he used to fish on a certain small pond in the south end of Secaucus, a place not far from the farm where he grew up.
Surprisingly, despite the massive amount of development that had taken place over those five decades, he found the pond, a 2.6-acre body of water surrounded on two sides with development. The d-shaped pond, however, looked nothing like the one in which he used to swim and catch birds during the Great Depression.
"People had dumped trash there," the former mayor said during a telephone interview last week as he recalled his efforts to salvage the site.
As a councilman, and later mayor, Just started a tradition of inviting kids down to fish in the pond, after the town signed an agreement with the property owner, Hartz Mountain, that allowed the pond to be used as a park. Town workers went in, cleared out the trash, and dubbed the body of water "The Duck Pond" because of the number of ducks that lived there.
Each year since, the town had conducted an annual fishing derby, something Just called "a living legacy" to his administration, and proof of his commitment to open space.
"A fishing derby is the kind of thing kids will talk about when they get older," he said.
Carrying on the tradition Just started, the town held its 10th annual fishing derby on May 19 (last year's event was cancelled because of rain).
Kids loved it
Seven-year-old Kendyl and 5-year-old Lucas Voli caught two turtles in the hour after the derby started, and looked a bit discouraged as their father mumbled something about turtle soup, when Kendyl finally brought in a 5-inch-long bass. This was Kendyl's second fishing derby. She had also participated in the one at the Secaucus Duck Pond in 1999.
For 6-year-old Donna Marie Betsch, also of Secaucus, this was her first derby. She had caught two trees, or perhaps the same tree branch twice. She jokingly claimed that her father had caught the trees, not her.
Eight year old Julianne Taglieri caught a 17-inch-catfish, something that still wiggled in a little in his father's hands as they carried it back to the water to release it. This was the second largest catfish caught that day. Rosaline Arce won for the biggest catfish with her 22-inch catch. Tom Spegile had the third largest catfish for his 15-inch catch.
Mike Gonnelli, superintendent of Public Works, said the pond had been stocked for the occasion, with some fish specifically tagged for special prizes.
The derby came several weeks earlier than it had in the past, as kids from in and out of town came to the shores here to try their luck at catching themselves "the big one."
Anthony Aguvelo won first prize for most fish caught in the derby with his five fish. Twizzler Vizzio won a prize for the biggest bass, which was 12 inches long. John Supel caught the biggest sunfish at seven inches. Eddie Roseing caught the largest eel - 24-inches. Tracie Walker caught a 12 inches tagged bass. Karline Cerny won a prize for being the younger fisherman at 2 years old.
Some town officials showed up, too.
Police Chief Dennis Corcoran caught a large fish before the official beginning of the derby, claiming he wanted to show others - including
apparently three members of the Town Council situated nearby - how it was done.
Councilman Fred Constantino claimed he was offering kids instruction, as he struggled to untangle his fishing line.
Councilman John Reilly related - in true fisherman fashion - how the big one had gotten away, and demonstrated his rattlesnake lure. This was designed to have the weight drop to the bottom leaving the worm-like lure dangling in the water.
"Fish think its alive," Reilly assured those who listened.
Constantino explained why Reilly had not yet caught a fish, claiming frequent use of the lure had made it look old.
"The fish must think it's dead down there," he said.
Meanwhile, 11-year old Judy Chatman on the west side of the pond caught a license plate. It was rusted badly, but she could still make out its state of origin: New York
The New Jersey Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife had stocked the pond earlier in May as part of the now yearly ritual, and kids - sometimes with the help of their parents - cast out lines in a four-hour extravaganza that hooked numerous winning entries as well as a many more smaller creatures, including eels and two inch bass.
In order to make sure the pond had enough prize-winning fish, Engine Company Number One, of the Secaucus Fire Department, donated over
200 special tournament-sized game fish.
The event was sponsored by the mayor and council. Robert Fantozzi, director of the Recreation Department, was perhaps the most popular guy at the event during the early hours, since a shortage of help left him the chore of handing out containers of free popcorn to the kids. The town also provided free hot dogs and soda.