Donald Shauger Leads 2018 West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade as Grand Marshal
by Alexandra Gakos
March 30, 2018
As a child, Donald Shauger grew up idolizing Thomas Edison. To Shauger, who often spent his childhood days taking his prized Edison phonograph to West Orange’s Thomas Edison National Historical Park, Edison epitomized the spirit of the hardworking West Orange community. In the eyes of a young child growing up in West Orange—a town where Edison left behind a substantial legacy—Edison represented all of the great possibilities in store for those willing to work hard for their success in life.
Little did young Shauger know that someday he would see the rewards of his own blood, sweat, and tears—and, much like his role model before him, would leave a mark so great on West Orange that others would see him as a symbol of the town himself.
But that’s exactly what happened: In what Shauger describes as a “surreal” moment, Shauger represented his beloved hometown of West Orange in one of its most cherished traditions. On March 18, 2018, Shauger served as grand marshal of the 2018 West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade, leading thousands of people through the streets of West Orange in the 67th year of the historic tradition. It is a position enjoyed by few others, and it was a defining moment of Shauger’s life—when a hometown boy saw his life come full circle right before his very eyes.
Shauger took it all in with childlike wonderment—the music, crowds of spectators, fire trucks, marchers, and sea of green—while he marched through the all-too-familiar West Orange streets. They were the same streets on which Shauger took some of his first steps as a toddler. The same streets on which his mother, Laura, worked at Supreme Bakery to provide for Shauger and his four siblings. They were also the same streets on which Shauger first learned how to street-sweep and shovel snow by hand—and now Shauger, as the executive vice president of The Shauger Group, a multimillion-dollar property services and contracting company in New Jersey, has the contract to perform professional street-sweeping and snow removal services for some of those very same streets.
Shauger’s story, much like Edison’s, is that of the self-made man. Shauger’s favorite expression has long been “I wasn’t raised in West Orange, I was raised by West Orange.” And the reason is simple: the town of West Orange was there for Shauger and his family during their moments of greatest need. Shauger was raised by a single mother who worked tirelessly to care for her five children and lift herself from under State aid in the process. To help provide for her kids, one of whom was terminally ill, Laura Shauger worked six to seven days a week, often up to 13 hours a day.
From his mother, Shauger learned the value of hard work, and from West Orange, Shauger learned the value of a tight-knit community. While Laura balanced the responsibility of caring for a sick child and indefatigably working long hours to support her family, the town of West Orange went to great lengths to help ease the Shauger family’s struggles. West Orange families made meals for Laura and her children. Former West Orange mayor Samuel Spina organized a fundraising effort, through the mayor’s “Sunshine Fund,” to support Shauger’s sister, Susan, during her illness. The generous Sunshine Fund donations made by the West Orange community not only helped the Shauger family while Susan was sick but also helped pay for part of Susan’s burial and funeral when she passed away at age 25.
“Their sister was really, really sick,” said Therese Shauger, Shauger’s sister-in-law. “They had a rough childhood. The town had fundraisers for them and helped them. The town—the churches, everybody—came together for their family and their sister.”
“It was a tight-knit neighborhood,” said Father Jim Ferry, Shauger’s priest at West Orange’s Our Lady of Lourdes R. C. Church. “People knew he was in need. [T]here were a lot of families from Our Lady of Lourdes who helped him out.”
Because of that, Shauger has never forgotten where he came from. He’s been tireless in his efforts to give back, both to West Orange, specifically, and to the community at large. His efforts to contribute to the West Orange community began in his youth. He served as governor of the Organization of Concerned Adults and Youth (O.C.A.Y.) of West Orange, Colgate Chapter, from 1978–1981, starting a neighborhood watch group and civic association designed to keep youth out of trouble and improve safety at West Orange’s Colgate Park. He also took a brave stance against hatred after a 1979 vandalism incident in the Colgate Park area when he painted over the anti-Semitic graffiti. Shauger’s leadership and service during his youth earned him accolades, including the 1979 “Youth of the Year” title from the Optimist Club of Orange–West Orange. To this day, one of Shauger’s priorities is a commitment to philanthropy and service. He donates to West Orange–based charities, such as the West Orange Police Athletic League (PAL) and the Codey Fund for Mental Health, as well as leads larger-scale service initiatives.
Shauger and his wife, Lisa, president/CEO of The Shauger Group, established the Timothy Groves Memorial Scholarship within the West Orange Scholarship Fund in 2014 in memory of their lifelong friend and former West Orange police officer Timothy Groves. To date, the Timothy Groves Memorial Scholarship has helped 16 students in financial need who, like Officer Groves, are committed to volunteerism and service. Shauger has also partnered with former NFL punter Steve Weatherford to spearhead many philanthropic initiatives over the years, including donations of smoke detectors, Thanksgiving turkeys, and grocery store gift cards to families in need; a luncheon to recognize Hurricane Sandy emergency responders; and Project Prom, an essay-writing project they created to help students overcome adversity.
Shauger has also been consistently engaged in helping various nonprofits, especially the Apostles’ House, a Newark emergency shelter for homeless women and children. In addition to spending every Christmas with the families at the Apostles’ House and providing the families with Christmas presents and meals, the Shaugers have also organized two extreme makeovers since 2007, the most recent of which took place in May 2017. Several New Jersey companies, such as the New Jersey Devils, were involved in the 2017 renovation effort, as was US Senator for New Jersey Cory Booker.
“He shows a lot of initiative with programs like the Apostles’ House renovation—bringing in people to help make other people’s lives better,” said Lisa Shauger. “He does so much to help the community at large.”
“He always wanted to do things to help,” said Michael D’Aries, Shauger’s lifelong friend. “He’s always financially donating to various charities, whether it’s to the PAL or someone who was injured. He’s always helped or donated something. What Donnie does is keep the old style of a ‘helping hand’ alive. He tries to keep that old style of paying it forward active.”
“I was so impressed when I found out he worked one summer as a custodian to earn money so he and his mom could visit his mom’s sisters in Nova Scotia,” said Ada Meacham Ramos, The Shauger Group’s human resources/compliance manager, who has known Shauger since he was her paperboy. “He has always been a hard worker and dedicated to his family.”
For Shauger, the day of the parade was a whirlwind—and a dream come true—after months of eager anticipation and a lifetime of hard work. The parade festivities began with a 9:30 a.m. morning Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes R. C. Church, which commenced with a bagpipe procession and was attended by the parade honorees; parade committee; members of the Frank O’Hara Association, one of the oldest active Irish organizations in New Jersey; members of the Irish American Society of the Oranges; and others in the community. The Mass was particularly special for Shauger, as his daughter, Marisa, and niece Lauren were given the honor of bringing the gifts—flowers—to the statue of the Blessed Mother during the service.
Each year, the location of the Mass rotates between a few local Catholic parishes, including Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Valley (Orange), Our Lady of the Lake (Verona), and St. Joseph’s Church (West Orange). Fittingly, this year’s Mass was held at Our Lady of Lourdes, where Shauger is a parishioner—and where Donald and Lisa Shauger got married in 1985, which made the day even more meaningful for the Shaugers.
The parade itself kicked off at 12:15 p.m. in front of West Orange Town Hall, with Shauger leading the way as grand marshal. Also recognized as honorees at this year’s parade were deputy grand marshals Robert Lynch, Sean McGinley, and Brad Squires. Groups from both inside and outside New Jersey participated, announced by the parade committee as they marched along the parade route.
New Jersey State Police bagpipers accompanied Shauger as he led everyone along the parade route, which followed Main Street. Shauger’s nephews Michael and Thomas carried a banner bearing Shauger’s name in front of Shauger and his group of marchers, while Shauger’s nephews Patrick and Anthony held a banner of St. Patrick. Unsurprisingly, Shauger made a stop along the parade route when he reached his beloved childhood spot, the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, pausing for a quick photo-op in front of the park’s sign and another with some park rangers. Along the parade route, Shauger also paused to hug and kiss friends and greet spectators. The parade concluded near Our Lady of Lourdes and Brown Bear Pub, with members of the State Police Pipe Band lining up on either side of street as the marchers processed through them.
The parade had originally been scheduled for March 11, the week before, but after a series of Nor’easters pummeled West Orange and the surrounding areas, the parade committee and Township officials made the decision to postpone the parade. It was just the third time the parade had been postponed in its 67-year history, but officials felt it was the necessary course of action to ensure everyone’s safety on parade day.
“The decision was based on difficult logistical issues, however, safety for our residents and Township employees working to restore services was paramount,” Parade Chairperson Sheila Parisi said in a statement.
For Shauger, one of the most moving parts of the parade was approaching the end of the parade route and hearing the bells ringing at Our Lady of Lourdes for the first time in years. To commemorate Shauger’s appointment as grand marshal, the Shauger family made a donation to Our Lady of Lourdes to have the church bells refurbished. The Shaugers’ gift helped restore the bell-carillon system so that it can once again ring before and after Mass.
“It was especially moving to come to the end of the parade and hear the bells ringing at Our Lady of Lourdes Church for the first time in years,” said Shauger. “As I stood listening to the bells, in front of the third-floor apartment I grew up in, it all came together and hit me hard.”
“Through the generosity of Donald Shauger and his family, the church of Our Lady of Lourdes [was] now able to make a capital investment in the church bells that mark time and call us all to prayer not only on Sundays, but on many holy days and throughout the year,” said Father Ferry. “The current system, installed in 1976, no longer function[ed]. We [installed] a new carillon system which will allow us to ring the bells before and after Sunday Mass, for the solemnity of a funeral, and for special moments of observation throughout the year. Located at the crossroads of Main Street, Harrison Avenue, and Eagle Rock Avenue, the church has been a central focus in the neighborhood for more than a century.”
“Ringing the bells, we connect to many in our neighborhood,” added Father Ferry. “The bells will provide both hymn music and bells according to the season, and according to specific holy days. The new system also [will have] significantly greater functionality than the old system with many more musical settings. I am sincerely grateful to Donald and his family for their generosity.”
Father Ferry first met Shauger when he joined Our Lady of Lourdes as its pastor in 2014; according to Father Ferry, he “quickly learned about the contributions of Donnie to the community and of The Shauger Group to [the church’s] grotto.”
Father Ferry soon saw those contributions firsthand as well. With The Shauger Group frequently donating its time and services to the church, as well as performing other work for which the company was hired, Father Ferry got to know Shauger, who was a fixture around Our Lady of Lourdes.
Given how much Shauger has given to the Our Lady of Lourdes community over the years—both personally and through The Shauger Group—Father Ferry felt it was “especially fitting” that this year’s West Orange St. Patrick’s Day Parade Mass was held at Our Lady of Lourdes, Shauger’s home parish.
Grateful to Shauger for his generosity to Our Lady of Lourdes over the years, Father Ferry agrees wholeheartedly with the parade committee’s selection of Shauger as 2018 grand marshal. According to Father Ferry, of the many traits that made Shauger a good candidate for grand marshal, his “leadership and loyalty to the community” were two of the most important.
“He makes the community a better place by personal touches—by knowing people’s names, staying in touch, [and keeping connected with the community],” said Father Ferry.
Shauger’s son, Donnie, said his father had many traits, including his strong leadership skills, that made him an ideal choice for grand marshal.
“He leads and guides myself and my family every single day,” said Donnie Shauger. “His respect and compassion for others characterize my father because he always puts others before himself.”
As part of the annual parade tradition, the grand marshal selects a chief of staff and aides for the day of the parade. Shauger named his son, Donnie, who also works with him at The Shauger Group, as his chief of staff. Shauger selected three aides in order to represent three of the most important aspects of his life: religion, family, and friends. His aides were Father Ferry, representing religion; Therese Shauger, symbolizing family; and Michael D’Aries, standing for friends.
Father Ferry was moved that Shauger wanted to give him a special role in Shauger’s grand marshal parade party.
“I was honored to be included in his entourage,” said Father Ferry. “I’ve marched with our parish community and with the West Orange fire department, where I was a chaplain, but I’ve never marched at the beginning of the parade.”
Donnie Shauger echoed that sentiment, saying he too was very honored by his father’s appointment of him as chief of staff.
“I am thrilled to be marching down Main Street beside my father, where his entire life began,” said Donnie.
Parisi noted that many factors went into the parade committee’s decision to name Shauger grand marshal, including his “generosity” and his “involvement with other organizations.”
“We all decided we should go with a community-based honoree—someone who is active in the community and who gives back to community,” said Parisi, whose grandfather was one of the founders of the West Orange Parade. “That’s how Donnie’s name came up.”
“Donnie is a very giving person,” added Parisi. “He’s hands on. Any time we need anything, especially on parade day, Donnie always says yes. No questions asked.”
Parisi and her husband, West Orange mayor Robert Parisi, grew up with Shauger in West Orange. They both emphasized how significant of a mark Shauger has left on the community, even from a young age.
“Even if people don’t know Donnie personally, they know of him,” said Mayor Parisi.
“He’s very good when it comes to West Orange—everyone knows Donnie,” agreed Parisi. “He was always a go-getter. He was involved in everything.”
John O’Connor, former supervisor/director of recreation of the West Orange Department of Recreation, has known Shauger from the time Shauger worked as a laborer and maintenance worker for him as a teenager. O’Connor, who has been an important mentor to Shauger, especially during Shauger’s adolescence, always saw something special in Shauger and detected signs of the great things he would do with his life.
“You could always tell Donnie was going to be something different,” said O’Connor, who served as a deputy grand marshal of the West Orange Parade in 1982. “He’d be helping people all the time. You knew he was a leader. He’s just an amazing young man, to come from where he came from.”
“He always gives back,” added O’Connor. “The town was always special with Donnie in it, but you couldn’t give him too much praise. He didn’t want that.”
Therese Shauger agrees that leadership has always come naturally to Shauger.
“He takes charge,” said Therese Shauger. “He’s organized. He’s a good leader because he includes other people in on decision-making, asking other people their opinions. He leads, but with input from others.”
Lisa Shauger has the unique perspective of watching her husband be a role model within the family, as well as a leader alongside her at the helm of The Shauger Group.
“He exemplifies leadership professionally, always motivating others under him to be the best they can be,” said Lisa Shauger. “He’s a leader in our family. He’s always encouraging our kids to be the best they can be.”
Shauger’s children concur that his example has always been one to emulate.
“I am so proud to have him as a role model, but even better I get to call him dad,” said Marisa Shauger. “I think my dad’s generosity, loyalty to the community of West Orange, and his compassion towards every person he meets is what made him the perfect candidate for grand marshal.”
With an influence that’s been far-reaching and a devotion to West Orange that has known no bounds, Shauger has made the community sure of one thing: Thomas Edison isn’t the only one who has left a lasting mark on West Orange.
Parade video by Collins Creative Media, LLC: