BERKELEY – A frail, but joyful Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. gratefully acknowledged the dedication of Berkeley Island County Park in his name at a ceremony Wednesday at the park off Barnegat Bay.
Bartlett, the longest serving freeholder in New Jersey, called the renaming of the park in his honor the “capstone” of his nearly 40-year career.
“I thank you all for this tremendous honor you have given me,” he told the crowd that attended the ceremony. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
The park has now been renamed the John C. Bartlett Jr. County Park at Berkeley Island. It’s located at the end of Brennan Concourse, accessible from Harbor Inn Road.
Several hundred people, including local and state officials attended the dedication, which was capped with the unveiling of the new county park sign. The weather cooperated. Skies were blue and clear, temperatures were mild and a brisk wind blew off Barnegat Bay.
The 71-year-old freeholder has been fighting colorectal cancer since last year. This August, he announced at a board meeting that his health prevented him from running for another term on the board. He said he would step down when his term expires at the end of December.
He walked with a cane and with the help of his wife Peggy on his way up to the podium. And while many speakers lauded his efforts, Bartlett, who serves as liaison to the county department of parks and recreation, said he couldn’t have done it alone.
The park was born on May 29, 1983, under Bartlett’s supervision. It was closed for almost six long years, after Superstorm Sandy slammed into the park on Oct. 29, 2012 and virtually destroyed it.
The park reopened on May 23, in part thanks to Bartlett’s efforts. He was almost giddy that day. He even tried out the new splash park, the only one of its kind in Ocean County.
Berkeley Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. said Bartlett had helped “a rookie mayor” tremendously with the park after Superstorm Sandy.
“He helped Berkeley get through the worst natural disaster,” Amato said. “We are very honored to have this park in Berkeley Township.”
Freeholder John P. Kelly said his first job was at Berkeley Island County Park many years ago, when Bartlett was the liaison to the department.
“You have done a fantastic job and we appreciate it so much,” Kelly said, choking up. “Thank you for all you have done.”
Bartlett called himself “a very lucky man.”
“I couldn’t have done it without my wife Peggy,” he said.
The couple have been married for 46 years. They have a son and a daughter and four much loved children, who Bartlett called the “light of my life.”
He was also grateful that his voice, which vanished recently and left him only able to speak in a whisper, had returned.
“The good Lord gave me my voice back,” he said.
He posed for pictures with his wife, family and officials after his comments, then left shortly after.