Honoring Barbara Bennett
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Photo credits: Beverly Kahn and Jennifer Ersalesi
“It is how we live that defines us; that is what my Mom always told us,” explained Barbara Bennett’s son, Jimmy Bennett, at the Plaque Dedication at Memorial Field on Saturday, July 25th. The Rutherford Civil Rights Commission dedicated a plaque in memory of Barbara Bennett’s devotion to Rutherford on her birthday, July 25th. Jessica Lezcano, current Rutherford Recreation Director, lead the celebration of the former Recreation Director’s birthday and the plaque ceremony.
While introducing each speaker, Jessica told a joke, just as Barbara used to as a reminder of Barbara’s wonderful sense of humor and desire to always have fun. Steve Way, the co-chair of the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission, was the first speaker. “The first time I met Barbara my father told me that she was the most powerful woman in Rutherford. When I was a high school student, she got me my first job as a soccer referee for first and second-grade boys teams. I was always so grateful she took a chance on me,” Steve Way explained. “Barbara was so important and integral to the Civil Rights Commission when it first began in the 2000s. She and Bea Goldberg worked together to get things started. Now as co-chair, knowing all that Barbara did, I know I have big shoes to fill,” Steve Way told the audience.
Photographed below: Mayor Frank Nunziato, Councilman Tom Mullahey, and Councilwoman Stephanie McGowan
Mayor Frank Nunziato also spoke about Barbara and her love of birthdays. “If I went by the number of times Barbara wished me a happy birthday, even when it wasn’t my birthday, of course, I would be 180 years old by now. I first met Barbara when I started on the council and I worked with her often and saw how much she loved this town.”
Councilman Tom Mullahey spoke about how he will always remember Barbara’s sense of humor and her unmistakable laugh. “She was always great to my kids. She also believed recreation was for everybody,” Mullahey explained.
Councilwoman Stephanie McGowan told those in attendance, “Barbara kept us on our toes. I can still hear her laughter in the air down here. Her voice carried. Two years ago when we rededicated Kidspot Barbara gave me a big hug and said, ‘Just remember the things we do today are what’s left for tomorrow.’”
Photographed below: Councilman Ray Guzman and Councilwoman Maria Begg-Roberson
“Barbara was a wonderful person. I spent a lot of time with her. She always made me laugh. She showed up at the Little League field and girls’ softball games to make sure we always had what we needed...This is a special way to remember her on her birthday,” explained Councilman Ray Guzman.
Councilwoman Maria Begg-Roberson remembered how welcoming Barbara was when she was new to town. “She always remembered my name and was always ready to assist me with my Girl Scout troop,” Begg-Roberson explained.
Jimmy Bennett, Barbara’s oldest son, told family and friends gathered at the field, “My mom changed a lot of people’s lives. So many people came up to us at her wake and said things like ‘Your mom helped me through a really rough patch.’ Her dedication to this town is immeasurable. Her grandkids will always remember her. I tell my boys often, ‘Be the boy your Nana would want you to be.”
Keri Bennett Romano, Barbara’s daughter, expressed her gratefulness and in tears spoke about the impact her mother made on Rutherford, “On behalf of our family, we are so thankful for this plaque and for all of you being here today. You all know how special she was. She made everyone feel important, whether you were three or ninety-three. She spent countless hours volunteering and that is where she made some of her best friends.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, family and friends gathered around the plaque to sing “Happy Birthday”, a song that Barbara loved to sing, because as she said, “No one can be sad when they are singing Happy Birthday,” Barbara was right, there were smiles and laughter as her grandchildren, children, husband, friends, and family sang together.
To read more about Barbara's life and legacy, click here.