Meet the keeper of Newark's Weequahic Park

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on August 26, 2016

Community Anchor Edward Wadood patrols the highways and byways of Newark's Weequahic Park from his golf cart.

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Nine days a week is the schedule that he keeps.

Sounds odd, doesn't it?

Not to Edward Wadood, whose itinerary seems that long. He'll crack a smile as he says it, but the 89-year-old sentinel is dead serious about the time he spends watching over Weequahic Park in Newark's South Ward.

"There's no telling when I'm going to be here,'' Wadood said.

There are days that he arrives as early as 6:30 a.m., but it can be later. He climbs into a golf cart that he borrows from the public golf course and spends hours making sure no one mistreats Essex County's 311-acre park.

"This is ours,'' he said. "Let's take care of it.'' 

A gate left open at the baseball field bothers him. Trash that doesn't get thrown into a garbage can is frustrating. Aging trees that fall down are aggravation. Inside the stumps that are left behind, he'd like to place tiny American flags – to "honor" the trees for their community service.

Most days, Wadood is at the park until 7 p.m., zipping past scenic terrain, stopping to chat with city residents and visitors. This retired insurance salesman and World War veteran has been a park staple since the 1980s, and possibly longer.

The only time he leaves early is to attend Essex County freeholder meetings, with district leaders half his age who Wadood has groomed to be involved in the neighborhood.

They look up to him when he raises issues about the park and shares his thoughts on how the community can benefit from what it has to offer.

The freeholder board has nine members, but "we call him the 10th freeholder,'' said Douglas Freeman, who is the district Republican committee chair.

"It's like he's a map guiding us, but he's a living map.''

Wadood is the unmistakable citizen voice, his speech loaded with abrasive colloquial expressions when he wants to make a point. 

Which means he'll curse you out in a heartbeat.

"I'm an outrageous ...'' – and here's where you fill in the bleep, bleep, bleep.

Three years ago, Wadood was kicked out of a freeholder meeting before it even started when he dropped a few zingers.

"Oh yeah,'' Freeman said. "I remember that. He's passionate.'' 

Anybody can get it, at anytime. Even the community leaders Wadood works with to improve the neighborhood are not spared.

"No one is above his wrath,'' said Freeholder Wayne Richardson.  "He has no problem calling anybody out."

Wadood has bumped heads with Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, but disagreements they've had throughout the years get hashed out. 

"I always tease Ed that he's never happy, but we share the same goals of creating opportunities for our young people and revitalizing Weequahic Park as a destination, '' DiVincenzo said.

Wadood says he's not political, but he became a Republican district leader in June, and convinced several other residents in his ward that they, too, should fill some of the 24 vacant seats. It didn't take much for 13 of them to win – they didn't have any opposition, plus Wadood believes the ward should have more than Democratic district leadership to get things done.

The community, he said, needs clean streets, activities for seniors, programs for children, a park that is maintained. He's complaining now about low-hanging wires from cable, telephone and utility companies.

Patrick Council, the South Ward Democratic chairman, said leadership is just that, regardless of whether one is a Democrat or a Republican.

"It requires leaders who are going to be on the forefront, who are going to be visible and relevant,'' Council said.

That about covers it for the self-appointed, volunteer park defender. Go there any day. You'll see a guy with white hair and a sketchy white beard, patrolling the park in a forest green golf cart. If not, catch him at the community center that sits between an athletic complex and a baseball field under construction. He calls the building a café – a place where senior citizens hang out for the day, eat lunch and socialize.

Wadood has an office there that belongs to the Weequahic Park Sports Authority, an organization of which he's a founding member.

Freeman is president. The others are Newark residents and district leaders, high school friends who came together three years ago to clean the park, program it with sports and make residents aware of its amenities.

They had Ken Andrews, a youth football coach, organize a football scrimmage league at the park recently for teams across the state. Guess who was out there helping him?

"Mr. Wadood was driving that golf cart, saying 'Ken, what do you need,' '' Andrews said. "He's always been part of the park.''

Wadood swats away attention, he sees no need for it.

His heyday, he said was getting The First Tee to bring its national golf program to the park in 2006. Some 400 kids each year  – more than half are from Newark – learn the game and are eligible for college scholarships.

Wadood lights up as he talks about that program, shifting praise to Katie Brenny, the senior director of player development. She pushes the complimentary needle right back at him, calling Wadood a "legend of the park,'' who gets things done.

All he wants is the public to own the park and not take it for granted. Say something if you see something out of place. Or come and get him.

The park guardian has no problem restoring order.

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