In The Beginning
In 1970, at age 40, Toshiko (Toshi) d’Elia began running as a way to spend more time with her husband, Fred d’Elia, a national and world record holder in track and field. Fred, an avid runner and mountain climber, quickly recognized the hidden talent in his wife and set out to help her reach her full potential. At the time, however, there were few elite runners in New Jersey with whom to train so Fred drove Toshi to New York City where a larger concentration of runners existed within the New York Road Runners organization. In 1972 the running explosion began after Frank Shorter became the first American in 64 years to win the gold medal in the Olympic Marathon at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Creating and Building the Base – The Early Years (1976-1982)
After many trips to New York, Toshi and Fred searched for a better way to continue her elite marathon training. In Fred’s conversations with his friend Jim Manno, they came up with the idea of bringing road running to New Jersey. In 1975 they started discussions about holding a race in Ridgewood and on Monday, May 31, 1976 at 11:30 a.m. the races (5K & 10K) were run. On that day, Toshi, then 46, finished 1st in the 10K masters category, and 2nd overall in the women’s division.
Jim Manno recalls being there that day: “The first Ridgewood Runs (5 & 10K) started just in front of the YMCA and ran along Oak St, then down Prospect St, thru Saddle River County Park, around the gazebo, and back the same route. I helped Fred at the start and finish, but there were few, if any, officials on the course, and the full completion of the courses was mostly on the honor system. Over the years we occasionally wondered aloud how many runners cut the course. I have no record of the number of runners participating.”
After that inaugural event, there were numerous requests to create a Ridgewood-based running club. Encouraged by this enthusiasm, Fred applied to the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for club membership as the North Jersey Masters Track Club. Fred would be president and Jim, treasurer. On September 1, 1976, Fred sent out a solicitation letter to Bergen County runners inviting them to participate in the first North Jersey Masters Track Club workout, held at Ridgewood High School on September 12th at 8 a.m.
According to Jim Manno, the inaugural club meeting was held at Fred & Toshi’s house. Attendees were Fred & Toshi, Carol & Enver D’Agalou, Carol Logan and Jim. Fred was elected President, Carol Logan, Secretary, and Manno Treasurer.
In November, 1976, Toshi ran the inaugural Five Borough New York City Marathon in 3 hours, 8 minutes and 17 seconds for 3rd overall. At age 49 she ran the Boston Marathon in 2:58:03, and in 1980 she won the Runner’s World Pavo Nurmi Award for being the first woman over 50 to break 3 hours in the marathon (2:57:21).
In 1978, track and field runners began a long-term domination on the New Jersey running scene. Familiar names like Varkey Abraham, Helene Bedrock, Andy and Judy Coyle, Tim and Corinne Dyas, Arnie Olsen, Pete Shanno, Warren Tashian, plus Fred & Jim, all NJM members, broke records and won several state championships. The 1st NJ AAU Indoor Championships was held February 6, 1977, at Seton Hall College. NJM members won several titles but not the overall championship. The 2nd NJ AAU Outdoor Champs was at Bergen Comm. College on June 5, 1977. Again we won individual titles but not the club title. The 3rd AAU Championships was June 10, l978 at Basking Ridge, NJ. The team point scores were tied as we entered the last event, the one-mile relay. The NJM team of Charles Irace, Jim Manno, Bill Nicholson and Ken Baker won in 4:00.8 to edge the Garden State T/C 132 to 130. It was our first outdoor title. Our first indoor State title was won Feb 15, 1981 at Peddie Prep School. World class record holder Ken Baker joined the club and ran his first race for NJM in l978. Prolific track members such as Kelsey Brown, Dave Gerridge, Ted Ille and Ann Bing all joined the club around 1980.
In the ensuing years, Fred and Jim continued to build the club with the main objective “to encourage others to discover the personal benefits of long distance running and track and field events, and to offer an opportunity for area runners to improve their physical and mental abilities.” The biweekly track runs were the primary way “to promote physical fitness, to develop the talents and abilities of runners, to practice and learn, and to encourage one another in a friendly and hospitable atmosphere.”
As the decade came to an end, the Ridgewood Run was drawing over 3,000 runners and the club began earning a few extra dollars. Proceeds from the Ridgewood Run were used to provide scholarships to Bergen County high school runners in an effort to encourage them to continue running when they entered college. This was the start of the North Jersey Masters (NJM) tradition of giving back to the community.
Developing The Structure – The Stability Years (1983-1993)
This period is best described as the Arnie Olsen era. Arnie, a biology and chemistry teacher at Ridgewood High School and an excellent track sprinter had been Ridgewood Run director for two years when he took over the presidency of the North Jersey Masters Track & Field Club (NJM). Over the span of the next eleven years Arnie and his loyal staff set the standards to which we adhere to today.
During his tenure, NJM membership grew to 198 members. As the club expanded, Arnie began to realize that a growing organization of that size required a management organization that could react quickly to members needs. He created a board of directors that was made up of a president, vice president, treasurer, recording secretary, corresponding secretary, and six “at large” board members for planning and operational decisions. Also, six functional positions were defined: race director for the Ridgewood Run, membership chair, two coaches, a race results editor, and a race calendar editor. Some twenty years later this organizational structure still exists.
Throughout his tenure Arnie served as president and race director. Don Bozzone was co-race director and coach, Jim Manno the treasurer, Tom Treimel the second coach, and Wayne Bargiel the corresponding secretary and publicity director for the Ridgewood Run. Other valued volunteers filled the remaining positions. Don Bozzone, the Bergen Community College cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track & field head coach provided us with the use of the school track for the Tuesday workouts that we still have today.
This forward thinking band of board members also instituted new and exciting events and member-initiatives including:
- A bimonthly newsletter to communicate with the membership (similar to today).
- An expanded charitable contributions program.
- An awards dinner (June 5, 1991) to recognize member’s accomplishments.
Olsen also added a one-mile Fun Run to the Memorial Day agenda in 1983. This family affair allowed parents and their children, politicians, and others to participate in the day’s festivities.
After the AAU was disbanded in 1978, The Athletics Congress/USA (TAC/USA) became the new governing body for running in the state. However, the TAC/USA focus in New Jersey did not include long distance running (LDR), and in reality did little to increase racing in the state. The North Jersey Masters LDR runners had few options for racing in the state and were forced to travel to New York City or elsewhere. Their numerous successes were celebrated in other parts of the country, but in their own state and hometown, track and field was still king. Therefore, NJM athletes tended to focus on track events and continued to dominate track & field in New Jersey.
Many of those who had participated in the early days continued their successes into their successive age divisions. Toshi, Jim, Helene and Ken Baker dominated their races. Toshi posted outstanding masters 5K times in 1984 (20:07), 1985 (20:26), and 1986 (20:23). Meanwhile, Helene ran the Ridgewood Run Masters Mile in 5:53:09 and in 1984, 1985, and in 1986 was first in her age group in NYRR’s L’Eggs Mini-Marathon. She also finished first in her age group in the 1985 and 1986 New York City Marathons. Ken Baker became the World Indoor record holder in 1983 for the 600 Meter M 45-49 (1:17:16 minutes) and 800 Meter (2:03:02 minutes). In 1987 he repeated his victory in the 800 Meter M 50-54 (2:05:08).
Responding to External Forces – Shifting to Long Distance Running (1994-2008)
1993 was a pivotal year for runners in New Jersey and consequently for NJM. The Athletic Congress of the USA (TAC/USA) became the USA Track & Field (USATF) with the new mission to increase recognition for the organization and to govern the sports of Track & Field, Long Distance Running, Cross Country, and Race Walking in the United States. But track still dominated and Jim Manno set the World M-80 200m Record of 32.85 in March 2001.
When Leslie LaFronz became president of North Jersey Masters, she announced that her administration would stress running at all distances. Two months later she began the Race of the Month program. It was the first attempt to encourage LDR runners to participate in the USATF-NJ Grand Prix Team Championship races. Leslie’s successor, Dave James (1996-1997), who had been Leslie’s Vice President, continued to execute her basic strategy. Key performers during this period included Jim Manno, Ken Baker, Tim Dyas, Erika Campbell, and Jeff Permuy to mention a few. Frank Lorey ran his 99th marathon in the early 90’s. In 1996, Joe McVeigh ran his first Olympic Trials Marathon. Mike Mykytok won the 10,000 Meter National Championship in 1996 and the National 10-mile Championship (Midland) in 1998.
Currently, the USATF-NJ sanctions over 150 LDR races in New Jersey each year. This is in addition to Track & Field, Cross Country, and Race Walking events. The result is that today’s runners are faced with a plethora of races and have to decide whether to race in New Jersey , or in New York with NYRR, or any place else throughout the country and the world. Another major change in the last few years has been the emergence of multi-sport events like biathlons and triathlons.
Succeeding Leslie LaFronz, Rick Pingitore (1998-2004) focused on making the masters mens team the best in the state, which the NJM achieved for three years in a row. Also, NJM consistently won our division at the River to Sea relay. The highlight of Rick’s tenure, however, was the NJM’s 40+ racing team’s win at the National Masters 5k Cross Country Championship held in Holmdel Park in 2002. At that same event the NJM masters women team consisting of Helene Bedrock, Erika Campbell, Gail Kislevitz and Eileen Holzman also won. Of course, Jim Manno, Toshi d’Elia, and Helene Bedrock continue winning Grand Prix awards. In the last few years we saw the emergence of perennial award winners Rick Pingitore, Beth Moras, Mark Snyder, and Sally Simeone.
Building on the Past with a Business Touch – The Corporate Years (2004 – Present)
Brian Wormser, a 30-yr professional from the Banking Industry, succeeded Rick Pingitore and served from late 2004 through 2008. Brian decided to build on the NJM’s rich history and pride. He felt a special obligation to preserve the unique character of the club while encouraging greater organization and discipline. He also wanted to increase and widen the membership, upgrade the website and newsletter, ensure the future success of the Ridgewood Run, and expand team racing and coaching programs.
To strengthen oversight and management controls, he became personally involved with the club’s P&L, cut costs, increased transparency, and introduced a rigorous budgeting process for both the club and the Ridgewood Run. His efforts resulted in rebuilding the club’s cash reserves to guard against potential short falls in future years. At the same time he created teams of experienced Board Members, new Board Members, and the Membership Chair and tasked them to achieve a list of the other priorities.
Today the club has doubled it’s membership, developed an award winning state-of the-art website, and moved the new
Good Times Newsletter to the website. Also, our teams are competitive, respected, and visible throughout the NY/NJ area. Finally, the 2009 Ridgewood Run set an all-time record of over 4,000 participants.
As of this writing (August 2009), our almost 300 NJM members seem to be everywhere – running marathons, participating in all types of USATF-NJ Grand Prix races, competing in biathlons and triathlons, Track & Field, and many other events throughout the Metropolitan Area and beyond. The NJM website Race Results page details our athletes’ achievements over the current racing season.
A reflection of the continuity and strength of the Club is the number of current members who have been members for more than 25 years:
- Varkey Abraham – 1980
- Ken & Hildegard Baker – 1976
- Wayne Bargiel – 1978
- Helene Bedrock – 1979
- Andrew Boyajian – 1982
- Len Cheringal – 1977
- Lou Cizek – 1981
- Howie Cohen – 1979
- Andrew Coyle – 1978
- Toshi D’Elia – 1976
- Tim & Corinne Dyas – 1976
- David Gerridge – 1981
- Dave & Ginny James – 1985
- Mitch Kahn – 1979
- Jim Kalka – 1979
- Mike Machuca – 1980
- Jim & Helen Manno – 1976
- Jim McGilvray – 1980
- Charles Reilly – 1981
- Arne & Meg Olsen – 1985
- Pete & Susan Shanno – 1980
- Tom Treimel – 1980
A special thanks to Jim Manno, Toshi d’Elia and Andrew Coyle for casting their memories back and giving us their invaluable input and to Mike Machuca for pulling it all together. In this historical perspective we have focused on the many volunteers who contributed to the on-going health of the North Jersey Masters and its top athletes. But we tend to forget that over the more than 30-year existence of the club, there were several thousand members who complete the picture of a community that shares the love of running, in Fred d’Elia’s words, “a community that helps each other to develop the talents and abilities of runners, to practice and learn, and to encourage one another in a friendly and hospitable atmosphere.”
A big thanks to NJM Historian Beth Moras. She gathered, sorted, and catalogued all the NJM historical artifacts that she could find. They were a significant resource for this write-up and can be seen each year at the Ridgewood Run.
A non-profit organization like the North Jersey Masters is dependent on the generosity of those who volunteer their valuable time for the success of the club. They are the lifeblood of the club and they work for little or no compensation. The following is a list of those who have donated a large part of their lives to our continued existence:
Twenty or more years:
- Wayne Bargiel – Past Vice President, RR Publicity Director, Corresponding Secretary
- Helene Bedrock – General meeting food planner
- Arnie Olsen – Past President, Race Director
- Andy Coyle – Board Member
- Toshi d’Elia – Club co-founder
- Jim Manno – Club co-founder, Past Treasurer, Track & Field Advocate
- Tom Treimel – Summer Coach
Ten or more years:
- Don Bozzone – Past Co-Race Director, Coach, Awards Banquet Organizer
- Ken Keppler – Past Board Member, Race Calendar Editor
- Leslie LaFronz – Past President, Vice President
- Rick Pingitore – Past President and Recording Secretary
- Dave James – Past President, Vice President, RR Race Director, Awards Banquet Organizer
- Mitch Kahn – Past Vice President and Board Member, Current Ridgewood Run Announcer
- Jim Kalka – Past Membership Chair
Five or more years:
- Howie Cohen – Board Member
- Gail Kislevitz – Board Member, Vice President, Publicity Chairperson, Newsletter Editor
- Beth Moras – Race Director, Historian
- Lisa Swain – Board Member, Corresponding Secretary
- Charlie Wrixon – Past Treasurer