By Erin Delmore
“He wrote something in my yearbook,” said Stephen Slotnick. “To my all time dearest friend Steve.”
Growing up Slotnick shared sleepovers, pool parties, family shore houses and countless baseball games with Gov. Chris Christie. Slotnick was the baseball team’s star pitcher, and Christie, it’s catcher. That is, until a transfer student took Christie’s place.
“I’d be putting words in Chris’ mouth if I said that he wasn’t disappointed. I’d have to believe that personally he was,” Slotnick said.
But Christie stayed on the team.
“It didn’t deter Chris from being the captain of the team and cheering us on from the sidelines. You know and occasionally getting into the games and being just as supportive of everyone’s efforts, and making us laugh on the bench,” Slotnick said.
To his friends, that was classic “Chris,” the kid who ran the student council, but also dressed up as the school mascot during football games. He worked the counter and delivered pizzas for Cammarata’s — the local pizza place. They say he was a model kid.
“He was a bit of a troublemaker, too. You know, outspoken,” said Livingston resident Ronnie Bonder.
Bonder repeats a story she heard Christie tell at the town bicentennial about sneaking into the high school with friends and painting the roof of their school with their class year – ’80.
“They weren’t allowed to do that anymore, but they did it anyway,” Bonder said.
This is where Christie grew up with his brother Todd, his sister Dawn and their parents on Livingston’s West Northfield Road. Back then the house they lived in had three bedrooms, one bathroom and an above ground pool. Marius Strus bought the house from Christie’s father in 2007.
“The doorbell rang and I had no idea who it was, and he said, ‘Hi, I’m such and such, I’m Chris Christie’s brother,’ and I’m like, ‘Hi!’ And he’s like, ‘You know, I’m in town. You know, it’s my mom’s birthday, I’m just feeling a bit nostalgic, do you mind if I stop in?’ And I invited him in, he took a look around. I mean, really nice guy, very down to earth,” Strus said.
Friends say the same of Chris and that even at 18, he showed a serious side.
“His closing to me was: ‘I really don’t know how to end except maybe with a quote I heard recently — If the work goes on, the cause endures, your hopes still live on and your dreams shall never die,’” Slotnick said.
Christie’s message to his friend echoes his yearbook quote, and a message he’ll try to get across to voters over the next 17 months. Back then he wrote, “Great hopes make great men.”