Toms River Regional Schools Hall of Fame

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Donald J. Bennett

In 1985, Don Bennett received the most prestigious honor in the New Jersey Press Association's Better Newspapers Contest, the Lloyd P. Burns Public Service Award. This award, which recognizes responsible journalism, was awarded to Bennett for his 1984 coverage of how the Ciba-Geigy plant in Dover Township disposed of toxic waste.

Bennett's winning entry for the Ocean County Observer consisted of some sixty articles which appeared from April 13 to December 30, 1984. This series of articles was instrumental in getting the Ciba-Geigy pipeline closed, ending tons of the waste being pumped into the ocean. In 1987 Bennett, the Observer's county government reporter, received another Burns Award (3rd place) for his winning story, "Ciby-Geigy Was U.S. Dump." It revealed that the Toms River plant had been a dumpsite for chemical waste from fifty-seven Ciba-Geigy facilities. The journalistic determination and exhaustive research that enabled Bennett to uncover these dramatic facts created a story that eventually led to the closing of the plant.

In 1990, an additional Burns Award (2nd place) was awarded for a series on municipal corruption in Manchester Township. Also, in 1990, the N.J. Press Association awarded Bennett an honorable mention for a series on the New Jersey Pinelands.

In 1991, Bennett was again recognized, this time by the N.J. Association of Conservation Districts. He received the association's Outstanding Communications Award for helping the public better understand natural resource management. In addition to the state's award, Bennett also won awards from the Ocean County Soil Conservation District. Bennett had been covering conservation activities in Ocean County since 1964 for both daily and weekly newspapers.

Although Bennett did not move to Ocean County to enter the Toms River Schools until he was a teenager, he has been an avid admirer and devotee of all things pertaining to the ocean, the pinelands, the river, the fishing, and the wildlife of Ocean County ever since. He also learned first hand about the running of the Toms River Schools as well as respect for education from his father, John R. Bennett, Superintendent of Schools in Toms River from 1960 to 1977.

Bennett went on to earn a B.A. degree in Literature and Language from Stockton State College in 1975. But he began his journalistic career as early as 1964, when he was a general assignment reporter for the New Jersey Courier, then a Toms River weekly. In 1965 he was also a reporter and copy editor for the Times Beacon based in Manahawkin. In 1969 he became the News Editor for the New Jersey Courier, after which he became the O.C. Bureau Chief for the Trenton Times. By 1972 Bennett was the county seat reporter for the Ocean County Daily Times in Toms River. He edited and laid out this paper, as well as the weekly Jackson News in the absence of the publisher. From 1977 to the present, Bennett has been an editorial and column writer, county government reporter, day editor, and top newsroom producer of stories on environmental, business and political topics for the Ocean County Observer.

While establishing a noteworthy career as a working journalist, Bennett also gave generously of his time to community service. Encouraged by Dick Strada, Director of Dover Township Recreation and Bob Broome, Dover Township Committeeman, Bennett formed the Toms River Hockey Club and was head coach for twenty years until 1997. Bennett's passion for ice-skating also led him to play for many years with the Men's Hockey League at the Brick Ice Palace.

In the mid '60s, he was Vice President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and for many years ran the Miss Ocean County Pageant for the Chamber. Bennett was also the last president of the Dover Township Homeowners and Tenants Association. Don and his wife, Arlene, have six sons, all of whom attended the Toms River Schools. His interests have always revolved around their interests.

Look for Don's by-line on many of the top stories in the Ocean County Observer. His coverage of county issues both political and environmental is unbiased, factual and written with style. Every Monday his front page column "Monday Morning Commentary" is a welcome feature. The column ranges far and wide; the tone may be humorous, nostalgic, witty and/or opinionated.

Bennett's life as a noted journalist, passionate environmentalist, community leader, loving husband and father has easily earned him a place of respect in the Toms River Schools Hall of Fame.

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