At the start of his 32-year run as mayor, Frank Druetzler cooked up a contest that dubbed Morris Plains “The Community of Caring.”
On Saturday, some 350 friends and colleagues turned out to thank Dreutzler for helping the borough live up to its moniker.
“Thank you for making us your family,” Council President Suzanne McCluskey, an organizer of the brunch at the Zeris Inn in Mountain Lakes, told the man known to generations as “Uncle Frank.”
Druetzler, 77, opted to retire rather than seek re-election to the part-time post he has held since the Ronald Reagan era.
The former home builder’s public service includes stints on the borough planning board and council, and on the Morris County Freeholder board and Municipal Utilities Authority.
On his watch, Morris Plains started the county’s largest Memorial Day parade. There were Uncle Frank fishing contests, Easter Bunny breakfasts, fireworks on July 4th, gazebo concerts at Roberts Garden, Farmers Markets, Labor Day block parties and holiday decorating contests.
The municipal building was expanded. In 2005, the borough got a new Community Center, and a new home for the Morris Plains Museum. A center for teens was created, along with a transportation system for seniors.
Honeywell’s global headquarters was lured from Morris Township in 2015. A 9/11 memorial park includes charred steel from the World Trade Center.
Saturday’s event had its share of heartfelt tributes, starting in the lobby where guests autographed a life-sized cardboard replica of Druetzler as Uncle Sam on Memorial Day.
Gene McDonald, recruited by Druetzler for the borough recreation commission, recounted how the Mayor magically found money for lighting at the Little League ball fields.
McDonald gave Druetzler Mets tickets as thanks for countless passes he handed out over the years.
County Clerk Ann Grossi praised Dreutzler as a mentor who runs cordial and efficient boards.
“When you have a problem, this is the guy to go to. Because he knows how to fix problems,” she said.
A whimsical blues number performed by local singer-songwriter Chris Gardner extolled Druetzler’s accomplishments, right down to “no dogs allowed in Roberts Garden.”
Video: ‘Thanks, Frank,’ by Chris Gardner:
At times the morning had the flavor of a celebrity roast.
The Mayor’s pal from Marietta College days, Richard Morgan (’63), elicited roars of laughter when he recounted Druetzler’s solution to geese fouling the borough fishing hole.
“Lo and behold — I don’t know if you know this — but he had them caught and gassed,” Morgan said, as Druetzler buried his head in his hands. “I’m sure some of you people are very upset about this.”
“If they weren’t before, they are now!” Druetzler shot back, in his signature voice of gravel.
Morgan also revealed the jokester lurking in Uncle Frank.
When Morgan sought a place to park his car during his wedding reception, Druetzler took care of it. Morgan discovered his vehicle in a friend’s garage… wedged sideways.
For years, the buddies made pre-season wagers on the Mets; the loser was responsible for devising the payoff. One morning when Morgan was about to head to work, he encountered a mountain of sand in his driveway–Druetzler’s debt for that season.
Wharton Mayor and former county Freeholder William Chegwidden congratulated Dreutzler “on your new job in North Carolina, as Mayor Honeywell,” a reference to Honeywell’s Friday announcement that its global headquarters are flying south.
Chegwidden also shared an amusing recap of a harrowing drive they once shared, when a storm toppled a tree onto his car. Druetzler remembered it well.
“Cheg was very calm when that tree hit us,” the Mayor said. “Because it hit on my side, naturally.”
There were more laughs when Druetzler fumbled Chegwidden’s gift, a gold key to Wharton.
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, a Democrat, read a proclamation declaring “Mayor Druetzler Day” in his town. To which the Republican Druetzler deadpanned:
“Just what I always wanted to do–take over Morristown!”
Mayors of Denville, Chester, Hanover and West Caldwell also attended, along with McCluskey’s son, Tim McCluskey, mayor of Centreville, MD; and Druetzler’s successor, Mayor-elect Jason Karr, a Democrat and longtime councilman.
“As far as following his act……. you don’t!” Karr said later. “I am going to just put to use what he has shown and taught me throughout the years.”
Other dignitaries included state Sen. Joe Pennacchio and Assembly members Jay Webber and BettyLou DeCroce, Republicans representing the 26th District; and former state Sen. Bob Martin.
Video: ‘Uncle Frank’ says thanks, and so long
Morris County officials included Sheriff James Gannon and former Sheriff Ed Rochford, Prosecutor Fredric Knapp and Administrator John Bonnani; and Freeholders Kathy DeFillippo, Tom Mastrangelo, Christine Myers and Heather Darling.
“You have more people here than the Hillary (Clinton) book signing!” quipped the borough’s longest-serving employee, Joe Signorelli of the public works department.
Titters were heard when Dreutzler reminded council members how he coaxed them into service:
It’s only two meetings a month. You all can handle that.
THE LAST WORD
The guest of honor heard the testimonials while perched on a new park bench dedicated to him. He can choose where in Morris Plains to place it, “as long as you decide it should go at the entrance of the Community Center,” Suzanne McCluskey informed him.
McCluskey described Druetzler as a hero and an inspiration, “a person of highest character and morals, a person of unquestionable principles, a serious man who doesn’t take himself seriously, a giant of a man.”
Druetzler, who prefers patrolling for potholes and kibitzing at Dunkin’ Donuts, wasn’t buying the accolades.
Getting the last word, he thanked everyone for caring.
“I can point to everybody here that did something to make the town better. It wasn’t me. I just happened to be the mayor at the time. But together–together–Morris Plains did a lot, I think.
“We all pulled together, and that’s the only way we get something done. It wasn’t me, no way,” Druetzler insisted.
“Everything that was mentioned was a team effort. And I thank all of you folks for being on the team.”