This time next year, John and Michele Killeen will have the house to themselves. Their son, Danny, is working toward his degree at Loyola University of Maryland; their daughter, Katie, is a Robbinsville High School senior trying to settle on a college.
It's an exciting time that will feature one more transition: After more than a dozen years of volunteering for the PTA, the PTSA and efforts to pass school budgets and referenda, Michele Killeen will "graduate," too.
"Make sure that's in there!" said John Killeen, his expression full of his trademark humor. He recalled the night his wife came home from a meeting, one that concerned how to fund an engineering program at Robbinsville High School, which was about to open.
Michele had an announcement. She had been chosen to run a golf outing.
John, both an avid golfer and a technology professional with contacts in the financial services sector, suddenly found himself drafted.
The golf outing, a project of the Board of Education’s former "Partners in Education" committee, became the Killeens' signature contribution among many. For their efforts on behalf of Robbinsville's schools and youth, John and Michele Killeen are this year's individual honorees of the Robbinsville Education Foundation.
Both Killeens were quick to credit Michele and Neil Siekerka, Carolyn Rutsky, and others who helped bring the annual June outing at Mercer Oaks to life. And despite all the ribbing he gives Michele, John Killeen said he has savored the chance to shape a brand new high school, and the education his children received.
"We are very fortunate," John says. Being involved, he said, allowed him to form strong relationships with school leaders and his children’s teachers. "It's an incredible benefit to your family become involved with what is going on," he said.
During the seven years that the Killeens were involved the outing, the event raised more than $100,000, funding not only the engineering program but also other items on the district's wish list, including a contribution to install lights at the high school stadium.
John is amazed at how quickly a small district like Robbinsville has become a powerhouse in both academics and athletics. The hard work has been worth it, he said, because "you absolutely see the results."
Fifteen years ago, Michele and John Killeen were part of the wave of young parents who settled in a growing township that lacked a high school, and they set out to create one. Michele was recruited to a PTA meeting not long after her son entered kindergarten. "Pond Road Middle School had just opened," she said. "All we knew was that there was a contract with Lawrence and that it would expire in a few years."
The Killeens hosted coffee klatches to promote the referendum on the high school, and Michele got the whole family involved in handing out fliers at election time. Her own children gained valuable lessons in community service. Last year, the original Partners in Education committee that created the golf outing passed the torch to the next generation of parents, when the golf outing was formally folded into the operation of the Robbinsville Education Foundation.
But the Killeens won't be "retiring" completely. "We'll always be at the golf outing and the dinner," John says. "We’re still going to be part of Robbinsville." And one never knows – John could be tempted to take the microphone at the golf outing when it's time to hand out door prizes.
Says Michele, "It’s all been worth it."
Susan Roeloffs always wanted to run a family business, a venture where she could put her accounting skills to good use, be her own boss, and perhaps build something to pass along to her children.
Serving the community was a priority, too. So when she researched opportunities to go into business, becoming a franchisee of Crown Trophy made sense.
Five years later, Susan and her “not-so-silent” partner and husband, Bruce Roeloffs, couldn’t be happier with their decision. Roughly 40 percent of their business comes from corporate awards and promotional items, which means more than half comes from bringing joy to countless children who receive a trophy or award in sports or a school endeavor.
“I love being able to provide that special touch to an awards ceremony,” Susan said. The Roeloffs go the extra mile for school events, such as the time they got a call that one wrestling trophy had been left off a list – and they got it to Robbinsville High School in an hour.
Now, it’s time for Susan and Bruce Roeloffs to get an award of their own – they are the 2012 business honorees of the Robbinsville Education Foundation for their contributions to area youth.
The Robbinsville couple became fixtures at high schools in Robbinsville, Hamilton and Hightstown by creating free plaques for Student of the Month and Athlete of the Month.
Their program, which is available to high schools throughout Mercer County, is welcomed not only by the winners but also by school officials who can cross one budget item off their lists. It’s not a stretch to say that without the Roeloffs’ generosity, the monthly awards might not happen at all.
The Roeloffs have lived in Robbinsville’s Country Meadows neighborhood for 13 years, not far from Tantum Park, where so many of their awards have filled little hands.
More than a dozen young people have had jobs at Crown Trophy, including the Roeloffs’ son, Matthew, a Robbinsville High School graduate who has shown an affinity for the business and works full-time alongside his mother. The Roeloffs also have two daughters – Megan, who is at RHS, and Nicole, who is now married.
The Crown Trophy store off Sloan Avenue and Quakerbridge Road in Hamilton is a flurry of color, with gleaming metal and marble and glass.
Looking around, it’s hard to imagine what the Roeloffs can’t do, and they smile while sharing stories of granting special requests, or seeing the names of children of co-workers or neighbors being engraved on trophies.
“I love seeing the look people get when we’re able to give them something better than they expected,” Bruce said.
He is quick to credit Susan with the store’s success, reminding a visitor that she’s the boss while he maintains a full-time position at an area pharmaceutical company. Susan, he said, “has grown the business every year despite the recession.”
Susan is modest about her success. Even in tough times, she said, “if companies can’t give their employees a raise, at least they can give them some recognition.”