WEST MILFORD Volunteer Night in West Milford is an occasion where the entire community has the opportunity to learn about the volunteer groups in the township. It is also where the township council honors their choice for the volunteer of the year. West Milford is never at a loss when it comes to volunteers. The township is known for its selfless population, always ready to help, whether its at the animal shelter, on the baseball diamond, with the fire department or saving lives on the ambulance corp.
Wednesday night, the township council honored Lorraine and Dennis Kirwan as 2011's Volunteers of the Year. And, while the presentation was indeed a celebration of this very involved couple and the work they have done, there was more emotion than usual. Lorraine Kirwan, along with her children, Meghan and Ryan, accepted the award for herself but also on behalf of her husband, who passed away suddenly in January.
Councilman Joseph Smolinski, a close friend of the family who nominated the couple for the award, also had the honor of presenting it to Kirwan and her children. He told the public that the couple was nominated in the past but declined the honor. He said he was glad they were receiving the award this year.
In a statement he read to the packed meeting room, Smolinski recalled the Kirwans' move to West Milford in 1995, five years after they married in Rutherford. Having grown up in New Hampshire, Dennis wanted to find a part of New Jersey that reminded him of New Hampshire. They bought their home in Hewitt and settled in. Dennis became involved with the Republican Club, eventually running for and being elected to the township council in 2002. He volunteered for the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Highlands Council. He participated in the Memorial Day parade, which was of special significance to him since he was a member of both the New Hampshire and the New Jersey Army National Guard, the Air Force Guard and a member of the American Legion Post 289 of West Milford.
Lorraine Kirwan's name is synonymous with the Autumn Lights Festival, Smolinski said. In 2005 when the festival was in danger of ending, Lorraine joined in with the former ALF chairperson Laurie Ardis and helped to organize the 10th annual ALF celebration. She continued working with the ALF Committee through the 15th celebration. In those years, the festival went from a small gathering at town hall to a street fair enjoyed by thousands. Lorraine also chaired the township's 175th anniversary celebration.
And when one Kirwan was immersed in an activity, the other was right there ready to help and support, Smolinski said.
The Kirwans' volunteering opportunities expanded as their family did, he added. When Meghan and Ryan became involved in activities, so did they. Both were involved in softball, football, Little League, PAL Basketball, soccer and the Upper Greenwood Lake Elementary School PTA.
When Smolinski finished with the statement and presented the plaque to the family, he addressed the Kirwan children, who held a photo of their dad.
"West Milford is very proud of your dad," said Smolinski.
Lorraine Kirwan thanked the council and the public for honoring her and her late husband. She talked mostly about her husband's work in the township and his love for working with kids. She said when he volunteered to coach he always had all of the kids' names memorized by the end of the first practice.
"He had such a big heart," Lorraine Kirwan said of her husband.
She thanked the community for its support over the past few months since losing her husband and said he would have been very proud to know how much people cared about him and his family. And her giving spirit was still at the forefront.
"If you ever need anything, call on me," said Lorraine Kirwan. "If I can, I will."