Vo-Tech holds second annual veterans tribute fashion show

| 27 May 2014 | 11:30

John Harrigan, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1002 and a member since 1985, spearheaded the campaign to build the state’s first non-profit veterans cemetery in the northern New Jersey area in 2008 and has been raising money for the project ever since.

This year, just in time for Memorial Day, the Sussex County Technical School lent a helping hand in hosting a ceremony honoring veterans, followed by a student fashion show on May 22.

Commercial Arts Teacher Dennis Paladini suggested nine years ago that a fashion show be held at the school, and this is the second year the show has been open to the public and made to benefit a specific cause.

“It used to just be an assembly,” he said. “The first year it was accidental, and it grew from there. Afterwards, I helped integrate fashion design into the school curriculum. We had 25 outfits the first year of the fashion show primarily made out of duct tape. This year featured 88 designs primarily of fabric and maybe three made from duct tape.”

Staff electrician Matthew Geary, Paladini and Vice-Principal in Charge of Discipline and Technology Coordinator at the Sussex County Charter School for Technology (385 North Church Rd.) James Baldini all coordinated the event.

Guided by a 1920s through 70s theme, the fashion show presented twelve veteran escorts for the 82 models.

“Our youngest model was a 4-year-old,” Paladini said.

The night of the gala was split into three sections: Jazz and hors d’oeuvres hour with music by recording artists Meant to Be, the veterans tribute ceremony and the fashion show.

On May 20, Vo-Tech. students set out 800 flags on school property in honor of veterans.

“The whole school gets involved each year,” Paladini said. “I’m not a veteran, but I have such respect for the military. There are veterans all around us and we never know it because they don’t want the recognition. Veterans don’t think they’re heroes, but they are.”

Harrigan served in Vietnam as a combat engineer from 1967-68. He led the ceremony involving the Missing Man Table, representing a place of honor in memory of fallen, missing or imprisoned military service-members. The table’s presence in veteran’s ceremonies originates out of U.S. concern over the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue. A table on the stage is set for one, symbolizing the frailty of one isolated prisoner.

Three years ago, the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders donated land for the cemetery located next to the Sussex Vo-Tech School.

“I had to pay a dollar for the property of 66 acres,” Harrigan said. “That’s not a bad deal, if you ask me. We’ll probably be able to use about 25-30 acres while the rest is swamp-land. I’m waiting on two more permits before we can move forward with the excavation in five phases: the first phase will cover about 5.1 acres where we can bury app. 1,400 plus veterans in that area alone.”

It’s estimated the new cemetery will fit approximately 14,000-plus veterans.

“We had to put $75,000 aside into a preservation and maintenance account,” continued Harrigan. “The county itself donated $50,000 to us last year to use toward the project. On top of that, Sussex Vo-Tech. raised $13K for us during last year’s fashion show. Right now, we have roughly around $60,000 in the checking account to fund the construction of the Northern N.J. Veterans Memorial Cemetery.”

The groundbreaking of the cemetery is May 31 at 11 a.m.

Matthew Fredericks of Hamburg is a retired Sussex-County Vo-Technical School teacher and Vietnam veteran who served 1970-71. Acting as an emcee during the night, Fredericks co-hosted with senior Daria Ferdine, 18.

“I had a pleasure coming back to work with the students again,” said Fredericks. “As a veteran, I can’t say enough about what the school has done for fallen military men.”

This year, gala proceeds amounted to $16,770 to be donated to the VVA’s cause. Tickets for the event were each $15.

Harrigan hopes the property will start to be cleared and leveled in June after the groundbreaking: “We’ve had many people call already for information to get on the waiting list to secure a spot in the cemetery. I can’t thank the school enough. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought we’d get as far as we have.”