Much of their time is spent commemorating others. So the New Jersey Historical Commission finally decided it was time to honor them.
Longtime Morristown resident Michael Rockland and Leslie Bensley, executive director of the Morristown-based Morris County Tourism Bureau, were recognized last month for their efforts to ensure that the Garden State’s rich history is not lost to history.
Michael, chairman of the Rutgers University American Studies department, received the Richard J. Hughes Award for lifetime achievement and contributions to New Jersey history.
His four books about the state include Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike, co-written with Angus Gillespie. It was named to the Top 10 list of books about New Jersey by the State Library’s New Jersey studies librarian.The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel and Snowshoeing Through Sewers won first prizes from the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance. With his wife, Patricia Ard, he also wrote The Jews of New Jersey: A Pictorial History. Now he is working on a piece about the state’s 350th anniversary, for New Jersey Monthly.
Michael’s course Jerseyana has been a perennial favorite at Rutgers, where he has won numerous teaching awards. He also has served as a cultural commentator on New Jersey public television and produced short documentaries. His PBS film Three Days on Big City Waters won an honorable mention at The American Film Festival in 1975.
Leslie Bensley received the 2013 Award of Recognition for “her long-time support and promotion of Morris County’s history and historic sites,” according to the commission.
Leslie’s many titles include secretary of the Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area. She also serves as a trustee of the Advocates for New Jersey History, and was vice chair of the Heritage Tourism Task Force. Morris County’s tourism website won the Governor’s Tourism Award in 2010.
The commission lauded Leslie for helping establish ways to fund marketing of tourism across the state, and for helping New Jersey tourism operations to achieve national industry standards.
“It is wonderful to see someone who has tirelessly worked for the Heritage Tourism industry both on a state and national level be recognized for her commitment, her passion and her achievements,” said Noreen Bodman, executive director of Crossroads.
Locally, Leslie has spent the last year helping Morris County prepare for tourism opportunities presented by the 2014 Super Bowl. And the Morris Township resident has quarterbacked the rollout of new signs to make it easier for visitors to find historical sites across Greater Morristown.