School leaders picked the perfect day to return all students back to the classrooms as March 22 has always been a special day in Mt. Olive.
As students and teachers, who choose to do so, report back as a traditional school day next Monday, the township will be ringing in 150 years since its founding. To help celebrate in the Centennial, the school district has been asked to kick off the celebration.
Teachers, students and historians are happy to be included and are enthusiastic for taking part in such a milestone, right alongside their township counterparts.
“It's a tremendous opportunity for our school district and students to acknowledge our township's rich history, community pride, incredible partnerships and recognize Mount Olive Township's incredible growth and development of one of the best communities in the state of New Jersey and northeastern United States,” says Kevin Stansberry, director of Secondary Schools and Global Education, and MOTSD representative to the Mt. Olive Township 150th Anniversary Committee.
“This is a tremendous and powerful opportunity for our families, community leaders, local businesses and organizations,” he says. “Our educational system is proudly at the core of this ceremonious event.”
Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow
“March 22, 1871, Mount Olive Township was formed through the separating of 32 square-miles of land from Roxbury Township,” explains Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum, noting why it is important to celebrate.
“One-hundred fifty years is a significant milestone,” he says. “Understanding where we’ve come from helps to build and share a community’s collective memory. We learn, value and develop empathy as we identify with what has gone before, shapes today and prepares us for tomorrow. Proud of what this town has become.”
Greenbaum explains his pride for the town.
“Sense of community,” says Greenbaum who has served as mayor for the past 10 years and member of the Mt. Olive Twp. Council for 10 years prior. “What makes me proud to be mayor of Mount Olive is the people that live in town. How much they care for one another, how [they] support each other in good times and bad.”
It is not so often that Mt. Olive makes such a big deal of the townships’ founding. The last to do was 50 years ago.
“In 1971, the Centennial was celebrated with events and a committee published the Mt. Olive Township Historical Journal,” he explains.
“Mt. Olive has much to be proud of and to continue striving together as a community,” continues the mayor. “We are celebrating Mt. Olive: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow all year long through many different venues and opportunities.”
Looking at the future, Greenbaum notes there may be some growth but nothing too extravagant.
He says, “80% of the town is in the Highlands Preservation Area. As such, most of the town will look pretty much the same as it does now, with some redevelopment.”
Schools Asked To Get Involved
“It was a natural extension of the celebration,” says Stansberry. “The 150th Anniversary Committee Chairperson, Mrs. Jill Daggon, reached out to our superintendent of schools requesting the MOTSD's representation for this milestone event.
“Jill Daggon has assembled an amazing committee of volunteers that have provided incredible programming to generate community pride and to celebrate the magnificent trajectory of Mt. Olive Township!” the long-time school leader continues. “It has been a pleasure to be a part of this celebration.”
According to Stansberry, the 150th Anniversary Committee has been meeting since last February 2020.
“I am sure that there were numerous conversations prior to 2020,” he says.
The school district’s involvement kicks in just in time for a year-long celebration.
“Our students K-12 are providing a series of congratulatory messages, artwork, musical and choral performances, videos, interviews, historical perspectives, and personalized responses to why they love Mt. Olive,” says Stansberry. “There are several multimedia presentations that will be released for the Opening Day Ceremonies scheduled for March 22nd. The 150th Anniversary celebration will continue throughout the spring and summer months.”
Because of COVID, “The Opening Ceremonies are all virtual,” says Stansberry. “Links will be available on the MOHS website, Mt. Olive Township website, and MOTV YouTube Channel.”
With two dozen years working in the Mt. Olive School District, Stansberry is happy to take the reins on the school front.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to work for the students, parents, and the entire Mt. Olive Learning Community!” says Stansberry, former principal of Mt. Olive High School for 17 years and director of athletics prior to that. “I am so proud of the accomplishments of our students, staff, high school and the entire district. We have been so fortunate to have such a supportive and engaged partnership with the families, businesses, service providers and residents of the community.”
Historian Stays Connected to MOSD
Noreen Risko, a member of the 150th Anniversary Committee and a former educator/supervisor in the MOSD, has been instrumental in the school district’s role in the celebration.
With a link to Mt. Olive dating back to her childhood, Risko’s stories and recollections provide an invaluable source of historic information about the town.
“My connection to Mt. Olive began as a child when my family vacationed at Budd Lake,” says Risko. “Yes, I recall riding the Merry Go Round and attending the little St. Jude Church. My brother Michael D. Toohey and his wife Nancy built a beautiful home in Budd Lake. I was more like a big sister to my nephews Michael and Bryan and nieces Donna and Stephanie. My brother was an avid fisherman and took me out in his boat on Budd Lake many times. “I taught social studies in Roxbury and met my husband John at his father’s retirement dinner,” she continues. “John’s father was the retiring superintendent of Roxbury. John’s military service as a Seabee had us moving all over. I taught in California, Bermuda and Mississippi. John decided the constant moving took its toll on our family life. He was missing too many special moments with his girls. We headed back to New Jersey and Mr. Chester M. Stephens offered me an opportunity to teach social studies at Mt. Olive. We lived in Netcong and when we expected our third child, needed more room, and made our home in Green Township."
A retired Mt. Olive educator and administrator, Risko taught social studies at the middle and high school level as well as serving as the social studies supervisor.
“I served as the principal of Summer School for many years and concluded my tenure with the Mt. Olive School District as the director of Community School Programs.”
Risko is a true historian with a passion for enlightening students with the township’s past.
“The New Jersey Historical Society sponsored a student history program entitled The Jerseymen,” she explains. “I had advised a group while in Roxbury and Mt. Olive already had a Jerseymen History Club for many years. In fact, when Roxbury was not able to provide transportation to the state-wide events, Mt. Olive graciously gave the Roxbury students a ride. The State Historical Society sponsored a program entitled Adopt a Building. My students were excited. They took up the challenge to seek out a building in Mt. Olive to Adopt. The Seward House, the Old Mill on the corner of 206 and Flanders-Netcong Road, and the Mt. Olive Academy were among the possibilities. The Mt. Olive Academy was selected. We met first with Rev. Lyons the pastor of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church. He explained we would need permission from the Salmon Family Association. Permission granted. Mt. Olive High School Jerseymen researched, interviewed people who attended the one room schoolhouse. Presented all their findings to a committee at the State Level and were rewarded with accolades. Students raised money and with the help of volunteers from the high school staff including Mr. John Risko put a new roof on the building in 1982.
“Over the years the Jerseymen cut the grass, picked up debris, and raked leaves at the schoolhouse,” describes Risko. “Eventually, a miracle, the Salmon Association deeded the property to the Township of Mt. Olive for historic preservation. The goal has been and still is restore the schoolhouse. Make it resemble what it was prior to 1926 when it ceased serving as a one room schoolhouse. All eight one room schoolhouses converged to the Budd Lake School on Route 46.”
Risko was excited to be included in the township’s anniversary festivities.
“Mrs. Bobbi Reed, whose children were a big part of the Jerseymen, forwarded the message she had received from the mayor about the upcoming celebration,” describes Risko. “I discovered that Jill Daggon [from Mt. Olive Recreation] was chairing the committee. Jill and I worked together on so many levels over my 30 plus years in Mt. Olive.
“I offered to see if I could help,” says Risko. “Historic Preservation is essential. The 150th Anniversary is the perfect time to have all residents reflect on the rich Yesterday of Mt. Olive, be aware of Mt. Olive’s greatness Today and where Mt. Olive is heading Tomorrow.
“The students are Mt. Olive’s Today and Tomorrow,” says Risko. “Everyone needs to know our Yesterday in order to understand our Today and help make Tomorrow as rich and vibrant as Yesterday. Starting with the one room school house setting, Mt. Olive Schools have always exceled in academics, sports, and a caring, welcoming environment. 150th is an opportunity to bring all the entities of the community of Mt. Olive together.
“Mt. Olive is a wonderful place to live, work, pray, play and learn together to enjoy our civil liberties, Together,” says Risko. “The demographics have changed since 1871 but the heart of Mt. Olive, Budd Lake is still a well spring of hope for all.”
A few years ago, Risko was approached by the Mt. Olive Middle School Gifted & Talented teacher to bring some of the township history to light.
“Ann Greszczak, the Gifted and Talented instructor at the Middle School reached out to me three years ago and asked if I would give her students a tour of Budd Lake,” says Risko. “I immediately made myself available. For as long as I can remember, the Jerseymen offered a bus tour to fourth grade students to learn about Mt. Olive. The sixth-grade students were so anxious to learn everything. The visual tour was added too, by the assistance of the research librarian who shared, with the students, valuable artifacts stored in the Heritage Room. The students put together a slide show for a Morris County Living Voices program. Like the Jerseymen of the 1980’s, Mt. Olive Middle School students were given accolades. Their slide show will be showcased for the 150th along with the following years student work.”
Like other educators, Risko is pleased MOSD was included in the township’s centennial.
“The best way to understand the complexity of our nation and world is to start at home,” says Risko.
“It is essential that the Mt. Olive School District be featured as part of the 150th celebration,” adds Risko. “The schools are an intricate part of the community of Mt. Olive. Mt. Olive Schools have always provided students with a solid basic education. Mt. Olive has led the way with innovative instructional programs such as but not limited to Robotics, Television Production, ROTC, Performing and Visual Arts. Mt. Olive Schools address every student from outstanding special education programs to the most rigorous advanced placement classes in all subject areas as well as physical education and sports programs that address individual personal fitness to state ranking sports in all categories.”
In early fall of 2020, Risko approached Greszczak requesting that her students participate in the township’s anniversary.
“I am just offering my student's slide show presentation: 1. The History of Mt Olive. 2. Honoring our Veterans and the All Veterans Memorial. 3. The Mt. Olive Police Department,” explains Greszczak. “The presentation we are working on now, The History of the Mt. Olive Schools, will be complete by the end of the year.”
Referring to Risko as a “great historian,” Greszczak says “she was instrumental in providing my kids information for their History of Budd Lake presentation. In fact she took the kids on a historical all day school bus tour of Budd Lake. So super interesting! The kids loved it.”
For the kickoff, Greszczak says “All of my 6th, 7th and 8th grade GT classes will be participating. My GT students who are now freshman will also have their work included. All will be participating in some capacity, approximately 130 total.”
Greszczak provides a deeper understanding into what her students will be presenting.
“My students have created presentations called Living Voices,” she explains. “This means that the information they gathered will be through a “living voice,” not the internet or a book. All through interviews. The information is gathered by my 6th grade students, and organized in a slide show which include video clips from speakers (interviewed). It also included pictures supplied to us from the various living sources.
“In the past the presentations included “The History of Budd Lake;” “Honoring our Veterans;” “The History of the MO Police Department;” and the one we are currently working on “The History of the Mt. Olive Schools.”
She says “The History of Budd Lake and the Honoring our Veterans presentations are finished and are currently on the website. The MOPD is in the process of being finalized. We are starting the History of the MO Schools. It will be finished by end of May.”
Greszczak’s students have been working on these projects for a few years now. They are happy they can share all of that information during this milestone celebration.
“This actually started out as a project for the Morris County Historical Society and was sponsored by the Consortium for Gifted and Talented Programs,” Greszczak explains about the Living Voices Project. “Any topic relating to the school could be picked for the project. The first year, the students picked “The History of Budd Lake” and were amazed by the rich history of Mt. Olive. Noreen Risko agreed to give my students a tour (school bus ride) of Budd Lake and pointed out all the historical buildings/facts, including the One Room schoolhouse and the first Police Headquarters.
“The second year the students voted to honor our Veterans and that is when we became involved in the All Veterans Memorial under the leadership of Charlie Uhrmann,” founder of the AVM, she continues. “The students began volunteering at the Memorial and became involved in the Blessing Boxes (2020) and the Backpacks for Veterans (2019).
“The Living Voices Project just snowballed from there,” says Greszczak. “The more the students became involved, the more they wanted to become involved. I ask my 6th graders to pick the topic and do the interview and presentation and that seems to spark their involvement in the project into 7th and 8th grade.”
Who You Know Takes You Far
“Noreen knew that my students were involved in the Living Voices presentation and asked if the committee could showcase their work on the 150th Anniversary Website,” says Greszczak. “We were honored to be asked. On a side note, I thought it was great for the students to see their work as important and a valuable contribution to Mt. Olive.”
The students have learned many lessons through their involvement in Greszczak’s projects and have gained greater insight into the town in which they live.
“Interviewing members of our community has been an eye-opening experience for my students,” says Greszczak. “Not only did they learn valuable lessons regarding interviewing techniques and synthesizing information and creating a product for the public, they came to enjoy speaking and listening to people from different ages and backgrounds in the community. They realized that MO has a rich history and “older” people have much to share. They found out that MO is more than just a place they live…. it’s a place where people work together for the greater good and to make a difference.
“Many of the speakers left students with valuable advice such as ‘Do the right thing,’ even when no one is looking; or The people of Budd Lake is what makes it a great place to live.
“One student added: There is so much history in people’s experience more than you can even imagine. It’s so incredible what people have done and the information should be shared.”
She says, “Living voices is our way of sharing that information.”
The project has also fostered volunteerism amongst the students.
“Because the students were 6th graders when they completed the project, they were able to “grow” into the project topic and volunteer their time during their 7th & 8th grade years, she says. “Hopefully that spirit of volunteerism will continue throughout their life.”
Anyone can research for information, but to gather those details from living voices provides a fresh perspective, thus providing a value add to the township’s reflection of the town.
“Because the information gathered is “live” and voices recorded, ordinary people are given a chance to be heard,” says Greszczak. “Their experiences and memories are shared and preserved for generations to come.”
MOSD – A Piece To The Puzzle
This is a town celebration, not a school district celebration, some may say, so why is it important for the kids to get involved?
“Mt Olive should be more than just a place to live,” says Greszczak. “Whether a student has lived here their whole life or just moved here, students should know the history of the town. That’s what makes a town a community...people sharing their memories from the past and contributing to the future. Hopefully by becoming involved in the celebration, the kids will see the importance of becoming involved in the town and carry that forward with them as they get older.”
Greszczak and her students are proud to be included in the centennial of Mt. Olive.
"It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this and have the students work featured on the website,” she says.
"I'm thrilled that I get to participate in this experience as it is a monumental milestone in our town’s history,” says eighth grader Isha Mishra. “I’m honored that the committee wants our input on things down to the tiniest detail. It’s truly a surreal experience!”
The 14-year old says she spent many hours helping to write the slideshow with the rest of her GT class. “I participated in a project back in sixth grade where we took real-life experiences from veterans and presented them to the general public,” explains Mishra. “Since it’s a chronicle of history that we are lucky to be able to hear from people, we wanted to ensure that these stories were spread. There were such intricate narratives and experiences that were kept in the dark. It was like looking into a storybook. Our presentation represents each person that we heard from and what they did to serve our country.”
For the information, she says “As the title suggests, we used the actual voice of veterans. Some of them we interviewed in class; others we interviewed on a facetime call with a selected member of our class. We did not consult any books, articles, etc. Hearing first-hand from someone who has been through a similar experience is an incredible experience.”