Meet Ocean County Commissioner-Elect ‘Bobbi Jo’ Crea

Commissioner-elect Bobbi Jo Crea will leave the Little Egg Township Committee in January to join the Ocean County Commissioners. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  OCEAN COUNTY – When Commissioner-elect Barbara ‘Bobbi Jo’ Crea contemplated running for the seat opened by Commissioner Gerry Little’s retirement, she considered her first phone call a critical one.

  “I reached out to Gary Quinn (current Commissioner Director) and told him I was interested,” shared Bobbi Jo. “I also interviewed him as I knew I would be running with him and am careful when it comes to associating my name with someone.”

  Quinn’s seat was also on the ballot, and as the incumbent, he secured one of the two Republican lines. Although Bobbi Jo already knew Quinn from her work as a past mayor and current Little Egg Township Committee member, she still had some questions.

  One of the things Bobbi Jo wanted to know might sound a bit personal.

  “I asked Gary what he considered the most important things in life,” Bobbi Jo said. “He quickly answered that family and health came first.”

  Bobbi Jo’s wistful eyes suggested the significance of Quinn’s revelation more than hit home. Although his response might seem typical to some – to Bobbi Jo, it was monumental.

  Now 73, Bobbi Jo grew up in Trenton and credits her Mama for giving her the “starch” for the person she is today. Betty Poulos didn’t allow the fact that she was a woman in the fifties deter her from making a difference in the world.

The family celebrates on election night, from left: Bobbi Jo’s stepson Ritchie Crea, his wife Cindy, her stepdaughter Lisa Sleman and her husband Hassan. (Photo courtesy Bobbi Jo Crea)

  As a psychiatrist technician at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Poulos found it disturbing that adults and children were housed together. So she approached the institution’s director and advocated for the need for a separate children’s psychiatric hospital.

  Poulos searched the grounds, and the hospital administrators went with her suggestion to convert an old doctor’s residence to take care of boys and girls who needed psychiatric admission. However, when Poulos and a friend asked to head up the new children’s hospital, they were informed they didn’t have the “titles.”

  “My mother told her bosses they should send them both to school,” shared Bobbi Jo. “The unfortunate thing was back then; most nursing schools wouldn’t accept them because of their ages. So, they had to commute from Trenton to Elizabeth to earn their credentials.”

  With the triumph also came tragedy as Betty Poulos died when she was just 46 and Bobbi Jo in her early twenties. However, the last days of her mother’s life left a lasting impression on Ocean County’s newest Commissioner-Elect.

  “I was hospice before it was even popular.” Bobbi Jo said. “I sat by my mother’s side as she coached me and insisted I plan on where I would be (in life) next week, six months, and further. She talked to me about money as well.”

  “To this day, it’s the way I live,” continued Bobbi Jo. “There are a lot of commonalities of what I do in my personal life to what I’ve done on a local level in government. It’s about planning and, as Gary Quinn says, taking care of the checkbook the people trust us with to spend wisely.”

  After her mother’s death, Bobbi Jo found herself left with a mortgage and thousands of dollars in unpaid medical bills. The young woman knew her salary wasn’t enough to keep her afloat and contacted the creditors to assure them they would be paid.

  Bobbi Jo kept to her word. She was working in what would ultimately become New Jersey’s Division of Taxation in 1966. Although she’d moved up to data entry supervisor by the time of her mother’s death, she felt pressed to earn more.

  When her regular work hours ended at 4 p.m., Bobbi Jo went to another job from 4:30 until 7:30 pm. She then did data entry for a private company from 8 until 11:30 p.m. and picked up a weekend position as well. By the end of the week, she had completed four work assignments.

  Despite her busy schedule, Bobbi Jo focused on her opportunities in the civil service system. She took the requisite tests and made sure to learn new things that helped her move up the chain. Bobbi Jo eventually retired as the Bureau Chief for the taxation division’s office collections in 1994.

Commissioner-elect Bobbi Jo Crea with her late husband Richard J. Crea. (Photo courtesy Bobbi Jo Crea)

  “I always programmed someone else who was capable to take my place when I moved up,” Bobbi Jo shared. “I thought it was important.”

  Bobbi Jo paid off the mortgage to her home when she was still quite young. At age 30, she married Richard J. Crea, a Trenton firefighter, who was nine years her senior. Ritchie had a son and a daughter from his first marriage. Bobbi Jo continues to enjoy her relationship with her stepson Ritchie, and stepdaughter, Lisa Sleman and six grandchildren.

  After 41 years together, Ritchie died as Bobbi Jo was with him in the room. While her grief still brings tears to her eyes, Bobbi Jo’s memories include the role he played in her political career.

  The Crea couple moved full-time to Little Egg Harbor in 1995 after their retirements. While she enjoyed fishing and traveling with Ritchie, Bobbi Jo decided she’d also like to work part-time. She asked someone who worked for a lawyer in town if they needed clerical help.

  The lawyer’s name was Brian Rumpf, now a state assemblyman, who had not yet held any political office. When he decided to run for township committee, Rumpf asked Bobbi Jo to head his 1999 campaign.

  “I had no experience running a campaign,” admitted Bobbi Jo. “Ritchie told me it was something I would be good at, and I was happy when Brian won.”

  Ritchie would later encourage Bobbi Jo to run for Little Egg Harbor Township Committee, where she ultimately served four terms and as the local mayor. According to Bobbi Jo, her husband recognized her ability to get things done for people.

  “My mission is to provide the best quality of life to the people I represent in the best way I know how,” Bobbi Jo said. “That includes everyone – there’s no Democrat or Republican way to pick up the trash.”

  During her tenure serving Little Egg Harbor, Bobbi Jo found it critical to be part of a team. The township has five age-restricted communities and Bobbi Jo identified a need.

  “I have been heavily involved with the senior advisory board,” shared Bobbi Jo. “We bring issues to the people who not only are seniors, but those who care for them.”

  Bobbi Jo continues to support the efforts of Interfaith Health and Support to Little Egg Harbor, a non-profit organization that provides volunteer support to seniors and their caregivers.

  “I think Interfaith is very important because there are people out there who are in need,” Bobbi Jo explained. “There are people out there who can do things for them.”

  Providing resources for veterans also holds a special place in Bobbi Jo’s heart. Her dear late husband served in the US Navy on the USS Canberra. While she’s proud of Ritchie’s service, she sums up her view on all vets quite simply.

Barbara ‘Bobbi Jo’ Crea’s grandchildren (Photo courtesy Bobbi Jo Crea)

  “Some people live a lifetime wondering if they’ve made a difference in this world,” said Bobbi Jo. “A veteran never has that problem.”

  After the Ocean County Republican Committee voted for Bobbi Jo to share the line with Quinn, she began regularly attending commissioner meetings. Bobbi Jo is excited about the new team she will soon join, which she says is doing a fantastic job.

  “First off, there’s the fact that they have a triple bond rating,” Bobbi Jo shared. “The way they handled the COVID vaccine program was amazing. And, I’m also thrilled about the new veteran’s building.”

  The transition from serving Little Egg Harbor to Ocean County as a whole represents helping more people as far as Bobbi Jo is concerned. Instead of a population of just over 23,000, Bobbi Jo will be working on making life better for over 600,000 residents.

  “Bobbi Jo was my number one choice when it came to a running mate,” said Quinn. “We had a large group of people interested in looking to replace Gerry. I think their values are similar as they’re very conservative, and Bobbi has proven to be a team leader.”

   “You’re not going to win every battle you’re involved in, but you have to work with people,” Quinn continued. “I’ve seen the way Bobbi handled herself at the municipal level and think it’s going to be tremendous having her represent the entire county.”