OCEAN COUNTY – The occasion was bittersweet. Even as the season was celebrated at the county’s annual Christmas tree lighting, the Board of Chosen Freeholders remembered their friend and colleague John C. Bartlett Jr., who had died only hours before.
The tree, a 28-foot Norway Spruce adorned in 6,000 energy efficient LED lights, sits on the lawn of the county administration building at Washington Street and Hooper Avenue. It was dedicated to Bartlett, and officially lighted by another Freeholder’s granddaughters, Cecelia Grace and Juliana Faith Kelly.
“Today is a little bit bittersweet for us,” Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said. “We certainly rejoice in this holiday season and this Christmas, but we’re also sad today…”
Bartlett fought “a valiant battle” against cancer, Little said. He briefly shared a bit of Bartlett’s legacy with the crowd lining the sidewalk on Hooper Avenue, including his work with the county parks and open space.
“So we thought that it was fitting today, that we dedicate our Christmas tree this year, which will be lit for the first time, as the John C. Bartlett Jr. Christmas tree,” Little said. “It’s just planted on our lawn here at the administration building this fall. For decades to come, this majestic tree here in the heart of our county seat will remind our residents and visitors of John and all that he did in his years of public service.”
Several Christmas songs were sung by the Silver Bay Elementary School Chorus, led by music teachers Stephanie Higham and Karen Santinon, and assisted by sign language interpreter Michele Tursi.
“I would just like to say, as a former educator and teacher, that Christmas belongs to children,” Freeholder Joseph Vicari told the crowd. “And it represents hope, and it represents happiness.”
Freeholders John Kelly and Virginia Haines were also in attendance, as were other government and school officials.
The outdoor festivities ended with the crowd and chorus singing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” before heading indoors to the heat and some apple cider, donated by Manna Café, and cookies, baked by the Ocean County VoTech Culinary students.