Retired state representative was instrumental in creation of park during his tenure in public service

Call him what you will – “Pothole Joe,” “Disco Joe” – but one thing you can’t call former state representative Joe Miro is someone easy to fool.

But that’s just what a group of friends, family and local officials did on Wednesday morning, misleading the 72 year old with an elaborate ruse to ensure his presence at Paper Mill Park in Newark, where a pavilion was dedicated in his honor.

A visibly moved Miro, who retired from public service on Nov. 6 after 30 years, noted that his effort in establishing Paper Mill Park during his tenure was one of his proudest accomplishments.

“Whenever you come here, there are families enjoying the park, people jogging, so much activity,” he said. “And it could have been a school, or a shopping mall.”

“We could be all be sitting in a K-Mart right now if it weren’t for Joe,” County Executive Matt Meyer said.

The story concocted between Meyer and Councilwoman Janet Kilpatrick, District 3, involved a solar-powered 40 by 80-foot ice skating rink (complete with drawings and diagrams), and a morning meeting at Dunkin Donuts to discuss the plan.

Kilpatrick, whose district once housed the park before reapportionment, joked that no one would now trust anything she says after having lied so convincingly.

“I figured if I could pull one over on [Miro] this time, it would be good,” she said.

Miro’s wife Joanne, who was in on the ruse, said she knew he would be both proud and surprised.

“He worked hard on this, they wanted to put all sorts of things here years ago,” she said. “No one in the community wanted it, and he listened.”

Several generations of Miro’s family were also present for the dedication, which saw an existing pavilion at the park off Paper Mill Road named after the former state representative.

Miro’s youngest son, Jim Miro, called the dedication a fitting tribute to his father’s legacy.

“His legacy extends well beyond the hills and valleys of Pike Creek,” Jim Miro said. “He’s done work with heads of state … from all over the world.”

Referring to Miro as “Pop Pop,” granddaughter Sophia Wenger said he is and always would be an inspiration to his family.

“He always made family a priority,” Wenger said, noting that she had spent time hiking, fishing and playing at Paper Mill with Miro.

“I’m so proud of him because in this very pavilion is where family dinners, cookouts and kids playing all takes place,” she said.

Sen. David P. Sokola, D-Newark, who had the idea originally to make the dedication, said that Miro’s time working on the park dates back to his membership in the Pike Creek Civic League well before his foray into public service.

“I wanted a park here very much, but he just had a grasp [on the project],” Sokola said. “So I figured I’ll just stay out of the way. And I’m glad I did, because it turned out absolutely perfect.”

Miro, who served at state representative for the 22nd District for 19 years, announced his retirement last spring during the 149th Legislative Assembly.

Paper Mill Park is located at 1050 Paper Mill Road in Newark.