COURT HOUSE – “I’ve always sought out God,” County Clerk and Historian Rita Rothberg (formerly Fulginiti) said Jan. 7, in a phone interview.
Rothberg, 60, loves the county and the people she serves, eager to provide better services as residents find their way in the “new normal.”
Faith Matters spoke with Rothberg, gaining insight into her balance of government work and faith journey. Change is universal, and so is difficulty, but Rothberg remains confident and optimistic for the future. Why? Is her life carefree, her path to achievement unchallenged?
According to Rothberg, the answer to both questions is no. Born in 1960, Rothberg endured hardship just as the county and nation she loves.
Rothberg came to Cape May County with her family, in 1962, after the infamous spring nor’easter. Amid natural disaster, life went on, and Rothberg’s roots grew deep in county life.
She describes her mother, Mae Ludlam, as “deeply spiritual and religious.” Ludlam wrote several books on spirituality in the Eastern and Western traditions. According to Rothberg, she learned to organize and type her mother’s manuscripts at the age of 9.
“My mother is the reason that I was never afraid of hard work or to do whatever it took to accomplish a goal,” Rothberg said, in past comments.
Rothberg described her “coming to Christ” at an early age, hungry to learn the Bible and follow New Testament teachings. She made an “independent decision” to attend Central Bible Church, in North Wildwood, at the age of 13. Rothberg also attended Pilgrim Christian Academy, in Atlantic County.
“At age 16, I remember visiting the County Clerk’s Office to apply for a passport and was blown away by the important duties, record-keeping, and traditions of the office,” said Rothberg.
She “vowed” to return as an adult and become the county clerk. After a trip to Israel and educational pursuits, Rothberg took a position as a clerk-typist, in 1985. She worked under Angela F. Pulvino, who “fostered” Rothberg’s love of record-keeping, local history, and public service.
“We were quite a team together,” Rothberg reflected.
Upon Pulvino’s death, in 2005, Rothberg received the Republican Party’s nomination for county clerk.
Rothberg brings dedication and precision to her duties, ranging from preserving historical records to officiating marriage ceremonies.
“I have married 1,700 couples,” she said.
Throughout her career, Rothberg has not “brought religion into the office,” as she presides over all kinds of civil marriages.
Rothberg is a strong advocate for women's understanding and participation in the political process. She is thankful for the women who persevered despite ridicule, obstruction, and bigotry.
“People make a place unique,” she said. Office life looks different since the outbreak of Covid, but Rothberg stands committed to the same quality of service, albeit behind a mask. She wants to “promote a culture of hospitality” in the office.
“We need to support one another,” Rothberg added.
One of her greatest passions is helping people find their ancestors and roots in Cape May County. By examining documents and census records, Rothberg assists residents and guests looking for answers. The past melds with the present, bringing her joy.
As county adjuster, Rothberg’s role often takes a somber shade, especially when a resident dies with no one, and nothing, at the end.
“Sometimes, I am the only one at the gravesite. I remember that this was a human being, and I say a prayer over them. This work makes up the fabric of my life,” Rothberg said, in previous comments.
Twists and Turns
For 30 years, Rothberg cared for her husband, Anthony Fulginiti, until his death, in October 2017. Fulginiti was a lawyer, and Rothberg is thankful for the life they shared. Fulginiti suffered a stroke, forcing him to retire from his practice.
Without faith in God, Rothberg said, balancing her career and family life would have been a greater struggle.
“Hardships are not so hard because God is there,” Rothberg said.
Throughout her life, Rothberg worshipped alongside Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, and Roman Catholics. The common thread she follows is a desire for spiritual oneness with God.
“I’ve gotten so much out of them,” Rothberg said, referring to each denomination.
Now, as the wife of Michael Rothberg, she joins him celebrating Shabbat, each Friday, at sundown via livestream. The couple also celebrates Jewish holidays.
“Together, we pray and thank God for all our blessings,” Rothberg said.
She officially changed her last name from Fulginiti to Rothberg, in January. Rita and Michael met, in 2018, when she assisted him with a mail-in ballot. They discovered mutual interests in astrology, politics, and music.
Just as Rothberg thought her life was settled, she found love again. Michael, who is blind, also cared for his ailing spouse and was born in 1960.
Rothberg thanks God for Michael and her new life in Dennisville.
2020 is a year no one will soon forget, and Rothberg empathizes with those who are hurting and trying to find normalcy again.
“Take a deep breath. Nothing stays the same,” Rothberg said, reflecting on over 200 years of change in America and Cape May County. By looking at history, Rothberg believes everyone can draw a fresh perspective.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Rothberg said, quoting Thomas Paine, who wrote the words in 1776.
Seeking and trusting in God also brings stability to the human soul, according to Rothberg.
“Our faith helps us cope,” she added.
Despite recent turmoil, Rothberg looks forward to what 2021 has in store.
“I look forward to the next five years as county clerk to lead the County Clerk’s Office through the Covid aftermath and making a new normal here that works for the people we serve as well as our employees.
"I look forward to utilizing my 35 years of experience as a voice for change in recording and election laws that no longer work in today’s world. I look forward to improving access to public records while protecting private data. It is an honor to serve,” she concluded.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at email@example.com.