Cedar Grove, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Division of Senior Services recognized the writing talents of nine Essex County residents during the Annual Essex County Senior Legacies Writing Contest Celebration Luncheon on Wednesday, May 25th. 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 they touch your heart. They provide us with a different perspective on historical events and what our society was like,” he added.

The Director’s Award was presented to Nutley resident Eleanor Slomkowski for “Instant Messages (IMS) to Heaven.” Winning stories were “My Husband the Unspoiled Brat” by Verona resident Irene Bilotti, “The Ragman” by East Orange resident Carol T. Jenkins, “The Night Muhammad Ali Taught Me How to Become a Champion in Life” by Bloomfield resident Alfred Sonny Piccoli and “My Immigration Experience” by Montclair resident Amelia Teo. Honorable mention stories were “Thoughts of Mama” by Newark resident Mary Azagra, “My Aunt Rose” by Short Hills resident Nancy Feigel, “Helping Hands” by Belleville resident Kathryn D. Mackie and “Younger than Springtime Older than Dirt” by Montclair resident Robin Ehrlichman-Woods.

“All our seniors have stories to tell, and our Legacies Writing Contest provides our older adults with an incentive to preserve their memories, and create a living history,” Essex County Division of Senior Services Director Jaklyn DeVore said. “Writing enables our seniors to share their memories with friends and families, allows them to reminisce about old times, and keeps their minds active. This is one of our most popular events because of the emotions and memories that are evoked,” she added.

Eleanor Slomkowski from Nutley received the Director’s Award for her story “Instant Messages (IMS) to Heaven.” The essay is about the 60-year friendship Ms. Slomkowski had with Jan. Her earliest memory is when they were in Miss Paxton’s elementary school class in Lincoln School and participated in a class play to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Their friendship continued and they talked on the phone, e-mailed or sent instant messages on Facebook. When Jan passed away, Ms. Slomkowski continued to send IMs to Jan on her Facebook page. “There is no set time period for someone to grieve but I truly believe those IMs were the key in helping me to accept the loss of my friend and begin the healing process,” she writes.

Irene Bilotti from Verona wrote “My Husband, the Unspoiled Brat,” which was selected as one of the winning stories. Ms. Bilotti lovingly writes about her husband of 52 years, Pat. As their family was growing, he changed diapers, taught religious classes and organized Cub Scout activities. When their children were grown and he had grandchildren, he took them for outings in Verona Park and, even today, continues to drive his grandson Todd to Verona High School. When his older brother and sister needed care, he took attended to their finances, did grocery shopping and helped wherever he could. And when his wife wants peace and quiet to do her daily crossword puzzle, he leaves her alone. “I love him, congratulate him and respect him for all he has achieved and given to others, and can safely and convincingly say that he is definitely an Unspoiled Brat,” she writes.

Carol T. Jenkins from East Orange had her essay “The Ragman” recognized as one of the winning stories. Bill had been coming to the neighborhood for several years collecting rags. Unlike other door-to-door salesmen from the 1950s, Bill was the only one who used a horse-drawn wagon to do his rounds and rarely shared any personal information with his customers. One day, Ms. Jenkins convinced her grandmother to allow her to bring the rags to Bill. In their brief conversation, she asked Bill several questions, none of which he answered. However, on a subsequent visit, he brought his granddaughter Wilma and the two of them played together that day while Bill visited his customers. The two played together several times and on one brisk fall day, Ms. Jenkins admired the quilt Wilma was covered in to stay warm. She found out it was made of the rags Bill had collected.

Alfred Sonny Piccoli from Bloomfield wrote “The Night Muhammad Ali Taught Me How to Become a Champion in Life,” which was chosen as one of the winning stories. It was the summer of 1967 and the City of Newark just experienced two weeks of rioting. Mr. Piccoli and two friends were hanging out in front of the Camel Club on Broadway when a limousine pulled up and Muhammad Ali got out. Mr. Piccoli was 17 years old at the time and got up the courage to speak to the boxing legend. During their brief encounter, Ali said “don’t ever back down from a fight that you know is something worth fighting for even if you may not win. Because in your heart and soul you know you’ve done the right thing and that is something you can never lose.” Mr. Piccoli was greatly influenced by those remarks and still “reminds others that there is a champion inside us all.”

Amelia Teo from Montclair had her essay “My Immigration Experience” recognized as one of the winning stories. Ms. Teo describes the obstacles and discrimination she encountered when she immigrated to the United States in 1991. It was a difficult time: her husband worked long hours to support the family and learning to speak and understand English was hard for her. Her family has assimilated to American culture, including have turkey on Thanksgiving and attending baseball games. “I am now having the best of both worlds’ cultures. The best of all, I am now a chameleon, adapting to new environment with opportunities,” she writes.

Mary Azagra from Newark wrote “Thoughts of Mama,” which received an honorable mention award. She writes about the close relationship she had with her mother. During the Depression, Azagra’s mother always made sure the family had enough to eat, and made the meals delicious. When they got older, Azagra would visit her often. When her mother no longer could live alone, Azagra moved her into her home and brought her on shopping trips, parties and meetings of the Independence Park Monday Club. In 1998, Azagra’s mother passed away just before her 99th birthday. Azagra still cherishes the many memories she has of her mother.

Nancy Feigel from Short Hills wrote “My Aunt Rose,” which received an honorable mention award. The story focuses on the free-spirited Aunt Rose and some of her exploits. She learned to play the piano by herself, made friends easily and one night went with a group of friends to attend a party at the beach without the permission of her parents – which was unheard of at the time. When she met her future husband, Harry, he was shy and was waiting for the results of the Bar Exam. When Harry learned he passed, Aunt Rose congratulated him. They began dating and she demanded that they marry before the year ended, so they were wed on December 31st. Her advice to her nieces and family members was to be yourself and don’t be afraid to express yourself.

Kathryn D. Mackie from Belleville received an honorable mention award for her story “Helping Hands.” Upon retiring after 35 years in customer service and sales, Ms. Mackie started her own cleaning business. She enjoyed the work, but, in reality, she was making new friends. She does more than just clean – she has become a caregiver, chauffer to doctor’s appointments, and attended weddings and funerals. “I help them, but they will never know how much they help me. Life has been very good to me and I never realized how happy I could be helping others,” she writes.

Robin Ehrlichman-Woods from Montclair wrote “Younger than Springtime Older than Dirt,” which received an honorable mention award. Ms. Ehrlichman-Woods shares her philosophy of life and getting older. She writes: “I believe I have not earned any gray hairs. They arrived uninvited and insinuated themselves onto my scalp.” In addition: “You’re as young as you act and feel. Ironically, most people judge and treat you according to the way they assess your age.” Through her humor, she states that she is comfortable in how she looks and acts, and feels no reason to conform to how society expects “women of a certain age” to act and dress.

“You don’t have to be a professional writer to participate in our Senior Legacies Writing Contest. Our seniors are very talented and they write from the heart,” Essex County Director of Citizen Services Anibal Ramos said. “Every year, I am impressed with the emotion and quality of stories. I congratulate every one for participating,” he added.

Students from Cicely Tyson School read the winning stories during the awards program. Junior Reva Rutherford read “My Husband, The Unspoiled Brat” and “My Immigration Experience,” sophomore Justin Reed read “Ragman,” sophomore Safa Ishmel-Muhammad read “The Night Muhammad Ali Taught Me How to Become a Champion,” and Coriyanna Osbourne read “Instant Messages (IMs) to Heaven.”

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. Each of the winners’ stories are posted on the Essex County website on the Division of Senior Services webpage at www.essexcountynj.org.

 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.