Skip and Nina Kelley – 2013 Citizen of the Year Honorees

Skip and Nina Kelley
Skip and Nina Kelley – 2013 Citizen of the Year Honorees

Since settling into their home in Westwood some 41 years ago, the husband and wife team of Skip and Nina Kelley have embedded themselves into the community through volunteer work. After decades of dedication, they are being named “Citizens of the Year” by the Greater Pascack Valley Chamber of Commerce (GPVCOC) for their contributions.

“They are both very giving people, willing to give their time to the numerous organizations…” explained GPVCOC president Robin Effron Malley of the couple, who will be honored at the chamber’s annual Citizen of the Year dinner on Oct. 17 at the Florentine Gardens.

Having met and married while serving in the United States Air Force, the Kelleys easily found ways to continue their service in Westwood.

Skip served on Westwood Borough Council for five years in the 1980s, held the mayoral seat nearly a decade later and coached recreational sports.

Twenty-five years ago, Nina founded Project Graduation, an alcohol-free graduation party to keep students safe. The party is to show teens that they can enjoy time with their friends without drinking.

In the 1990s, Nina sat on the board as president of the Bergen County Task Force in Woman in Addiction. Now, she is a youth mentor with the Volunteer Center of Bergen County in Hackensack, providing guidance to a 10-year-old girl. “How often do we get a chance to truly touch a child’s life?” Nina inquired. She started volunteering with the program in June.

For the Kelley’s these activities are just the tip of the iceberg. “We have been involved on a community level for so long,” said Nina. “…Why else are we here if we can’t help other people?” she asked.

Skip agrees. During his eight years as mayor, he said, his job was to support the public. “It was to try to come up with ideas to make this town better,” he explained. And he did just that.

During his tenure as mayor, he oversaw the building of the Westwood Recreation Center and a new firehouse for the borough. Skip was also instrumental in developing the Westwood Charity Golf Outing (WCGO), an annual golfing event held to benefit the WCGO Scholarship Fund for high school seniors residing in Westwood.

In 1982 the Kelleys founded the Westwood Patriots, which puts on a yearly Fourth of July celebration, including fireworks and mini-Olympics races for the kids.

Even when disaster stuck, the husband and wife team was there for the community. After the World Trade Center attack, the emotional shock and loss seeped over the state border, hitting many New Jerseyans, including several Westwood families. Seeing the suffering of their community, the Kelleys knew they needed to do something. Skip visited four families who lost loved ones in the attack.

In roughly 24 hours, Nina and Skip pulled together a candle lighting ceremony to give residents a chance to reflect on their losses. The melodies of “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” permeated the night.

Nina recalls, “…All you could see were thousands of tiny lights flickering through the flag.” The morning after that ceremony, all the candles remained burning.

Skip vowed to the families that as long as he was alive, he would host the 911 the ceremony. To this day, the ceremony is still going strong. And, year after year, Skip is present.

With emotions still raw, Skip moved towards installing a memorial in Westwood. “Building that 911 memorial was very important to me,” he said.

A 911 committee was started and the council began soliciting input from the families. The governing body raised $35,000 from private donations and the monument was erected near the Westwood Train Station nearly five years after the attack.

“They really appreciate it because it’s their memorial for their loved ones,” said Nina.

The service-minded behavior has even trickled down through three generations.

Their youngest son Chris is the former fire chief and is currently a firefighter with the Westwood Fire Department.

Their son Thomas is the Hillsdale council president and serves on the Hillsdale Fire Department, all while working two jobs. He also served in the United States Navy during Desert Storm.

Their grandson, Chris, 17, recently graduated from fire school to become a Westwood firefighter. “I am so proud, he is 17-years-old and he is making this huge commitment.”