Alfonso Lardone, Lauretta Freeman and Lona Erwin

By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

The novel coronavirus was first confirmed in New Jersey on Thursday, March 4, 2020. It would be just another week before cases were confirmed in Montclair.

In the year since, New Jersey has suffered more than 21,000 confirmed deaths, and counted than 700,000 confirmed cases. And while deaths have slowed in recent weeks, they remain a constant threat, and a constant reminder of the serious nature of a disease unknown to the world just a short time ago.

On the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus’ confirmed presence in New Jersey, Montclair’s death toll stands at 66, with the most recent two deaths counted on Feb. 17.

We don’t know the names or stories of all who are lost; it’s often a private matter for families. But the Loved and Lost project — a statewide media collaborative — aims to collect remembrances of those fallen to COVID-19, and celebrate their lives. It asks families interested in participating to submit information on their loved ones, so it can cite records of obituaries and news stories about those who have died. In some cases, the project helps facilitate the publication of memorial pieces.

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The following are Montclair community members whose stories are remembered with the help of the project, or in other reporting identified by Montclair Local. They represent just a fraction of those in Montclair lost to COVID-19.

If you’d like to share the story of your loved one, see the form at the bottom of this post to contribute information.

Lona Erwin

Lona May Erwin died at the age of 86 on March 18, 2020, according to her obituary. She’d lived in New Jersey since 2015, after moving from Massachusetts to be close to her youngest daughter. “In addition to her time spent as a homemaker, Lona worked in a variety of jobs in the hospitality industry at Ten Acres Nightclub, Red Coach Grill Restaurant, and most recently at HMS Host on the Massachusetts Turnpike until she retired in 2002. She will be remembered for her cheerful, easy going nature and love of children,” her obituary recounts. She’d been a resident of Montclair’s Family of Caring nursing home.

Lauretta Freeman

Lauretta Freeman was the founder of Montclair Cooperative School. She died on March 24, 2020 at the age of 97, according to a message from the school at the time. “Lauretta created a great big village and we are proud to have been a part of her vision for a more just and equitable world,” the school wrote. “Lauretta spoke about co-op kids with the most joyful expression and conveyed unwavering confidence in their growing abilities to lead and thrive in an ever changing, unpredictable world. She shared about co-op kids’ ability to notice aspects of their environment and determine how they can impact it and find their useful place. She spoke with equal joy and pride about co-op teachers’ dedication to bringing out the best in each individual child and helping them thrive within the community,” Julie DeCheser, a co-op parent, wrote in the memorial.

Before the pandemic hit, more than 2,000 people had been expected last year to attend an April 4 event the school was planning to celebrate her lifetime of achievements, NorthJersey.com reported at the time. Montclair Local columnist Robin Woods reported last year Freeman had been a teacher and director at the school for 23 years. Business partner and friend Sylvia Pfeffer spoke to Freeman the day she died and recalled: “She was one of the most determined people I’ve ever met.”

Carla Horowitz died on March 29, 2020 at age 77. Her obituary, as published by Montclair Local, recounts how her “enduring appreciations of life, love and art were nurtured by her parents in her childhood home.” It says her dream of being an artist were awakened when she lived in Japan in the 1960s, before settling down in Montclair for the rest of her life. She became a potter with a studio, shop and classroom in the township’s South End business district. She co-founded the Doubletree Gallery of Fine Art and Contemporary Crafts, and she taught pottery for many years at the Montclair Adult School, the New Jersey Center for Visual Arts and the Montclair Art Museum. She also served as Montclair’s deputy clerk for several years, until retiring in 2013. “All who met Carla were inspired by her zest for life, her kindness, and her talent for human relationships,” her obituary says. “Her passion for her art and for peace and social justice fed each other; family and friends kindled a fire in her soul that showed in every piece of pottery she created.”

Alfonso Lardone

Alfonso Lardone died March 18, 2020 at age 60. He grew up in Italy until the age of 11, then moved to Newark. Once married in 1992, he moved to Montclair, where he lived until his death, according to his obituary. It says he worked various jobs in Newark, Belleville and Montclair, and was a common staple in his  neighborhood. Lardone attended the Montclair Community Church. “He loved all animals, but especially his cat, Alex, and his foster dog, Chucky. He was a great storyteller and very much appreciated the love and care given to him by his parents throughout his life,” his obituary recounts.

Louis Luibil, a lifelong resident of Montclair, died April 7, 2020 at the age of 89, according to his obituary. “In his early days, Lou worked as a soda jerk at Gruning’s in Montclair, a job which he told me he loved,” his obituary’s writer recounts. He served in the Korean War. He joined the Montclair Fire Department, from which he retired as deputy chief in 1983. The obituary says he was appointed by Gov. Tom Kean to be New Jersey’s first state fire marshal, and was instrumental in having fire alarms installed in every home of New Jersey. He’d also been director of Emergency Management for Essex County, and active in organizing the township’s Fourth of July parades.

Karin Mason was 77 at the time of her death on April 1, 2020 She was remembered by niece Susan Jannucci in a NorthJersey.com profile as an “extreme intellect” and a joy to be around. The story recounts her last day, at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston: “A doctor there held his phone for Mason so she and Jannucci could say, ‘I love you.'”

Sebastian Milazzo, a lifelong Montclair resident, died April 20, 2020 at the age of 94. His obituary describes him as a sports fan and a historian of Montclair sports, as well as the assistant manager of Montclair High School’s 1943 championship football team. “He could recall names and statistics dating back to the 1930s, according to the obituary.” He served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. After serving, he was employed for 37 years at the Motor Club of America, in the accounting department. He was a longtime member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Montclair.

Sarah Otazo died April 26, 2020 at the age of 93. She’d lived in Glen Ridge for most of her adult life, but was an Upper Montclair resident at the time of her death, according to her obituary.” A career woman, homemaker, and avid volunteer, she was adored by all who knew her,” her obituary states.

John Cofrancesco, the executive director of Family of Caring, died in March 2020 at age 52. The American College of HealthCare Administrators, of which Cofrancesco was a member, confirmed that Cofrancesco’s death was due to COVID-19. “Rest in peace, John. Thank you for your service to the profession of long term care administration,” association officials said in a statement released on March 21 of last year, Montclair Local reported at the time. His obituary recalls he “dedicated his life to helping older adults as an administrator for nursing facilities.”

Submitting remembrances

Loved and Lost is coordinated by the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, and is funded in part by a grant from The Nicholson Foundation. The project originally began as an effort led by NorthJersey.com/The Record, and Montclair Local is a partner.

If you know someone who has died due to COVID-19, please accept our condolences. You can use the form below to submit their name, which will be verified and added to the wall of names on LovedAndLostNJ.com. A journalist from one of the partner news organizations in Loved and Lost may be in touch to do a story about your loved one. If you have any questions about the project, please email info@lovedandlostnj.com.