The Rotary Club of Westfield honored the recipients of the Philhower and Steengrafe Fellowships at their regular meeting luncheon on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Each award includes a stipend of $500.
Wilson Elementary School 1st grade teacher Marie Morris is the 2023 recipient of the Philhower Fellowship in recognition of outstanding teaching at the elementary school level.  At the same time, Franklin Elementary School head custodian Jesse Rodriguez received the Steengrafe Award, introduced this year by the Rotary Club to recognize non-certificated staff for their dedication and commitment.
Morris and Rodriguez received the news on May 1 as Superintendent Dr. Raymond González paid surprise visits to their schools.  “It was great to surprise Marie and Jesse with this well-deserved recognition,” says González. “It also was fun and heartwarming to witness the enthusiastic reaction of the students in both instances.” 
Morris has been teaching first grade at Wilson School for 11 years and taught kindergarten previously in Franklin, New Jersey for five years.
“My favorite part of teaching is building a classroom community of students who work together and are kind and caring to one another,” says Morris.  “I also believe it is important to build a strong foundation of learning during these early years. I am always looking for ways to make it fun and exciting for them.  It is very rewarding to see the growth the students make by the end of the year.”
Letters of nomination for Morris from parents and colleagues laud her as “an extremely dedicated and passionate teacher” who “goes above and beyond daily to educate, care for, and make sure her students have fun while learning.”
“The growth I have seen in my daughter as a reader and writer is incredible,” writes one parent nominator.  “Mrs. Morris has managed to not only ensure her students are retaining this challenging material, but are having fun while doing it.”
 Rodriguez has worked as head custodian at Franklin Elementary School since 2010.  When asked what he likes most about working at Franklin, he replies: “GREAT staff!”
Colleagues who nominated Rodriguez for the Steengrafe Award say that he embodies the award’s criteria as an employee who is “dedicated, kind, and supportive” and someone who “demonstrates a clear commitment to the students and staff.”
“The students all love Mr. Jesse and know they can go to him for help with almost anything,” writes one nominator.  “When something is broken, you can hear ‘Ask Mr. Jesse, I’m sure he can fix it.”
“Jesse embodies the spirit of someone who not only cares about his job and our school, but also the people he works with.  I believe he is truly deserving of this award,” the letter concludes.
The selection committee of six people read the nominations and select the recipients. They include:  Rotarians: Heather Benz, Jessica Arkel, and Brendan Bertsch; and, a previous Philhower Fellowship recipient, and two elementary school principals.  They had to read close to 100 nomination letters from parents and colleagues.
The Philhower Fellowship was established in 1993 by the Rotary Club of Westfield to honor former Westfield Rotarian Charles Philhower and to recognize the importance of teaching in the elementary grades.  An educator for more than 50 years, Charles Philhower, who died in 1962, was supervising principal (superintendent) of Westfield schools for three decades as well as co-founder and past president of the Rotary Club of Westfield. He was President of the Rotary Club in 1929- 1930, and was District Governor in 1937-1938.
This is the first year of the Steengrafe Fellowship, established in memory of Weyman “Wey” O. Steengrafe who began teaching Social Studies in the Westfield Public Schools in 1942 before serving as principal at Franklin, Tamaques, and Wilson Elementary Schools.  Wey was a lifelong Rotarian from 1966-2010, serving as Club President in 1971-1972 and District Governor in 1985-1986.
Past Recipients of the Philhower Award are:
Year:    Name:                          School:                         Superintendent:
2022     Matthew Cognetti         Washington                               Ray Gonzalez
2021     Nancy Rygiel                McKinley                                 Margaret Dolan
2020     Jeannie Gottko              Tamaques                                 Dolan
2019     Anna Carissimo            Jefferson                                   Dolan
2018     Mary Montes                Tamaques                                 Dolan
2017     Penny O’Donnell          Franklin            `                       Dolan
2016     Susanne Benhote           McKinley                                 Dolan
2015     Kareem Thompson        Jefferson                                   Dolan
2014     Carol Venturino             Wilson                                      Dolan
2013     Jacqueline Riley            Jefferson                                   Dolan
2012     Frank Uveges               Wilson & Tamaques                  Dolan
2011     Diane Eisen                  Tamaques                                 Dolan
2010     Diana Collins                Jefferson                                   Dolan
2009     Karen Geddes               Washington                               Dolan
2008     Catherine McGarry       McKinley                                 Dolan
2007     Michael Burgess           Washington                               Bill Foley
2006     Karen Yula                    Jefferson                                   Foley
2005     Mary Dura                    Wilson                                      Foley   
2004     Stacie DeChrisopher      McKinley                                 Foley
2003     Michelle Moise             Tamaques                                 Foley
2002     Carol Kling                   Franklin                                    Foley
2001     Anna Jane Sabbagh+     Jefferson                                   Foley
2000     Trista Pollard                Tamaques                                 Foley
1999     Eva Morton                  Washington                               Foley
1998     Angela LaCarruba         Wilson                                      Foley
1997     Claudia Andreski          Jefferson                                   Foley
1996     Bette Tuthill                  McKinley                                 Foley
1995     Carol Joyce                   Washington                               Mark Smith +
1994     Carol Mastrianni           Franklin                                    Smith
1993     Susan Feldman Glick    McKinley                                 Smith
First recipient