Cecilia Gaines Holland Award

Established in 1944, the Cecilia Gaines Holland Award is the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a New Jersey clubwoman. Named after the second President of the NJSFWC, this prestigious award is given annually to one clubwoman who demonstrates her commitment to her community by performing outstanding civic and volunteer work that extends above and beyond her service to her club.

Cecilia Gaines Holland, 1896-1898, from the Odd Volumes Club of Jersey City, was 35 years old when she became the second President of NJSFWC. In 1895, efforts began for the preservation of the Palisades. In 1897, a State Yearbook was published for the first time, and is still the “Federation Bible” to clubwomen throughout the state. The Federation began to request that the Governor appoint a Commission to draft legislation establishing travelling libraries.

Mrs. Holland died at the age of 83 and she bequeathed the sum of $1,000 to be invested by the Board of Directors, and the income from this investment was to be given annually in the form of cash or medal, to a clubwoman doing outstanding civic work in NJ, and is still awarded today.

To nominate someone from your Club, please download the nominating instructions, found in the Materials section.


The seventy-ninth Cecilia Gaines Holland Award recipient is Joelle Wentz of the GFWC Woman’s League of Mount Holly.

Joelle’s history of service to her community began as a teenager. She was a church Youth Counselor, taught children to ice skate, read to elderly people and even cleaned their homes for free. In addition, she set aside half of her pay in an after-school job to buy shoes for poor children. As a teenager, she organized church youth group retreats three times a year for five years and consistently provided ideas for service projects.

Arriving in the Mount Holly area in 1973, she became a Girl Scout Brownie leader so a troop could be formed at her daughter’s school. She moved on to hold leadership positions within the district. Later she became a lecturer on setting a good example for young girls in scouting.

Joelle volunteered at the school first as a room mother, but later accepted substitute teaching positions donating her pay to fund tuition for needy students. Using experience gained as a volunteer and a desire to help school-age children, she worked for 10 years as the school office manager and a Title 1 tutor. For 15 years, she was Office Manager for Food Services for four Lenape Regional District High Schools.

In another community focused project, she provided emotional support, tutoring, clothing, and baby items to residents of a home for girls without a place to live while pregnant. When these young mothers’ babies were delivered, Joelle stayed and helped the girls with their homework and planted roses in honor of their newborns.

Other service projects included initiating, painting, and furnishing a room for nursing mothers and monitoring teens in domestic violence situations. For the Burlington County 4-H, she serves as a judge for farm animals, student essays and creative arts and for three years raised funds for local 4-H Horse Club competitions. Presently, she and her husband prowl the local homeless encampments to deliver peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other treats.

At her church, she has served as a Eucharistic Minister for 20 years. She has held every office in her Altar and Rosary Society. As Columbiettes President, she initiates and leads projects at home and for missions abroad. She made home visits for St. Vincent DePaul Society for 10 years, held Family Rosaries for the parish community, and delivered communion to hospitalized patients.

Several of those contributing their input to this nomination described Joelle as a person who gains personal satisfaction and enjoyment for spreading kindness and caring to those around her. She brings joy to those on the periphery of plenty. The Woman’s League of Mt. Holly is proud to recognize Joelle as a 49-year member of our club. She joined the club in 1974 as a Junior, served as President more than once and held every office except Treasurer. She served on the NJSFWC State Board for two years as Vice President, Garden District and currently serves as Garden District Arts and Culture Co-Chairman.


The 78th Cecilia Gaines Holland Award recipient is Laura Pelszynski of the North Brunswick Woman's Club.  Laura has a long history of community service, and a life of giving back.  She has been an active member of the Federation for almost a decade serving her club in various positions including Vice- President and Communications Chair.  She has participated in numerous club projects; making and delivering masks during COVID, shopping for and arranging “Appreciation Buckets” for Fire, Rescue and Police First Responders donating and laying wreaths for Wreaths Across America.

Within her community, Laura volunteered for organizations including Meals on Wheels, The North Brunswick Food Bank, Municipal Alliance, North Brunswick Suicide Prevention Task Force, and the Community Emergency Response Team to name just a few.

She completed the North Brunswick Civilian Police Academy as well as the Middlesex Sheriff’s Civilian Police Academy and volunteers with the North Brunswick Neighbor to Neighbor Program.  Laura is described by her club as epitomizing the V in Volunteerism; If something needs to get done, Laura will do it!


The 77th Cecilia Gaines Holland Award recipient is Marie Lucille Sullivan of the Woman’s Club of Paramus, Palisades District. Marie has a long history of community service, selfless acts of philanthropy and a life of giving back.

Marie has been an active member of the Federation for over 15 years, serving her club in various officer positions including President. Within the Federation she served as District Vice President for not one but two Districts – Palisades and Ramapo.

Marie has volunteered for the Center for Hope and Safety, a battered women’s shelter, where she was instrumental in organizing a food drive to stock the pantry.  She reached out to other groups to donate gift cards and had a much-needed freezer donated.

Marie organized a coat and clothing drive for the shelter residents, collected and wrapped costume jewelry for the children living there to give to their moms at the holidays.

Within her community, Marie was a volunteer children’s swimming instructor, religious education teacher, Little League & volleyball volunteer and assumed leadership roles in her PTA.

During the pandemic, Marie organized a sewing brigade making and donating over 20,000 face coverings which were donated to hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, women’s clubs, veteran’s homes, homeless shelters and special education classrooms.

Marie is an Applied Behavior Analysis Therapist offering advice and compassion to parents of children with special needs.


Jane Mackesy is the 76th Cecilia Gaines Holland award winner. She is a member of the EMD of the Woman’s Club of Arlington in the Liberty District.

Jane was a health and physical education teacher for 18 years and retired after 13 years as an elementary school counselor. She is founder and currently works part time as project coordinator of the local Prevention Coalition, a youth-focused campaign to reduce substance abuse.

She’s a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; serves on the JDRF Liberty State Park Walk Committee; is a Family Team Chairperson; and mentors families of children newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.

As part of her membership and past president of the County Genealogical and Historical Society, Jane gives lectures on exploring family ancestry and presents the “Ask Granny” program to school groups and at the local library

Jane’s participation in her church includes serving as lector and Eucharistic Minister; a Trustee; President of Rosary Society who coordinates the Town Hall Lunch program every 8 weeks; coordinator of the Christmas Giving Tree and Easter Giving Cross; co-chairs the Pillars of the Parish Committee.

In Kearny, Jane is instrumental in Annual Town Wide Clean Up; member of United Irish Parade Committee; 20 year volunteer for Municipal Alliance; assisted in organizing city wide planting of trees; is a charter member of local chapter of AWAKE protecting Kearny’s waterways and local environment by reducing water pollution; and recently appointed to ACES (Advisory Committee on Environmental and Sustainability)

Jane was the V.F.W. Citizen of the year in 2017; and Deputy Grand Marshall of the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She is a member of Kearny Interfaith Network and Friends of the Library.


Terry Cavanaugh is the 75th recipient of the prestigious Cecilia Gaines Holland Award. She is a member of the Suburban Woman’s Club of Pompton Plains.

Terry is an adjunct professor at Montclair State University Graduate School in Special Education. She has worked with youths with learning disabilities, taught high school special education, and mentored special ed undergraduate students. She is affiliated with the Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey and America and their Healthy Children’s Project.

For the past eight years Terry has answered the Learning Disabilities Association’s hotline. She provides information to school nurses and the Visiting Nurse Association of New Jersey. She informs parents about toxins in non-flammable materials in children’s’ bedding, toys, and car seats, and toxins in cleaning products that cause developmental disabilities and childhood cancers.

She is a Charter Member of the Towaco Civic Association, the Montville Township Disabilities Commission, Montville Education Foundation, UNICO National New Jersey Education Association, and the Morris County Retired Teachers Association.

Terry sings in her church choir, is a religious education teacher, and directs the high school religious education program.


Evelyn Pezzolla is the 74th recipient of the prestigious Cecilia Gaines Holland Award.

Her community service involvement includes founding the South Bergen Mental Health Center in 1969, and organizing the formation of the recycling center in her town. She secured funds for the establishment of the Juvenile Aid Bureau and was the founder and President of the Recreation for Exceptional Children. Evelyn was responsible for preserving the River Road School House and having it placed on the National Landmark Registry, now a museum.

She has served on many Philanthropic Boards, such as the Bergen County Historic and Cultural Society, Meadowlands Area YMCA, Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, the Mayors Committee of Ethnics, the William Carlos Center of Performing Arts and she also served as a Trustee at the local library.

Evelyn was the first woman to be elected to the Board of Commission for the town of Lyndhurst.

The Federation proudly honors Evelyn Pezzolla, for her willingness to volunteer and lead both within her community and the Federation.


Linda F. Babeuf is the 73rd recipient of the prestigious Cecilia Gaines Holland Award. Who at the age of eight already began her life of volunteerism helping the nuns at her elementary school prepare the class rooms for the start of the school year. Followed traveling by bus across Brooklyn to assist the nuns caring for the elderly residents at the Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home. In her late teens taught first Grade CCD at her church. After becoming employed she continued her role of volunteer in her company's Community Outreach Department at a School for the Intellectually Disabled Children. There she also organized blood drives and walks for special causes.


Barbara J. Hencheck is the 72nd recipient of the prestigious Cecilia Gaines Holland Award, nominated by The Kalmia Club of Lambertville, College District. A well-known historian, community leader, and published author, our honoree is best described by her own words – “I Love History – It Is My Calling”. This love of history, especially that of Hunterdon and Cape May Counties, led her to become a founding member of the Lambertville Historical Society, instituting their House and Garden Tour, and originating the annual award-winning Lambertville Arts and Crafts Festival, renamed the Shad Festival. Cape May County benefitted from her efforts when, assisted by Senator Van Drew’s office, she was instrumental in moving a circa 1950 monument to the Cape May County Historical/Genealogical Museum. She also coordinated Stone Harbor’s First Airmail Flight Reenactment and served on the Steering Committee for their Centennial book, contributing the history section. In addition to actively serving her club as President from 1983-1985, she serves as Chapter and State Historian for the National Society of Colonial Dames of the 17th century, currently Charter Historian, General Mercer County, New Jersey DAR, and Registrar, National Society of New England Women and National Society of Southern Women. Awards received include the Governor’s Teachers Award, Hunterdon County Cultural and Heritage Commission’s Outstanding Scholarship in Historical Research, recognized as founder of the Hunterdon County Special Olympics, and honored by GFWC for spearheading restoration of historical Kalmia club house. The Federation proudly honors this most worthy recipient.

2015 Cecilia Gaines Holland Recipient

Rita Marie Fulginit: A visit as a teenager to the Passport Office in Cape May County in preparation for a trip had a life altering effect on Rita. Already interested in history, and especially that of her beloved Southern Jersey shore, she was mesmerized by the tradition and history of the office, the public record keeping, and the additional activities conducted in the County Clerk's Office. She knew right then and there that this was something she wanted to do and where she wanted to be.

After graduation, she applied for a position in the County Clerk's Office was hired, and the rest is history. Her first assignment was to inventory all the basement records, some of which were tied up with string and hadn't been touched since the 18th century. Putting all these records in order, not only to protect them, but to make them more readily accessible to others, became her passion.

Rita soon began expending the preservation of historic public records dating back to 1692, and engineered the gradual restoration of many volumes of records. Each page was washed, and each volume repaired, rebound, scanned, and microfilmed. She even traveled to Vermont to the bookbinder to guarantee it was being done properly. To date, more than 225 volumes of the most precious records of Cape May County and 15 municipal governing bodies have been preserved. She launched the Capemaycountyarchives.com website in 2014, making the county's heritage records accessible online.

She ultimately rose to the position of Deputy Clerk, and elected as County Clerk in 2005 upon the passing of her predecessor. It hasn't been all work, however, as in her capacity as County Clerk she had had the pleasure of officiating at over 1,100 weddings, and naturally keeping a record of each one. A much sought after speaker, she is always ready to share her love of history, especially of the Cape May County area, and the importance of keeping records. She firmly believes that next to people, records are our most precious asset.

In addition to serving others as County Clerk, she also reached out to her community through various volunteer efforts. She chaired the Cape Women's Resource Fund, which supports equal rights and achievements of women, is a board member of the Woodbine Developmental Center, The Cape May County Board of Social Services, and is Past President of the Constitutional Officers Association of New Jersey, the Stone Harbor Lions Club, the Ocean City Republican Club, and the Greater Wildwood Jaycees. In addition, she is an active member of both the Women's Community Club of Cape May and the Colony Club of Ocean City.

Numerous awards recognizing her many efforts include the Paris Grants Award for Excellence for Disaster Preparation presented by the Secretary of State and Archivist of the United States for Development of the County's Records Recovery Center for Electronic Records. She was names Volunteer of the Year by the Southern Jersey Chapter of the March of Dimes, received the Public Information Award from the American Cancer Society, and the Legacy Award presented by the Cape May County Historical and Genealogical Society. This past March Rita was named County History by the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders

2014 Cecilia Gaines Holland Recipient

Jill McDonald married a military officer a week before nursing school graduation and began the life of a military spouse. During her husband’s first deployment she worked as a nurse at her Alma Mater, mentoring and tutoring students. Upon his return, the young couple moved to Falls Church, VA where she joined the evening workforce at Northern Virginia Doctors’ Hospital, moving ahead in the hierarchy over the next nine years. At home she was involved in church activities, especially those for infants and preschool children and their mothers. She led the way in expanding the babysitting service for preschoolers to a twice weekly six hour service where children could play and be cared for while affording respite for the mothers. She became active in PTA, volunteered at school and became a soccer mom.

In 1978, her husband rotated to Seoul, Korea. Jill was appalled that military families there had no on base child care options. She met with commanders and gained approval to investigate the problem. She sought space and funding, developed operating and hiring procedures and sought equipment sources. Near the end of her 3rd year in the country, Jill had established two full time day care centers, enlarged a part time preschool and a third center was under construction.

In 1981, when Jill was employed as a part time Registered Nurse, her family was named a “Great American Family” primarily based on their efforts in Korea. Seeking to validate this honor locally, Jill answered an ad for a Supervisor of the 50+ volunteers at Army Community Service (ACS). She became acutely aware that a major problem facing the relocating spouses was employment.

Jill envisioned a program to assist the spouses in gaining local employment. Program Development Implementation Funds were awarded to ACS Fort Monmouth based on the already established volunteer program. Over the years, Jill expanded the program offering workshops, training, Job Fairs and became the Subject Matter Expert for the Department of the Army. She mentored new managers from other bases and shared her materials, teamed with other military services to write desk guides and saw the program become available to spouses around the world as a Congressionally mandated core program with the Department of Defense, now known as Employment Readiness Program. She is especially proud of the Summer Youth Volunteer Program that she created and operated for 16 years to prepare teens for the “World of Work” through volunteer service.

Now retired she focuses her energy on assisting elderly neighbors and friends, improving the quality of life for soldiers, veterans, their families and the children and alumni at Girard College. Jill credits the NJSFWC for keeping her fire burning for community service through volunteerism.


Geraldine Tabako began her lifetime of voluntarism by following in her own mothers footsteps at her parish church. A lifelong member, she has served her parish in various capacities over the years as Lector, a member of the Altar Rosary Society and Co-President of the Pastoral Committee. She has served on the her parish elementary school PTA, first as the Ways and Means Chairman and than later serving as its President. She was active in scouting for four years as a scout leader progressing in different areas as her daughter advanced. She has coached the town youth girls softball team, ran the intermediate girls basketball league and helped coach the grammar school baseball team. In 199l, she was selected by the Township Committee to serve as Mayor, non-salaried, serving for three years. For over 7 years, she has volunteered at the South Jersey Food Bank. The Cathedral Kitchen of Camden welcomes her once a month as a compassionate volunteer where she has served for over three years. A member of WC of Merchantville for over 26 years, starting as a Junior, then an EMD member and finally a regular member, she as served in many positions both on the EMD Board and General Club Board.

JoAnn Aponte: Her journey to this award started as a teenager candy striper at New York Hospital. Active in girl scouting for many years and in her Church for over 40 years, JoAnn has continued in her dedication in helping those less fortunate.