what they could do, she offered this advice: “Fight on.”

Dawn Dodsworth was an adjunct professor at Centenary College in Hackettstown teaching criminal justice, and a victim advocate for the Crime Victim’s Law Center.

She was also a crime victim.

“I will always be a crime victim. I will not forget that.  I’ll never lose that scar. I believe we are supposed to leave this world better than we found it. The legacy of our  life is in not what you talk about but the life you lead, the example you make.”

Mike Lowrey of Parsippany invented Rufus, a recyclable sorting robot.

He studied industrial films to see how curbside recycling was handled.

“Thomas Edison said he invented 1,000 ways not to make a lightbulb. I always ask myself how can I solve this problem?”

For Sarah Murray Dundas, her appointment to the state’s  Martin Luther King Jr.  Commission was an opportunity to repay lessons learned growing up in the middle of 1960s urban riots.

“The idea that Martin Luther  King represented just a black issue is wrong. It is much more. It’s about diversity generally,  about Jews nor being accepted, about Asians, Koreans, Muslims.”

I thought, as a reporter,  that I had a handle on how modern poverty worked. I had been given lessons in 1996-97 by Georjean Trinkle, then of Norwescap, who ran job training classes for women during the Bill Clinton welfare reform era. (Her story can be found here:

Then I walked into a meeting with Andrea Conway, Michelle Roers and Stephanie Hoopes Halpin of the United Way of Northern New Jersey and was introduced to ALICE. And got schooled.

Hoopes Halpin was a statistician and mathematician whose committee redefined with numbers the real  relationship between work, life situations  and poverty.

They created ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – as a paradigm for the new, struggling working family. It’s not about being lazy.

“If you view 2, 3, 4 percent poverty in Morris County you might feel you don’t have to do a lot. But when you  see that 25 percent can’t support themselves, then maybe you see you have to do something. Our report presents a different way to look at the issue.”

Information on ALICE can be found here: unitedforalice

John Smith was a train engineer for the “Rio Grande” railroad at the Rockaway Townsquare Mall in Rockaway Township.

Before that, he collected scarves, gloves and hats from lost and found and gave them to poor kids in the Bergen County school where he worked.

“It was the light in their eyes, the smiles, the waves to Mom and Dad, the trip to a world of their own” that made the train ride special, he said. It was hard to say whether the children enjoyed it more than  he did, Smith said.

When Kris Emmitt  began to bring Reilly, a bearded collie, to CROP walks, which raised funds for disaster victims, the experience changed.

Reilly attracted attention, and in the end, more than $50,000 in donations over 10 years. His participation spawned “Reilly’s All-Stars,”  a gallery of pets whose owners supported the walks.

“He thinks walking is his job.  When he arrives at the walk, people applaud. Reilly barks.”

Pamela Pangaro says “and stuff” a lot. It reminds you that she is 13.

Her mitzvah for her own Bat Mitzvah was to collect food and other goods for the Interfaith Food Pantry.

“It’s hard to grasp, the people who need help. I had no idea who they were. It’s not just the act, it’s the knowledge that goes with it. I want to carry on and stuff.”

Info: Interfaith Food Pantry Network – Serving Morris County (

Harvey and Blace Flatt could often be found raking leaves and removing sticks from an old lot on Route 15 in Jefferson.

They had become caretakers for one of the oldest cemeteries in the township and Morris County.

“It dated back to the 1700s when the region was just filling with European settlers, when the iron ore that would spur an industry was just being dug from the ground, when the hills were covered with immense forests.

“Chamberlain,  LeFavre, Flatt and Holley are among the families. Some of the stones are worn, the names a mere unreadable stencil in the stone. Some just say Mother and Father; one probably for a child has a raised heart carved in the center. The heart is cracked, broken.”

The  Flatts have been in Hurdtown a long time, the brothers said. It is the place they swam in Lake Shawnee when  it was called Duck Pond, hunted, fished in Lake Hopatcong, walked three miles to elementary school, got warm milk right from the cow at a nearby farm.”

“You have to do it,” Blace Flatt said. “It’s out of respect for who is here. That’s the main thing.”

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
This entry was posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, Fiction, Hackettstown Public Library, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Paramus Public Library, Parsippany Public Library, and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply