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John Quinn Obituary
John Quinn called

'strong voice' for

the environment

John Quinn, who designed the specialty license plate that promotes the Meadowlands his favorite spot on earth has died. He was 73.

"I'm just a Ridgefield Park kid who grew up to become an artist struggling to use his art to make a statement to anyone who will listen," the bearded, rugged-looking Mr. Quinn said in a 1980 profile in The Record.

His most visible statement, spotted on hundreds of vehicle bumpers, was the Meadowlands license plate, one of scores of specialty plates offered by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. Mr. Quinn designed the plate, which shows an egret, a terrapin and phragmites, the common wetlands reed, while he was employed by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission as a natural resource specialist and staff artist.

The plate was first issued in February 2001. Proceeds from its sale benefit the Meadowlands Conservation Trust, which provides funding to the Meadowlands Commission for the purchase and preservation of open space in the Meadowlands and the Hackensack River watershed.

From July 2011 through April, 145 Meadowlands license plates were sold and 1,077 were renewed, according to the MVC. The plate generated $19,866 for the Meadowlands Conservation Trust in 2011, said commission spokesman Brian Aberback. Data for the 11-year life of the Meadowlands plate were not available.

Designing the license plate was a seven-month endeavor. The Meadowlands Commission initially invited New Jersey artists to submit designs, but most were too detailed to fit on the license plate. Mr. Quinn, who was in charge of reviewing the submissions, ultimately blended some of the designs into his own.

The license plate was a point of pride for Mr. Quinn because "the Meadowlands were near and dear to him, from early childhood on," his daughter, Denise Quinn Nanke, said.

As a boy, Mr. Quinn explored the marshlands near Ridgefield Park and rescued small animals in need of rehabilitation. "My grandmother's sink would be filled with oil-soaked birds," Nanke said.

John Quinn graduated from Ridgefield Park High School and received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Parsons School of Design. In addition to the stint with the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, he authored and illustrated 11 books, including "Fields of Sun and Grass: An Artist's Journal of the New Jersey Meadowlands," and worked for the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History and the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in New Hampshire.

Inspiration to others

Thomas Yezerski, whose book "The Meadowlands: A Wetlands Survival Story" made The New York Times list of 10 notable children's picture books in 2011, credited Mr. Quinn's "Fields of Sun and Grass" as both an inspiration and a resource.

"My book is just a simplification of his," Yezerski said. "John had a great understanding of the complexities of the Meadowlands."

The two authors never met, but traded emails in March after Yezerski acknowledged Mr. Quinn's book while promoting "A Wetlands Survival Story" at the Meadowlands Environment Center in Lyndhurst.

"Dear Tom: I'm trimming my e-mails back," Mr. Quinn wrote in his last email to Yezerski, "and wanted to wish you success in whatever direction your bliss takes you. Follow it, lad, follow it. Life is too short."

Yezerski was unaware that his fellow author was battling lung cancer.

Katycq Weidel, a longtime landscape architect with the Meadowlands Commission, said "Fields of Sun and Grass" is required reading for new agency employees. "I give the book to everyone who starts here," she said, adding that Mr. Quinn was "a strong voice" for the environment.

Mr. Quinn, who had retired to Gonic, N.H., died May 25 at the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts. A memorial service will be held next Monday June 11 at 11 a.m. at St. Francis of Assisi R.C. Church in Ridgefield Park. His ashes will be interred on opposite coasts: in Washington State's Puget Sound and next to the New Hampshire grave of his wife, Lucille Quinn, who died in 2010.

Mr. Quinn is survived by his daughters, Denise Quinn Nanke of Salem, Ore., and Erika Quinn Johnson and Meredithecq Quinn-Loerts, both of Olympia, Wash.; two stepdaughters, Cynthia Wigren of Amesbury, Mass., and Jennifer Simoneau of Amherst, N.H.; four siblings, Richard Quinn of Barryville, N.Y., Mary Lou Quinn of Charlottesville, Va., Eileen Hamlin of Grottoes, cq Va., and Stephen Quinn of Ridgefield Park; six grandchildren; and his first wife, Patt cq Wheeler, of Olympia.

Asked how the man who designed the Meadowlands license plate would want to be remembered, Nanke said: "For the legacy he left through his artwork, and for his care and love of the natural world. He was a conservationist at heart."

Published in The Record/Herald News on June 5, 2012
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