Happy 50th, Cherry Hill

Last week’s town council meeting may have veered slightly from its usual agenda.

Yes, council took care of its regular business, but instead of voting and commenting on items in front of an intimate crowd at town hall, the elected officials held their meeting in front of hundreds of residents at the township’s 50th anniversary council meeting, marking 50 years since the township’s name changed from Delaware to Cherry Hill.

The night opened up with a rendition of the National Anthem, as performed by elementary students from Barton, Bret Harte, Cooper, Johnson, Kilmer, Kingston, Knight, Mann, Paine, Sharp, Stockton and Woodcrest, who together make up the All Cherry Hill Chorus.

After the council meeting, Lisa Mangiafico, member of the Cherry Hill Historical Commission and co-author of “Cherry Hill: A Brief History,” reminded residents about the township’s deep roots and once-agricultural landscape.

Mangiafico told the story of how the township came to be, which was first settled by the Lenni-Lenape tribe in the 1600s.

Originally, she said, the township included what is now Pennsauken, Merchantville and the 11th and 12th wards of Camden City.

She also chronicled the township’s recent history, from the birth of the mall, to the boom of businesses, including the Garden State Racetrack and Subaru Headquarters.

Local government officials and dignitaries congratulated Mayor Bernie Platt on his years of dedication to the township.

After serving on council, as mayor, as a Camden County Freeholder, and most recently as mayor, again, Platt will be succeeded by mayor-elect Chuck Cahn next month.

“You always kept the interest of citizens in mind first and foremost,” said county freeholder director Louis Cappelli, Jr. “The greatest legacy you’re going to leave is the dedication to your citizens.”

Platt also honored each of the past mayors of Cherry Hill, which include the late John Gilmour, who served from 1962 to 1971; John Rocco, who served from 1975 to 1977; Maria Barnaby Greenwald, the township’s first female mayor, who served from 1977 to 1979 and 1981 and 1987; Howard Gaul, who served from December 1980 through July of 1981 and Susan Bass Levin, the longest serving mayor, who served from 1988 to 2002.

Platt presented the past mayors and family members who stood in on their behalf, with a framed map of Delaware Township.

“We are fortunate tonight to be joined by many of the men and women who have served in elected office throughout Cherry Hill’s history. These individuals, former mayors and council members, have played an undeniable role in shaping this community we know and love,” Platt said.

Platt and council also honored councilman Dennis Garbowski, for his five years of service on council.

Garbowski did not seek reelection last month.

Council vice-president Sara Lipsett and John Amato were reelected, in addition to newcomer Melinda Kane.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the mayor, council and township employees,” Garbowski said. “You all do a great job.”

Platt received numerous thanks and accolades throughout the rest of the evening from various members of the community.

But one that was especially touching were the words of one of his four children, Alison Platt.

“You’re a dedicated and effective leader and a parent who put four children through Cherry Hill schools. You’re a neighbor and a community leader,” Alison Platt said. “You are someone to trust with the decisions of Cherry Hill.”

Platt’s daughter joked about her own two daughters laughing about how students often ask the mayor for an autograph or photo with him.

“They treat you like a rock star,” she said. “Dad, you are a rock star.”

Before the 50th anniversary time capsule was sealed, the mayor added a letter to the future mayor of 2061, 50 years from now.

The capsule will be opened on the 100th anniversary of the township.

Members of council then thanked the mayor for his years of service and wished him well.

“All good things must come to an end,” Lipsett said. “With the vision and leadership of Platt and others, Cherry Hill has become the hub of South Jersey.”

Some of the council members even had a joke or two up their sleeve for the outgoing mayor.

“When you go to Florida, don’t worry about any snowstorms this time,” Amato said.

With that, Platt lit the candles on the birthday cake as the chorus of students sang “Happy Birthday” to Cherry Hill.

Platt thanked the community for supporting him over the years in all his public roles.

“You are, without a doubt, the most important piece of this puzzle. Without you, there would be no Cherry Hill; you are the lifeblood of this community. It has been my pleasure to serve as your mayor for the last nine years, and it has been my honor to be a part of this 50th anniversary year,” Platt said.

To see more photos from the 50th anniversary event, visit www.cherryhillsun.com.