HOPATCONG – Saturday’s kickoff of the 2013 Hopatcong Days celebration was a mixed bag of rain, warm weather, tears and laughter as residents came together to remember and celebrate.
After a waterlogged parade, residents gathered in Modick Park to pay tribute to local military personnel – veterans, those on active duty, and the fallen. Mayor Sylvia Petillo offered the opening remarks, and started with a tribute to Vito Castoro, former chairman of Hopatcong Days. Castoro died suddenly last fall, and this is the first year the event was done without him.
“Vito loved the children and always pushed all of us to do more each year in order to make this event bigger and better,” Petillo said. “He is greatly missed.”
The mayor also introduced Miss Hopatcong 2013, Elena Melekos; Junior Miss Hopatcong 2013, Elizabeth Lavery; Little Miss Hopatcong 2013, Rebecca Lavery; and Mini Miss Hopatcong 2013, Megan Dunlap. She also introduced the Seniors of the Year, Loretta Rankin and John Maine.
In keeping with annual tradition, before starting the Hopatcong Days festivities, residents and local dignitaries honored and recognized local men and women who have served or are serving in the United States armed forces.
This year’s ceremony was particularly poignant for residents as two street signs were unveiled, paying tribute to two fallen heroes from Hopatcong. Specialist John Curtin III died in Vietnam in 1968, and Sgt. Michael Kirspel Jr. died in Afghanistan in 2010. Families of both soldiers attended the event.
“I just hope no one ever forgets,” said a tearful Dawn Roberts, Kirspel’s mother.
“Both of these young men grew up in Hopatcong, and were very much a part of our community,” Petillo said. “They were our friends, our neighbors, and now they are our heroes.”
Sargent First Class Charles Dougherty from Fort Dix, who served with Kirspel, offered an emotional tribute to his fallen brother, and Curtain’s sister, Jane, was also in attendance. The signs are on display at the corner of Riverstyx Road and Hopatchung Road.
“These signs will remain here, in the center of our town forever to represent the promise that we will never forget the significance and the sacrifice of John and Michael, our fallen heroes,” Petillo said. “Every time we pass by these signs, we should take a moment and remember.”
After the ceremony, Hopatcong Days officially got underway, although the persistent bouts of rain caused some of the planned activities, including Saturday’s Soapbox Derby and movie night, to be cancelled. Sunday’s softball game also was cancelled. Residents of all ages were still able to enjoy a petting zoo, pony rides, a waterslide and other rides, a Green Fair, and free food and drinks.
Police and local scouts listen as mayor reads off a list of military personnet from teh area.
Dawn Roberts, mother of Sgt. Michael Kirspel Jr., with her husband, Chris, and son, Samuel, during the ceremony Saturday morning in which two street signs were unveiled in honor of Kirspel, who died in Afghanistan, and Spc. John Curtin III, who died in Vietnam.
SFC Charles Dougherty from Fort Dix, who served with Sgt. Michael Kirspel Jr. in Afghanistan, offers his comments about the fallen soldier, while Jane Curtain, whose brother, Spc. John Curtain was killed in Vietnam, listens. Kirspel and Curtain were both honored with street signs bearing their names.