There was laughter, well wishes and even a few tears at Mayor Mike Wilson’s retirement party at the American Hotel on Thursday. Wilson is Freehold Borough’s longest-serving mayor, having first taken office in 1985 following the death of Mayor John McGackin. Wilson announced earlier this year that he would not seek a sixth term in office.
Friends, co-workers, officials and long-time friends packed the dining room at the American Hotel to recognize Wilson’s years in service to the community. Borough attorney Kerry Higgins noted that Wilson’s dedication to the borough continued even at his retirement dinner, with proceeds from the event benefitting the Freehold Borough Fire Department.
Those in attendance reflected on Wilson’s contributions to Freehold Borough.
“Mike’s legacy is that the downtown is still alive,” said Kevin Coyne, a Freehold Borough historian and former councilman. “Mike really stuck to that vision that the downtown is the key and really wanted to make sure it was a place people wanted to come to. We’re standing in a place today that is a chief example of that.”
Wilson received plaques from the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the New Jersey State Legislature, the American Legion and the Freehold Township Committee.
Among the accolades were a few jovial roasts. Councilwoman Sharon Shutzer recounted the origin of an ongoing council meeting joke that Wilson kicks her under the table. Shutzer said the ribbing first arose when she told the audience at a council meeting that a bust of Bruce Springsteen would be too expensive to erect outside Borough Hall. News media got wind of the comment and proceeded to hound Wilson on the issue for weeks, Shutzer recalled.
“Mike has abused me and tormented and made fun of me and I have loved every minute of it. He has been my mentor and friend. My deep affection and respect for Mike and his family have grown over the years. His love for and dedication to this town are second to none,” Shutzer said.
She called the 10 current and former council members in attendance who served with Wilson to the front of the front of the room.
“We know that the fire in your heart has inspired us, has challenged us and, yes, warmed us as we have worked with you and loved you. Your legacy is one of integrity, intelligence, hard work, compassion, passion and dedication. Your mark on Freehold and on us is forever and we all thank you,” Shutzer said.
When Wilson took the microphone at the end of the evening, he expressed his gratitude to his family, Freehold Borough employees, volunteers and council members.
“This is a very humbling moment for me. Do I have any regrets? Yes. Would I have done some things differently? Sure. Am I proud of the accomplishments we were able to achieve here in Freehold Borough. You best. But none of the things we accomplished over the year would ever have been possible without so many of the people in this room,” Wilson said.