From Schirra Park and Schirra Drive, the community of Oradell prides itself on being the hometown of astronaut Wally Schirra. To continue their dedication to Schirra, the recently dedicated their new science lab in his honor.
"This is a very important day for OPS and for the children of OPS," interim superintendent Dr. Maria Nuccetelli said. "This will enhance the science curriculum in school while honoring someone who made a mark in town. We are setting before the children someone who can look up to for their future in what they want to do and make an effect on the world."
Schirra, who was born in Hackensack, grew up in Oradell before leaving town for the Naval Academy in Annapolis. The Troop 36 First Class scout graduated from the Oradell Junior High School in 1937 and later attended Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood.
One of the original Mercury 7 astronauts chosen for Project Mercury, America's first effort to put humans in space, he was the fifth American and the ninth human to ride a rocket into space. He was the first person to go into space three times.
"This lab is designed for all grades in mind," science consultant Al Ruffini said.
According to borough historian George Carter, flying was in the future astronaut's blood as his father Walter Sr. and mother Florence performed as barnstormers.
"Wally's father flew a fighter pilot in World War I and when he returned performed as a barnstormer," Carter said. "His mother Florence would skywalk along the wings in the air."
The "wittiest student" at Oradell Junior High was known for his love of puns and kayaking although the latter was forbidden on the Hackensack River at the time.
"He would stand on the Oradell Avenue bridge and create a ruckus so that residents further down would call the police," Carter said. "Wally would be right there volunteering to go into the water in his kayak to check it out."
During his time with the Navy and NASA, Schirra received three Distinguished Flying Crosses; two Air Medals; two NASA Distinguished Service Medals; two NASA Exceptional Service Medals; Navy Distinguished Service Medal; and Navy Astronaut Wings.
The USNS Wally Schirra, a Lewis and Clark class dry cargo ship named for Schirra, was christened and launched March 8, 2009. Currently a Troop 36 boy scout troop flag flies aboard the USNS Shirra while the Oradell boy scout troop carries a US Naval flag.
Prior to his death in 2007, Schirra returned to Oradell for the 1962 dedication of Schirra Park and then in 1996 to the where there are over 10 volumes in the Archive Room dedicated to Schirra's life.