No Ordinary Guy

What would you say about a man who did special police work, was a valuable member of a volunteer fire company, and devoted bundles of time to charitable organizations?

Would you be intrigued if you discovered that this man also gave freely of himself, on a regular basis, to nearly two hundred neighbors?

If you learned that all who know this person speak of the sterling quality of his character, and of his dependability, cheerfulness, and unselfishness, would you want to know his secret?

There is such an amazingly successful man, and this is about his unusual lifestyle and the challenge it presents to us all. His name is John Adams, and he has a challenge of his own: Mr. Adams is mentally retarded.

John Adams, born in 1946 in Long Branch, spent his childhood in the North Middletown section of Middletown Township, then called East Keansburg. He has lived in Middletown or Red Bank all of his life. In 1986 Mr. Adams moved into Middletown's Tomaso Plaza (the Alice V. Tomaso Senior Citizen's Residence). He currently shares an apartment there with his mother, Ruth.

I visited with several of the friendly people at Tomaso Plaza to discuss what it means to them to have John Adams as a neighbor.

Mrs. Grace Moran recounted an experience made less harrowing on account of Mr. Adams. There is a pathway that connects the residence with the Middletown Plaza Shopping Center. Mrs. Moran recalled slowly inching along its length on a wintry day. Mr. Adams was with her, holding her arm securely, as they negotiated the ice frosted snow. Thanks to John, an almost certain fall was avoided.

She told me of another occasion when "Johnny" ran to the nearby Steak and Ale restaurant. Why? He had heard something over his CB radio, which he is seldom without. Someone was choking at the restaurant. He wanted to help to possibly save a life. "He's fabulous. He's very good," concluded Mrs. Moran.

Mrs. Mary Eunice Spagnola praised John's guileless nature and his devotion to his mother. "A sweet kid...his simplicity is so beautiful," she said admiringly.

"He's a wonderful person", offered Mrs. Madeline Stahlman. She had once learned that someone was discouraging Mr. Adams regarding his ambition to become an associate volunteer fireman. She urged him to press onward. He attained his goal.

Mrs. Spagnola and Mrs. Rita Zennario both mentioned the playful, teasing relationship that exists between the ever helpful John and his neighbors. "He calls me Shorty", said Mrs. Zennario as she commented on John's keen sense of humor. "We all like him here," she added.

The statement represented the disposition of all the residents of Tomaso Plaza with whom I conversed about John Adams.

Mrs. Patricia Gage, Director of Staff Operations, Middletown Housing Authority, has been in charge of the Tomaso Plaza building for 13 years. Mrs. Gage portrayed John's unique status in the Tomaso community in this way:

"He helps the shut-ins, does food shopping for residents, and delivers notices. He is a general guy Friday. He is a Special Security Advisor for the Middletown Police Department, and is on patrol here especially at such times as Halloween. He was made Sergeant at Arms for the tenant association."

"He never, ever says no", Mrs. Gage asserted. "The tenants have taken him in".

In the Adams home a plaque is displayed which reads as follows:

Presented to

John Adams

With Our Sincere Appreciation
For Your Help In Keeping
Tomaso Plaza
Such A Beautiful & Safe Building


June 15, 1993

John Adams is as treasured in the halls and hearts of the Middletown Police Department as he is at home. Police Captain Joe Shaffery has known John since 1986, when Shaffery was head of Community Relations. At that time, Mr. Adams expressed his aspirations regarding volunteer police work to then Chief of Police Joe McCarthy. The chief pointed John in Officer Shaffery's direction.

I interviewed Captain Shaffery about John's contributions to law enforcement work in Middletown:

"He stamps flyers, answers the phones, and is invaluable during elections, when he carries the voter registration books - he is NEEDED by the front office during these times. He is always willing to do errands. John is very active with the Middletown Helps its Own program, and is identified as a security advisor to the Department. He comes in about twice a week."

I asked about the evident camaraderie that John enjoys with the men and women of the Middletown P.D.

"Everybody loves him. He is on a first name basis with 90% of the personnel."

I wanted to know what stood out most in Captain Shaffery's mind about John's volunteer work at the Department.

"Birthday parties for the anti-crime character McGruff were initiated by the Middletown Police," he informed me. "Neighborhood watch folk and other concerned citizens attend these events which include a birthday cake, a magician, balloons, etc. John is very helpful at these type of events."

"Is there some way in which John is specifically appreciated around the station?", I asked.

"By way of his sense of humor", the veteran law officer replied.

"Let's be realistic!", I jokingly protested. "Are there any negative aspects about John's relationship to the department?"

"None", said Shaffery quickly and firmly. "John is in a safe environment where his constant willingness to serve shines through his disability. Others would quickly grow weary of the responsibilities; John is altruistic, constant and cheerful."

I telephoned former Middletown Police Chief McCarthy to talk about Mr. Adams' role at the M.P.D. Mr. McCarthy also spoke highly of him. "His heart is into building something to help people", he said. "John is one of many volunteers who help keep the crime rate down."

Perhaps current Deputy Chief Ernie Volkland best summarized the Department's feelings about Mr. Adams. "Johnny has a heart as big as all outdoors," he remarked with a smile.

There is still more about this gentle man. He is one who richly enjoys what some of us only dream of...being needed and loved by many. And there are indeed many who need and love him, because he is trustworthy and sincere and has pure motives.

Mr. Adams is an associate member of the Independent Fire Company of the Belford section of Middletown. "The maitre d' of Independent" was Company Chief Tommy Amato's colorful depiction of John. "He contributes greatly to the social functions of the fire company...he sets up, cleans up, and does a lot of things", Mr. Amato continued enthusiastically. "He is very helpful and attends meetings. What he does, he does wholeheartedly and well. All the members should be as active as he is."

John Adams loves to participate in local parades with his fellow firemen. Bill Hibell, Tony Domlewski and other members of some of the eleven volunteer companies of Middletown's Fire Department all spoke in tribute of this ever constant and dependable member of their team. They were not the only ones.

Said Mr. Bob Phleger of the Middletown First Aid Squad, "When there is a call at Tomaso Plaza or Daniel Towers, John is always there to do anything. He carries equipment and holds doors. He is very CONSISTENT. He is somebody to get things done if they need to be done. He wants to help."

Middletown Helps Its Own is a volunteer organization which collects clothes and household items to give to the needy of Middletown. Mrs. Marie Dowell of that organization told me, "John does a lot of the heavy work; he overextends himself for others. He's always there when you need him".

Mr. Adams and this writer are members of the New Life Presbyterian Church of Middletown. Our congregation counts it a great blessing to have John Adams among us. His delight in serving others, his humility, and his love clearly demonstrate the way of Jesus to us.

I talked with Mr. Adams about what motivates him. I told him about the heartfelt recognition and gratitude many had expressed concerning him and his labors.

"Why do you do it all?" I questioned.

"I just want to help people", he answered.

"What is the heart and spirit of it all?", I asked.

"The Lord", he replied.

John Adams entered into the presence of the Lord on July 27, 2006 A.D. Click here for a photo, his obituary, and an audio file of portions of his memorial service

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