AP NEWS

Tree planted at courthouse to honor Vatavuk

May 8, 2019

A small maple tree will stand outside the Somerset County Courthouse as a living tribute to the late Commissioner John Vatavuk.

A ceremony to dedicate the tree was held Tuesday morning as county employees and friends of Vatavuk gathered in the courthouse parking lot.

Commissioner Gerald Walker said the tree was paid for through donations from county employees. He said a plaque will be placed at the base of the tree.

Former Somerset County solicitor and current Judge Dan Rullo said the tree is a nice tribute to a man who dedicated his life to public service and helping others.

“Whoever comes in is going to have mighty big shoes to fill,” he said.

Commissioners office employees offered readings, and there was a period during which attendees were given a chance to talk about the late commissioner. Vatavuk died in January after a short battle with cancer.

His widow, Janet, attended the ceremony and thanked those who made the tree possible.

“This is a very touching tribute, and I want to thank everybody,” she said. “I think he would be very pleased.”

After the ceremony, District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser shared an anecdote about how when Vatavuk taught at North Star, he gave her son Max his first B. She said that Max had tired of asking for extra credit.

“He would not budge,” she recalled, relating the story to Janet Vatavuk.

This is the second tree dedicated at the courthouse in the past 23 years. The first memorialized Mary Alice Von Lunen, assistant director of the county planning commission, who died in a car accident while attending a conference for the county in 1996.