LAKEWOOD – FirstEnergy Park was bathed in blue Friday, Nov. 5.
Hundreds of people – largely from law enforcement – mourned the loss and celebrated the life of Lakewood Township Police Department Captain Joe Goertz, who died peacefully of a short illness at the age of 60 at his Manchester home on Oct. 31.
Lakewood, New Jersey State Police, Point Pleasant Boro, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, Manchester, Brick Township, Wall Township, West Windsor, Mendham, Barnegat, Ocean Township, Lacey, Lakehurst, Howell Township and Seaside Park officers paid their respects under a brilliant blue sky in 49-degree temperatures.
One of the most emotional mourners at the home of the Jersey Shore BlueClaws was Devyn Stilton, 14, a member of the Toms River Futbol Club and a close friend of Goertz’s family. One of Goertz’s daughters, Alexa, is a club member.
“I am sad,” Stilton said as she repeatedly fought through tears. “Their family took me on cruises. They took me on camping trips in their RV, which they are selling. He was sweet. There was always a smile on his face no matter what. Mr. Goertz always saw the positive in things. He was funny. He always had a joke to say about something.”
Club members wore jerseys that sported Goertz’s badge number, 251, on their arms.
“We will miss him so much,” said Stilton, a Toms River High School East freshman. “I’d go on sleepovers at his house two weeks straight. He was my cornhole partner when we went camping everywhere in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. His family took me on cruises to Mexico, Honduras and Belize on Carnival Magic.”
Club member Aniya Savoy, a Manchester Township High School sophomore, said she enjoyed the company of the Goertz family.
“They were fun to be around,” she said. “They were very enjoyable. They had a nice energy. I am just in shock. Nobody expected this.”
Goertz’s sons, Ryan and Joey, are on the Hawks’ boys junior varsity soccer team. A daughter, Nicole, is on the Hawks’ varsity girls soccer team as a freshman. Alexa plays varsity volleyball as a junior for the Hawks. Nicole, Ryan and Joey are triplets.
Several Manchester athletes wore their jerseys to the funeral and embraced Goertz’s family members in front of his closed casket, covered with an American flag on the concourse behind home plate. Lakewood officers stood guard at the casket.
“When we got the news of Mr. Goertz’s passing, it was very tough for our students,” Manchester head boys varsity soccer coach Troy Madison said. “This is a great family. Everybody is in shock … total disbelief. Our girls soccer team played a state tournament match the other day and they had his badge number written on their arms.
“The Goertz kids are great kids. Unfortunately, stuff happens and it doesn’t seem fair to kids like that. You could tell they were obviously well-raised by their parents (among Goertz’s survivors is his widow, Elena). The children are fun to have in class. They are good students. This is tragic. They will have tough moments and tough times ahead. I hope that with everyone’s support somehow they will get through this.”
Madison said Goertz was a supportive father. Goertz often chronicled his children’s accomplishments on his Facebook page.
“Joe was always at his children’s events,” Madison said. “He was a great father. He always put his family first. Joe and his family were good ambassadors of Manchester Township High School. It’s a shame something like this happened to a guy like that.”
Madison said he enjoyed Goertz’s personality.
“He was very outgoing,” Madison said. “We shared a couple of laughs. He was well-respected by many. He was a guy who loved life and his family – and you could see the love they had for him. Joe and his wife never missed an event that involved their children.”
Manchester sophomore Max Anderson and Joey Goertz compete together in wrestling.
“His dad always drove me home from practice,” Anderson said. “He was a great guy. Nobody could find anything bad to say about him. He’s one of the nicest guys I ever met. He was a kind man … always very positive, very outgoing.”
The funeral was colorful. “In Loving Memory of Captain Joe Goertz,” it said on the video board on which Goertz was pictured. A large American flag hung from a Lakewood Fire Department hook and ladder truck in the parking lot. The Lakewood First Aid Squad attended.
Scenes of Goertz’s life were depicted on the video board beyond the outfield wall and on small screens on the concourse. Somber music was played over the public address system. Eight Howell police officers attended the funeral on motorcycles. Goetz’s casket was behind home plate during the program.
The Rev. Jan Pastuszczak of the Parish of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave the Invocation on the baseball field. Lakewood Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller said the Opening Prayer. Pastuszczak performed the Blessing of the Body.
Mary Goertz-Mey, a Goertz sister, recited the Scripture Reading. Cori Scotti of the parish sang Psalm 91: Be With Me Lord. Lakewood police Sergeant Pete LaRosa recited a Scripture Reading. Pastuszczak read the Gospel and delivered the Homily.
Goertz’s children supplied Reflections read by Alexa Goertz.
“It’s never the right time to say goodbye,” she said. “You always listened. You were never one to boast. You were always there for the ones who loved you most. I will follow your path. I hope you can hear me. So yes today I am full of sorrow. I love you so much. I miss you every day.”
Scotti followed with a rendition of Ave Maria. Ray and Debra Wysokowski, Goertz’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, said the Eulogy.
“Joe was most certainly a legend,” she said. “He was one of five siblings. His mom was a homemaker. His dad was a popular school teacher. Joe is in the Lakewood High School Athletics Hall of Fame and was on the Professional Bowlers Tour. Once Joe befriends you, you have a friend for life. He did everything with pride and determination. He was a leader and a natural teacher. He always referred to his fellow officers as his guys.
“He was the most amazing husband to my sister. There was nothing he would not do for his family. He loved my sister with all of his heart. Alexa was his first born. Fatherhood was his calling. I felt triplets and their diapers would rattle his demeanor, but Joe just said, ‘Cheese and crackers,’ at things that made other parents rattle. Joe and Ryan watched old war and cowboy movies together. His kids were his pride and joy. He took fatherhood to a whole new level.
“There were countless trips to Disney. He never complained. He enjoyed every minute with his family. They always planned their next trip together. He was an old soul with a big heart. He was a Hallmark Christmas movie type of guy. Joe, may you rest in peace. We love you.”
Lakewood police followed with a 21 Gun Salute in front of the home team’s dugout. A Lakewood police officer played “Taps” in front of the home club’s dugout. Lakewood Police Chief Gregory Meyer presented the American flag to Goertz’s widow.
“Amazing Grace,” was performed by Barnegat and Ocean County Sheriff’s Department officers. A New Jersey State Police helicopter buzzed the funeral with a flyover.
Goertz joined the Lakewood Township Police Department in May of 1998. He hoped to again become a professional bowler after his retirement.
“You could never say a bad word about Joe,” said Steve Wexler, who served with him on the Lakewood Police Department. “This is terrible. He was always smiling, even tempered. He was always willing to help people … all of that stuff.”
Meyer said he enjoyed serving the community with Goertz, whose latest title was Captain of Administration. Meyer noted that Goertz also enjoyed playing golf and collecting stamps.
“Joe was well-loved by everybody,” Chief Meyer said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was our go-to guy. You gave him a job and he got it done. I bowled with him in a Saturday morning league. I knew him for a lifetime.”