HOPATCONG — Over Jeff Guttenberger’s 79 years on earth, he has witnessed many things, but nothing that compares to the magnitude of the impact of the coronavirus.
A volunteer with the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum for the last decade, Guttenberger, a Navy veteran and retiree, had been making the trek twice weekly into New York City to provide guided tours to groups aboard the Intrepid.
Each Monday and Thursday, until Thursday, March 12, Guttenberger said, he has met thousands of people from around the world, including celebrities, as part of his volunteer stint, speaking to them about the Intrepid. Among his celebrity visitors were Rod Stewart and his son and then-President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2018.
The Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that fought in World War II and later served in the Cold War and the Vietnam War. It also served as a NASA recovery vessel in the 1960s. It was decommissioned in 1974 and is now berthed on the Hudson River as the centerpiece of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Guttenberger said after he arrived to his volunteer post on March 12, his supervisor surprised him by sending him home, because of the growing concern of the coronavirus. According to a post pinned on the Intrepid Facebook Page on March 23, the museum will remain temporarily closed until further notice; and all events through May 11 have been canceled.
In case Guttenberger was exposed to a visitor with COVID-19, he and his wife Michele, 64, who is a retiree of AT&T and immuno-compromised, self-quarantined for two weeks, he said. Since then, the couple has ordered food items and supplies from Amazon and BJ’s Wholesale Club, he said, to avoid heading out in the midst of the pandemic.
Guttenberger, who worked for 31 years as a technician and engineer at Bell Laboratories in Whippany, including on the development of four generations of mobile phone technology, said the pandemic is like nothing he has ever seen. Having served in the Navy from 1959 to 1964 including in Japan, he said his mother feared for his safety when he was 8,000 miles away.
“I’m not happy about this (staying in from the pandemic), but I have to sit it out,” Guttenberger said.
When not in social-distancing mode, Guttenberger said, he had served with New Jersey’s Medical Reserve Corps, which has assisted with drive-thru vaccines. He also volunteered in Hopatcong’s shelter following Superstorm Sandy, he said; and is a member of Hopatcong’s Community Emergency Response Team or “CERT.”
Guttenberger said while he is at home, he has remotely encouraged others to donate blood, since a blood shortage is another result of the pandemic.
“When the dust settles (with the pandemic), we will look back and see how we did and if we were part of the problem or solution,” Guttenberger said. “I want to make sure I was a part of the solution.”
Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.