It was a bittersweet afternoon at the Ocean County Administration building Wednesday as Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari closed his final meeting following 42 years of service.
“I always worked hard,” Vicari told a standing-room-only crowd of elected officials, county employees, friends and family. “I always tried to do the very best I could do.”
Vicari announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election so he could spend more time with his family, including his two grandchildren.
First elected to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders – now the Board of Commissioners – in 1981, Vicari attributed his success to both his family and political mentors.
“I have always been a Ronald Reagan Republican,” Vicari said. “I always respected everyone. Joe Buckelew told me to “always put the people first’ and I have done that for my entire career.”
Joseph Buckelew is a former Ocean County Republican Chairman and Freeholder. He is the patriarch of the county’s GOP.
Buckelew joined several former freeholders in paying respect to Vicari at the public session.
He recalled a meeting shortly after Vicari was first elected to the Dover (now Toms River) Township Committee. Vicari served on the Township Committee from 1980 to 1994.
“Joe told me he wanted to run for freeholder. He wanted to dedicate his life to public service and asked me to have faith in him. That faith was repaid many times over when he was elected, and elected and elected…” Buckelew quipped.
Vicari’s political resume is unmatched. He is undefeated in countless local and county general elections and Republican primaries dating back to 1979.
Also attending Vicari’s final Commissioner meeting were former Freeholders Paul Brush and Damien Murray, both of whom served during Vicari’s tenure.
Accolades also came from other governing bodies.
Senator Samuel D. Thompson read a joint resolution from the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly honoring Vicari for his decades of service.
The Monmouth County Board of Commissioners also passed a resolution praising Vicari’s lifelong dedication to public service.
A representative from Congressman Chris Smith’s office presented Vicari with an American Flag that had flown over the United States Capitol.
Some of the strongest tributes came from the two men and two women who share the dais with Vicari.
“I have truly enjoyed my time serving with Joe Vicari,” said John P. Kelly, himself a 30-year veteran of the Board of Commissioners. “His unwavering love of Ocean County will forever remain Joe Vicari’s legacy.”
Commissioner Barbara “Bobbi” Jo Crea, who has served with Vicari since 2022, spoke for many residents in complimenting her colleague.
“Thank you on behalf of all of the people of Ocean County. Thank you for all of the work you have done,” she said.
Commissioner Virginia E. Haines said Vicari worked “every day” for county residents.
“Joe has given such dedication to the people of Ocean County,” Haines said. “He always put the people of Ocean County first.”
Gary Quinn, Deputy Director of the Board of Commissioners, highlighted Vicari’s lifelong commitment to education.
“Joe realizes the value of a good education. He knows that the children are our future,” Quinn said.
Vicari is a former schoolteacher, principal and superintendent of schools. During his county tenure, he also served as liaison to the Ocean County Vocational-Technical schools and the Ocean County Library system.
Quinn also had kind words for Vicari’s family, including his wife of 52 years Joyce.
“For the 42 years that Joe Vicari served on this board Joyce Vicari had to make sacrifices,” Quinn said before joining the other commissioners in presenting a bouquet of flowers to Joyce Vicari.
As the accolades continued, Vicari was genuinely moved by the tribute and admitted he was unable to continue with his prepared remarks. Instead, he spoke of service and his efforts to respond to the peoples’ concerns.
“I always respected everyone,” he said again. “Party didn’t matter. People came first.”
Vicari’s final words in elected office were met with an extended standing ovation from the full house packed into the Commissioner’s meeting room.
Vicari also introduced his successor, Commissioner-Elect Frank Sadeghi, who will take office on January 1st.
“Frank is a good friend and he is going to be an asset to this board,” he said.
During his tenure in county government, Vicari also served as Chairman of the Office of Senior Services, where he prioritized efforts to keep older adults healthy and active.
“I always felt it was important to help our seniors live with respect and dignity at home rather than in assisted living facilities or nursing homes,” Vicari said.
He also spearheaded the addition of sensory rooms filled with auditory, visual and tactile items at the Ocean County Library.
Besides his work with the library and Vocational-Technical Schools, he also served as Chairman of the Department of Consumer Affairs.
He also led the effort to promote tourism and the local economy. His annual “Buy in Ocean County” effort encouraged residents to do their holiday shopping at Ocean County businesses.
Vicari also helped lead the county through two natural disasters – Super Storm in 2012 and the COVID Pandemic in 2020.
Vicari said that throughout his decades of public service he has always been guided by the words of former President Dwight David Eisenhower: “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”