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March 27, 2014


Martha Ackermann, Dr. Gale Gibson, Sarah Hansford & Goldie T. Burbage
Honored at March 26th Event

(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its Annual Women’s History Month Celebration on Wednesday, March 26th, at the Hall of Records.  The event was sponsored by Freeholder President Blonnie R. Watson of Newark, Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston and Freeholder Carol Y. Clark of East Orange, and was followed by a catered reception.

The honorees of this year’s event were Martha Ackermann of Livingston, Sarah Hansford of East Orange and Essex County College President Dr. Gale Gibson.  The event also included the presentation of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Goldie T. Burbage of East Orange.

The Women’s History Month honorees and their sponsors gather for a group photo: (left to right) Freeholder President Blonnie Watson, Sarah Hansford of East Orange, Dr. Gale Gibson of Essex County College, Freeholder Carol Clark of East Orange (back), Goldie T. Burbage of East Orange (front), Martha Ackermann of Livingston and Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Freeholder President Watson opened the program by saying how delighted she was to recognize the event’s honorees who she described as “truly outstanding women from different generations who have worked in very different fields of endeavor, but have much in common… they are self-confident, determined and smart.”  She went on to say, “Our honorees have inspired others, changed the course of history in their communities, and left indelible and positive marks on the lives of so many.”

Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold (right) presented the Board’s awards to her honoree, Martha Ackermann of Livingston.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Martha C. Ackermann, a Livingston resident since 1986, is widely known as an advocate for safety and children.  After graduating from The Berkeley School where she studied fashion merchandising, she began a 13-year career as a retail executive in New York City.  Upon moving to Livingston she joined the staff at Harrison School in 2001 as a teacher assistant in the kindergarten classroom where she worked for nine years, and then in September of 2009 she began her current assignment as an Administrative Assistant to the Curriculum Supervisors at Livingston High School.

Ackermann has served for more than 17 years as a co-chair of the Parent Teacher Council’s town-wide Safety Committee, and works very closely with the Livingston Police and Fire departments, the community, and representatives of the school system to ensure that safety for Livingston’s youth is a priority.  She also served as President of the Mount Pleasant Elementary School PTA and as a member of the Livingston Board of Education’s Long Range Planning Committee’s Redistricting Subcommittee.  She was also a member of the School District Budget Task Force and also played a role in ensuring that the new Martin Luther King Day school holiday was promoted as “A day on… not a day off” to mobilize service to the community.

Ackermann is a founding member and the current Secretary of the Healthy Community Healthy Youth Initiative, a non-profit organization founded in 2005 in response to numerous youth suicides, which is a collaborative partnership between youth and adults committed to creating a community where all young people thrive.  She is also a founding member of the Children’s Theatre of Livingston, served as President for three years and currently holds the position of Secretary.  She has been married to her husband, Bill Buckbee, for six years, and is the proud mother of three children: Jeffrey, Jill and Christine.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Martha for many years”, said Freeholder Sebold.  “She is well-known and highly-respected throughout the community for being not only a tireless volunteer, but also an extremely effective one.  She has contributed so much to the community over the years and is widely-recognized as an advocate for children’s education and safety.”  Sebold went on to add, “Martha offers to help, even before anyone has a chance to ask her!  She will always do whatever she can to help people.”

“To say I am overwhelmed is an overstatement, and I am so honored to be standing here, side-by-side, with tonight’s other honorees”, said Ackermann.  “At an early age my mother, who was president of the PTA, made me and my five siblings aware of the importance of being involved in the community.  But I really became involved in volunteerism”, she said, “as the result of the life-altering loss of my first child Dean, 22 years ago, to a preventable childcare tragedy, and it was then that I vowed that I would work to keep the children in our community safe.”  She added, “I volunteer to be a good role model to my children, and because I believe that one person can make a difference.  I ask that everyone try to ‘pay it forward’, because I truly believe in that and know that it works.”  She concluded her remarks by saying, “I thank you for this honor and want you to know that it will be with me for many, many years.”

Essex County College President Dr. Gale E. Gibson (left) received her awards from her sponsor, Freeholder President Blonnie Watson.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Dr. Gale E. Gibson first joined Essex County College in 2011 as Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer.  Thanks to her determined leadership, the College was brought into compliance with the requirements of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the College’s accreditation was reaffirmed in March 2013.  And as part of her re-accreditation strategy, Dr. Gibson also received a special commendation from Middle States for creating a General Education Task Force and designing a curriculum-mapping framework to be sure Gen Ed is properly assessed and integrated.

Dr. Gibson was named Essex County College’s Interim President in April 2013, and on October 15, 2013, the Board of Trustees selected her as the seventh President of the College, making her only the second women to hold that position.  During her tenure as President, the College has been awarded over $24 million in grant funds which are being used to increase student graduation and retention rates, fund major campus expansion projects, develop new partnerships promoting urban farming and hydroponics, as well as many other initiatives that paint a very bright future for the College, and most importantly, for the success of Essex County College students.

Before coming to Essex County College, Dr. Gibson spent 16 very successful years at Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York, where she was the Dean of the College of Freshman Studies and a Professor in the Department of Student Affairs and Services.  She earned her B.S. in Business Management and M.A. in Social Sciences and Counseling from SUNY-Binghamton, and her Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration, with a concentration in Adult and Community College Education, from North Carolina State.

“From the very first time I met Dr. Gibson”, said Freeholder Watson, “I have been impressed with her intelligence, eloquence and leadership qualities, and have looked forward to this opportunity to recognize her.”  She went on to add, “Following in the footsteps of Dr. Yamba (long-time college president who retired 2 years ago), a beloved leader and the College’s father figure, was a daunting task, but Dr. Gibson has proven herself to be equal to the challenge, and she is moving forward in her own unique way, marching to her own drummer.  As she moves forward, she is also convincing everyone along the way that the College is in very capable hands.”  She concluded her presentation by saying, “Dr. Gibson, you are truly a transformative leader.  In a very short period of time, you have brought a great deal of excitement to the Essex County College campus, to the entire community, and we are so happy that you have joined our Essex County family!”

In her remarks, Dr. Gibson thanked the freeholders and her family for their support, and paid special tribute to her “team” at Essex County College saying, “I have a great team and they help me to lead the college day-in and day-out.”  She also thanked the “amazing” women and mentors in her life “who have paved the way for me, especially my mother and grandmother, who instilled in me their wisdom and sense of work ethic right from the beginning.”  She also spoke proudly of being the only African-American female college president in the New Jersey.

Freeholder Carol Clark (right) introduces her honoree, Sarah Hansford of East Orange.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Sarah Hansford was born in Georgia, but grew up and was educated primarily in New Jersey.  She earned her B.A. degree in Elementary Education and certification in Early Childhood Education, as well as credits toward a Master’s degree from Kean University.  She also studied Early Childhood Open Education in St. Helen, England, and continued her academic growth by earning licenses in Life/Health Insurance and Real Estate.  She also attended countless professional training seminars to further enhance her effectiveness as a leader.  Hansford served with VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), a national service program founded in 1965 that was specifically designed to fight poverty in America.  She was also a pre-school teacher and the Director of New Dawn Day Care and VSH Day Care. 

She is best known for her 36 years of service to the East Orange Child Development Corporation (EOCDC), a Head Start program, where she has served as Executive Director for 33 years.  She was instrumental in purchasing EOCDC’s first building in 1985 at 42 Chestnut Street, and for growing the organization as it added three more buildings in subsequent years for classrooms and offices, and even a commercial kitchen that today serves 1,200 children daily.  She also founded the East Orange Community Charter School in 1998 with 200 kindergarten and first grade students, and over the years she has nurtured its growth to its current enrollment of 500 students in grades K-4.  It has also expanded to occupy space at four locations, including the building it owns at 99 Washington Street that was named the “Sarah Hansford Building” in her honor, and where she continues to volunteer her time on various advisory committees.

Hansford has held memberships in many organizations, including: the NJ Head Start Directors Association, National Head Start Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, East Orange Child Care Coalition and the Essex County Clients Council.  She has also been honored by a myriad of local, state and national organizations too numerous to mention here, for her generosity of time, her devotion to creative endeavors, her zeal for improving her community, and for helping to relieve pressures on families and children.

“Tonight”, said Freeholder Clark, “I have the privilege of honoring a woman I have known and respected for many years, a woman who is truly an institution in the City of East Orange, and a woman who for so many years has stood up for the education of our children, especially the youngest of our children, to be sure they gain the foundation they need to succeed in school and in life.”  She added, “My honoree is widely recognized as the ‘mother’ of day care in East Orange, and as a woman who has been at the forefront of the fight for the Head Start Program.  And in light of the fact that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Re-Authorization of Head Start, there isn’t a better time to honor her.”  “Miss Hansford, as a former educator myself”, said Clark, “I want you to know that you have always been one of my heroines.  You are one of a handful of women who have shaped the City of East Orange and the lives of generations of young people.  You are one of the gems of my city, and of our county, and deserve to be treasured and honored.”

“It really is an honor to be here tonight, and with such distinguished honorees”, said Hansford.  She also thanked the freeholders for honoring her and for providing a letter of support for the programs of the East Orange Child Development Corporation’s programs because, “now, in the infinite wisdom of the federal government, we must submit to competitive bid competition every five years, and your letter of support has become an important part of our application package.” 

Goldie T. Burbage of East Orange received the Board’s rarely-presented “Lifetime Achievement Award”, which was co-sponsored by Freeholders Watson, Sebold and Clark.  She was born and raised in Orange, graduated from Orange H.S., attended Newark Secretarial School, and in later years would also earn job-related credits and certifications from a host of educational entities.  She moved to East Orange in 1956 and later, in 1963, took the Civil Service Exam.  Finishing at the top of the list, Goldie applied for the position of East Orange Deputy City Clerk, which would have made her the first African-American to hold a position in City Hall above the level of manual laborer.  But due to the prejudices of the time, she was denied the position she so rightly deserved.

Not long thereafter, Burbage’s perseverance resulted in a series of firsts by becaming the first minority to serve as a Legal Secretary in the East Orange Law Department, and only months later became the first minority employed as Secretary to the Mayor during the Administration of Mayor James Kelly.  In 1967, she became the first minority Secretary to the East Orange Tax Collector before leaving City Hall to become the first minority Secretary to the East Orange Board of Education’s Business Manager.  In 1970 she returned to City Hall as Secretary to Mayor William S. Hart, the City’s first African-American mayor, where she served until 1977.  During those years, she was instrumental in creating East Orange’s first Personnel Office, initiating its first drug abuse and treatment component, was certified by Civil Service as East Orange’s first Chief Personnel Officer, and was the first minority female to serve as Acting Mayor when Mayor Hart was out of town.

In 1978, Burbage became a secretary in the President’s Office at Essex County College, and in 1980 she became the Executive Assistant and right-hand woman to Dr. A. Zachary Yamba and the College’s Board of Trustees until her short-lived retirement in 1996.  Two years later she was asked by the new East Orange Mayor, Robert L. Bowser, to return to City Hall to be his trusted Secretary where she worked until her second retirement in 2003, making her the first Secretary to serve in the administrations of three different mayors.

Goldie T. Burbage of East Orange, recipient of the Board’s “Lifetime Achievement” Award, addresses the audience during the Women’s History Month Celebration at the Hall of Records.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Burbage has also volunteered in her community for years in many leadership capacities.  Among her many current activities, she serves as President of the both the Historical Society of East Orange and the East Orange Education Foundation.  She chairs the Salvation Army of the Oranges & Maplewood; co-chairs the East Orange Sesquicentennial Celebration; serves as 3rd Vice President of the East Orange Chamber of Commerce; and serves on ad hoc committees for East Orange General Hospital and the East Orange YMCA.  She has also received countless honors and awards for her contributions and accomplishments, including the Essex County Board of Freeholders during its 1990 Women’s History Month Celebration.

“We’ve arrived at the final presentation of the evening, our ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, an award we present very rarely, and only on very special occasions”, said Freeholder Clark, “but tonight is one of those occasions, because we will honor the venerable Goldie T. Burbage who, without question, has amassed a lifetime of achievements.”

“Ms. Burbage, you have blazed the trail for women in government and public service as few others have”, said Freeholder Vice President Sebold.  “You have demonstrated determination and tenacity ever since losing-out on that Deputy City Clerk position, and the residents of the City of East Orange and the County of Essex have been the beneficiaries of all your hard work.  Freeholder President Watson, Freeholder Clark and I are so proud of you, and so proud to present you with this Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of Women’s History Month.”

“I am overwhelmed, I am flabbergasted, anything but at a loss for words”, said Burbage. She congratulated the other honorees, saying “I’m in good company”, and thanked many in the audience with whom she has worked in her various activities saying, “I don’t want to leave anyone out, because I couldn’t have done any of this without people like them.”  She thanked the many people of “character, compassion and commitment” who, over the years, “opened doors for me, offered prayers for me and built bridges for me.  So in accepting this honor tonight, I also honor them.”  She went on to say, “It is required of me to give back and that’s what I intend to do for the rest of my life.  I want my footprints here on earth to mean something for generations yet unborn; I want to make a difference.” 

The program also included remarks by County Administrator Ralph Ciallella (representing County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr.) and musical entertainment provided by vocalist Penwah.  The opening and closing prayers were offered by Dr. Gloria White, Pastor of Newark’s Mount Zion Baptist Church.


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders



Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695