TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and several County officials honored three area residents today for their achievements during a celebration of Irish-American History Month.
Hughes and the freeholders presented awards to former international soccer star Bobby Smith of Hamilton, the 2008 Trenton St. Patrick's Day Parade's Grand Marshal and owner of the Bob Smith Soccer Academy in Robbinsville, and Sean Pender of Hamilton, a first-generation Irish-American and organizer of cultural events throughout Mercer County. Helene P'Simer of Hamilton accepted a proclamation on behalf of her husband, James P'Simer, one of the founders and organizers of the Trenton St. Patrick's Day parade, who passed away in January.
"As an Irish-American, I take special pride in this event and in our Irish-American community in Mercer County," said Hughes, adding his ancestors emigrated from Ireland to Burlington County. "But what is so great is that on a day like today, everyone is Irish."
Bobby Smith is a former standout college and professional soccer player who was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. last year. After a solid soccer career at Rider University, in 1973 Smith was drafted into the North American Soccer League (NASL) by the Philadelphia Atoms. Smith became an All Star player with the Atoms before moving on to play with the New York Cosmos, arguably the most famous soccer club in American history.
Smith now owns and operates the Bob Smith Soccer Academy in Robbinsville, N.J., a facility which helps develop soccer skills and knowledge in youth players.
Sean Pender, the son of Irish immigrants, has been heavily involved in Irish-American organizations throughout New Jersey for more than 20 years. Pender is currently the Mercer County Board President of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and chair of the national and state "Freedom for All Ireland" organizations.
He has worked for four years on the Malachy McAllister Family Justice Campaign, and the campaign recently resulted in Sen. Robert Menendez introducing a bill to seek deferred action for the McAllister family. A frequent visitor to Ireland, Sean has spent significant time in the North visiting and working with the Holy Cross School, with Relatives for Justice, the Pat Finucane Center and Sinn Fein. He has participated in several visits to the Bloody Sunday Peace March and has demonstrated a life time commitment to a lasting peace in the North of Ireland.
Pender has organized the inaugural "Kinny's Walk" in Mercer County Park on World Hunger Day, June 8, 2008, to raise awareness of hunger in Mercer County and elsewhere, and is working toward bringing an Irish Music Festival to Mercer County as well.
Pender said his parents emigrated from Ireland separately in the 1950s, then met in America, fell in love and started a family. "They instilled in me a love of America but appreciation for our Irish heritage," Pender said. "Family is my foundation but Mercer County is an uplifting community and I'm proud to have been a part of it for the last 13 years."
The final honors were given to Helene P'Simer in remembrance of her husband, Jim, a longtime organizer of the Trenton St. Patrick's Day Parade. Jim P'Simer was one of the founding members of the group to bring the St. Patrick's Day Parade to fruition in Mercer County, and was dedicated to improving the parade each year to make it an event for all residents of the County to enjoy, Hughes said. Jim P'Simer was also active in a number of volunteer organizations and local political groups.
Larkin said Jim P'Simer's shoes can never be filled. "I knew Jim for 40 years, and he and Helene were the backbone of the Irish movement in Mercer County," Larkin said.
"Jim was a mover and a shaker and I'm so proud and so happy to accept this honor today," Helene P'Simer said with her daughters, Jennifer Harding and Kim Agabiti, standing by her side.
Hughes was joined by Freeholders Anthony Carabelli and Ann Cannon, Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, Mercer County Sheriff Kevin Larkin, and State Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-14th District) in the celebration at the County's McDade Administration Building.