Native American chief receives Berrie Award for efforts to force cleanup at Ringwood Superfund site
MAHWAH — A Native American chief from North Jersey’s Highlands was among nearly a dozen New Jerseyans honored with the Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award Friday morning at the Ramapo College of New Jersey.
Vincent Mann, chief of the Ringwood-based Turtle Clan of the Ramapough-Lenape Tribe, received the foundation’s top award of $50,000 for his efforts to force Ford Motor Company to renew remediation efforts at a 500-acre site it had contaminated in the mid-20th century by systematically dumping toxic materials into area mines. The site, in Ringwood in mountainous northern Passaic County, is the tribe’s ancestral homeland.
Related: Ringwood residents petitioning to force full cleanup of Superfund site
An emotional Chief Vincent Mann, chief of the Ringwood-based Turtle Clan, on stage with Russell Berrie Foundation Pres., Angelica Berrie, left, and Ramapo College Pres., Dr. Peter P. Mercer, right at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah on Friday, May 6, 2016.
CARMINE GALASSO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Turtle Clan Chief Vincent Mann, winner of the $ 50,000 first prize, being hugged by his father, Lehman A. Mann Sr.
“The opportunity to be recognized for something we do every single day is amazing,” Mann said after the ceremony. “And it’s my hope that because of this recognition, our story will start to get out past the local area — because, quite honestly, it is a national problem.”
The toxins, said presenter Steve Adubato, were found to be a “potential cause of continuing illness and premature death that had plagued the people who lived there.”
An initial cleanup by Ford, mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, ended in the 1990s. But evidence of contamination persisted, Adubato said. Mann, a West Milford resident, led ultimately successful attempts to have the site reopened as a re-designated Superfund site and force new cleanup efforts. He has since become a “passionate advocate for a cleaner, safer environment,” said Adubato.
Mann hopes to use portions of the money to buy a van to transport clan elders to necessary doctors’ appointments, as well as create Ramapo Mountain Guardians, a nonprofit he said will continue to push for cleanup efforts in a more “formal” way.
The Making a Difference Award, now in its 20th year, is funded by the Teaneck-based Russell Berrie Foundation and recognizes “uncommon acts on behalf of the public good.”
The late Russ Berrie, founder of a toy-and-gift company, created the award 20 years ago with the dream of recognizing “unsung heroes” in New Jersey, said his wife and current Foundation president, Angelica Berrie.
“Today’s celebration brings us back to that dream,” she told the attending crowd of nearly 300.
Five Bergen County residents also were recognized for their achievements and received awards of $5,000: Hillsdale resident Betty Prezzy Bryant, who created a non-profit agency to further the arts; Ridgewood’s Jane and Joseph Clementi, who founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation to combat bullying after their son, Tyler, committed suicide in 2010; River Edge resident Lisa Gladwell, a former addict who recovered, became a lawyer, and now provides pro bono legal assistance to people in need, and Danny Walls of Elmwood Park, who saved 6-year-old Aryan Gavali from an attack by a rabid raccoon earlier this year.
The Russ Berrie Foundation, founded in 1985, has rewarded 332 “unsung heroes” over the years. The 11 recipients this year were chosen from a field of more than 205 nominees, said Ramapo College’s Vice President Cathleen Davey.
Through the award, Davey said, Berrie hoped to “recognize individuals who demonstrated kindness to others, people who showed bravery beyond what he could imagine and young people who would set an example for others to emulate.”