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Monday, June 13, 2011
Irene Gibbons to be honored with "Service Above Self" Award
Irene Gibbons to be honored by Rotary
“Service Above Self” Award recognizes life-long commitment
by Christy Berg, Rotary Club of the Caldwells
Irene R. Gibbons, esteemed resident and former Mayor of Caldwell, NJ, will be honored by the Rotary Club of the Caldwells with a “Service Above Self” award on June 21, 2011 for her extraordinary and selfless life-long service to the community. Ms. Gibbons has tirelessly and immeasurably impacted lives in Essex County through her abundant gifts of time, energy, expertise and leadership through a multitude of civic and humanitarian organizations.
The “Service Above Self” Award, named for Rotary International’s motto, was created by The Rotary Club of the Caldwells in 1976. Over the years, the award had been selectively given to citizens in the West Essex area who distinguish themselves through their volunteer work in the community. “This was a way that the club could say thank you from the whole community to some very special people,” said Sam Kent, Rotary Community Service Chairperson.
“Irene Gibbons has enthusiastically and passionately contributed to the community in countless ways,” said Rotary President Tom Cocchiola. “She epitomizes ‘service above self’.” Gibbons explained, “My philosophy is to never say no to something if there is any possibility that I can say yes. Otherwise I might miss an opportunity to broaden myself.”
Ms. Gibbons sites two main influences on her commitment to serve. The first was her parents.“As a first generation American, I treasure the gifts that our country offers to all,” said Gibbons. “My parents instilled in my brothers and me the greatness of our country, while treasuring our European heritage. They taught me that it is a privilege to serve.”A second major influence was Sister Grace Regina, Dominican nun and educator at Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School in Brooklyn. “I think of her all the time,” said Gibbons. “She was so inspirational to all of the girls, teaching us the joy of service. She said ‘C’mon girls, we’re going to join the Legion of Mary and have some fun!’ ” Together they worked with orphans, the blind, and those less privileged than themselves.
After receiving her B.S. and M.S. degrees from St. John’s University, Ms. Gibbons had an accomplished career as a History/Social Studies Educator and Guidance Counselor in New York. She relocated with her family from Queens, NY to Caldwell in 1966 and accepted a one-year grant position as Program Coordinator for Women’s Counseling at Essex County College (ECC). Ms. Gibbons’ outstanding leadership of Project Women Help Yourself (W.H.Y.), which dealt with a variety of women’s issues, resulted in a permanent position and a distinguished 19-year career with ECC, where she was ultimately appointed Director of Academic Programs.
Irene Gibbons has served the Borough of Caldwell through her exemplary commitment to civic leadership, serving 3 years on the Environmental Commission, 9 years on the Borough Council, and as Caldwell’s first female Mayor from 1991-1995. During her tenure, Ms. Gibbons was instrumental in gaining support to build a new Essex County sewer plant. As Mayor, she helped Rotarian June Van Zandt found the first Rotary/Kiwanis Caldwell Street Fair. The Street Fair, which has grown to attract over 35,000 people annually, has become part of the fabric of the community and serves as a major fundraiser for both organizations.
One of Irene Gibbons’ proudest moments was being sworn into office as the Mayor of Caldwell on the steps of Grover Cleveland’s Birthplace. “It was a defining moment for me and my family,” said Gibbons. “My love of history has been a life-long affair and one which has greatly enriched me. It is my hope that my enthusiasm for the Grover Cleveland birthplace and our presidents has contributed to an awareness about the magnificence of the United States.”
During her 5 years as President and 20 years as Trustee of the Grover Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association, Ms. Gibbons helped revive a once stagnant historic site to a vibrant museum that attracts over 6,000 visitors annually from around the world. She fought hard to become a Docent at the Birthplace, one of her most cherished roles. For the past five years she has shared her expertise and passion for our country’s history with visitors. “I have enjoyed every single minute,” said Gibbons. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet people of all ages, from every walk of life, from many countries around the world and from diverse communities across this country. It’s very exciting to live in a country with such great diversity!” The NJ Department of Environmental Protection has bestowed several commendations and citations on Ms. Gibbons for her tremendous contribution. Ms. Gibbons has also served as a Trustee of The West Essex Historical Society.
Ms. Gibbons was honored by the West Essex Chamber of Commerce in 1990 as “Community Leader of the Year”. She has volunteered for the United Way of North Essex for 30 years, serving 3 six years terms as Trustee. Through her early work with the United Way’s 32 local agencies, such as The Bridge and Family Services, Gibbons realized “that even though we live in a suburban area, the need in our community for these services is tremendous. But people are reluctant and often don’t want people to know they need help.”
Ms. Gibbons has also served as a Trustee for The Occupational Center of Essex County, working with people with special needs. She values the experience for exposing her to a wonderful group of people that she hadn’t known before. “It opened my mind to the fact that some people just operate a little differently,” said Gibbons. “Once you get out of your typical environment, a lot of wonderful things happen to you.”
A 25-year member of The Kiwanis Club of Caldwell, Ms. Gibbons was the organization’s first female member. She had wanted to join Kiwanis since she was a young child and her father explained that while Kiwanis did many good things, she couldn’t join because it was a men’s club. Determined, Ms. Gibbons sought membership as soon as gender based membership in Kiwanis began review by the Supreme Court. “It was difficult,” recalled Gibbons. “But, I did it for my daughters. And now I’m proud to say that I did it for my granddaughters, too.”
Ms. Gibbons has served as Kiwanis President, Lieutenant Governor, and, for the past ten years on the Kiwanis New Jersey State Board. For the past ten years, she has coordinated Builders’ Clubs in middle schools throughout New Jersey. And, she has been an active member of the Rotary/Kiwanis Street Fair Committee for 25 years. Kiwanis has recognized Ms. Gibbons with an international Hixson Award and a NJ District Carrington/Swain Award for her outstanding contribution and achievement.
Irene Gibbons shows no signs of retiring from her community service commitments. “I always tell people that I’ll have to live to be 150 years old or I’ll never get everything done!”