NJREA Celebrates a Century of Advocacy

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By Stephanie L. Natera

On May 1, the New Jersey Retirees’ Education Association (NJREA) held its 100and Anniversary celebration where members celebrated a century of service, activism and excellence. This joyous occasion was to be held in 2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, the planning committee remains committed to making this event memorable for the 350 people in attendance.

Since its founding on January 13, 1920, NJREA, formerly known as the New Jersey Teachers’ Society of Rentiers and Pensioneers, has represented retired school employees and been a beacon of service for public educators and public education .

The program honored several pioneers, including Elizabeth Allen who founded the NJREA, the 83 retired NJREA members aged 100 or older, and many others.

Upon arrival, guests were greeted with a walk down memory lane featuring historical photos and excerpts from various writings reproduced on large panels. This allowed guests to reminisce about their own journeys with employee rights, worker health and safety, and historical events that shaped education.

The event opened with welcoming remarks from NJREA President Joan Wright and NJREA First Vice President Kitty Sausa. They featured video messages from Governor Phil Murphy and NEA President Becky Pringle, who were unable to attend.

“Although you are all retired from your positions, educators never retire from their profession.”

Governor Phil Murphy

“New Jersey’s reputation for academic excellence is rooted in the work of the members of this organization,” Murphy said.. “Although you are all retired from your posts, educators never retire from their profession.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others? Pringle said. “If there is anyone who can provide a substantive answer to the question posed decades ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., it is you, the passionate, powerful, and determined NJREA.”

The event was organized by Morris County NJREA member Arlene Pepe. During his opening address, Pepe shared ‘Rules for Teachers – 1915’, which was on the program for the event. These apocryphal rules included: “You must be home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless you are attending a school activity” and “You may not dye your hair under any circumstances.” Pepe joked that she would be “okay” with the latter.

Members from near and far attended the celebration, including Carol Kadi who traveled from South Dakota to deliver the afternoon invocation. Kadi is a former NJREA Treasurer, former Middlesex CREA President, former NJEA Delegate and former member of the Sayreville Education Association. Kadi mentioned how great it was to be back in New Jersey.

Throughout the celebration, between meals and speakers, a few moments were taken to greet and introduce the attendees who Pepe called “very special people, some we haven’t seen in a while”.

Guests had the honor of having three past NJREA presidents and its current president in one room to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments: Rosemarie Jankowski, Patricia Provnick, Judith Perkins and Joan Wright.

“Roe” Jankowski was the first to be introduced, she thanked NJREA members for their support throughout her tenure and beyond.

Richard Gray, former Deputy Executive Director of the NJEA, said, “Congratulations to the NJREA on this wonderful entry celebrating one of the most important organizations in the NJEA or related to the NJEA.”

“Of course, I want to commend all the members of NJREA and its leadership for the wonderful job you have always done,” said Vince Giordano, former executive director of NJEA. “I said it then and I say it now, if there was a group of people in the organization that you could always rely on, no matter what the need, NJREA was the first team you you knew you could count.”

Edithe “Edie” Fulton, president of the NJEA from 1981 to 1985 and from 2001 to 2005, said: “I must tell you, as a member of both the NJEA and the NJREA, that I love this organization for as many years as I have been a part of it, and I want our members to feel the same way today.

NJEA officers shared remarks with guests.

“Here I’m talking to people who are committed to their profession, but you also fundamentally understood that it was the advocacy – the after-hours advocacy in our schools that also really helped make a difference for our students,” said NJEA President Sean M. dit Spiller. He also noted that NJREA members are as committed now as they were before their retirement to helping those who came to the profession after them.

“It is the love we have for ourselves, for each other, our profession and the public good that makes us collectively strong,” said NJEA Vice President Steve Beatty. “When I walk into a room with a lawmaker or policymaker, I know they see the tens of thousands of active retirees who support us, and that’s why we’re here to celebrate you.”

“It has been the joy of my job to be the NJREA Liaison,” said NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Petal Robertson. “There really is no better example of what it means to be a union than people who are always ready to serve, protect and honor these students, classes and educators in a way that may not affect them. -be not directly. You have been a gift to our union.

NJREA Membership Chair Fran Davis and NJREA Membership Chair Barbra Toczko, with assistance from NJEA staff members Nello Ciccone and Chris Curto, produced a video that gave guests what they called an “explosion from the past, from a galaxy far, far away”. Various NJREA members shared facts about successive decades of the association’s history beginning in the 1920s. After each scene, Toczko asked guests trivial questions about each successive era and handed out prizes when the questions have been correctly answered.

Two unexpected years in the making, the celebration offered moments of camaraderie and reconnection. Throughout the afternoon, laughter and tears echoed through the room as distant memories were recalled and “battle scars” were remembered.

“One of the most special things about this event was the ability to come together,” Spiller said. “But those two years have allowed us, if nothing else, to appreciate that it’s not a given that we get to come together.”

Judy Perkins, NJREA President from 2017-2021, shared remarks from former NJEA President Michael Johnson, who was unable to attend in person. Johnson, who served as the NJEA’s president from 1997 to 2001, noted in his remarks that when he was secretary-treasurer of the NJEA, he was the NJEA’s first liaison officer with the NJREA.

“Today we applaud you the backbone, heart and soul of NJREA,” Perkins shared on behalf of Johnson. “NJEA relies so much on you and your strength to take on important issues for both organizations.”

Perkins concluded the program with a familiar Irish blessing: “Let the road rise to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm on your face; the rains fall gently on your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Stephanie L. Natera is Associate Director of Public Relations in the NJEA Communications Division. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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