Posts Tagged ‘North Plainfield’

Happy Anniversary: Our Journey Continues

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Happy Anniversary: Our Journey Continues

A Year of Memorable Moments

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari and
Tony Mussari, Sr.
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2015
All Rights Reserved

To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it more fit for its prime function of looking forward. Margaret Fairless Barber

The Numbers

On this the last day of February in 2015, Kitch and I celebrate the fifth anniversary of our Face of America Journey.

These are the numbers for 2014:
FoA Map sm

We traveled 5,100 miles visiting 24 cities in eight states;

Eight screenings of our documentaries were held in seven cities;

We posted 36 articles in our blog;

Ten of these articles focused on medical issues as we documented every step in Kitch’s total knee replacement surgery and other medical experiences at Geisinger/CMC in Scranton;

Ten articles were posted about our documentary Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg.


As we review our travels, there are several moments that we will never IMG_6889_240_forget. The naturalization service in Binghampton, New York, on the day Dr. Rex & Viola Dumdum became American citizens is in a class all by itself. Rex and Viola are two people who personify America at its very best, and they define genuine friendship in acts not words.

Celebrating the people we met during Kitch’s knee replacementIMG_5627 surgery at Scranton Orthopaedic Specialists and Geisinger/Community Medical Center in Scranton brought both of us great joy. The people who cared for Kitch were thoughtful, kind and professional in every sense of the word.

Working with Drs. Judith and Bob Gardner and their associates in the Education Department at Wilkes University was an honor and a pleasure.

The opportunity Dr. Bill Kashatis gave us to work with Dr. Mollie Marti to tell the story of Judge Max Rosenn at the Annual History Conference at Luzerne County Community College was a delightful experience.


Our visit to Eagles Mere in July was simply beautiful. We enjoyed the setting, and the people we met were delightful. If all goes as planned we will return to this wonderful community again this year.

Our friend, Amy Clegg, invited us to participate in two seminars Amy Jack2sponsored by Express Employment Professionals. Amy is a consummate professional as is Jack Smalley.

We made two trips to Baltimore, Maryland: one to celebrate Vicki Perez and to present a short film about her heroic daughter, 2d.Lt. Emily Perez; the other to celebrate our friend Mary Jane Norris at the 15th Annual Women in Maritime History Awards Ceremony.

In the spring, we traveled to Marywood University to speak at the annual ethics conference. We returned to Marywood 11 months later to keynote a Speed Networking event. Both experiences produced special moments and new friendships that we treasure.

In May, we screened Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg at the high school in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Five months later we joined a delegation of wonderful people from North Plainfield at a screening of the same documentary at the Convention Center in Atlantic City.



Anyone who has followed our travels since 2010 knows that we have spent more time in North Plainfield, New Jersey, than anywhere else in the country. These are the numbers:

We produced four documentaries about students from North Plainfield and their educational experiences during their visits to Shanksville, PA and Gettysburg PA;

We produced three short videos about North Plainfield students for our website, and we published 44 articles about North Plainfield students, administrators, teachers and school board members in North Plainfield in our blog;

We averaged four trips a year to North Plainfield. If you add the location scouting and post-production trips we made to Shanksville and Gettysburg for location shoots, we have logged over 10,000 miles while working on these projects.

During our first visit to North Plainfield, we saw what we believe to be the Face of America’s tomorrow today in the high school. That a_20yardline7beautiful mosaic has not changed. In fact, it is forever enshrined in a special place in our hearts, in our minds and in our garden.

The road to and from North Plainfield is paved with all the things that life has to offer. There were beautiful moments of discovery. There were challenging moments of obstacles to be overcome. There were community moments of celebration and there were many, many wonderful teaching moments of growth, learning and transformation.

Unfortunately, the prophetic words of Candy Villagomez accurately describe the effort, energy and time we invested in the work we have done in North Plainfield: “Nothing lasts forever.”

The day before his death, Leonard Nimoy beautifully expressed this thought about endings with these words:

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memories.

This is the year our work in North Plainfield came to an end. The perfect moments will live on in our memories of this very special place.

The Dream

When we began our journey, we had three objectives:
FoA Logo copy

We wanted to visit every one of the 48 continental states;

We wanted to build a mosaic of the Face of America on its best day;

We wanted to write and publish a book about our discoveries.

As you know, we accomplished all but one of these goals. We could not find a publisher who was willing to take an interest in our book.

IMG_8304 for Article

This year we found an alternative.

Knowing that I am in the last quarter of my life, I decided to do something special for my grandchildren this Christmas. With encouragement and help from Kitch, we wrote a book entitled Papa Tony’s Gift: Life Lessons from the Heart.

It is a visual narrative. The majority of the pictures in the book were taken during our journey. The 214 graphics in the book speak to all of the values we associate with America on its best day.

The idea for the book is rooted in our experience at the 2013 Medal ofIMG_5862dp Honor Convention. Four months later during the screening of Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg, I looked out at the audience and my eyes focused on my grandchildren. Without thinking I spoke these words from my heart:

“I am worried about your future, your generation and the challenges you will face in your lifetime.”

I also made the point that we must not permit digital relationships to replace personal relationships.

Shortly after we returned home, I began researching and writing in February 2014. During their Christmas visit, we presented a draft copy of the book to the children. Recently, we picked up the final edition of the book at Offset Paperback Manufacturing, Inc.

Of all the things Kitch and I have had the opportunity to do and see during our journey, writing and publishing the book was the most challenging, difficult and rewarding experience.

Looking forward, we will be doing more writing and less documentary production. To be honest, as much as we enjoy the documentary process, writing is our first love.


Our year ended with a wonderful experience provided by a student at Marywood University. Matthew Parkyn needed a keynote speaker for a Speed Networking event, and he turned to us for help. That opportunity enabled us to spend five weeks researching and writing a presentation that has opened many doors for future activities.

To everyone who offered encouragement, empathy, help and the steadfast loyalty of friendship and understanding during this transitional year of our Face of America Journey, Kitch and I thank you with a promise. We will continue our search for examples of the Face of America, the people, the places and the values that speak to America at its best. We will continue to write about these experiences.

Looking back on our Face of America Journey in 2014, the words of a great writer and statesman come to mind:

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see. Winston Churchill

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Atlantic City in October

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Atlantic City in October
Sharing the Story of Honor and Valor with a Group of Educators in New Jersey

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Tony Mussari
Copyright Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD 2014
All Rights Reserved

From sandals to stilettos and foie gras to funnel cakes, Atlantic City offers something for everyone. The Atlantic City Alliance

On a sun-drenched October afternoon, our Face of AmericaIMG_6489 journey took me to Atlantic City. Unfortunately, I was flying solo, something I rarely do. Kitch was attending the funeral service for one of her childhood friends. Kathy had entered a hospital in California for a hernia operation. During the procedure one of the members of the surgical team nicked an artery. Kathy died from internal bleeding.

An adaptation of the words of Mary Shelley accurately describes Kitch’s state of mind as she dealt with this tragedy:

She was determined to transfer her love and support to the members of Kathy’s family.

On the Boardwalk

Kitch loves the ocean.

If Gustave Flaubert had asked this of Kitch, I have no IMG_6495doubt what her answer would have been:

Doesn’t it seem to you that the mind moves more freely in the presence of that boundless expanse, that the sight of it elevates the soul and gives rise to thoughts of the infinite and the ideal?


Knowing her feelings about the ocean, my first stop after I registered was a visit to the boardwalk. With camera in hand, I took several pictures that were designed to give Kitch a feel for the atmosphere, the place and its surroundings.

One of my favorite shots speaks to what I found at the ocean. There was only one person on the beach and a few seagulls circling above.


Shortly after 6 p.m., I joined Tom Kasper, Linda Bond Nelson and Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum. Tom and Linda are school board members in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Dr. Birnbaum was the Superintendent of Schools during the years Kitch and I volunteered as teachers with a camera in the school district.

Tom, Linda and Marilyn are excellent representatives ofIMG_6521 North Plainfield. They are committed to the school district in all the ways that matter. Above and beyond that, they are nice people to be with.

For more than three hours we exchanged stories, and we got to know one another in the ways that neighbors and friends know one another.

We talked about the problems School Board Members face, the merits and demerits of No Child Left Behind, the ways in which the digital revolution is changing education, and the challenge facing those who want to maintain traditional values like accountability, character, integrity, discipline, and respect.

As you might expect a good part of our conversation focused on entitlement and the emphasis on “me” in a world of histrionics and entertainment.

At one point in our conversation, I felt so comfortable; I shared my lifetime struggle with anxiety. It’s been my demon since I was a child, and as I get older it seems to become even more of a challenge. It is particularly vexing before and during a location shoot or any kind of presentation.

As an editor and producer, my brain is programmed to find imperfections and correct them. I worry about the things that can and often do go wrong. As a teacher, I was committed to teaching the principles of critical thinking, customer service, and planning to avoid unpleasant situations.

The most memorable moment of our reunion happened when Dr. Birnbaum told the story of a recent controversy that put North Plainfield on the CBS News. It involved an act of prejudice against North Plainfield athletes before a high school football game. When a reporter asked a North Plainfield student about his reaction, He replied, “Here in North Plainfield there is only one color…Maroon…that’s our school color.”

The Event

At 11 a.m., the educators who wanted to see our Graphicdocumentary, Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg, were in their seats in room 409. After a brief introduction in which I thanked, Tom Kasper for suggesting this event, Dr. Birnbaum for supporting the work we did in North Plainfield, the school board members from North Plainfield who were in the audience for their help and encouragement, Kitch for her unwavering support and Diane Morris, the staff member from the New Jersey School Boards Association who was responsible for organizing all of the workshops at the conference.

The lights were dimmed, and for the next hour, I sat in the back of the room observing the audience as they watched the documentary. It’s amazing how much you can learn by watching body language during a screening. In this instance, it was all positive save for one young man who arrived late. During the screening, his head remained down and his eyes were focused on his Smart phone as he texted for more than 40 minutes. He left the room before the documentary ended.

Such is reality in the digital age.


Ask any documentary filmmaker, and they will tell you the most anxious time is before the screening begins, and the most important time is during the Q&A session.

On this day, we were blessed with participants who wanted to share their opinions.

An historical reenacter invited everyone in the group to an event in Gettysburg. His reaction to the documentary was short and to the point: “It is excellent.”

A teacher who had served in the military liked the information about the Medal of Honor Convention and the values the students learned from the experience.

A woman who described herself as a mom was impressed by the story, and she said these are the values her students and others must learn to live a good life. Her friend reinforced that point.

A woman said she came to the workshop because of the material she read in the program, but she found the documentary to be so much more beneficial than she had expected.

A man in the very first row identified himself as a former U.S. Marine. He liked the message of patriotism and service.

Virtually everyone who offered a comment shared these two thoughts. This film should have been shown to the entire convention. It should be shown in every high school in America.

Memorable Moments

After the session ended a teacher approached me to discuss the film. She told me she wants to show it to her students, but it will be a challenge making the time to do it. Nevertheless, she is going to do her best to make it happen.

Before, I left the room, Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum former Superintendent of Schools in the North Plainfield School District said something that touched my heart in a very special way” “You are the first person to see it all. You captured who and what we are. Please stay in touch.”

Our IMG_6512_AC_FFCworkshop at the convention attracted about 25 people. By conventional standards, that is not a large number. If, however, you see beyond the obvious and connect with what these people felt and said, the workshop was a success.

There were no sandals, stilettos, foie gras or funnel cakes in room 409 of the Atlantic City Convention Center. There were, however, educators who appreciated the work and want to help get the message recorded in Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg to a much larger audience in schools across the country so that teachers and parents can help students better understand the importance of character, integrity, gratitude, kindness and service in leading a quality life.

In my opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Thank you, North Plainfield for giving an old teacher with a camera an opportunity to tell this story.

Thank you, NJSBA for hosting this event.

Thank you to the people who took the time to attend the event and capitalize on what was offered. In my opinion, you are the Face of America on its best day, and I am in your debt

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Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 1

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 1

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch and Tony Mussari
Copyright 2014
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Moons and years pass by and are gone forever, but a beautiful moment shimmers through life a ray of light. Franz Grillparzer

Some days the sun cannot find a higher place in the sky.Sky_5_13_8555 The cloud formations are more beautiful than any words can describe. Wherever you look, you see things that produce a kind of joy that is best described by Amanda Gore in her new book, Joy Is an Inside Job and It’s Free:

Joy is the constant light within us that guides us from fear to hope.

True Happiness is joy. It is connected to God, and it serves others in some way.

For Kitch and me, gratitude is the mother of virtue and the expressway to happiness and joy.


May 9, 2014, was a joy-filled day. It began early in the morning when Kitch and I entered the North Plainfield High School to participate in the first of two screenings of our documentary Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg.

The day ended 14 hours later in a Ruby Tuesday restaurant when, like two teenagers celebrating a big event, we shared a delicious piece of New York cheesecake. Everything in between was pure joy.

This is our attempt to thank the people who made this day so special.


Debbie Mayo is the head custodian at the North Plainfield HighDebbie_2_8279 School. She is an excellent representative of the people who live in North Plainfield as well as those who are associated with the school district. She is helpful and kind. She goes out of her way to make visitors feel welcome, and she always has something nice to say to the people she meets.

On this morning, Debbie was the first person we met, and she made us feel at home with nine words:

“It’s always good to see you in North Plainfield.”

Debbie’s comment set the tone for this day of magic moments. It reinforced the truth of John Lubbock’s advice:

A kind word will give more pleasure than a present.


Tom Mazur is the Director of Fine, Professional and Performing Screening 1_2AA_IMG_8045Arts in the North Plainfield School District. He is an accomplished actor, composer and musician. He organized all of the events for our visit, and he attended to all the little details that would guarantee the success of the events. Tom was our host for the screening, and he did everything he could to make us feel comfortable in our home away from home.

When we entered the parking lot, we saw him carrying a construction cone to reserve a parking place for our car. He expedited the security process at the entrance to the high school. He introduced us to Susan Loyer a newspaper reporter for the Courier News. He coordinated all of the technology for the screening, and he arranged the schedule so that we could have some down time between the morning and the evening events.

On this day, Tom’s actions gave meaning to the words of Helen Keller:

No one ever became poor by giving.


As we walked to the auditorium we saw students checking out theScreening 1_IMG_8045 learning stations that comprise an award winning Holocaust exhibit. It was created by middle school students and their teachers to reduce discrimination and prejudice. The exhibit is a poignant and powerful example of creative teaching and effective learning.

As I watched the students taking notes and sharing their thoughts with one another, the words of my favorite definition of teaching put these scenes in perspective.

I am not a teacher, but an awakener. Robert Frost


Before the morning screening began, Susan Loyer asked me to sit with her in the back of the auditorium for an interview. While we Screening 1_2d_IMG_8045were discussing the origin and purpose of the Medal of Honor Project our conversation was interrupted by Mark Havrilla.

Mark participated in our 2012 documentary project, Walking into the light at Gettysburg. He is a fine young man with a deep sense of patriotism and a strong desire to serve his country. He once explained his thoughts about America with these words:

America is the last frontier of hope and opportunity. Here anything is possible… America has perfected its values and adjusted its cultural views to adapt to the changing world around it. The United States is unique… the American spirit and the goal that every American shares to be the best they can be.

His face was beaming with pride when he shared his good news. He had signed the official orders to enter the U.S. Marine Corps.

This unexpected moment reflected the insight of W. Clement Stone’s thought:

If you are really thankful, what do you do? You share.


Six students participated in the Medal of Honor Project. All of them attended the morning screening at the high school. Each one ofAdrianas comment them was courteous and polite. One of them decided to sit next to Kitch and me during the event.

Adriana Miranda is a senior. She participated in both of our educational experiences in Gettysburg. She is a thoughtful young woman who is very disciplined and mature for her age. She has a dream, and next year she will enter a program that will enable her to realize her dream.

While she watched the documentary, she expressed her gratitude in a very personal way. She held Kitch’s hand and mine. The verse of Philip James Bailey best describes this moment:

We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not figures on a dial. We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best.

The first words I heard after the enthusiastic applause of the students came from Susan Loyer:

“This documentary is excellent.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched two students walk to the front of the auditorium to express their reaction privately. ‘It was so encouraging. It was inspirational.”

After I shook their hands and expressed my thanks, and before they turned to walk away one of the students looked me in the eye and quietly said these words: “I will never forget it.”

Screening 1_4_IMG_8045

As I was catching my breath, a very pleasant man stepped forward. At first I thought he was a young teacher. I was wrong. He is the father of one of the students who participated in the project. His words of appreciation were straightforward and unconditional. We had an instant connection rooted in respect and mutual admiration. As we talked about his son, his potential and his future, I was again reminded that this is the place and these are the people who are the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

There is but one word that accurately describes the atmosphere in the auditorium as the students made their way to their classrooms, jubilation.

An adaptation of the words of Ernestine Gilbreth Carey best describes the impact of this Magic Moment in North Plainfield, New Jersey:

In a person’s lifetime there may be not more than half a dozen occasions that he can look back to in the certain knowledge that right then, at that moment, there was room for nothing but happiness in our hearts.

(To be continued in Part 2)
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Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 2

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Magic Moments in North Plainfield, Part 2

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Photographs by Kitch and Tony Mussari, Sr,
Copyright 2014
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it. L.M. Montgomery

Creativity and Encouragement

We arrived at the North Plainfield High School earlier than we had planned. Kitch and I wanted to revisit the HolocaustBF_8073 Exhibit, and we wanted to reconnect with a sentimental moment we experienced with Bob Ferraro after the morning screening.

Bob teaches shop. He is a very creative person who used his time and talent to design a beautiful display for our Gettysburg Project. Whenever we meet Bob, he makes us feel like valued members of his team. On this day he took the time to show us his display, and he volunteered to share the contents with us so we could have something more than a memory.

Bob is a giving person who reflects the light of William Arthur Ward’s words:

When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.

Patriotism and Pride

The evening screening began when Chief Master Cadet Kyle Pacla walked to the podium to offer words of welcome.


Members of the JR ROTC presented the colors in an impressive ceremony and then Brigiette Garcia offered an inspirational rendition of our National Anthem.

Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, Superintendent of Schools, greeted everyone with thoughtful comments that were carefully selected to set the stage for the documentary.

The lights in the auditorium dimmed, and for just about an hour the sights and sounds of the 2013 Medal of Honor Convention in Gettysburg helped people better understand the meaning of Robert Ingersoll’s words:

He loves his country best who strives to make it best.

Quiet Heroes and Gratitude Moments

The recipients featured in the documentary are quiet heroes. They do not seek the spotlight. They find the cult of celebrity repulsive. They personify courage and good will. They act with honor and valor. They are grateful for the opportunities they have been given. TheyMB_Gift_8179 define the meaning of selfless service. They reflect the light of America at its best, because they are men of character and integrity.

This theme resonated with the audience. The enthusiastic response after the film gave testimony to the powerful example of quiet heroes.

To build upon that moment and close the circle, Kitch and I did what comes natural to us. We took the time to affirm and say thank you to Dr. Birnbaum. Without her belief in our work, none of this would have been possible. In a very real way, this was her moment. The gratitude gift we designed for her was both a statement about the quality of her leadership and an expression of our thanks for her kindness to us.

The gifts we designed for Tom Mazur and his colleague Lt. Col. Eric Hansen documented special moments from our location shoot in Gettysburg.


A lot of research and time went into the selection of the gratitude gift for the students who participated in the project. We wanted this gift to summarize the educational experience. More important, we wanted it to inspire and encourage these young men and women when they encounter the bumps on the road of life.

When we found the words of Bernard M. Baruch, our search came to an end.

Whatever task you undertake, do it with all your heart and soul. Always be courteous, never be discouraged. Beware of him who promises something for nothing. Do not blame anybody for your mistakes and failures. Do not look for approval except the consciousness of doing your best.


Before we left the auditorium a number of people offered their reactions to the documentary and its message. The first person to speak was a Korean War Veteran, Dewitt LaMaire. He enjoyed the story,SBM_8259 and he was impressed by the message of the film.

A member of the Board of Education, Kathleen Mullen, used a personal story to underscore the way the documentary touched her A M_8265heart.

Two members of the U.S. Marine Corps were unequivocal about their experience. They liked the documentary, and they thought it could benefit students in schools across the country.

Cheryl Jones echoed those sentiments, as did Adriana Miranda’s mother Lydia.

Ruel Lindsay’s mother was not at all reluctant to stand and tell everyone she cried tears of joy throughout most of the documentary.


The conversation about the documentary continued at the Afterreception_8281 Glow. People were in a celebratory mood, and they wanted to express their feelings.

Thanks to the hard work of Maryann Thorpey and her husband Steve, there were plenty of treats to share with our guests and a several Kodak moments.

It was a privilege to meet the parents of four of the students who ES_ Parentsparticipated in the production, and have an opportunity to tell them how impressive their children are.

The expressions on the faces of Elijah Sheridan’s parents as recorded in the picture of them with their other two children were priceless.

The picture taken of Dr. Birnbaum with Eric and Elizabeth Ellis was designed to help this youngster follow her dream. Elizabeth andGroup_8322 her dad sat in the first row. During our conversation before the screening, she told me she wanted to be a teacher because she likes people and she likes to learn new things.

Her father had been on the go since 4:30 a.m., but he was more than willing to take her to the screening. He knew she would learn some things that would help her later in life.

R Mom TK_8330

The evening screening was a genuine community moment. The people who came wanted to be there. The four members of the Board of Education were pleased with what the students learned in Gettysburg.

Less than 24 hours after our return home, the sentiments expressed in a note from School Board President Linda Bond-Nelson put everything in perspective:

Just a small note to say thank you again for your gracious hosting of TWO showings of your remarkable film to our North Plainfield audiences.  I was not surprised at all but very grateful to hear that our students proffered a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of their morning show…. (At the evening screening you made) us all feel as if we actually were an intimate group sharing observations and thoughts. 

Best wishes to you both.

Thanks, again.

A long time ago, John Winthrope defined community with these words:

Final Image

We must delight in each other, make others conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.

Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg is a documentary about a community of Quiet Heroes. The recipients featured in the film represent the Face of America at its very best. The six student cadets who participated in the project, their parents and the residents of North Plainfield who attended the screening reflect the light of the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

Our experiences on this special evening in North Plainfield, New Jersey, provided memories that will encourage and inspire us for a long time.

Thank you, Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum;

Thank You, Linda Bond Nelson, Thomas Kasper, David Branan, Kathleen Mullen;

Thank You, Tom Mazur, Lt. Col. Eric Hansen, Sr. Chief Michael de Jean, Bob Ferraro;

Thank you Maryann & Steve Thorpey and Debbie Mayo.

To paraphrase the words of L. M. Montgomery, this evening in North Plainfield will never be lost. Because of your kindness, we will remember it forever.

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Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum: A Leader With Dignity & Class

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum: A Great Leader, A Quiet Hero and An Inspiration with Dignity and Class

Written by Tony Mussari, Sr.
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari 
Photographs Kitch Loftus-Mussari,
Tony Mussari, Sr. & Eugene Flood
Copyright 2014
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. Rosalynn Carter

I had the good fortune to meet Superentedent of Schools Dr.a_20yardline7 Marilyn Birnbaum on Thanksgiving Day at a high school football game in 2009. We were blessed with an instant connection.

I was taken by her welcoming way and her enthusiastic support for personal growth through hard work in the classroom.

She appreciated our non-commercial approach to documentary filmmaking. She understood our effort to provide challenging and interesting educational experiences for students. She liked our idea to help students make memories that would enable them to find the best edition of themselves.

Logo for  Rushmore_250

From that day to this, Dr. Birnbaum has done everything she could to facilitate our search for the Face of America on its best day in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

In a very real way, her leadership style and educational philosophy encompass the key attributes of “Servant Leadership.” That is one of the concepts we wanted to share with her students while we were producing documentaries in two Pennsylvania towns that personify honor and valor, Gettysburg and Shanksville.

Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum is the consummate professional.

She knows her strengths and her weaknesses.
She believes that good teachers are awakeners.

She likes to be with people, and she knows that little things like answering messages in a timely fashion mean a lot. In this respect, she honors the advice of Arthur Conan Doyle and the caution of L.M. Montgomery:

It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.

It’s dreadful what little things lead people to misunderstand each other.

IMG_3768smShe is a good team member. She is available, dependable and reliable.

She can put things in perspective, because she can see beyond the obvious.

She has the courage and the will to do the right thing, not the easy or pragmatic thing. She follows the example of Maya Angelou:

All of us knows, not what is expedient, not what is going to make us popular, not what the policy is, or the company policy – but in truth each of us knows what is the right thing to do. And that’s how I am guided.

She is enthusiastic about learning.

She does not let her critics define her.

She knows that without risk, there can be no progress.

She is a hopeful and welcoming person who is always willing to open the door to new ideas. She agrees with Anne Lamott:

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.

She is an excellent communicator.

She takes responsibility for her choices, and she does not blame others for her failures.


She is quick to apologize when she makes a mistake. She honors Ben Franklin’s dictum:

Never ruin an apology with an excuse.

She is goal-oriented, and sensitive to the needs of the people she is leading.

She has a good sense of humor, and she is not afraid to laugh at herself.

For her, flexibility is a key to success.

She actively listens with her heart as well as her head.

She knows that everyone needs encouragement, and she graciouslyIMG_7396 provides it. When Celeste Holm spoke these words, she reaffirmed one of Dr. Birnbaum’s deeply held beliefs:

We live by encouragement and die without it — slowly, sadly, and angrily.

She is a gratitude person who appreciates the power of affirmation.

She knows the value of private consultation, mediation and reconciliation.

She is a service-oriented person who has not succumbed to the narcissism of our time.

She knows that success in not a matter of luck. It is the result of attitude, inconvenience, industry, discipline and sacrifice.

She understands the importance of Janette Rankin’s words:

You can take people as far as they want to go, not as far as you want them to go.


For Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, “we” is more important than “I,” and actions speak louder than words.The words of Marva Collins resonate with her:

If children fail, it’s about me, not them. I tell my students, if you think excellence is difficult, you don’t want to try failure.

When I think about the priceless moments Kitch and I shared with Dr. Birnbaum, an adaptation of the words of William Penn come to mind:

She understood our desire to be teachers with a camera, and she used her influence and power to help us do what we love to do. She was a courageous defender of our documentary philosophy, and she remains a friend to this day.

The news of her retirement in July of this year created a veryIMG_3985_MBS sentimental moment for Kitch and me.

George Eliot gave us a perfect description of Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum, her greatest gift and her legacy:


The presence of a noble nature, generous in its wishes, ardent in its charity, changes the lights for us: we begin to see things again in their larger, quieter masses, and to believe that we too can be seen and judged in the wholeness of our character.

Thank you, Dr. Birnbaum for changing the light for everyone in the North Plainfield School District.

Thank you, for your kindness and your belief in our work.

Thank you, for being a quiet hero who went to work every day with a burning desire to help others.

Thank you, for exemplifying America at its best with dignity and class.

May your retirement be blessed with good health, great memories and many joyful moments.

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A Standing O Event, Part 1

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Screening Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Kitch Loftus
Digital Photographs Tony Mussari
Copyright 2013
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

When four seventh grade girls appeared at the doors to theWITL_sign auditorium at 6 p.m. and said, “We’re here for the movie,” I knew it was going to be a perfect night. They were smiling and shy.  They proceeded to pick out their seats and settle in. It didn’t matter that they were 30 minutes early.  There were on a mission, and they would not be deterred or distracted.

For the next 30 minutes, people of all ages streamed in the doors, all in upbeat moods, eager to see a documentary about Gettysburg that featured ten students they called their own.

There was electricity in the air when Master of Ceremonies Tom Mazur, Supervisor of Arts at North Plainfield got the evening started with a brief welcome. Then, he introduced Nabil Twyman, a seventh grade student who quietly and confidently took his position at the  perfectly tuned Steinway Grand Piano to play two songs, “Red” and “Blue.” His mother’s face beamed with pride as she used her I-pad to record his masterful performance from her seat in then first row.

When Nabil’s nimble hands played the final notes, the young pianist received a rousing and well-IMG_3978_Nabildeserved round of applause. Everyone in the room was taken by Nabil’s gift. It was obvious that his future will be bright because his talent is enormous and his personality is humble and giving.

While Nabil walked to his seat in the front row next to his mother, Tom Mazur asked Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum,IMG_3985_MBSad Superintendent of Schools, to come to the stage to share her thoughts about the evening.  As always, Dr. Birnbaum was courteous, thoughtful and very welcoming. She is the perfect person for the position she holds in North Plainfield. She made everyone feel welcome and at home. The words she used to introduce Tony and the documentary were generous and very kind.

As Tony walked to the stage to talk about the production of Walking Into The Light At Gettysburg, I could feel my heart beating faster. I had some idea of what he was going to say, I had no idea about how it would be received.

IMG_3987_ speaking

Like his hero, Abraham Lincoln, my husband is an aural thinker. Before a big event, he will talk to me about what he intends to say. While he talks, he listens to the words and the concepts and he refines his message. Rarely does he use a printed document. He speaks best when he speaks from his heart. On this occasion he wanted the words to come straight from his heart. When the amplification system failed, he walked to the center of the stage, and he began to tell his story.

He told the audience why he wanted to produce this documentary.  It was a legacy piece for his brother who took him to Gettysburg when he was 15-years-old.  It was a centerpiece of his Face of America project, the three year ongoing search for the characteristics and the people who represent America at its best.  It was a gratitude piece for the students, teachers, administrators and support personnel in North Plainfield, a place he calls his second home. It was a living prayer for his son.

Tony believes that the people who make up the North Plainfield school system reflect the culture, the essence and the spirit of the Face of America on its best day. The richness of the diverse make up of the student body, the faculty and staff, and the sense of common purpose you feel when you are in North Plainfield energizes him and gives him hope that we can solve our problems in a peaceful way. 

He admires the philosophy that is recorded in motivational sayingsIMG_3971_sign_pride that are displayed on the walls of schools he visits. He enjoys working with the students in the way any effective teacher enjoys interacting with students. He wanted this documentary and the Gettysburg project he suggested to teachers and administrators to empower students to be their best. He does not believe anyone is entitled to anything without hard work and overcoming obstacles. That has been his life experience, and it remains so even today.

When Tony talked about his son it was all heart. “No one ever asked me why I came to North Plainfield,” Tony said. “Tonight, I would like to answer that question, because this may be my last opportunity to speak to you in this way.”

IMG_4038_ tony

Then he told the poignant story about his son. “In high school he was Mr. Everything. Today he is homeless, living on the streets, haunted by the demons that began to take over his life when he was in high school. He started out just like the ten wonderful students who traveled to the battlefield with him one year ago. “My son was gifted, intelligent, engaging, motivated and successful in all the ways that matter in high school. He was all state in soccer, a  leading field goal kicker in the state of Ohio, selected as a model, but underneath it all he was hurting and he turned to alcohol and gambling for relief.

“Today, those demons control his life and they impact my life in significant ways. I came here to engage you and to introduce you toLee_Wisdom Prudence values that will help you benefit from my experience. Everything in this film is designed to help you deal with the bumps in the road, to believe in  yourself and your dreams, to be able to see beyond the temptations and the temporary gratifications that entice people to take the easy way.”

Tony encouraged everyone in the audience to read the quotations displayed in the film, to listen with their eyes as well as their hearts to what General Robert E. Lee and President Abraham Lincoln say about failure, and to pay close attention to what the students learned about themselves during their visit to Gettysburg.

Just before he finished his remarks, he said something he has told me privately many times, “I love what I see in North Plainfield, because this is one of the best portraits of the Face of America on its best day.”

(To be continued in Part 2)

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Gettysburg Gifts: Part 1

Friday, January 25th, 2013

The Illumined Gifts of a Teacher

Written by: Thomas A. Mazur, Supervisor: Fine, Practical & Performing Arts, North Plainfield School District, North Plainfield, New Jersey
Photographs by: Bill Gaydos & Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013 Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

A celebration followed the premier of Tony Mussari’sEisenhower Inn_350 documentary “Walking Into the Light at
Gettysburg” (1/19/13). It was held at the Eisenhower Hotel and Convention Center just outside Gettysburg.

It was an appropriate and characteristic occasion to augment Mussari’s artful film, which elicited a
rousing standing ovation at its emotional conclusion in the Lenfest Theater at the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Walking graphic_250“Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg” was such an uplifting experience, the opportunity to sit, break
bread and chat afterwards was a pleasantry, only to be surpassed by demonstrations of the values that
were offered in the film.

A highlight of the banquet was the address by Dr. Stephen Post, Director of the Center for Medical
Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, New York.

Dr. Post is a man of many honors, awards and innovations. His address centered on the scientific evidence of the value of doing good, and its benefits to one’s health and well-being. At the conclusion of his talk, Dr. Post did not hide his best-selling book “The Hidden Gifts of Helping,” rather he gave it to everyone to take home as a gift.

Another rare and special highlight came when the MayorOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of Gettysburg, William Troxell presented the key to his city to North Plainfield, New Jersey. The key was accepted by North Plainfield Board of Education Vice President, David Branan, Board member Thomas Kasper and North Plainfield Councilwoman, Mary Forbes.

The celebration concluded with a demonstration of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA of kindness as Tony and his wife, Kitch presented a
thoughtful gift to everyone who participated in the special occasion. It was characteristic of them to
“walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.”

The old professor paced a larger than usual classroom,
modeling the values he seeks in others, accenting the positive with passion and humility, giving illumined gifts to those who love and support his leadership.

Dwight D. Eisenhower would have approved.

Making Learning Contagious

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Making Learning Contagious

written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.” Marva Collins

West End in the Morning

This week, I was impressed, inspired and encouraged in ways I will never forget. The magical moments happened in room 9 at the West End Elementary School in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

I was there to record scenes for a Face of America documentary about mentoring. Once inside the building, I was drawn in by the welcoming way of the people I met and the magical touch of a teacher and the enthusiastic response of her students.

Megan Schutz is a gifted teacher who loves her job and the students in her care.  She is ably assisted by Christina Moscatello, a Special Education co-teacher, and Corie Williams a paraprofessional.

On this unseasonably warm February morning, I watched these women work their magic with students who were interested, engaged and enthusiastic about the work they were doing. In my opinion, it was a radiant painting of education at its best.

From the warm greetings as students entered the room, to the artful blending of technology with tried and true traditional teaching techniques, this classroom was alive with the sights and sounds of children learning, growing, thinking and enjoying school.

The day began with a heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag. It was followed by a series of announcements that ended with a tone setting thought for the day:

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

After hearing the words of Helen Keller, the students took their seats, opened their math workbooks, and their teacher, Megan Schutz, got down on her knees to be at eye level with the fourth graders who responded to her questions and her encouraging suggestions.

One of the students got an enthusiastic “hi five” accompanied with the Merlin-like, affirming words, “Great Job.”

At the appointed time, the students lined up. The line leaders took their places, and then everyone walked to the music room for an experience that can only be described as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Music with Meaning

Type the words “Proud to be an American” in a Google Search and you will get more than 4,000,000 hits. I am sure all of these items are interesting and informative. None of them, however, will evoke the emotional reaction I experience watching Milan Lazistan, a substitute teacher, work with the 21 students who sat on the floor of his classroom.

Granted, the words of the song are powerful. They were written to elicit emotion.  When you plant them in the innocent and unpretentious minds of children like these and you ask them to sing along with a recording of Lee Greenwood’s voice playing in the background, you get more than mom, apple pie and the 4th of July. You get a rendition that is from the heart, and tailored to the experience of youngsters, many of whom have origins in places far away from Lady Liberty’s Light in New York Harbor.

I am not ashamed to say that tears filled my eyes while I recorded the chorus of beautiful faces and voices from America, Dominican Republic,  Ecuador, India, Kenya and Pakistan, singing these powerful words:

If tomorrow all the things were gone I’d worked for all my life,
And I had to start again with just my children and my wife,
I’d thank my lucky stars to be living here today,
‘Cause the flag still stands for freedom
And they can’t take that away.

I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,
And I won’t forget the men who died who gave that right to me,
And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today,
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God Bless the U.S.A.

If ever there was a picture of America on its best day, this is it. Genuine in every detail and beautiful in everything it implied. For me, it spoke to everything our founders hoped we would become, and everything our country represents to people at home and abroad who yearn for freedom and equality for everyone in the family of mankind.

Before I left the classroom, I asked Mr. Lazistan what he hoped music would do for these children. His answer was to the point and very instructive.

I hope it will teach them to enjoy music. I hope it will help them enjoy life.  I hope they will learn something from it so they can gather their own personal creativity and give it out to others.

Opening Minds

As I made my way back to room 9, I thought to myself, it can’t get any better than this. As is often the case with generalizations made in the wake of an emotional experience, I was wrong.

Shortly after the students settled into their seats, Megan Schutz started a discussion of American symbols. Just as she was finishing her introduction in which she made reference to an earlier class when the students defined what it means to be an American, I asked her if she would review that class for me.

She paused and replied with words that I never expected to hear. “May I do it with the help of the students?”

My answer was an enthusiastic, yes.

What followed was a brilliant mosaic of America drawn by children who spoke from their hearts, their experience and their love of country.

With hands extended ramrod straight above their heads and hands waving in every corner of the room, Chelsea spoke first. “America is people who live here.”

Parijot told her teacher, “America is people who promise loyalty to our country.”

Valarie spoke quietly but resolutely. “People come to America for freedom or a better life. It’s for opportunity, more jobs and more freedom.”

Emily said that America is about people who come from many different countries.

Muhammad defined America as a place where people are free.

Isaiah pictured America as a place where people join together for a single cause, freedom.

For Dave, America is a place where people show patriotism to our flag.

Sophia added, “It is a place where we do the pledge of allegiance.”

James wanted his teacher to know that in America people form alliances, they come together with one another.

Kenny had a different and very interesting take on America. “It’s a place where we don’t look the same,” he said enthusiastically, “but we all have the same parts.”

Someone once said, “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.”

In room 9 at the West End Elementary school, I listened with great delight to children who gave simple, but profound, answers to the question what is America?  Their answers came from the beauty of their hearts and the purity of their souls.  There were no hidden agendas. There were no expectations of reward. There was only a child-like innocence to cooperate, and share their deeply held beliefs.

It was a memorable and moving example of America at its best, teaching at its best, and love of country at its best.

It underscored the carefully crafted art work I saw hanging outside one of the classrooms I passed on my way to the music room.

“A Teacher opens a mind, holds a hand, touches a heart.”

If only all of us could have the privilege of visiting the classrooms like classroom 9 in elementary schools all over America, the fact that America is better than we think, our children are better than we think and our future is better than we think might begin to take flight. 

All we need to do is realize that we all look different, but we all have the same parts.

Thank you, Christina Moscatello.
Thank you, Corie Williams.
Thank you, Milan Lazistan.
Thank you, Megan Schutz.
Thank you, Alexa, Brandon, Brian, Chantal, Chelsea, Dave, Emily, Faith, Isaiah James, Janybeth, Jasmin, Kenny,  Muhammad, Parijot, Sara, Sophia, Timyan, Valerie, and Zohaib,

You are the Face of America on its best day, and what you did in your classroom personifies America at its best.  

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Four Days in North Plainfield, NJ, Part 3

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Teaching Moments

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

Teaching Moments

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.” Anatole France

Doc 05: the Challenge

Prior to my visit to the North Plainfield High School for two presentations to the student body, I spent many restless nights conceptualizing the nature, objectives and tone for this unique teaching opportunity.

I wanted to connect with the students. I wanted to engage the students in a series of exercises that would reinvigorate the seeds of optimism and opportunity planted by their teachers. I wanted to inform the students about the material in our documentary about Shanksville and transformation. I wanted to define the word hero in a way they would not forget. I wanted to leave these students with positive memories about themselves and what they learned.

It was a tall order for a person who is old enough to be their grandfather. It was a challenging for someone who had not spoken to an audience of 500 students in a high school setting in more than 30 years.

For three weeks, I had been thinking, reading, planning and mulling over in my mind what I would say, and how I would say it.

To be very honest, I was somewhat apprehensive about the situation I had gotten myself into, but I was determined to make the best of it.

Several things worked to my advantage. I like these students. I admire the educational leaders in their school district. I respect their teachers. I know a good deal about the history and culture of the school district.  My wife and I have been here several times, and I taught small groups of students in their classrooms during our visits. I was a guest speaker at two athletic awards banquets, and I recorded a number of public service trips taken by the cheerleaders and their coach Skip Pulcrano.

When the light of discovery and direction finally went on in my mind, it was simple, understandable and very practical. I would do something my mother always encouraged me to do. I would be myself. I would teach in much the same way I taught in my own classroom, from my heart as well as my head. I would apply the information I learned from a teacher at Kent State University: “Effective teaching is as much about good performance as it is about good information.”

Doc 05: the Content

Now that I had a strategy, I could spend time thinking about content, examples and a theme.

The main event for the assembly was a screening of our documentary Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation. The film features 12 Cheerleaders from North Plainfield who visited the people’s memorial in Shanksville in 2010 during our Face of America Journey, three Flight 93 Ambassadors who helped us during our ten year What is America? project in Shanksville, the woman who took the only picture of Flight 93’s ending, Val McClatchey and the woman who created the 9/11 National Remembrance Flag, Joanne Galvin.

The film addresses several questions about America at its best, American heroes and American values. It begins with the North Plainfield High School Concert Band playing Flight of Valor.  It ends with a montage of images summarizing the events of September 11, to the music of Jo Ann Biviano’s I’ll Always Remember.   

This screening provided an excellent opportunity to talk about the person who inspired our Face of America Journey, 2LT Emily Perez, the first Black/Hispanic honors graduate to lose her life in Iraq. I could tie Emily’s Legacy into the life work of another inspirational American, Professor George N. Parks, the teacher who built a national reputation for the Minuteman Marching Band at the University of Massachusetts. His work with students could be linked with another motivational teacher and coach, Herb Brooks and his 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team.

The documentary films Kitch and I produced about Coach Brooks and Professor Parks and the short films we edited about Emily Perez, gave me all the material I needed to tell their stores in what I hoped would be a compelling and interesting way to the students in North Plainfield.

The narratives of each of these American heroes gave me an opportunity to address the question, What is a hero? I could make the significant distinction between a hero and a celebrity. That would open the door to the matter I wanted to emphasize for the students, the impressive examples of industry and service Kitch and I found in North Plainfield, the genuine goodness of this place and the radiant Face of America it projects.

Doc 05: The Moment

The first assembly began sometime after 9 a.m. on a beautiful Monday morning. After introductions by the principal, Jerard Stevenson and the Supervisor of Fine Arts, Tom Mazur, I climbed the steps to the stage. Standing behind the podium, I waited for a few seconds, and then I enthusiastically greeted the students.   

They responded and we were off to a very good start.

After a few moments, I made a costume change.

The year I retired from teaching, Kitch and I worked with twenty students on a documentary project about the 25th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. It was designed to teach the students life lessons and work values by studying Coach Herb Brooks and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. During my final night as a teacher, the students gave me what they called a “Miracle Shirt.” It is one of my most treasured possessions. I wore it under my academic gown at graduation and one other time during a guest lecturer at St. Mary’s College in Moraga California.

I explained the importance of the shirt, and its symbolism.  Then, I walked to the easel next to the podium. I removed the shirt uncovering a framed picture of a smiling Emily Perez. Just before I put the shirt on, I told the students I was going to wear this shirt for the third time to honor them. The comment resonated with the audience.

For the next few minutes we did some exercises that got the students out of their seats and enabled them to have some fun, learn some lessons about life, success, coping with disappointment, pursuing excellence and accepting themselves.

Whatever I asked the students to do they did with zest and involvement. It was such a joyful experience.  We were working together, learning together, celebrating together and having a good time together.

To be honest, it felt good to be in a classroom with so many students who were enthusiastically participating.

My segue to the film was a short story about Emily Perez: her background; her accomplishments in the classroom, on the athletic field and her impressive record of selfless service to others. I compared her courage and heroism to the actions of the heroes of flight 93. I asked the students to watch the film with their hearts as well as their eyes. I asked them to listen with their ears and their hearts to the things their classmates would say about their hopes, their dreams and their country.

The room grew silent, the lights went out and the film began. I made my way to the back of the auditorium. My heart was pumping in overdrive, and my spirits were about as high as the azure blue sky above. It was one of the best teaching opportunities of my lifetime.
In my heart of hearts, I believed that I connected with the students. I did what I came here to do.   I reinforced my strong belief that this is a place where one finds the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

When the film ended, I had a few moments with the students, and then they left the auditorium to attend their regularly scheduled classes. As they filed out of the room, several students offered encouraging comments about their experience. When I was about to leave, I was greeted by a substitute teacher who, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and expressed her thanks.

Later in the day she wrote these words:

I wanted to thank you once again for all your incredible dedication and work in such a necessary area, that of reaffirming the goodness of our wonderful country and its young people, and that of honoring our fallen.

I cannot begin to describe to you how profound and cathartic an effect your work had upon me. I felt certain that I had composed myself long prior to approaching you, yet upon our handshake I felt this overwhelming wave of emotion come back over me.  Call it gratitude, call it inspiration, respect, etc. but I was very shocked at the depth and range of feelings I experienced. 

I feel your documentary does exactly what any great documentary is supposed to do:  it informs and extols while getting people to think and REACT to what they are learning.  I can’t call it anything less than a spiritual experience. 

It definitely has everything to do with the fact that I am so very proud of my brother, a current civilian private contractor, post-military officer who was presented a bronze medal and now works actively in the wage for peace in counter-terrorism intelligence. 

Please take my words with you as an additional level of affirmation and inspiration that you and your wife so richly deserve, as you have inspired so many. 

God has Blessed You, Dr. Mussari and your lovely wife… may your work never stop moving forward to inspire everyone

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 we returned to the auditorium for another assembly. It was a memorable beginning to a very long day that would culminate in a public screening at 7:00 p.m.

Throughout the day two thoughts reverberated in my mind:

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. Author Unknown

It’s not what is poured into a student that counts, but what is planted. Linda Conway

Thank You, Tom Mazur.

Thank you, Skip Pulcrano.

Thank You, Jerard Stephenson.

Thank You, Marilyn Birnbaum.

Thank you, North Plainfield students for giving an old teacher a new classroom and memories that will last a lifetime.

Tony & Kitch Mussari
The Face of America Project
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Shanksville: A Place of Transformation

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Final Cut: Teaching the “Shanksville Standard” with Help from Our Friends in North Plainfield, New Jersey

Written by Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari Loftus Associates, LTD

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.  Kevin Arnold The Wonder Years

Shortly after we returned from our final visit and screening in Shanksville, Kitch and I received a very kind note. It began with these words:

I am still in a state of euphoria about the entire trip. Thank you for everything that you did this past weekend.  I know that there was so much work involved, and that you both were exhausted by Sunday, but do know that every single person’s life was affected for the better.  I will never forget it!

What did we do in Shanksville on September 24?  It’s a fair question, and it has a simple answer.

We tried to teach a group of students from North Plainfield, New Jersey, what it means to be an American, what it means to reach up for the best edition of themselves, what it means to celebrate death in order to live a better life, what it takes to navigate the bumps in the road of life, and what it means to emulate what I like to call “the Shanksville Standard.”

Kitch and I met the students from North Plainfield on a bleak, rainy day at the People’s Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93 in September 2009.  Dressed in their bright cheerleader uniforms, the students were carefully placing American flags on each of the 40 Angels of Freedom.  Instinctively, I knew there was something very special about these students and their thoughtful act of remembrance.

Since that day two years ago, North Plainfield has become like a second home for me. I enjoy working with the students. I admire the administrators, teachers and staff. I find the atmosphere in the high school to be infectious in all the ways that matter. Simply put, good things are happening in North Plainfield.

On this Saturday in September, we began our day with a visit to the permanent memorial. Then, we drove to Shanksville where Sue Strohm and Chuck Wagner, Flight 93 Ambassadors, talked about their experiences at the People’s Memorial to the Heroes of Flight 93.

During the afternoon break, the cheerleaders visited the only privately owned memorial in the Shanksville area.  In the peace and quiet of this renovated chapel, they left 40 American flags to honor the Heroes of Flight 93.

Kitch and I managed to find time to make our way to Ida’s Store. It is a gathering place at the entrance to the town.  While we were sitting on the bench in front of Ida’s, we received a welcoming wave from an Amish woman and her husband as they made their way along Main Street to the farm where they live.  It was a quintessential Shanksville moment.

Late in the afternoon, the cheerleaders returned to this town of 250 people. They joined friends, family, and former students for dinner.  Watching out of the corner of my eye, I saw people talking, laughing, sharing and listening to the sweet sounds of camaraderie.

After dinner, we talked about life, death and everything in between. It was a teaching moment, and an opportunity to help the students tie everything together.

Earlier in the day, I asked the students and their elders to think about the final moments of Flight 93. I asked them to think about what they would do if they were in a similar situation. A few members of our group shared their responses, and one person, Doug MacMillan, made it very clear that he did not know what he would have done. The honesty of his comment touched the heart of everyone in the room.

At the appointed time, we walked to the United Methodist Church for the screening of Shanksville, PA: A Place of Transformation.

Before the lights were dimmed, I shared two letters that celebrated Kitch’s courageous and successful battle with cancer.  Then, I read an article I wrote on September 11, 2011, specifically for the screening. It is titled “Thinking About America.”

It began with these words.

Standing in this place where I have been nine times before, I am filled with emotions I cannot explain.  It‘s a mixture of apprehension, exhilaration, gratitude, melancholy, and wonder.

On this day, we came here to celebrate death to learn about life. We came here to honor heroes who knew they were going to die. Heroes who refused to give up and give in. Heroes who used their final minutes of life to protect sacred national symbols and hundreds of people who would have died without their intervention.

The memory of their heroic revolt evokes admiration, affection and amazement.  It also evokes anger, dismay and a kind of emptiness that eats away at my soul.  It produces questions without answers and anguish without resolution.

“Thinking About America” ends with a challenge for the students from North Plainfield and Americans everywhere:

Ten years ago, we made a promise to tell the Shanksville story with dignity and class. For 3,650 days, we have remained true to that promise. In doing that, we have been changed in ways we never thought possible.

Today, Kitch and I look at our county through a different lens, and we measure ourselves and the people we meet against the “Shanksville Standard.”

Do we have the courage to do the right thing?

Do we have the will to do the honorable thing?

Do we have the fortitude to do the difficult thing with grace?

Do we have the insight necessary to understand that service to others is more rewarding than service to self?

Do we have the strength to pick ourselves up when we fall, and move forward with hope?

Do we have the wisdom to remember the everyday heroes of Flight 93?

Will we live a life of “loving kindness?”

These are difficult questions.  These are transformational questions.  The answers to these questions are deeply rooted in the heart, not the mind.

These are questions that have a high priority in the North Plainfield School District. Shanksville PA: A Place of Transformation documents this in the words spoken by the students about their country. More importantly, it records it in the actions of the cheerleaders who are taught the significance of service to others.

With the familiar music of the opening scene of the documentary resonating off the walls of the church, I walked to the back of the room. In my mind, the words of the father of Greek tragedy summarized what the students were about to see:

“Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”  Aeschylus

Digital photographs provided by Frank Pizzani, Skip Pulcrano, Chuck Wagner.

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25 Aphorisms for Life from Our Journey

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

25 Aphorisms for Life from Our Face of America Journey

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Eugene Flood and 
Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Life is short…opportunities fleeting, experience deceptive, judgment difficult. Hippocrates

Graduation 2011

On June 22, students in the senior class at North Plainfield High School will received their diplomas, and begin their journey into the uncharted waters of life.

During the past two years, Kitch and I have worked with several of the members of this class at the high school and on the road in Philadelphia and Shanksville, PA. We attended Friday night football games and awards banquets.  We listened to their music in two different concerts. We visited their classrooms, and we screened a documentary about their visit to Shanksville in the rain.

We know them, their parents and their teachers, and we are very fond of these young men and women. For us they represent the Face of America’s tomorrow today.

For the past few days, we have been thinking about their graduation, and we decided to give them a gift that we hope will help them during the next stage of their journey. It is a summary of things we learned during our lifetime and during our recent road trip across America.

Aphorisms for Life

1. The most effective antibiotic for the things that trouble you is hope.

2. If you want to get better at something, hang out with people who will lift you up.

3. Always be positive.  It is good for your heart and your health.

4. Expect the unexpected. The most important road sign on the road of life is “Stuff Happens.”

5. The most important tool in your toolbox is common sense.

6. Happiness is found in giving to others.

7. Love is what you give away, not what you take.

8. You don’t find friendship on a wall; you find it in a caring heart and soul.

9. Not every acquaintance becomes a friendship, and not every friendship lasts forever.

10. The love of money is the root of all evil, and there is some money that “ain’t worth making.”

11. Work is more important than play, but work without play is misery.

12. You don’t learn everything in school. You learn some of the most important lessons during the moment of your greatest failure.

13. Blaming your parents for your disappointments is an easy way out, but it will never help you figure out your problems.

14. Don’t fall in love with an institution. It will break your heart and leave you standing alone.

15. The two most important words in any language are thank you. Use them often, and use them with the sincerity of a caring heart.

16. Before you can do it, you must be able to dream it. Dream often.

17. If you want to feel good about yourself, live a life of dedication, integrity and humility.

18. The most important secret to success is: “There is no easy way.”

19. If you want to have peace of mind, make time to disconnect, disengage and decompress. Push the off button frequently.

20. When you come to a fork in the road where you have more questions than answers, you have reached a destination called maturity.

21. Failure is the mother of discovery.

22. Being different is totally American. It comes with a constitutional guarantee.

23. Fear is the friend of the wise.  It trumps overconfidence every time.

24. Imagination is the morning star of creativity.

25. America is the home of opportunity, and diversity is the crown jewel of our democracy.

During the dark moments of disappointment, depression, fear and uncertainty, remember the words of your classmates:

“No matter what, we’ll always be there to catch you.” Monica Ramirez

“Life isn’t like a perfect piece of paper. It’s crumpled. There are wrinkles that represent the ups and downs of life. But that’s where the beauty lies in the wrinkles themselves…Don’t regret the mistakes…Regret won’t change the past, just get up and keep going.” Guedis Cardenas, president of the senior class.

During the bright moments of success, happiness and joy, remember the words of Nataya Johnson:

"When I help others, I feel good about myself."

On this glorious day of beginnings, Kitch and I salute you.  We will never forget you. Our wish for you is best expressed in these seven words. “May good fortune always be your friend.”

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A Poignant Face of America Moment

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Flight of Valor: a Poignant Face of America Moment in North Plainfield, New Jersey

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
The Face of America Project
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

Music is the medicine of the breaking heart. Leigh Hunt

North Plainfield High School

Some of the most priceless memories of our Face of America journey are deeply rooted in the high school in North Plainfield, New Jersey. This is the place where Kitch and I first discovered the Face of America’s tomorrow today.  It’s the place where the seeds of our project germinated. It’s a place where good things are happening for students, teachers, parents and administrators who reap the benefits of diversity.

In many ways, going to North Plainfield is like going home. It happened again this week when I visited the high school to interview students for a documentary we will screen in Shanksville later this year.

The visit was suggested by Tom Mazur, Supervisor of Fine, Practical and Performing Arts. Tom invited me to attend the spring concert. When I was told the concert band under the direction of Heather Fencik would play Flight of Valor, James Swearingen’s inspirational composition dedicated to the Heroes of Flight 93, I requested permission to record the event.

As has always been the case, everyone at the high school who was involved in arranging my visit did what had to be done to create a welcoming environment. Skip Pulcrano, the coach of the North Plainfield cheerleaders, went out of his way to make this location shoot a success.

Prior to the concert I interviewed four students and one teacher from North Plainfield, and a mother and her daughter from Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

Yamna Anwar is one of North Plainfield’s most accomplished students. Recently she distinguished herself with a perfect score on the state mandated test for juniors. During our conversation she shared her thoughts about America and her dream of becoming a medical doctor.

Maximiliano Torres is a member of the wrestling team, and the owner of a golden voice.  Kitch and I were taken by his rendition of God Bless America, prior to our screening of Visiting Shanksville in the Rain. During our conversation he spoke passionately about his love for America.

Guedis Cardenas is president of the senior class, and a member of the tennis team. He is a cheerleader who commands the respect of everyone on the squad. Sitting in front of the Healing Field Flag of Honor, he talked about the things he learned during his visit to Shanksville. Three days after our interview Guedis was selected as the outstanding male cheerleader in the country at a national competition in North Carolina.

Amber Henderson and her fifth grade teacher, Megan Hendrickson, shared their story of rescue, hope, inspiration and friendship.

Anna Norcia and her mother, Marie, talked about their visits to Shanksville with Skip Pulcrano when he was a teacher in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. That is where this marvelous public service tradition started. All these years later, it has been developed to its highest potential in North Plainfield.

As you can well imagine, these wonderful and uplifting stories added a special dimension to our Face of America project.

The Back Story

A few moments before the concert began, I read an interesting comment in the program. It told everyone in attendance that the composer of Flight of Valor drew upon a well-known hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. That piqued my curiosity, and I made a mental note to check out the back story to the music.

When the appointed moment arrived for the performance, I was located high above the stage in a control room where I could get a good shot of the concert band and audio to match.

The students performed Flight of Valor with dignity and class. It had all of the emotion, intensity and inspiration associated with this very special composition. Without question, Flight of Valor was the high point of the concert.

You can watch our production of Flight of Valor at this address:

On my way home, I thought about the back story, and as soon as I reached a computer I began my search for information about It Is Well with My Soul.  What I discovered is heart wrenching and inspirational.

Horatio G. Spafford, Jr., was a prominent Chicago lawyer. He and his wife, Anna, were the parents of four girls: Annie, Maggie, Bessie and Tanetta. In 1870, their only son was killed by Scarlett Fever.  In 1871, they lost all of their real estate properties in the Chicago fire. In 1873, they lost their four daughters in an accident at sea.

Spafford learned about the tragedy in a telegram from his wife.  It read” “Saved alone. What Shall I do?”

After the telegram arrived, Spafford left for England to join his wife.  He wrote the lyrics for It Is Well with My Soul shortly after the ship that was taking him to England passed the spot where the accident occurred. The opening stanza summarizes his feelings and speaks to his great faith:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Many believe It Is Well with My Soul is one of the most comforting Christian hymns. It speaks to faith and hope in the face of unimaginable pain and sorrow. It is the perfect model for Flight of Valor which celebrates the courage, determination, heroism and patriotism of the passengers and crew of United Flight 93. On May 17, the North Plainfield Concert Band captured all of the emotions expressed in Spafford’s hymn and Swearingen’s composition. It was an extraordinary Face of America moment and a proud memory for everyone in North Plainfield, New Jersey.

On this Memorial Day weekend it is well for our soul to remember all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, and the 1,007,448 men and women who have given their lives for our country since 1775. They are the face of American freedom. Their courage, honor, sacrifice and valor must never be forgotten. They paid the price for our freedom, and we are in their debt.

Tony & Kitch Mussari




Flight of Valor

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011