By Steve Sears
Mount Olive Township Councilman John Mania, entering his twelfth year as a council member, is an affable guy, always ready with friendly conversation.
One interesting tidbit from a recent discussion was his never envisioning as a young boy he’d one day be living in the Budd Lake section of Mount Olive.
There’s a story to this – a great one, and he’s ready to tell it. His Dad raised and raced pigeons, and it was through this unique lifestyle avenue that he was introduced to the area he now calls home. “In fact,” he states emphatically with a chuckle, “what was amazing was to train the pigeons, he used to take them from Paterson to Budd Lake. He trained them for the races. I used to say to my Dad, ‘Who would ever want to live here?!’” It was different compared to the crowded, busy streets of his childhood neighborhood. “It wasn’t built up, there was a lot of farmland. To be honest with you, I never knew what a town looked like until I came to Budd Lake. I was a city guy.”
The above being said, he’s been living in Mount Olive for over 50 years.
Mania, 84, grew up in Paterson, and attended Saint Anthony’s Parochial School for elementary and middle school education, and then Passaic County Vocational and Technical School for high school. He was one of five children — three brothers and two sisters — growing up in a locale that was one of New Jersey’s top cities for commerce and history. Literature was also abundant, and so was comedy – in a very big way. Think Abbott & Costello, with Lou Costello being born and raised as well in Paterson. “Abbott & Costello, absolutely,” says Mania with excitement, he often back then in company albeit at a distance with the slapstick duo. “He (Costello) used to come to our church. Lou Costello, Bud Abbott, and Kate Smith. They used to come to Mass at Saint Anthony’s on Beech Street in Paterson. I was an altar boy, so I used to serve Mass.”
Roman Catholicism and, primarily, serving others, obviously, was imbedded in Mania at a young age. It was important to him then, and it is important to him now, he serving for 15 years as a Eucharistic Minister for Holy Communion at Saint Jude Parish in Mount Olive. “It’s very important. I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus – I’m a former Grand Knight – and the good that the Knights do, which is a Catholic organization, the good they do for people in need impresses me. It’s so important to me, and to the people that are less fortunate than most of us that are in dire need of just clothing – forget about food, clothing! — it’s amazing.”
Mania, who is up for reelection in 2021, didn’t run for the township council initially. It was thrust upon him, courtesy of his diligence. He details one example. “Many years ago, there was a proposal to have Palisades (Amusement) Park to relocate in Mount Olive, where the foreign trade zone (International Trade Zone) is located now. Palisades Park was coming.” Mania, then a new resident of Mount Olive, didn’t think the park and the township would be a good fit. “That was my personal opinion.” He attended a council meeting and raised his hand during the public portion of the forum, seeking to be heard, eventually stating his objection to the project after council members stated the benefits of it. “I got up and said, ‘I come from the city of Paterson, and I don’t think that Palisades is the right thing for Mount Olive.’ I then said, ‘If you really feel strongly about this, I think you should put it on the ballot, and let the people of Mount Olive decide whether they want an amusement park or not.’” He was told by the elected officials that they themselves would make the decision, not the people.
Mania was upset, but the chagrin didn’t deter him. He went home and, the more he thought about it, he figured that if he didn’t do something about it, what good was it? He and a few others sprang into action, forming a Citizens Alert Committee (CAC), their purpose to fight the proposal. “Now, to get it on the ballot, you had to get 25% of the registered voters. So, we had to go out and get signatures to get it on the ballot,” he explains. The plan bore success; onto the ballot it went. “I’ll be honest with you, then coming from the city of Paterson, I was a Democrat; I wasn’t a Republican then. But before that, I went from town to town where Palisades was located, and talked to the police chiefs, and the crime (they said) was unbelievable. They said, ‘We’re so happy to get rid of Palisades out of here.’” Mania now had an extra leg and maybe more leverage when learning that all the park rides were not permanent structures, therefore not taxable. “All Mount Olive would’ve gained, had the park been built, was taxes on the land, not any of the rides. And there we had 300 prime acres bordered by Routes 46, 206, and 80, and not a ratable.”
Mania provided the council with the information, and the proposal was a memory.
Impressed with his initiative, then-Mayor Blaine Rowland in 2009 appointed Mania to the Township Council, and from there he became President of the Democratic organization in Mount Olive. “Normally in Morris County,” Mania says, “Democrats don’t get elected. It’s a Republican county. I helped three Democrats get elected to the town council.”
Mania sings the praises of the current members. Now serving the township for over 10 years as a Republican, he enjoys his relationship with other council members, no matter their party affiliation. “We have working members, we all work together, we may not agree all the time, but we shake hands after it is all over.” He continues, “I’m proud to be a resident of Mount Olive.” He lauds Mayor Rob Greenbaum. “Our Mayor has done a tremendous job. We have a good working council. We’ve got a nice town here to live in, and good support.” Mania saw more proof-positive evidence of this in an important realm during a recent Sunday afternoon visit to Mount Olive High School: the progression of education on the local level. “They had a Robotics event going on, and I went through the whole high school, and I am so impressed with the opportunities the students have to feel free as to what they want to do in life.”
“The opportunity is there. Our tax dollars are well spent.”
He then sums up his (and many others’) feelings regarding the township. “It’s become a great town to live in, to raise a family, people help each other – I’m just thrilled to be a resident of Mount Olive, and to be a member of the Town Council, and the Planning Board for many years.” Mania, a former member and President of the Mount Olive Township Library Board of Trustees, as well as former Vice-Chairman of the Board of Adjustment, presently serves as Council Liaison to the Planning Board.
Mania (who currently works in sales for Sparta Redi-mix of Sparta, New Jersey) and his wife, Lillian, have been married for 30+ years, and he is a Dad to three sons and two stepdaughters: John, Michael, Robert, Lori, and Karen. “All my sons graduated from Mount Olive (High School), and they’ve all done well for themselves,” he says proudly. And when suggested that for it’s also a joy to raise daughters, he wholeheartedly agrees. “Absolutely.”
John Mania once called a strong working community his backyard, and he now represents one many years later which has the same attributes. “As I said, I’m a proud resident of Mount Olive, a working community, and we work together and help each other.”