TOMS RIVER – Friday’s sunny and warm weather seemed appropriate for a day when “home town celebrity” Sondra Fortunato, would be remembered.
Her funeral service held on February 9 at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in the township, included her husband, family members and friends who remembered her vivacious spirt and beaming smile.
The priest who spoke during the service noted Fortunato’s bubbly, friendly manner and the brightness she brought to everyone she encountered and during social gatherings, sporting events and fundraisers.
Fortunato, known to many as “Miss Liberty,” was larger than life. She died on January 11 from complications of cancer. “I’m different, I know it and that’s a good thing. No one can say I’m average,” she once told Jersey Shore Online.
She loved people and they didn’t need to be famous, they just needed to be nice to her and most people couldn’t resist being drawn to her electric personality.
Miss Liberty was a special friend to Jersey Shore Online/Micromedia Publications and would often surprise the staff with gifts mailed to the office during major holidays including Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Christmas. She enjoyed the expression in various Micromedia Publications’ newspaper articles of her being a “hometown celebrity.” She said she appreciated the coverage and the kind words from the writers, editors, staff and management.
Fortunato was born and raised in the Garden State. She graduated from Toms River South High School and told Jersey Shore Online that her niece was married to the owner of Viacom and a brother who is a heart surgeon and two sisters.
She was once the unofficial cheerleader of the New York Giants and known for various meetups with celebrities and sports personalities in that role.
The Toms River resident was always coy when asked for her age usually noting she was a bit over 60. She was also well known throughout Ocean County and the state for her participation in various sports and fundraising events.
Miss Liberty was a favorite attraction in the annual Toms River Fire Company No. 1 Halloween Parade which always brought cheers as she traveled on a float or a car. One year, there was a pint-sized version of herself in the parade in the form of a young girl who emulated her Miss Liberty attire and even her famous decorated car.
Her vehicle was well known as it was adorned with placards, newspaper articles (many of them from Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online). “People see my car and they know I am behind it,” she once remarked in an article in Weird New Jersey. She explained to the media that she didn’t want to bother removing the many signs adhered to her car so she taped them on permanently for parades and special events.
She was the special guest at Southern Ocean County film festivals where some news clips of her were compiled into a video. Her other nicknames included Miss Football and Miss Millenium, Miss Super Bowl, Miss World Series, Miss NFL, Miss Body Beautiful U.S.A. and Miss Opening Day.
Her attire normally featured various gowns a tiara and attire that would extenuate her striking figure and bright smile. She commented during parade preparations about some possible and existing dress malfunctions but always with a laugh.
Last year she received the devasting news that she had developed Stage 4 cancer which damaged her left eye and that led to her death at the age of 75.
Miss Liberty once told Micromedia Publications that she was hired to cheer and fire up the crowd for sports teams. She was spotlighted in various magazines including Weird New Jersey for her various appearances and background that included a stint as a kindergarten teacher, a Playboy Bunny and being an official or unofficial mascot for various athletic teams across New Jersey and nationwide.
A tribute to Fortunato remains just a short distance from where her funeral service was held, at the Toms River Library on Washington Street. Within the Wheeler Room on the library’s second floor is a display case featuring various photos and newspaper clippings noting her many experiences.
There was a sign in front of Sondra Fortunato’s home in Toms River, featuring her title of Miss Liberty. She met many a celebrity herself including Hulk Hogan and Sylvester Stallone among various others she met over the years.
Along with her beauty she will be remembered for her amazing energy and the love she had for her community.