Best of NJ: People

From activists to golf course designers to pop stars—New Jersey's got it all. Here, a look at some of our favorite folks.

Passionate, committed, and candid, 59-year-old Bill Sheehan shoots from the hip when it comes to the Hackensack River watershed. A resident of Secaucus, Sheehan is founder and executive director of Hackensack Riverkeeper, an environmental organization focused on local river issues. For over a decade, he has been one of the most outspoken advocates for Meadowlands conservation, earning accolades from national environmental groups and opening local hearts and minds to the need for preservation and appreciation of North Jersey waterways.

Princeton University professor of economics Paul Krugman is one of the most influential economic thinkers on the planet. The academic, intellectual, theorist, author, and New York Times columnist was the sole winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2008. His notable contributions in the fields of international trade theory, finance, and economic geography continue to help people better understand the complex reality of our increasingly globalized and interconnected financial structures.

Feel-Good Story
Given the sheer volume of applications from bands eager to perform at President Barack Obama’s inauguration (1,382, to be exact), no one expected an obscure marching band from New Jersey to make the cut. But the Knights Drum Corps, from the Bonnie Brae Residential Treatment Center for Adolescent Boys, did just that. Located in Liberty Corner, the center provides a supportive and therapeutic environment for 98 young boys with troubled pasts. Bonnie Brae means “little hill” in Scottish, but with the help of generous donations totaling more than $50,000, fourteen percussionists were given a chance at the big hill—Capitol Hill.

Golf Course Designers
As home to Pine Valley, routinely ranked the nation’s Number one course, plus dozens of gems from golf’s golden age to the present, it makes sense that New Jersey should also claim two of today’s most esteemed golf architects. Rees Jones of Montclair, known as the Open Doctor for his renovations of revered U.S. Open courses, has designed more than 100 quality courses in the United States and abroad, including four layouts in the Garden State. The stimulating work of Stephen Kay primarily graces the Northeast, but the Egg Harbor City resident has also worked in North Dakota and Bhutan. In New Jersey he has created seven courses, including the acclaimed Scotland Run in Williamstown and Architect’s Club in Lopatcong, an homage to the great designers of golf’s golden age.

Rutgers professor Annette Gordon-Reed has not just been captivated by Thomas Jefferson since she was a grade-schooler; she has also long been intrigued by the way African-Americans were nameless property in the many books about him. That started to change when Jefferson’s intimate relationship with slave Sally Hemings was revealed, and Gordon-Reed’s 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, both generated and silenced debate on the contentious subject. Her follow-up, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, won the 2008 National Book Award for non-fiction—but she says book sales and recognition are nothing compared to the satisfaction of illuminating the histories of those who had long remained nameless.

Hollywood Superstar
Growing up in Millburn, Anne Hathaway showed off her early acting chops at the Paper Mill Playhouse and in Millburn High School productions. Now, the 26-year-old silver-screen starlet is Hollywood’s newest sweetheart. But don’t be fooled by her previous goody-two-shoes persona in Disney’s The Princess Diaries films; Hathaway earned an Oscar nomination for her role as a recovering drug addict in the critically acclaimed indie film Rachel Getting Married. She did not take home a trophy on Oscar night, but she won a good deal of the spotlight as part of host Hugh Jackman’s opening number.

It’s been 27 years since Brendan Byrne held sway as governor of New Jersey, but he remains a respected and charming figure on the state’s political landscape. At 85, Byrne is a frequent and vocal presence at public events—like the recent Chamber of Commerce Walk to Washington. He continues to wow audiences with his nimble soft-shoe routine, performed with fellow ex-gov Thomas Kean—with whom he pens a regular op-ed piece for the Star-Ledger. If only all political foes could be as civil.

Pop Stars
OMG, like Kevin, Joe, and Nick (a.k.a. the Jonas Brothers, duh!) are not only totally cute, they are, like, from Wyckoff!!! How awesome is that!?  But seriously you guys, JoBros are the real deal and the trio is, like, burnin’ up the teen pop scene. With their catchy tunes (all written by the brothers), an Imax movie, and this spring’s new TV show, J.O.N.A.S., about three brothers in a rock band living with their parents in New Jersey, the boys are super busy. Somehow they still find time to make young girls squeal all over the world!

Radio Personality
You’d expect the most listened to show on a jazz radio station to have an evening time slot, but Felix Hernandez’s Rhythm Revue has held that honor at Newark’s WBGO (88.3 FM) for decades despite airing during the seemingly unhip hours of 10 am to 2 pm. Hernandez, a native Philadelphian, wins his following with an unerring ear for the best soul and R&B, some by superstars, some by relative unknowns. Hernandez, 48, enjoys not just a virtual audience but a flesh-and-blood one that flocks to his regular Rhythm Revue Dance Parties at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan. Those take place at the indisputably cool hours of 10 pm to 4 am.

Rookie Tandem
You could not ask for more than the performances turned in this season by Joe Flacco and Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Flacco, a first-round draft pick (eighteenth overall), is an Audubon native. Running back Rice is a former Rutgers star. Both wowed Ravens fans and national audiences with their achievements, like a stunning week-nine performance against the Cleveland Browns, when Flacco threw for 248 yards while Rice rushed for 154. Though Baltimore eventually lost in the playoffs to the future Super Bowl XLIII champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s no doubt this Jersey-rooted pair will continue to impress on offense.


Mom Blog
New Jersey mom Jen Singer, author of You’re a Good Mom (and Your Kids Aren’t So Bad, Either) and Stop Second Guessing Yourself: The Toddler Years, writes about parenthood on from a very grown-up point of view. Topics include why her son doesn’t deserve to go to a Bruce Springsteen concert, hoochie mamas at the gym, and five reasons that she doesn’t miss having toddlers. Even when Singer was battling cancer last year, the blog maintained its edge. Singer even held a pick-my-wig contest, and one option was a Mohawk. Always funny, always honest, it’s a fun companion to the joys (and not so joys) of child rearing.

Online Matchmaker
Nineteen college campuses have adopted a secret-admirer website developed by Princeton senior Josh Weinstein., the latest incarnation of Weinstein’s earlier CrushFinder site, allows students to list up to five fellow students in whom they are romantically interested. If two people list each other as crushes, the website lets them both know with an e-mailed congrats. It’s a high-tech alternative to accomplish what anonymous letters and (often alcohol-induced) flirting have done for generations.

Sports Podcast
Marlton’s Dan Levy is a graphic designer. His sports podcast, On the DL with Dan Levy, has designs of its own. The program came into its own last fall when the Phillies were in the World Series. Now Levy is attracting commentary from the likes of Monday Night Football’s Tony Kornheiser, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and, inexplicably, Chuck Norris. Witty and insightful, Levy often goes beyond sports to tackle entertainment, politics, pop culture, or whatever. Definitely worth the free subscription (

Click on any of the following for more Best of Jersey articles:

Best of NJ: Food and Drink

Best of NJ: Retail

Best of NJ: Places

Best of NJ: Recreation

Click on the links below to read more detailed profiles of fellow Jerseyans who have exceeded expectations, acted heroically, realized their ambitions and accomplished feats worthy of our reverence and esteem; as well as some hidden treasure destination spots more than worth a day trip to visit:

The Phenom: 16-year-old tennis phenom Kristie Ahn, from Upper Saddle River, is poised to take the world of professional tennis by storm.

Heroes of the Hudson: When Flight 1549 hit the water, New Jersey’s well-trained ferryboat captains prevented tragedy.

These Buds Are For You: Cherry Blossoms aboun in Branch Brook Park in Essex County.

Sister of Invention: Georgetown University sophomore Catherine Cook created a yearbook for the digital generation.

Heavy Medalists: NJ’s Olympic and Paralymic stars are winners in every way.

On the Fly: Ken Lockwood Gorge offers rustic trout fishing not too far off the beaten path.

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