Award Presented to William J. Opferman Arrives After His Death
At the Twelfth Annual National Conference on Private Property Rights on October 18, a great round of applause greeted the announcement that the Property Rights Foundation of America was presenting its Seventh Annual Grassroots Leadership Award to William J. Opferman of Hamilton, New Jersey, who could not travel to the conference. But unknown to Carol LaGrasse, who presented the plaque in his absence, Bill Opferman had died on September 8th.
For over ten years, Bill Opferman had exchanged news with the Property Rights Foundation of America while unstintingly working against greenways, greenway trails, and National Heritage Areas. In the area of New Jersey where he lived in a community near Trenton, his focus was often on the Delaware and Raritan Trust, the Delaware Greenway, and the Crosswicks Creek Trail. Earlier this year, he saw the defeat of the Crosswicks Creek Trail, but never took credit for the victory that was so obviously the result of his efforts.
He wrote on August 30, "Yes, the planned trail by our last township administration and NGO Delaware and Raritan Greenway (now D & R Greenway Land Trust) along the Crosswicks Creek in Groveville section of our township has been put to rest, but attempts to make the Crosswicks Creek federal will probably continue. The problem is knowing of these attempts to make land, or water, federal is so stealth! United Nations Biospheres & World Heritage Sites the same way!"
He referred to all of these areas in New Jersey where the federal government would own land or impose control over private land as "federal areas," and drew a map for posting on the Property Rights Foundation of America web site showing the overlapping areas of federal designations and reserves in New Jersey. Very little of New Jersey was outside of one or another of the federal areas.
Bill Opferman regularly wrote and visited his congressional representative, spoke out at township meetings, collected signatures on petitions to his representative, appeared on radio talk shows, and wrote letters to the editor to defend private property rights. In June 2006, he wrote the Foundation that he was proud that as of July 10 it would be four years that the bills to establish that Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area had been held up.
However, even added to the work of other grassroots activists from the East and of dedicated U.S. Representatives who stand for private property rights, Bill Opferman's continued efforts were not enough to stop major recent goals of the National Park Service that affect the eastern part of the country: the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, and Crossroads of the American Revolution National Heritage Area.
Last year, after six months of work, Bill Opferman succeeded in getting the Hamilton Township Council to pass the Foundation's resolution against eminent domain. The range of his civic efforts was phenomenal. This year he also campaigned against a one-cent state sales tax to obtain open space, "when New Jersey State is in a budget hole." As a grassroots leader speaking out on issues related to private property rights, Bill Opferman effectively represented the Property Rights Foundation of America as a member of its National Property Rights Advisory Board in countless statements to officials over the years.
In spite of the chronic disease with which he suffered, which prevented him from traveling far from home base, Bill Opferman was an inspiration. He never relented in the defense of others less fortunate. He devoted much of his time to helping the MIA, the soldiers missing in action in Vietnam and Korea whom officialdom passed by.
A Vietnam veteran himself, he was placed in his casket by his brother-in-law Robert Giovanelli and nephew Michael. Michael Giovanelli said that they buried him in his "activism uniform," his button-down army shirt with the cut-off sleeves, his POW hat with his pins. On Tuesday, November 11, Veterans Day, a tree planting was held in his honor at the Veterans Park in Hamilton.
Mike Giovanelli later told the Property Rights Foundation of America about the outpouring of appreciation that day, how people took time off from work to honor Bill Opferman when the purple plum tree was planted for him at the memorial service. The mayor and the president of the Hamilton Town Council and two close friends spoke. An honor guard from McGuire Air Force Base did a flag folding and presentation ceremony. Mike Giovanelli presented the Property Rights Foundation of America's grassroots leadership plaque that had been awarded at the conference. The seventy to eighty people who had parked their vehicles out in the street to come to the ceremony gave a round of applause, just as had those at the property rights conference. A woman came up to Mike Giovanelli afterwards to tell him how thankful she as for Bill Opferman's work, because he had stopped the Crosswicks Creek trail from cutting close by her house.