A Perfect Day

Written By Tony Mussari
Photographs By By Kitch Mussari and Pierre Lehu
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“Celebration is a kind of food we all need in our lives.” Corita Kent and Jan Steward

Moments to Remember

The public screening in North Plainfield was a first class celebration in every sense of the word.  The people who attended were filled with the spirit of community. Among the guests were members of the North Plainfield Board of Education, the Mayor of North Plainfield, students, teachers, parents and administrators from the school district, friends of cheerleading coach Skip Pulcrano and members of the cheerleading squad, people who befriended Kitch and me during our days in the classroom, and our life at J.P. Morgn. Friends we made producing documentary films and new friends from our Face of America Journey.

At the appointed hour, Principal Jerard Stephenson welcomed everyone. The JROTC Color Guard posted the colors. Tom Mazur conducted a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem sung by the high school chorus. Jo Ann Biviano played and sang her inspirational 9/11 anthem, I’ll Always Remember with the accompaniment of the high school chorus.

Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, Superintendent of Schools, provided context and set the tone for the screening with a thoughtful introduction of the documentary.  

When I reached the podium to present a brief speech entitled “Thinking About North Plainfield,” just about every conceivable emotion of accomplishment, joy and gratitude filled my heart with words that were not in the text. I intended to begin with John Steinbeck’s quotation, “A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike.” Overwhelmed by the moment, the words that came out of my mind reflected the feelings in my heart:

“I wish I could open my chest cavity and put my heart on display so you could see the gratitude and thanks I am feeling at this moment.”

When I looked into Kitch’s eyes I had a flashback to the screening in this room just about one year ago.  It was the day after we first heard the words breast cancer. On this night we were reasonable certain that after a year of battling this monster, Kitch was cancer free.

At one point in the presentation, my eyes met those of Marilyn Birnbaum, a woman I admire and respect. I went off script to tell her publically she is one of the finest educators I have ever known. She is an educational leader who knows that education is as much about planting seeds as it is about achieving outstanding test scores.

Vicki and Daniel Perez were sitting in the third row next to Kitch. I wanted them to feel at home in this school where I believed their daughter, Emily, would feel at home. To  make them feel comfortable, we produced a short film titled Emily’s Legacy. I used these words to introduce the film:

I think it is appropriate to begin this screening with a short video Kitch and I produced this week about Emily.  I believe it will connect the dots and make it perfectly clear why we love the students of this school, why we admire their teachers, why we are indebted to their principal, Jerard Stephenson, their wonderful superintendant Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum who has been so supportive of our work, and the exemplary board of education charged with running this school system. They are producing Emilys every day of the week, and they are doing it in a quality way, one lesson and one step at a time.

To be honest, I fell in love with the spirit of North Plainfield, the kindness of North Plainfield and the welcoming way of the people in this high school. That love inspired an old man to push himself very hard to document, in the best way he could, what, in my opinion, makes this place so special.

During my first visit here in 2009, it was obvious that something very compelling was happening in this high school.  I could see it in the faces of the students, their teachers, their coaches, their administrators and their parents. I could feel it in my heart, and I was drawn in by its beauty, magnetism and inspiration.

There is a fundamental goodness, eagerness, wonder and gratitude about the people I met here, the events I recorded here and the back story about life here.

You can watch Emily’s Legacy at this address:


To thank the person who did the lion’s share of the work to make this night happen, I composed these words:

There is one other person I would like to thank. He is a man I affectionately refer to as my brother. He is the architect of the series of events that culminated in this screening, Tom Mazur. Without Tom’s attention to detail, competence and caring heart, we would not have this evening of celebration.

To paraphrase the words from your masterful production of A Christmas Carol and Charles Dickens’ hand: I am proud to wear the golden chain of friendship forged in North Plainfield with Tom Mazur.

The speech ended with two quotations from Dickens:

I am so thankful our trip took Kitch and me across America by way of North Plainfield, New Jersey, because it gave meaning to the words of Charles Dickens:

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” In North Plainfield, you learn to have “a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires and a touch that never hurts.”

A Bump in the Road and an Unexpected Surprise

For Kitch and me public screenings are an anxious time. Not only do we worry about how the documentary will be received, we also worry about all of the technical things that can go wrong.

During this event, everything seemed to be going well. The audience reacted to various parts of the film in the way we anticipated they would. The sound system worked well, and the images looked good on the screen. Then, the unexpected happened. As the story was about to end, the laptop computer playing the DVD froze, not once or twice but several times. After waiting a few minutes for the situation to be corrected, I walked to the front of auditorium to apologize for the glitch.

The words spoken earlier in the documentary by Guedis Cardenas were tailor made for this situation:

“Life is not a perfect piece of paper.  It’s actually crumbled. There’s wrinkles that represent the ups and downs of our life.”

The audience responded positively when I repeated these words, and we transitioned  to a moment Kitch and I had been planning for several weeks.  We asked Vicki and Daniel Perez, Marilyn Birnbaum and Linda Bond-Nelson, president of the board of education to join us in the front of the room.

They obliged.

Daniel Perez offered warm remarks of celebration and gratitude before he and Vicki presented a beautiful picture of his daughter to Dr. Birnbaum and Mrs. Bond-Nelson. The photograph will hang in the school library next to a picture of Rev. Martin Luther King. It is our hope that these images will inspire the students to believe in their dreams and do their very best to achieve them.   

Before Vicki and Daniel took their seats, Kitch and I presented them with a tracing of Emily’s name and other artifacts we collected in her honor at the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Marseilles, Illinois, during our Face of America Journey.  The expression on their faces and the warm hugs of friendship and gratitude they extended made this the very best moment of the night for Kitch and me.

An Honor Like No Other

Little did we know or expect what was about to happen. Skip Pulcrano, coach of the North Plainfield Cheerleaders came to the podium to talk about the accomplishments of his squad. He introduced the Mayor Michael Giordano, Jr. who complimented the cheerleaders before he presented a proclamation recognizing the squad.

Then he invited Kitch and me to join him on the stage. Not knowing what to expect, we climbed the six steps to the stage, and we positioned ourselves next to the mayor.  He began reading from a framed proclamation words that honored our work and humbled our souls. The final paragraph of the proclamation literally took our breath away:

“I do hereby proclaim the sixth day of every December as Dr. Anthony and Kathleen Mussari day so that our students and community will always remember the honor and distinction they have graciously delivered to the Borough of North Plainfield.”

This is a moment we will treasure for the rest of our life. Our response to this honor can be found at this address:


In keeping with our tradition, Kitch and I presented a gratitude gift to students who appeared in the film, and people in the school district who helped us make this dream become a reality. After speaking with a number of people who volunteered their thoughts about the evening, we walked to the school cafeteria for refreshments, photographs and conversations about the evening and the beautiful memories it created.

Later I returned to the auditorium to carefully pack a beautiful piece of art. It was made by a group of elementary students under the direction of Joanne Wendt. It speaks to everything the screening was about. Mrs. Wendt graciously told me I could have it as a souvenir. It will always have a prominent place in the room where I work.  It reminds me of the beautiful memories of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It and the students who made it are a statement about what America is on its best days: service to others; kindness to others: caring about others and using one’s talent to help others.

A few days after the event, we received a note from Tony Richel, a retired superintendent of schools who attended the screening.

Tony and Kitch:

You are to be commended for the time and effort and most of all, your patriotism in producing the video "Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation."  Your presentation was excellent.  One could observe the passion that you have for this tragedy on our nation.  You are right.  We must never forget!

I am positive that what I saw will have a lasting impression on me, the students of North Plainfield and the town.  Pat has told me so much about your work and I was finally able to see it first-hand.

Thank you.
Tony Richel

Some days are better than others. December 6, is about as perfect a day as Kitch and I will ever have.

Thank you, North Plainfield for making it happen.

Thank you, North Plainfield students for sharing your stories.

Thank you, Janie, Chuck, Jayne, Val, and Sue for making us welcome in Shanksville for ten wonderful years.

Thank you, Joanne for permitting us to be ambassadors of the 9/11 remembrance Flag.

Thank you, Vicki and Daniel for giving America the gift of your daughter and your courageous example.

Thank you, Kitch for believing in the dream and the dreamer.

Thank you, America for giving us the freedom to do this work.

You can be sure that our search for the Face of America on its best day will continue, and our journey across America will always take us home to North Plainfield.

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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