LAKEHURST – Clad in a crimson shirt and sporting a white beard, Jerry Nieuwenhuizen could easily be confused with a certain visitor from the North Pole. But that isn’t why he received a ceremonial key to the borough nor the honor of lighting the community Christmas tree this year.
Nieuwenhuizen is a long-time resident of Lakehurst and he takes pride in what the town looks like, so much so that he is often seen cleaning up debris and trash in the street. That is why he was awarded Citizen of the Year during a recent council meeting.
Joined by two family members, Nieuwenhuizen was presented the award by Mayor Harry Robbins. The mayor said that this year, unlike years past, instead of a plaque, the recipient of the Citizen of the Year would receive a shiny gold key as a symbol to his being a key citizen of the community.
“I walk back in the bogs along Proving Ground Road and walk around the back of the Public Works (building) and walked around Division Street – stuff like that – and people throw their garbage out there. I get tired of seeing it. I walked down the street a couple of weeks ago with my dog and people just toss out their beer bottles,” he told The Manchester Times after the meeting.
He also comes across many discarded COVID protection masks. “I pick them up all the time. I have a picker upper; I’m not touching them. They put garbage cans out, just put it in one. It makes no sense to me. There is plenty of it.”
Nieuwenhuizen added, “I stay out of the bogs in the winter because its hunting season and I have a white dog who is fairly tall. Once that is over, I go onto the state property as there is junk there. Last year I found three mower decks, two motors that had been dumped on the grass. The town takes it but they go down to the bogs to dump it. It makes no sense.”
Borough Clerk Mary Anne Capasso read the proclamation for Citizen of the Year stating the recipient has demonstrated “dedication to the Borough of Lakehurst through volunteer services by keeping it litter free.”
“For the first time we are presenting somebody with a key and it is a very nice key, the mayor remarked. “A responsibility comes with it. There is always a catch though, Jerry. We would be honored if you joined us as the Citizen of the Year does the lighting of the tree for the annual tree lighting.”
“Okay, I’ll be there,” Nieuwenhuizen quickly responded.
The mayor added, “it is people like you that make this small town what it is.”
Nieuwenhuizen and his family were among only one other resident in the audience for the council meeting and prior to receiving his award, he asked about an item on the bills list. That item concerned the expense of washing municipal vehicles.
He asked about a service agreement for truck washing with Ocean County. “This is something we’ve been doing now for several years. We’re not honestly allowed to wash the trucks on the property because of the drainage. It doesn’t have the proper drainage,” the mayor explained.