June 17, 2020| People
By: Bill Woolley
On a chilly weekday morning in the spring of 2017, a gaggle of fourth-graders is led along a grassy picnic area by the dam at Hopatcong State Park.
The students, who are taking part in one of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation’s educational field trips, make their way along a dim, concrete passageway under Lake Shore Boulevard, with the swooshing current of the Musconetcong River echoing loudly off the walls.
In the daylight ahead stands a man, old enough to be their grandfather, wearing jeans, a ball cap, and a bright orange t-shirt with “VOLUNTEER” printed across the back.
It’s Earl Riley’s first time as a volunteer for the Foundation. He extends his hand to assist the students as they pick their way over a bed of rocks at the riverside.
Over the course of the next five hours, the soft-spoken 74-year-old Byram Township resident will be on his feet, hunkering over a table and interacting with the fourth-graders.
He’ll help them identify macroinvertebrates they’ve scooped out of the river and explain how the presence of specific organisms provides tips about the health of the river.
It’s a lesson he’ll impart several times over the next few weeks and dozens of times over the ensuing three years, helping the Foundation educate more than 2,000 young students about water ecology and the importance of clean water.
“We had no idea how long Earl would be willing to help with our field trips, but he’s been a model of consistency for three years,” said LHF Grants and Program Director Donna Macalle-Holly.
“The best part of having him as a volunteer, though, is that he’s great with the kids,” she added. “Earl is always friendly, supportive, and very patient.”
Earl is a Garden State native who attended high school in Butler and earned a masters degree in business administration from Fairleigh-Dickinson University.
Professionally, he started as a customer service manager for the Digital Equipment Corporation, which was later acquired by Compaq (1998) and Hewlett-Packard (2002).
A U.S. Navy veteran, Earl was Submarine-Qualified, a prestigious status that originated in 1923. He demonstrated a basic knowledge of all submarine systems, and that he can “operate effectively under pressure in shipboard situations.”
Retired since 2014, Earl volunteers for several environmental organizations and initiatives in addition to the LHF, including the Lake Musconetcong Regional Planning Board and the Musconetcong Watershed Association’s (MWA) River Watcher Program.
He also enjoys gardening and creating stained-glass pieces at the Byram Township home in which he’s lived for 47 years, and considers his health his most prized “possession.”
Earl and his wife, Rosemarie, are anticipating their 52nd anniversary. The couple has two adult children, Corrina Scaturo and Jason Riley.
“As a river watcher for the MWA, Earl was uniquely qualified to assist with the macroinvertebrate sampling station on our field trips,” said LHF Communications Director Holly Odgers. “With a constant positive outlook and a real love for what he does, Earl helps to make the station at the river one of the students’ most memorable experiences.
“Earl has so consistently dedicated himself to our education program and sharing his knowledge with our students, I think it’s safe to call him one of our field-trip fixtures.”