Stafford Celebrates 24th Arbor Day in Tree City USA

May 03, 2012
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Stafford Township observed its 24th annual Arbor Day celebration at the Ocean Acres Community Center last Friday, welcoming 156 award-winning Stafford students from kindergarten through grade 12, along with their families, to a ceremony alive with children’s laughter, festive snacks and oak tree seedlings as gifts for all.

The celebration, which Mayor John Spodofora said “continues to be the largest Arbor Day celebration in the state of New Jersey,” was focused mostly on getting local children involved in environmental protection.

“Stafford Township started off with the idea that the best way to get the message across about saving the environment and the importance of trees is by getting the children involved, and I can’t think of a better way to get the children involved,” said Spodofora during the assembly.

Later, Spodofora reiterated the same point, saying that the township’s goal is to “continually educate the children, because they are the future. That’s where we feel the effort needs to be. Because when you get the children involved, they get their parents involved. It’s a domino effect.”

Of course, it’s not a celebration of the earth and the trees without a quote from the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole, awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not,” recited one presenter. In the spirit of the truffula tree, and in keeping with this year’s theme of “OAK: Our Animal Kingdom,” each attendee was sent home with an oak tree to plant. Kin oak, willow oak,and chestnut oak tree plants were handed out by students as guests filed into the auditorium. Spodofora said approximately 800 seedlings were distributed, serving to truly get people involved by getting out and planting their new trees.

Spodofora said the celebration gets larger every year, and the committee has had to continually seek new venues to accommodate the larger crowds. The Rev. James Occhipinti, who offered the opening prayer for the event, said this year’s crowd of several hundred children, parents and members of the community showed significant growth from the first Arbor Day celebration 23 years ago, when just a handful of people attended the planting of a single dogwood tree outside the Stafford Township Library. “To see the crowd bloom and grow from that point to this day is a great honor and tribute to the leaders in this community,” he said.

“Literally thousands” of students from the Stafford schools, Lighthouse Christian Academy, St. Mary’s School and Southern Regional Middle and High schools entered this year’s essay, poem and poster contests, said Spodofora, in large part because teachers have implemented Arbor Day, Earth Day and environmentalism into the curriculum and encouraged students to participate. All applicants were judged within their respective grades, and awards were presented to those “who best represent an understanding of the numerous ways animals improve our lives,” according to the Environmental Commission. Four winners from each grade level in each category, totaling more than 150, made their way to the stage to collect medals, certificates and savings bonds.

In all, Spodofora said the event cost about $10,000 to run, including the distribution of awards, but that “these celebrations are done without using any township funding at all. It’s all done through donations and volunteerism,” he said. Local businesses sponsor the event on various levels, including the donation of trees to be planted throughout the community on Arbor Day. This year, local businesses donated 45 trees, many of which were planted to populate the Doc Cramer Sports Complex fields.

This year’s celebration also recognized Terry O’Leary, State Forestry Service education coordinator, who is retiring this year after 12 years of service. O’Leary was honored with the planting of his favorite tree, the white dogwood, in Manahawkin Lake Park. “I did go over and inspect that it was planted properly,” O’Leary joked.

Arbor Day also holds a special significance to the Stafford mayor, who met and married his wife, Helen, on two consecutive Arbor Days in 1979 and 1980. He presented his wife with flowers on stage and wished her a very happy anniversary.

Stafford Township, one of many towns throughout the country designated “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation, is among only six towns in New Jersey (and less than 250 nationwide) to have achieved the highest level of recognition from the foundation, Sterling Tree City USA, showing growth in community forestry, Arbor Day celebrations and other environmental causes for more than a decade. Currently, the Stafford Township Environmental Commission is focusing its efforts on watershed management throughout Barnegat Bay. Spodofora said the goal is to “improve the land so that it handles storm water and creates better homes for the species that are living there.”

-- Ashley Tedesco


2012 Arbor Day Poster Winners:



1st: Elijah Spezzaferra

2nd: Lindsey Rey

3rd: Grace Leavitt

HM: Angelo Addiego


First Grade:

1st: Ayden Bryant

2nd: Fernanda Rojas

3rd: Charles Burton

HM: Hannah Vogel


Second Grade:

1st: Grace Ditmar

2nd: Lucy Lisiewski

3rd: Cecilia Plecs

HM: Mackenzie Pritchard


Third Grade:

1st: Katlynn Savi

2nd: Kaitlyn Gonsalves

3rd: Luke Dellaperute

HM: Michael Czerniawski


Fourth Grade:

1st: Laura Randall

2nd: Gianna Schiattarella

3rd: Justin Liu

HM: Shaelynn Pelusio


Fifth Grade:

1st: Maggie Brummer

2nd: Bastien Southard

3rd: Grace Whitney

HM: Cameron Buck


Sixth Grade:

1st: Carly Sica

2nd: Colin Flood

3rd: Emma Cotter

HM: Noah Rogers


Seventh Grade:

1st: Elizabeth O'Hara

2nd: Rachel Rizzo

3rd: Cara Ditmar

HM: Kayla Brunner


Eighth Grade:

1st: Shannon MacMaster

2nd: Camryn Isaksen

3rd: Gabriella Hay

HM: Brent Tooker


Ninth Grade:

1st: Victoria Sullivan

2nd: Jenna Dooley

3rd: Lia Stango

HM: Michael Bickel


Tenth Grade:

1st: Jenna Jurgens

2nd: Katelyn Mulrooney

3rd: Marina Felmly

HM: Timmy Keizer


Eleventh Grade:

1st: Kathleen Crystal

2nd: Brianna Pagano

3rd: Meagan Coughlin

HM: Vale Goheen


Twelfth Grade:

1st: Joe Alaimo

2nd: Shauna Oswald

3rd: Matthew Nycz

HM: Xiaobin Chen


2012 Arbor Day Poem Winners



1st: Casey Sica

2nd: Mason Hurt

3rd: Sydney Wellington

HM: Michael Zecena


Second Grade:

1st: Grace Ditmar

2nd: Ryan Shackelton

3rd: Alycia Arnold

HM: Dean DiRocco


Third Grade:

1st: Bailey Hradek

2nd: Charles Ray

3rd: Aidan Butts

HM: Nicholas Raylman


Fourth Grade:

1st: Faith Weiser

2nd: Collin Boero

3rd: Brianna Carlucci

HM: Jaelyn D'Amelio


Fifth Grade:

1st: Emily Pires

2nd: Kieran Sundermann

3rd: Christina D'Amodio

HM: David Springstead


Sixth Grade:

1st: Ryan Goganzer

2nd: Arielle Medenilla

3rd: Tyler Ciaccio

HM: James Barbaccia


Seventh Grade:

1st: Cara Ditmar

2nd: Katie Johnson

3rd: Laura Flynn

HM: Sean Conroy


Eighth Grade:

1st: Francesca Aimone

2nd: Sam Westpy

3rd: Nick Alaimo

HM: Chole Hoffnagle


Ninth Grade:

1st: Samantha Gerhard

2nd: Hannah Fitzgerald

3rd: Audrey Eismann

HM: Sarah Paco


Tenth Grade:

1st: Deanna DiCarlo

2nd: Nicholas Larstanna

3rd: Julie Renae Fudalik

HM: Jenna Jurgens


Eleventh Grade:

1st: Troy Hagen

2nd: Franshesca Castoria

3rd: Luis Herrera


Twelfth Grade:

1st: Kaitylee Swartout

2nd: Joshua Hernandez

3rd: Dillon Glassford

HM: John Reed


2012 Arbor Day Essay Winners


Second Grade:

1st: Nate Committee

2nd: Amanda Moro

3rd: Aidan Palmisano

HM: Shealin Cassidy


Fourth Grade:

1st: Chris Marinelli

2nd: Nicolette Crocker

3rd: Benjamin Hanneman

HM: Amanda Lange


Fifth Grade:

1st: David Springstead

2nd: Jessica Caiazzo

3rd: Jake Damato

HM: Carlee Nodine


Sixth Grade:

1st: Caitlyn Liu

2nd: Keara Cousins

3rd: Sarah Possidel

HM: Hattie Kenduck


Seventh Grade:

1st: Rachel Lange

2nd: Alexis Romeo

3rd: Julia Marcello

HM: Samantha Enterline


Eighth Grade:

1st: John Keizer

2nd: Alyssa Casini

3rd: Kiersten Green

HM: Karielle Shaffery


Ninth Grade:

1st: Michael Cirillo

2nd: Drew Skimba

3rd: Summer Cordasco

HM: Alex Campbell


Tenth Grade:

1st: Erin Ditmar


Eleventh Grade:

1st: Katie Cleland

2nd: Quinn McNicholas

3rd: Ericka Ponce

HM: Nick Spataro


Twelfth Grade:

1st: Connor McGrann

2nd: Danielle Plosky

3rd: Nick Swarek

HM: Kristin Sullivan

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