Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. hosted the 2017 Essex County Italian American Heritage Month celebration in the lobby of the Essex County Hall of Records in Newark, New Jersey. Decorated in the festive Italian colors of green, white and red, the lobby was a standing-room only backdrop for the cultural festivities.
During the cultural event, DiVincenzo recognized three Italian Americans, Michael Venezia, Mayor of Bloomfield; Eleanor “Butterfly” Guarino, community activist in Belleville and Carmel “Red” Portuese, community activist of West Orange, as “Stellas della Contea di Essex,” Stars of Essex County. The honor recognizes them for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents and their community involvement.
“Our celebration is an opportunity to recognize the contributions that Italian Americans have made to the history and culture of Essex County. Today, we are honoring three proud Italian Americans who have positively impacted our world,” DiVincenzo said. “Mayor Venezia, Eleanor Guarino and Carmel Portuese each have made an impact on their communities and have improved the quality of life for our residents,” he added.
Mayor Michael Venezia was elected as the youngest Mayor of Bloomfield on November 5, 2013 and was re-elected in 2016. He has brought real progress to the Township of Bloomfield by stabilizing property taxes, attracting new developments that are creating jobs and increasing property values, keeping neighborhoods safe and leading with a new sense of pride, energy and hope for the future. He has led the city to record economic development that’s allowed his team to stabilize property taxes.
A lifelong township resident, Venezia and his wife Laura have one daughter. The Mayor recently completed his Master’s in Administrative Science.
“Eleanor Guarino is a community activist from Belleville and previously served as a personnel assistant in human resources for the U.S. Postal Service. Her life is a tale of two cities – in Belleville, where her immigrant parents settled and she grew up in a six-family house and in Nutley, where she and her late husband raised their four children. Back in Belleville for the last 32 years, she became active in town activities, bringing attention to situations that impacted children and the neighborhoods in which they lived. “My respect and love of my hometown has never left my heart. I appreciate the County Executive putting up with my nagging and pushing to get a better playground for Belleville Park and upgrade the seniors’ clubhouse. When I see something in the community that can be fixed, I do it because the outcome benefits us all,” Mrs. Guarino said.
Carmel married Charles Portuese in 1950 and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2000. Charles passed away a few months later. They were blessed with two children, Elizabeth, married to John Banka and Philip, married to Roseann Lombardi and two grandchildren, Philip and Andrew. She has been a West Orange Democratic Committeewoman since 1987. Mrs. Portuese held several volunteer positions to promote politicians and support activities at local churches since 1950. She currently volunteers with the St. Joseph’s Church Rosarians, St. Augustine Monastery-West Orange and St. Catherine’s Infirmary, Dominican nuns. She has also served as a social committee volunteer for Mount Saint Dominic Academy, Our Lady of Lourdes School and church volunteer, St. Mary’s Hospital, Orange Ladies Auxiliary and as an aide for Senator Pat Dodd.
Mrs. Portuese has received several honors over the years, most recently she was an honoree at the Giblin Association’s 59th Anniversary gala for her 60-year involvement in the Essex County Democratic Committee. She has also been recognized by the West Orange Democratic Committee with an award for her long and distinguished service and honored in October at the 40th Anniversary Heritage Festival Ball with the Italian Heritage award.
The Essex County Italian Heritage Celebration is part of a yearlong series of programs initiated by County Executive DiVincenzo to raise awareness and celebrate the diversity of Essex County.