Joel Gove, 47, a Trenton resident, environmental consultant, and owner of Gove’s Habitat Management & Design Inc. took a vacation alone to the tiny island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles Christmas week. He never came back. He was last seen hiking alone on December 28.

After a two-week search of the island’s five square miles, 150 miles north of South America, yielded no results, Gove’s ex-wife, Amy Gonzalez; his brother, Brad; and co-worker Lynn Ashton traveled to the island but their week-long efforts too were unrewarded. “Anywhere we thought he might go off the trail, we went, too,” Ashton said in a January 14 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. On February 2, Gonzales described Gove to NBC Channel 10 in Philadelphia as “an environmental-loving biologist who may have left the main trail to investigate diverse plants.”

Gove was an avid traveler and outdoorsman, and took his daughter, Georgia, 15, a ninth grader at Ewing High School, on many of his trips. Georgia happens to be a fan of Thursday Night Jazz, a trio of 15-year-old and two 14-year-old jazz musicians — and classmates of Georgia’s — who won U.S. 1’s Battle of the Bands last year, performing at the U.S.1 Breakdown Party at the Greater Princeton Chamber of Commerce Trade Fair in September. Georgia has attended all of the trio’s performances at Havana in New Hope, where they perform regularly, as well as other venues in the Trenton area. Amy Gonzales, Georgia’s mother, has also been a supporter of the trio, and has attended many of the band’s performances.

When Tom Zmuda, saxophonist for the trio, heard how much the recovery effort was going to cost, he suggested that the band do a benefit to help raise money. On Thursday, March 15, Thursday Night Jazz will perform at a fundraiser for the Joel Gove Search Fund at Mamma Flora’s Trattoria in Ewing. This is the second fundraiser — on Friday, February 9, pianist Steve La Manna performed at a benefit at Ellarslie Museum.

Gonzales, a West Trenton resident and geologist and professional wetland scientist with over 19 years’ experience in enviromental project management, is president of AK Environmental LLC, of West Trenton, which provides environmental services to a variety of industries. According to an E-mail from Gonzalez the search for Gove continues: “After searches by the island officials were scaled back, the friends and family of Joel decided to send down their own search team. Merrill Investigation (of Maine) was hired to coordinate a team of cadaver dogs, GPS specialists, and investigators. As a result of this search, it was determined that there is a 99.9 percent chance of human remains in the ravine where Joel was last seen. The area was too dangerous for the dogs and their handlers to climb to obtain a visual.

“We are currently working with the US State Department to see if we can get anyone from the Dutch military or U.S. military to assist in recovering the body. Expenses for the Merrill Investigation alone have surpassed $50,000. This does not include compensation for the many volunteer hours expended by the Merrill Investigation team (or the other volunteers from the island and the U.S.).” On Thursday, March 1, Gonzales also received a call from assistant in Senator Frank Lautenberg’s office who told her that Lautenberg, Senator Robert Menendez, and Governor John Corzine have all signed a letter, which was sent to the State Department requesting their assistance.

– Jamie Saxon

Concert to benefit the Joel Gove Search Fund, Thursday, March 15, 5 to 8 p.m., Mamma Flora’s Trattoria, 1750 North Olden Avenue, Ewing. Music entertainment provided by Thursday Night Jazz. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Mamma Flora’s will donate a portion of proceeds from dinners for the Joel Gove Search Fund; Thursday Night Jazz will donate their fee, and any tips that are collected. 609-434-1188. Merrill Howe and Commerce Bank are partnered with the band for this benefit event.

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