In addition to raising money for the Bar Headquarters, my other focus this year is recognizing our members who find ways to give back to the community. In doing so, I hope to inspire other members to do the same. In early September, at the opening of the Courts, we heard a number of moving eulogies about our members that passed away over the past year. None of those speeches mentioned how much money the attorney had made or what kind of car they drove. It was no accident. When we look back on what our life and career mean, it will be about what kind of impact we had on our family, our friends, our clients, and our community.
I first want to recognize the Honorable Marie White Bell. I could spend this entire article on her life and accomplishments. Last month, she received the Medal of Honor award, perhaps the most prestigious award at the State Bar level. The Medal of Honor award recognizes “significant contribution to the advancement or improvement of the justice system or the betterment of the legal profession in New Jersey.” Judge Bell was a scientist and felt the call to the practice of law so that she could have a role in ensuring equality and justice. The rest of her life has been a testament to achieving that goal. For example, she was the first African-American woman to be a Law Clerk for Judge Wood, to be a Mayor for Willingboro, and to be a Judge in Burlington County Superior Court. Along the way, she has remained active in so many local organizations, in so many spheres, including educational, religious, social, and political. She is a perfect example of what it means to live a life intent on improving the lives of others, and we are proud to be able to say she is from Burlington County.
I’d also like to mention two other award recipients in our Bar. First, as announced at State Bar Night, Samantha Vander Wielen is this year’s Criscuolo Award winner. The award is given annually to a young lawyer that has demonstrated contributions to the Bar Association and the community. Sam has served our Bar both as a Young Lawyer Trustee and now in her first term as a regular Trustee. She is an innovative force within our Board, and her business days consist of lawyering and building her wellness-based company, Hygge Wellness. She has faced a year of adversity and always responds with the sort of determination that suggests she never thinks there is an alternative approach.
Second, the Bar Association Board voted at its last meeting to award the Professional Lawyer of the Year Award to Ellen McDowell. The award is given to one attorney from each County in the State “who exemplify strong character, legal competence and exemplary professional behavior.” If you know Ellen and have come across her in your practice, you know it is well deserved. She exemplifies the best of our profession, and her presence in a matter elevates the expectations on others. She has also helped build a firm of fine attorneys at McDowell, Posternock, Apell and Detrick, which includes last year’s Professionalism Award recipient, Jeff Apell. The Award will be officially bestowed by the New Jersey Commission on Professionalism at a luncheon on November 9th in Somerset.
Victoria Schall is a Trustee of the Bar Association, and she has also become heavily involved as a Board Member for Semper Fido, an organization that pairs trained dogs with veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) or similar issues. The organization provides trainers to work with the dogs and their paired veteran over a six- to nine-month period. In many instances, the dogs are rescue dogs being given a second chance at life. On October 7th, Tori organized and held a fundraiser at the VFW, with silent auction, a pasta cook-off, food and drink. The event raised over $7,000 and will help Semper Fido impact the life of another veteran that deserves our deepest level of gratitude for the sacrifices they have made.
If you are looking for opportunities to get involved, the simplest way is to pick something you care about, go to their meetings or events, and offer to get involved. As attorneys we have a lot to offer non-profit organizations, and if you show up and roll your sleeves up for the cause, you will often find yourself on the Board or in some other position that allows you to make a lasting contribution. Our Bar Foundation has also developed a relationship over the past several years with the Volunteer Center of Burlington County. The Volunteer Center is designed to pair people looking to volunteer with organizations in need. A directory of groups is available on their website, volunteercenterburlingtoncounty.org, and is broken down by areas of interest, such as animals, environmental, teens, and elderly. I encourage you to take the time to volunteer, because in the end, it is what we will remember, and what we will be remembered for.