ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO ANNOUNCES $75,000 CONTRIBUTION FROM PSEG FOUNDATION WILL BE USED TO DEVELOP BRONZE STATUES HONORING ALTHEA GIBSON AND ROBERTO CLEMENTE
Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Tuesday, December 20th that the PSEG Foundation has contributed $75,000 to help fund the development of two bronze statues honoring tennis legend Althea Gibson and baseball hall of famer Roberto Clemente. The two larger-than life-size bronze statues recognizing Gibson and Clemente will be placed in two separate locations in Essex County Branch Brook Park in the spring of 2012.
“I want to thank the PSEG Foundation for their generous donation. They understand the influence Ms. Gibson and Mr. Clemente continue to have and the positive impact the statues will have in the community,” DiVincenzo said. “While Ms. Gibson and Mr. Clemente were immensely talented athletes and were pioneers and trailblazers in their sports, what is more important is the legacy of humanitarianism and compassion that they both left. The bronze statues in their likenesses will serve as a constant reminder of their good deeds and perseverance, and hopefully will inspire future generations to be good citizens,” he added.
As a company headquartered in Newark, PSEG is proud to be part of this effort to revitalize Essex County Branch Brook Park, said Vaughn McKoy, President of the PSEG Foundation. “Parks are essential to a city. They provide a safe place to gather as a community and experience nature,” McKoy said. “I think both Althea Gibson and Roberto Clemente would be proud of the work done here. As young and talented people, they were able to use sports to rise above their circumstances, while breaking racial and ethnic barriers. Their courage and resilience make them role models for our youth,” he added.
“We can always thank Public Service for their decades of service, but today is an opportunity to recognize this corporation for their partnership and investment in making our community a better place,” NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said. “With these statues honoring Althea Gibson and Roberto Clemente, we are writing our own history books and recognizing people who have greatly influenced our community,” she pointed out.
The $75,000 donation from the PSEG Foundation will be shared equally between the two statue projects. The County Executive announced plans to create the Althea Gibson statue during a press conference on September 27th and the Roberto Clemente statue during a press conference on October 20th.
“I am very grateful for the support from the County Executive and PSEG to perpetuate the legacy and memory of Althea Gibson. This is a very happy day,” said Fran Gray, Ms. Gibson’s personal assistant.
The statue of Althea Gibson, who was a resident of East Orange at the time of her death in 2003, will be placed at the intersection of Heller Parkway and Branch Brook Drive next to the Essex County Althea Gibson Tennis Complex in Branch Brook Park. Sculptor Jay Warren, who created the Essex County Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Memorial Statue in front of the Essex County Hall of Records, has been commissioned to develop the Althea Gibson statue. The statue is part of a comprehensive facelift being made at the 20-court tennis complex. Sixteen hard courts are being reconstructed and four clay courts are being resurfaced with new playing surfaces, fencing and nets. All the courts will be lighted for night play. Pathways around the complex will be upgraded and decorative lighting and landscaping will be installed. Construction work started in September 2011 and is scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2012.
The focal point of the project is the creation of a memorial statue in honor of the late Althea Gibson. The tennis complex was named after Gibson in 2002 in recognition of her accomplishments as a professional athlete and as a Civil Rights trailblazer. Ms. Gibson was the first black to win championships at famous tournaments, such as the French Open, the United States Open, the Australian Doubles and Wimbledon in the 1950s. She also was the first African American to be named as the Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 1957 and received the award a second time in 1958. In 1975, Ms. Gibson was named as the New Jersey Commissioner of Athletics and held the position for 10 years. She also served on the State's Athletics Control Board and the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness. She passed away at the age of 76 on September 28, 2003, in East Orange. Essex County also honors the memory of Ms. Gibson every March when it presents the Essex CountyAlthea Gibson Spirit Awards during the Annual Essex County Women’s History Month Celebration.
“It’s great enough to improve our parks for the benefit of our youngsters. We are delighted to have the support from Joe DiVincenzo and PSEG to honor a great woman in Althea Gibson and a great man in Roberto Clemente,” Newark Councilman Luis Quintana said.
“Thank you to Mr. DiVincenzo and Public Service for helping to make our statue of Roberto Clemente a reality,” Founder of the Roberto Clemente Little League Luis Lopez said.
The statue of Roberto Clemente, for whom a Little League is named after, will be placed at the pedestrian entrance to Branch Brook Park is a replica of the Clemente statue outside of PNC Park in Pittsburgh that depicts Roberto Clemente completing a swing at the plate. It will be placed at the pedestrian entrance to Essex County Branch Brook Park at the corner of Bloomfield Avenue and Lake Street in Newark. Susan Wagner, who created the original Roberto Clemente statue in front of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, has been commissioned to create the Clemente statue. It will be near the Essex County Stephen N. Adubato Sports Complex where thousands of children participate in various recreation programs. One of those programs is the Roberto Clemente Little League, which was founded by Lopez in 1978, and has about 500 children participating every year in six divisions of play.
The Roberto Clemente Statue Committee is soliciting support from the community to fund this project. Donations can be made out to the “Roberto Clemente Monument” and mailed to Roberto Clemente Monument Committee, 675 Parker Street, Newark, NJ 07104. For information about donating, please call 201-407-1824.
Roberto Clemente was born in Barrio San Anton in Puerto Rico in 1934. His father worked on a sugarcane plantation and his mother worked in a grocery story. The youngest of seven children, Roberto worked to earn money for the family by delivering milk or performing odd jobs. Although he started working at a very young age, he always found time to play baseball on the neighborhood sandlots. In 1955, Clemente was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and within five years had become a dominant player in Major League baseball. He had a lifetime batting average of .317, collected 3,000 hits, earned four National League batting championships, 12 Gold Glove awards, was named National League Most Valuable Player in 1966 and the World Series MVP in 1971.
In addition to his exploits on the field, Clemente was always the humanitarian, donating food and athletic equipment to communities in Puerto Rico and spending much of the off seasons getting involved in charity work. His life tragically ended on December 31, 1972, when the airplane in which he was riding crashed off the coast of San Juan shortly after taking off. Clemente was delivering clothing, food and medical supplies to help earthquake victims in Nicaragua. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1973 for his “outstanding athletic, civic, charitable and humanitarian contributions.”