Rockaway honors legacy, life of native son
by Patrick Kearns
Oct 18, 2016 | 2145 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilman Eric Ulrich presents the sign to Justin Zemser's family.
Councilman Eric Ulrich presents the sign to Justin Zemser's family.
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The community celebrates the unveiling of the new street sign.
The community celebrates the unveiling of the new street sign.
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The loss of 20-year-old Justin Zemser, a top student, volunteer and model for the young people of the peninsula, was a devastating blow for the Rockaway community.

Zemser was the youngest of five victims when an Amtrak train carrying 238 passengers derailed outside of Philadelphia in May of 2015.

On Friday, hundreds joined Zemser's family to unveil Midshipmen Justin Zemser Way outside Channel View School for Research, where Zemser was valedictorian of his class, at the intersection of Beach Channel Drive and Seaside Avenue.

“To honor our son Justin with this very special tribute is a great way the surrounding community and the family will always be reminded of what a fine young man Justin was, and the way he lived life to the fullest,” father Howard Zemser said.

Zemser said his son inspired everyone he came met, whether in Rockaway or the Naval Academy. He naturally took on a leadership role, serving as captain of the football team and a lead volunteer with the St. Camillus Special Olympics.

“He gave his all and never said no to anyone,” Zemser said. “Justin celebrated life, he smiled at all and said a friendly hello to anyone who walked by. Justin had a positive influence on many.”

While Zemser was still in high school, he got a first hand look at local civics as an intern in Councilman Eric Ulrich's office.

“Here in Rockaway we have our own local heroes,” Ulrich said. “So for the people of Rockaway, Justin Zemser is just another one of our local heroes.”

Zemser was in his second year in the Naval Academy when he was killed. Several of his classmates attended the ceremony and his two roommates, Brandon Teel and Mitchell Bond, both shared memories of their time with Zemser.

Despite having a perfect 4.0 grade point average in systems engineering, Bond recalled, Zemser switched his major to English because he wanted to read five books a week.

He hopes every time a Rockaway resident passes the sign, they think “what am I doing to make myself better today?”

“He pushed himself every day,” Bond said. “Every single day, he went that extra mile.”

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