Freeholders Honor Three Women
The Essex County Board of Freeholders recognizes three women for its Women's History Month Celebration.
The Essex County Freeholders recently recognized three women during its annual Women’s History Month Celebration at the Hall of Records in Newark.
The honorees included Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey of South Orange, former Newark Councilwoman Marie L. Villani of Verona and Rev. Canon Dr. Sandye A. Wilson, rector of St. Andrew and Holy Communion Episcopal Church in South Orange.
The event was sponsored by the women on the freeholder board - Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark, Freeholder Vice-President Patricia Sebold of Livingston and Freeholder Carol Y. Clark of East Orange.
The ceremony was attended by county dignitaries — including Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., assembly Speaker/Assistant County Administrator Sheila Y. Oliver, state Senator Nia Gill and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin, Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura and Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin.
Sebold, who introduced Jasey at the event, described how their lives have been connected over the years and how they "shared a passion for education with the assemblywoman, whose sister and daughter are teachers, and that they both served on boards of education.”
Jasey accepted her award, saying, “I accept this very humbly on behalf of all the women in my life who are always there to be supportive, to be encouraging, and to say ‘of course you can do it!’, and then to help me do whatever it is I choose to do.”
“Without them,” she continued, “I would not be here today.” She especially thanked her mother, Pauline Oden, who raised two daughters and nine sons.
Villani, who was the only woman member of the Newark City Council, has been an advocate for vision screening for preschool children, has spoken out against incest and has a record of promoting racial and political harmony during a tumultuous time of change in Newark city government.
She has contributed to myriad of charitable causes including Cardiac House for Children in East Orange, the Multiple Sclerosis Board, the Burn Center of Saint Barnabas Medical Center and the United Hospital’s Children’s Board. She has supported Integrity House for more than three decades and continues to be very active in fundraising for the agency.
Watson, who presented Villani with her award, explained the pair share a long history that dates back to when, as a community activist, she would appear before the Newark City Council to talk about the community, and especially children, “and I knew I could always depend on Marie to listen to what I had to say.”
“Marie has a heart of gold; it’s never about Marie,” Watson said, “but rather about what she can do to help others.”
Villani recounted her days in the field of fashion and design, and about the abrupt change of course in her life took when she was appointed to complete the term of her husband, Council President Ralph Villani, who was battling cancer.
“I had no idea what politics was all about… I was a novice,” she said.
But, as she explained, she learned fast during that first year, 1973, when she was faced with the issue of Mayor Ken Gibson’s nomination of Edward L. Kerr as Newark’s first African-American Police Director. After casting the deciding vote for Kerr, she returned to her North Ward home that night to find bullet holes in her windows and her tires slashed.
Wilson, who is a member of the Diocesan Council, The Good Liturgy Committee and The Commission on Ministry, is a co-president of the South Orange/Maplewood Clergy Association, a board member of the South Mountain YMCA and a member of the Newark Diocese’s Task Force on Reparations.
In her introductory remarks, Clark noted Wilson became the first black woman, worldwide, to be appointed the rector of an Episcopal church when she was appointed at St. Mark’s in Bridgeport, Conn.
“She’s a woman for all seasons,” Clark said. “She’s a risk-taker, a visionary, a community organizer, a bridge-builder, a mentor, relational leader, conflict manager and a vocational and life coach, and those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe her.”
In her acceptance speech, Wilson thanked the female members of the board and said she stands “…on the shoulders of so very many women who’ve come before us… whose sacrifices make it possible for us to dream big dreams, and to be anything we want to be.”
She said she accepted the board’s honor on behalf “of all those unnamed ‘sheroes’ who have walked paths, and cut paths, so we can be where we are today.”
“So I go back to my seat,” she continued, “with humility, and I pray I can continue, along with you, to make a difference in our community, to make a difference in our world, and especially in the lives of her children, who are so much at risk.”