Maplewood's Pamela Gaston Honored at 2024 Essex County Legacies Writing Contest

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From the office of Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.:

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (center in back) congratulates Pamela Gaston (seated) from Maplewood for receiving an honorable mention in the 2024 Essex County Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest. Gaston wrote “My Journey Up from Down the Way.” With them are Essex County Citizen Services Director Anibal Ramos (left) and Senior Services Director Maurice Brown. (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Division of Senior Services announced the four winners and four honorable mention recipients of the 2024 Essex County Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest during an awards luncheon at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center in Essex County Branch Brook Park in Newark on Thursday, May 23rd. The Legacies Writing Contest encourages Essex senior citizens to write essays about the people and events that have influenced their lives.

“Our Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest is a unique way for our older population to share their life’s stories and describe the people and events that helped to shape their lives,” DiVincenzo said. “Our seniors’ stories make you laugh and touch your heart. They provide us with a different perspective on historical events and what our society was like,” he added.

Selected as winners of the 2024 Senior Citizen Legacies Writing Contest Carol T. Jenkins from East Orange who wrote “Allen & Emily,” Coni Evans from Verona who wrote “The Sit In,” Glenda R. Mattox of East Orange who wrote “Resting in Fairmount” and Clarence Boseman from Orange who wrote “West Kinney Jr. High School.”

Receiving honorable mentions were Eva M. Ogens from Caldwell who wrote “The Moment of No Return,” Mary Louri Bartola from West Orange who wrote “May Father’s Hands: Crafting a Lifetime of Love,” Pamela Gaston from Maplewood who wrote “My Journey Up from Down the Way” and Catherine Stamm from Nutley who wrote “The Formica Table.” Stamm’s story also was chosen as the Director’s Pick.

East Orange resident Carol T. Jenkins wrote “Allen & Emily,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. Jenkins reminisces about her grandparents and shares their love story. Allen was 13 years older than Emily; they met through Emily’s sister Ernestine who introduced them at a dance given by the Oriole Social Club of the Oranges in 1908. The couple married in 1913 and both worked for the Wiss family, which owned a cutlery business, and later jewelry, in Newark. Allen and Emily were able to purchase their first home in 1915 and were the first black couple to reside on Hunterdon Street in Newark. Allen bought his first car in 1925. Jenkins recalls that when she was a child, her grandfather would give Carol and her sister pennies every Friday, which in those days was enough to buy candy.

Verona resident Coni Evans wrote “The Sit In” which was selected as one of the winning essays. When Evans was a junior in high school in 1969, the students organized a sit in to protest the existing dress code. Female students wanted to wear pants and male students wanted to grow their hair longer. So, on September 15, a group of 25 students walked out of the school building during lunch and sat in front of the school. The principal became enraged, but Evans wrote that their parents were never notified, and they did not get into any trouble. On the third day, the principal came out and, without any explanation, told the group that the policy would be changed. “I spent the last two years of high school sitting at my desk quite comfortably in my bell bottom jeans,” she writes.

East Orange resident Glenda R. Mattox wrote “Resting in Fairmount” which was selected as one of the winning stories. Ms. Mattox writes about growing up in Newark in the 1950s and ‘60s and places she used to frequent. In elementary school, she went to Fairmount Cemetery; “It was more a park than a burial ground, and so lovely and peaceful to walk those winding footpaths,” she writes. She reminisces about the candy and music stores, the eye doctor’s office, the Tivoli Theater, Dairyland ice cream shop and the summer recreation program at West Side High School. After spending time with relatives or coming home for the summer during college, she comments that “I didn’t know which way to turn, it seemed my eyes were starved for what I already knew, and everything looked familiar, yet new and strange.”

Orange resident Clarence Boseman wrote “West Kinney Jr. High School” which was chosen as one of the winning entries. Driving home after dropping his grandson off at Newark Liberty Airport, Mr. Boseman passed by West Kinney Jr. High School and states that what he learned in that school provided the foundation for the rest of his life. The trade skills he learned enabled him to get well-paying industrial jobs that enabled him to support himself while attending college. While he was offered several corporate positions after graduating college, he decided he wanted to give back and followed a career path as a teacher and worked as a public school teacher. He credited his lifelong success to the skills he learned in West Kinney Jr. High School.

Caldwell resident Eva M. Ogens wrote “The Moment of No Return” which received an honorable mention. Ms. Ogens’ father left his home in Colmberg, Germany, at the age of 21 in 1938 to escape the tyranny of the Nazis before World War II and never returned. In 2023, she traveled to Colmberg to see her father’s home. She connected with the curator of a local museum who took her to her father’s home and school and the graves of several of her relatives. Later that year, the museum in Colmberg displayed photos of Ogens’ father and had excerpts of his autobiography read. Ogens describes her father as being courageous for leaving his hometown, fighting in World War II for the United States and the love he gave to his children and grandchildren.

West Orange resident Mary Louri Bartola wrote “My Father’s Hands: Crafting a Lifetime of Love” which received an honorable mention. Although not a carpenter by trade, Bartola’s father was a craftsman and performed a great deal of work in their house. This included building furniture, enlarging the second floor and construction an addition! As he got older, he made wooden toys for his grandchildren, including an easel for a grandson who demonstrated exceptional artistic ability. Sadly, when Ms. Bartola recently returned to her childhood neighborhood, she saw that the house her father crafted had been demolished and replaced with a larger structure. Her father’s memory still lived on, though, because the backyard shed that he built was still there.

Maplewood resident Pamela Gaston wrote “My Journey Up from Down the Way” which received an honorable mention. Up until the age of 12, Ms. Gaston described her life as being in a “protective bubble with familiar faces.” She lived in the same large house as her great-grandmother Bumma and grandmother Bamma, went to school and played with the same group of friends from the neighborhood, and hung out at Oval Park or Ampere Library. That all changed when she was assigned to attend Vernon L. Davy Jr. High School for seventh grade. She was the new girl in school and knew only the few friends who also had been selected. The change forced Gaston out of her comfort zone and served as the “basic training” that helped prepare her for the rest of her life.

Nutley resident Catherine Stamm wrote “The Formica Table” which received an honorable mention and was chosen as the Director’s Pick. On the day of her father’s funeral, Stamm stopped at a bakery to pick up desserts for the repast. While in the store, the white Formica with gold specks reminds her of the kitchen table her parents had. It was where they sat and ate freshly baked rolls purchased from the same bakery when they were younger, with her father cutting the rolls to share. He also would smoke cigars at the kitchen table, which had a subtle burn mark from when the cigar ash fell out of the ashtray.

During the ceremony, the winning stories were read by Essex County West Caldwell School of Technology students Heisha Francisco, Jonathan Martinez, Jayda Myles and Alessandra Huapaya.

Sponsored by the Essex County Division of Senior Services, the Legacies Writing Contest was started in 1996 and was part of a national contest which encouraged senior citizens to discover the joys of writing while sharing their stories with others. Although the national contest was discontinued in 1998, the Essex County Division of Senior Services continued to sponsor the Legacies Writing Contest on a local level. Entries are judged on the writer’s ability to engage the reader with humor, emotional impact or rich descriptions. Winning stories were selected by a committee of volunteer judges and staff from the Essex County Division of Senior Services.

The Essex County Division of Senior Services offers a wide range of services to eligible Essex County senior citizens. The Division offers adult protective services, provides basic transportation services, administers adult day care centers, offers counseling services for caregivers, provides home delivered meals and offers visiting nurse services. For more information, please call 973-395-8375.

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