Community rallies for the history of Lenola

A community within a community, Lenola is thought to be a separate municipality outside of Moorestown — an idea that council members Victoria Napolitano and Phil Garwood campaigned to fix.

“A clear message we took from that experience was that my neighbors feel — as I do — that Lenola has unfortunately been let to fall by the wayside while other areas of town have been the focus of improvements over the years,” Napolitano, a Lenola resident, said in an email.

She said some don’t realize Lenola is a part of Moorestown. Even residents living in Lenola have gotten used to saying they are “from Lenola” versus Moorestown.

But that doesn’t stop the community members living in the Lenola section from bringing the roots and livelihood of Lenola back into Moorestown. That was Megan Booth’s intention when she planned the Lenola Elementary School alumni picnic on Sunday, Aug. 4. The Lenola Elementary School was nestled on New Albany Road across the street from Jeff Young Memorial Park until it closed in 1979. The building is still standing and is now a nursing home.

Booth, a former resident of Lenola, currently living in Moorestown, said she hopes to see this event grow next year, attracting people from all over Moorestown.

“It’s always been like that. Lenola tried to make its own town. We had the fire house, the school, but didn’t have a post office,” Booth said.

Her grandparents grew up in Moorestown. Her grandmother went to Lenola school in 1923 and she still has her mother’s kindergarten picture.

“We have deep roots in Lenola. My grandfather helped dig Strawbridge Lake,” she said. “I love being from Lenola. There is no shame here.”

She remembers Lenola as a new neighborhood when she was younger with a few unpaved roads and six houses on her street.

“Every house had a kid,” she said.

Steve Levin, now a Voorhees resident, went to Lenola school from 1964 to 1966. He said the picnic was a great way to “bring the community back together and say hello” to past classmates and new friends.

He remembers the same instances of Lenola being recognized as a different community.

“When I was in school, there was the Lenola Little League baseball team. I was not allowed to try out for the Little League because my parents didn’t think that Lenola was a part of Moorestown,” he said, adding he lived about two miles from the school.

“I think that it was a mindset even when I was going to school here. There was a mindset that Lenola was not the same as Moorestown. It was accepted by every kid,” Levin said.

Although Booth and Levin no longer live in Lenola, it’s not uncommon for people who grew up in the neighborhood to still be there.

Ron Schwinn grew up in Lenola and now lives in the house his parents once owned. He was the designated barbecue cook at the picnic and remembers the eventful times he had playing at Jeff Young Park, hanging out at the New Albany Road recreation center and staying out all night playing with friends.

He said he can’t remember a time when Lenola was known as a part of Moorestown.

“I never really saw it as being that big of a difference,” Schwinn said.

According to Napolitano, Lenola has its own character.

“I don’t know if it’s because the houses are a little closer together than some to other parts of town, or if it’s because so many people have their roots here, or if it’s something else, but there’s definitely neighborliness in Lenola,” Napolitano said.

Booth might say it’s because of all three reasons.

When she was growing up, it didn’t matter who was around. If an adult told you to do something, you listened. Comparing the houses in Lenola to the homes on the other side of town, she said it loses the community feel with the houses spaced so far apart.

Trying to bring the two communities back together is going to take more than a yearly picnic. But Booth believes the annual event would attract more Moorestonians to see the other side of Moorestown.

Napolitano said she and Garwood decided to form the Lenola Advisory Commission to fill in the gaps that were created over the years. With seven members on the commission, including lifelong Lenola resident Jamie Boren, the commission is not an official organization, yet it’s “simply a group of passionate community members who are interested in improving their neighborhood,” Napolitano said.

She said town council has also agreed to hold future meetings at the Lenola Fire Hall, before the new Town Hall construction is complete, making it easier for area residents to get in touch with elected officials.

“I want to make changes that improve the aesthetics of the Lenola Town Center and ensure that my neighbors know that they are a valued part of our community,” she said.