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Clifton Park Dedicated To Late
Councilman Matt Grabowski

CLIFTON, NJ – Hundreds of friends, colleagues, political figures and family members participated in a moving night of remembrance on Monday (August 17, 2015) when an Athenia neighborhood field was dedicated in honor of the late Councilman Matthew Grabowski.

In photo: Ray Grabowski unveiling the new sign marking “MATTHEW GRABOWSKI MEMORIAL FIELD”.

On a steamy summer evening in which the heat index reached 102 degrees, the fiery spirit that pushed Grabowski while he was alive lived on through the passionate supporters who were on hand to witness the Richardson Scale Park’s soccer field named for him.

Many friends said Grabowski, who died in February at age 53 following a year-long bout with liver cancer, had a deep sense of pride for the section which hugs Van Houten Avenue.

“It was a beautiful night,” Mayor James Anzaldi said. “The most important to Matt in some ways was his service to his city but also to his neighborhood of Athenia.”

DSC00483forwebThe dedication commenced with a color guard presentation, an invocation and performance of the national anthem.

“Matt touched so many lives and will continue to touch many more through the most deserving honor of this field being named after him. He will be in our hearts forever,” said Clifton Board of Recreation President Joseph Bionci.

Sandra Grazioso, 79, born and raised in Clifton, had a glint in her eye when she spoke of the late realtor and public servant.

“I loved the man and always will,” said Grazioso, who lost two sons who worked at the World Trade Center during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “Matt was a beautiful person and would do anything for you without asking for anything in return.”

Before the new sign was unveiled which marks Matthew Grabowski Memorial Field, Anzaldi explained that the stone used to mount the dedication plaque was taken from Athenia.

And, fitting of their pride and heritage, the Grabowski family was sure that the flowers adorning the memorial were red and white, the colors of the Polish flag. (At the conclusion of the night, as the crowd thinned out, a pair of senior citizens told the family that they personally would water the memorial’s flowerbeds every day.)

In attendance for the dedication were a bevy of local dignitaries but no one knew him better than his older brother Ray, sisters Christine and Valerie, longtime girlfriend Lorna Samgour, 92-year-old mother, Jean, as well as his aunt Stella and cousins Maureen, Paul and Loreen.

DSC00460forwenb“We were really overwhelmed,” Christine said. “We didn’t expect that many people. It was really heartwarming and made my mom very happy that they thought so much of Matt. That’s what this community is all about, though. We rally around people when they need it most.”

The family was also taken aback that U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell and former Clifton municipal judge Scott Bennion showed up Monday night.

In photo: Sheriff Berdnik and Congressman Bill Pascrell

“Matthew Grabowki was a public servant, first and foremost, not only in his time as a Clifton City Councilman, but also as a neighbor who was always ready to take on a new project. I worked with him on many local issues and saw his dedication first hand,” said Pascrell, calling the field’s dedication in Grabowski’s name “a fitting tribute” to a man who spent much of his life fighting to improve his community.

Ray, who will run in the special municipal council election in November to fill the seat vacated following his brother’s death, said the hurt of losing his younger sibling is still fresh and sharp.

“I still can’t look at a picture of him without it hitting me here,” Ray said, pounding a fist to his chest. “Because he’s my little brother. But, everything I taught him he did better than me.”

Several residents and friends spoke of Grabowski, agreeing he was blessed with an abundance of personality, charisma, good looks and honesty.

“How can you beat that?” his brother pondered aloud. “He had no agenda but when he wanted something he was relentless and determined to get it done.”

Peers likened the late councilman to the Energizer Bunny because of his tireless efforts regarding community events like the Clifton Street Fair, which is now one of Clifton’s most popular annual events. During his 13 years as president of the Athenia Business Association Grabowski also spearheaded other community fixtures like the annual tree lighting and Easter egg hunt.

Several speakers addressed the crowd of more than 200 supporters; the full City Council lined the podium that queued along Van Houten Avenue’s bustling roadway.

DSC00474forwebIn photo: Clifton Council members and Mayor present proclamation.

After Anzaldi officially dedicated the field in Grabowski’s name, Council members Joe Kolodziej and a tearful Lauren Murphy presented the family with a copy of the resolution.

“The mayor and municipal council dedicate this field to the memory of our beloved colleague Councilman Matthew Grabowski for his tireless pursuit of a better quality of life for all the citizens of Clifton,” the inscription read.

Councilman Joe Cupoli, the eighth-place finisher in the 2014 council election, was tapped in March to fill Grabowski’s seat until the general election determines who will complete the remaining three years of the four-year term.

“It really was just a great memorial service to a great person,” Cupoli said. “It couldn’t have been a more classy tribute to a great guy.”

In addition to Passaic County leaders including Freeholder John Bartlett and Sheriff Richard Berdnik, who called Grabowski “a great man,” the local brass also made its presence known.

Police Chief John Link called Grabowski “an inspirational guy” who remained an upbeat, positive individual regardless of his personal circumstances.

“He was extremely dedicated and was around Clifton all the time trying to improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Link, a Clifton native.

His fire department counterpart Chief Vincent Colavitti lauded the night’s honoree for his consistency and reliability.

Mattcropped“He was always available and easy to find him if you needed him,” Colavitti said. “Whatever we asked he always had a straight answer. It was always ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You knew where you stood, which was good.”


article first appeared in the Clifton Journal, Friday, August 21, 2015

North Jersey Media Group / The Clifton Journal
(Permission granted for reprint)