Spevak received the freedom medal for his years of dedication in the Thanksgiving Day Dinner for the Troops event and recent service on the Board of Trustees for the Home Port Alliance of the Battleship New Jersey.
Cherry Hill’s Marshall Spevak, 28, has had a passion for serving veterans and active military personnel since he was a kid.
“I’ve just always been interested in history, in government,” Spevak said. “Both of my grandfathers were veterans of World War II.”
At the age of 10, Spevak helped start the first Memorial Day ceremony in Cherry Hill Township. This was the first of many actions Spevak took to thank veterans and military personnel across South Jersey.
Spevak’s years of dedication were recognized when he was named a 2017 recipient of the Camden County Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Medal.
“I’m very honored,” Spevak said. “I looked at the past list of folks who have gotten it. There’s not as many people who are as young as I am.”
Spevak was only 10 years old when, in 1999, he decided he wanted to bring a Memorial Day ceremony to Cherry Hill Township.
“We started the first Memorial Day ceremony on the front lawn of Cherry Hill East,” Spevak said. “The township had never done anything for Memorial Day before this.”
Former Gov. Jim Florio was the keynote speaker at the first ceremony, and money was raised for the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was then in the planning stages.
The Memorial Day ceremony was just the start of Spevak’s service toward veterans.
“We became very involved with the Jewish War Veterans, Post 126 in Cherry Hill,” Spevak said. “We started doing events with them to raise money for the post.”
In the early 2000s when the United States began sending military personnel to Afghanistan, Spevak came up with another idea. He discovered nearby Ft. Dix military base was the last stop for many active military personnel prior to deployment.
“We found that we were deploying so many people to Iraq and Afghanistan, there was a tremendous number of people that couldn’t come home from Thanksgiving,” Spevak said.
Spevak and his family decided to organize Thanksgiving Day Dinner for the Troops. Active military personnel would be taken to the location of the dinner, where community members waving flags would greet them. Local veterans groups would support the dinner annually as well.
“The event was always a surprise,” Spevak said. “When they left Ft. Dix, they were just told they were going to get dinner. They didn’t know it was coming.”
The dinner was originally held in Clementon before shifting to Cherry Hill for a number of years. In 2013, the dinner moved to the Battleship New Jersey. In later years, the dinner opened up to military personnel who were returning home from overseas, as the number of deployed troops decreased.
The dinner continued for 13 years with the last one being held in 2015. Last year, the dinner was not held, with the number of troops being deployed dwindling in recent years.
“It’s bittersweet,” Spevak said. “It’s great that we’re not sending people overseas. But it was a great event for our community.”
Spevak is continuing to serve today as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Home Port Alliance of the Battleship New Jersey. Spevak is the youngest member of the board.
“Pat Jones, the assemblywoman in Camden, she asked me to join the board,” he said. “They were looking for young people.”
The Battleship New Jersey always fascinated Spevak, and he described working on the board of trustees as being a real treat.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” Spevak said. “It’s truly fascinating, the complexity of what goes into maintaining a battleship.”
“I’m on this group on Facebook for sailors who previously served,” he added. “The pictures, the history, the things they post, it’s just incredible.”
Spevak looks forward to continuing his work on the board in the years ahead. He also didn’t rule out re-starting Thanksgiving Day Dinner for the Troops again in the future, saying the dinner would take place again if there is a need for it.