A look back at Mullica Hill’s 2018

Changes came to Mullica Hill as the residents, students and events helped create a remarkable year for the town

By KRYSTAL NURSE

The Sun

A town that thrives on its community and history had another year that many won’t forget. From the township committee down to the people, The Sun reflects on some of the biggest stories to come out of Mullica Hill in 2018.

DeLaurentis begins first year on committee, Gangemi steps down

After a 2017 election win, Julie DeLaurentis was sworn in on Jan. 2 as committeewoman for a three-year term, replacing former Deputy Mayor Dennis Clowney. She was surrounded by her family as she was sworn in.

“I am honored and humbled to have been elected to be a part of this, and I’m excited,” DeLaurentis said. “I’m excited to be working with my fellow committee members, the township employees and professionals and all of the many volunteers that make this community so great.”

Don Heim and Lou Manzo were appointed deputy mayor and mayor, respectively. Heim succeeded Clowney’s 12-year tenure in the position.

“Every year is a bit humbling, but none more than this because I’ve been asked to step into shoes that are extremely hard to fill,” Heim said. “Dennis Clowney may be one of the greatest public servants this town has ever seen and to be asked to step into his shoes is a tall task. I’m humbled by the opportunity to do that and I look forward to the challenge of doing that.”

In December, Committeeman Vincent Gangemi, Sr., stepped down from his position to focus on his health and be with his family. He had served on the committee since 2016.

Gangemi said he has pulmonary fibrosis, and his doctor asked for him to cut back on the things he does to better focus on it.

“That being said, it is what it is, and we have to live with it,” said Gangemi. “It’s been a pleasure to be with you people here.”

His resignation was accepted by the committee members as they applauded his service and added they’ll find a way to appropriately recognize him.

Township partners with two others for Rowan University’s Motus project, sees completion of 9/11 Memorial

In September, the township partnered with neighboring Mantua Township and the Borough of Glassboro for the Rowan Motus, Latin for “movement,” project taking place where the three municipalities meet on Route 322. It’s expected to be open by March of 2021 and to be the new home of several Rowan athletic teams with eight baseball diamonds, 15 artificial turf multi-purpose fields, a 120,000 square-foot indoor sports hall and an outdoor track. Also included is a 5,000-seat multipurpose arena, 60,000 square-feet for retail (food) purposes, a 340-room hotel and more. Most of the operations will be located in Mantua Township.

The partnership allows for them to develop on the land and access to the economic benefits of the facilities, which could include sports bars and pubs, commercial property and retail space, if it falls within their jurisdiction. Additionally, they will have use of the multi-purpose building, technology park and athletic fields, if not already in use by Rowan and available to rent out.

Inspira Medical Center, located across the street in Harrison, broke ground in 2017 and hopes to be completed by September 2019.

Eventually, a bypass for Route 322 will be created to alleviate traffic congestion.

In September, the township unveiled its 9/11 Memorial, which contained artifacts from Manhattan, Shanksville, Pa., and Arlington. A plaque commemorating Clowney’s efforts to obtain them is also at the site.

“If it were not for former Deputy Mayor Dennis Clowney, for his efforts in securing the artifacts that now sit here [on Sept. 16], obviously nobody else would’ve had a job today,” Manzo said.

He started in 2012 with the World Trade Center, then in 2015 with the Pentagon and, finally, in 2018, with the Flight 93 crash, which can no longer be acquired by anyone due to the land being entombed by the wreckage.

The memorial is at the corner of Church and Main streets next to the Mullica Hill Baptist Church and illuminates every night for visitors to stop by and view.

Manzo, Heim re-elected to township committee, Straccilini elected to Harrison BOE

Current mayor and deputy mayor Manzo and Heim, respectively, were re-elected in November to the township committee, besting challengers Ed Selb and David Schulze. Manzo received 3,349 votes and Heim received 3,205 over Selb’s 2,287 and Schulze’s 2,178 votes.

“That tells us in a big way the community, as a whole, is behind us and what we’re doing,” said Manzo. “That makes us feel emboldened and continue to do good things for the town.”

On behalf of his running mate, Selb said the election showed that “your vote really does count and make a difference.” He hopes for the township committee to make progress of the Richwood Town Center in the near future.

Joseph Schwab (2,601 votes) and Theresa Vaites (2,376 votes) were re-elected to their positions on the Harrison Township School Board and will be joined by newcomer Marissa Straccilini (2,457 votes). The three won the three open seats against Stephen Houpt (1,513 votes), Megan Robinson (1,818 votes) and Jennifer Libreri-Middleton (1,509 votes).

Jennifer Bowen ran uncontested to fill an unexpired one-year term on the board.

In the Clearview Regional School District election for Harrison Township, Scott Muscarella and Sherry Mongiovi-Dvorak were elected to two open seats for one three-year term. They ran uncontested.

Township, Clearview Regional pass budgets with slight rise in taxes

In April, the township passed its 2018 municipal budget with residents seeing a slight rise in local taxes. The almost $11.5 million budget called for a one-cent increase per $100 of assessed value. It amounts to a $34 annual increase based on an average assessed home of $341,000.

Manzo added the raise is due in part to the health-care costs and benefits for township employees rising, maintenance to local utilities and an agreement with the township and its school districts — Clearview Regional and Harrison Township — to hiring full-time school resource officers, among other capital projects.

Clearview Regional School District’s budget passed with Harrison Township taxpayers seeing a 3.24-cent increase based on an average assessed home value of $341,695. The district, additionally, is operating on a smaller budget ($367,126 decrease) with fewer students coming in.

Mantua residents paid for 48.33 percent of the budget and Harrison Township, where the district is located, paid for 51.67 percent.

Clearview Regional was one of two districts (Harrison Township being the other) to receive zero increases in state aid in Gloucester County.

“It’s unfortunate, we are on the other side of the equation this year,” Esther Pennell, business administrator, said, noting the district looks to keep taxes down whenever possible. Deferring or completing several construction projects helped the district cut costs.

The Harrison Township kindergarten through sixth-grade district increased its budget by $275,936 from the 2017–2018 school year, a $51.61 annual increase based on an average assessed home value of $341,695.

Personnel, security upgrades and a full-day kindergarten program contributed to the increase in taxes. They, however, did not receive an increase in state aid.

Clearview becomes proactive on school safety

In March, following the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., students in the Clearview Regional High School District planned to participate in the National School Walkout Day to honor and remember the 17 lives lost in the Florida school shooting.

At its February meeting, the board said it was hesitant to allow it to occur due to “potential dangers,” but assured students it was working toward a solution that pleased everyone. Weeks following discussions, the board approved students walking out to an undisclosed location and time.

The plan, however, was thwarted due to a threat made to the district on the eve of March 14. The middle school and high school reopened on March 15, the day administrators were expected to meet to discuss safety upgrades after the original, snowed-out date of March 7.

Local and federal law enforcement concluded their investigation, revealing the threat to not be credible.

In the winter, the district added LobbyGuard systems to its schools. Visitors are stopped by a staff member at the main entrance and are instructed to scan their driver’s license or other government ID into the system while also entering the name of the person they’re visiting. Once a single-use pass is printed, School Resource Officer Patrick Morris or an administrator escorts visitors to their intended location. A “void” ticket will print if the system finds felonies in the visitor’s background check.

“I then get a text and an email, all administrators receive an email and text, our IT department receives it and likely our local detective receives it, too,” said Morris.

A visitor is vetted, in-person, by Morris and several staff members and is either permitted access, or turned away. To assist in keeping the schools safe, Superintendent John Horchak said they implemented strict, automatic disciplinary actions for anyone who compromises the schools’ safety by holding or propping doors open for others, including students and faculty.

Clearview packs ‘Hoagies 4 Hope’ on Super Bowl Sunday

More than 400 volunteers helped pack more than 2,000 hoagies for the fourth annual “Hoagies 4 Hope” fundraiser on Feb. 4. The event raises money for district families facing difficult medical situations.

“Principal (Keith) Brook came to me a few years back and said we need to do this at Clearview,” said counselor and Hoagies 4 Hope lead Paul Sommers. “Since that time, we have seen the program just continue to grow with the full support of the students, faculty and the generosity of the community.”

Support from faculty and students — who are the backbone to the event — and sponsorships from more than 100 local businesses and the community help the district hold a successful event year after year. Student volunteers from the district and its sending districts came together at Clearview Regional High School on Super Bowl Sunday to pack hand-crafted hoagies of all varieties.

“We know how important this is to everyone involved,” said Brook in January. “There are more students than seats, so we actually have two sessions of students coming in to make the hoagies. It is truly amazing to see the Hoagies 4 Hope effort come together each year.”

Harrison Township School District students charge full STEAM ahead

A mixture of current and former HTSD students competed in the statewide STEAM Tank (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) competition throughout 2018. Two groups were selected to move on to Atlantic City to present final prototypes of their inventions.

Christine Rivera’s group of former third graders — Jules Roes, Mallory Engle and Jillian McGroarty — presented an anti-tip chair; Laura Richardson’s pair of former sixth graders from a peer support group for students with special needs — Madelena DiFabio and Gabrielle Calandra, who are now at Clearview — presented an app that helps someone communicate with others.

Rivera’s group said they created the chair after seeing a student tip back in his, and narrowly avoid getting hurt. A peg or leg, depending on the prototype, would automatically extend backward when a child tipped back to prevent injury. The invention won a third-place prize of $1,000 in November.

“They sacrificed a lot,” said Jamie Roes, Jules’ mother. “They believed in it, so they did it without complaint. When it was said and done, they were like ‘so now let’s go back to jumping rope on the playground!’”

In November, Richardson’s group presented their app, Menu @ Your Fingertips, at Kids Design Day in Newark, organized by the state’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Kids Design Day was an all-day event where students and industry leaders and educators in the architecture industry assisted middle school students in exploring the field and provided three teams from the STEAM Tank competition (Richardson’s group, “H2O Fortress” of Camden County Tech and “The Smart Alarm” of Berkeley Heights) a chance to present their inventions.

The app allows for people who cannot speak to order from a restaurant menu with a smartphone application.

“I feel like it just inspired us and opened our eyes to everyone who could be positively affected by this app who might not speak English, so I think that would definitely be something we’d try to put it in different languages,” added Calandra.

Matt Novak Jr.’s family searches for answers a decade following his homicide

Sept. 28 marked 10 years since Matt Novak Jr.’s murder in Philadelphia near 13th and Fairmount avenues.

He was near 6th and Green streets when he flagged a car to get jumper cables for his broken down vehicle when the suspects allegedly drove him seven blocks and shot him in the hip as he exited the car. They drove off and witnesses have only been able to identify them as two or three males. The Novak family has continued to search for clues since then, while also coping with Novak Jr.’s death.

“You just learn to cope and just try to get by every day without seeing him,” said Matt Novak Sr. “The best thing I can do is to find the three guys who killed him.”

Novak Jr.’s cousin and godfather, Det. Chuck Dougherty of the Gloucester Township Police Department, is using his experience as a police officer to assist with finding out who killed his cousin.

“Put yourself in the family’s shoes and feel the frustration and anger and do the right thing and the right thing will come from it,” said Det. Brian Peters of the Philadelphia Police. “Somebody could come in, and there’s avenues to protect their identity and their involvement, and we’ll make sure they’re protected. We can address any type of issue they may have if they come forward with the information.”

Novak Sr. and Dougherty have dedicated their time to helping families move through the grieving process as they lost their loved ones to murders or homicides.

Every year, Novak Sr. rents a billboard in the main Philadelphia and New Jersey thoroughfares in big black letters stating the current reward, and “WhoKilledMattNovak.com” in hopes of someone seeing it and coming forward with information. The reward is currently $45,000. If anyone has information regarding Novak Jr.’s death or the owner of the car involved, they are urged to call the Philadelphia Police Department’s anonymous tip line at (215) 546-TIPS or send an email to TipLine@CrimeCommission.org.

Saxophonists take part in New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving parades

Denny Palandro, captain of the South Philly String Band, rang in the new year with his bandmates in the streets of Philadelphia during the Mummers Parade.

The saxophonist got his start in 1974 and has been playing in several different bands until landing in the South Philly String Band in 1978. He remarked how “a city or community is identified by its tradition. Lose your tradition, lose your identity.”

Palandro has helped the band place in the top four every year for the parade and claimed two first-place finishes in 2016 and 2018. In 2016, they paid a tribute to the Mexican culture with a performance titled “Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead).”

“A Mummer is a person who celebrates New Year’s by bringing joy to people who support tradition,” Palandro said.

In New York City on Thanksgiving Day, Nicholas Conti, a senior at James Madison University, played with his university’s band, the Marching Royal Dukes, during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The marketing major, who plays the saxophone, said it was an experience he’ll never forget, despite the below-freezing temperatures.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my musical and marching career,” said Conti. “It was a 2.5-mile parade and the cold didn’t help much.”

Conti has been a part of the band for every year except his junior year, and added the performance was the biggest thing he’s done, so far, in his marching band career. The band played the university’s fight song, “Robin Hood,” and “76 Trombones” throughout the route and finished off with “I Got Rhythm” for the televised performance.

While performing in the parade was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Conti said his favorite part was witnessing the behind-the-scenes logistics play out before his eyes.

“Seeing them blow up the balloons in-person the night before, and seeing the preparation for it because you watch it on TV every year, and it made me appreciate it much more than before,” said Conti.

He added he was thrilled and thankful for his parents for providing him with the opportunity to go to James Madison and go on the trip.

Town’s residents shine big

Former junior Aidan Burns tore his ACL during his 2016 football season when he went down during a scrum. As a three-sport athlete — lacrosse, football and track — Burns was determined to get back out and don the yellow and gold colors of Clearview Regional. The tear caused him to put his sophomore athletic career on hold as he goes through an intense recovery period.

The young athlete worked with the high school’s track coach, Dan Matozzo, to create a recovery schedule that wouldn’t be too taxing on his body and his knee.

“His first meet, fresh off the injury, he didn’t win anything,” Matozzo said, adding he didn’t look bad, just not himself. However, while the speed was not there, he felt the young athlete’s vigor was present just as it was the season previous.

Burns began to finish in sixth-, fourth- and third- places throughout several meets in January. Eventually, he qualified for the NJSIAA Group III Championships in the 55-meter dash. In the competition, he finished first with a time of 6.53 seconds, a personal record. He hopes this year, he goes “all the way.”

Former second-grader Kylie Rae Powell got her acting break in March starring as the daughter of a drug dealer in the series “Chase Street” set in Camden. It is a political crime drama centered on those in the streets and offices who are hungry for power in one of the poorest cities in the nation. The series includes episodes with scandal, death and the reputation of a once-bustling city.

Powell found herself into the series as her mother, Denise Fowler-Powell, was invited to work behind-the-scenes on hair and makeup and she’d accompany Denise several times. She was soon offered a spot in the show after seeing her cheerful personality. Powell quickly became a hit on the set as the crew, and her mother, saw her grow.

“They watched her grow as a person on the set,” Fowler-Powell said. Kylie would accompany her mother to the set before she had a spot in the show. “They could see her demeanor and that she is very funny. They also saw another side they could tap into.”

As she played a drug dealer’s daughter in the series, she said her role was to be a “sweet little girl for her dad.”

Outside of acting on a seven-day schedule, she goes to school, full-time, at Harrison Township Elementary School. She recalled reading being her favorite thing to do and declared that “once I start reading, I never want to stop.”

The series was being considered by Netflix, Amazon and the Urban Movie Channel, among others. It can be viewed on www.WatchChaseStreet.com/Home.

A lover of books and writing, children’s book author Nancy Viau found her strength in the genre where she’s able to tell the stories of her own kids and the ones she meets. Her ultimate goal was to provide inspiration to kids.

“I want to give them inspiration to look at the world around them, and see that there’s so much going on outside,” Viau said. “You don’t have to dig deep for inspiration on the prompts by your teachers. There are things out in the playground, the way your friends talk to you and a joke the kid next door tells you.”

Themes in her books come from conversations with her adult children and the kids she meets at book signings throughout the area.

“I listen to how kids talk in school visits and in the grocery stores,” said Viau. “I want to make sure that my dialogue rings true to how kids talk today.”

Viau advises young authors seeking to get published to read books in the categories they wish to write in so they know their audience, join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and to also have a peer group review their work for constructive criticism because family “will tell you it’s fabulous.”

She said she hopes to write more books for children to read and to grow within the industry.

Witnessing the ability of competitors to jump, swing and climb their way to victory on “American Ninja Warrior” helped spark seventh-grader Peyton Sherrill’s love for the popular NBC show. With the creators announcing the show will branch down to kids, Sherrill knew she had to get her parents to sign her up.

“I’ve been waiting until I was old enough to go on the show, and when they actually made something for kids, we were pretty excited about it,” said Peyton. “We were like ‘we have to get into this.’”

The middle schooler trained at MaxFit Sports in Glassboro and at the Movement Lab with several coaches to perfect her run. A competitive person at heart, Sherrill trained non-stop to becoming the best she can be at the new sport. Previously, she competed in regional competitions with kids in her age group.

In her televised run, Sherrill said the obstacles were still “American Ninja Warrior”-designed courses, only scaled down for the smaller runners. Her run has not aired yet on Universal Kids, the channel carrying the new series.

Sherrill hopes to become a coach and train young kids for the sport in the same fashion her coaches did.

History books help tell story of Old Harrison Township

James Turk and Karen Heritage co-wrote the book “Images of America: Mullica Hill and Old Harrison Township” to tell the story of the township, what it used to be and how it has evolved over the years.

Turk and Heritage said their positions as trustees at the historical commission allowed them to collect photos some may not be able see and include them in the book. The process took about three years to complete as they filled in any gaps and asked longtime residents about the book.

“A large amount of them were in our collection, and we went in, inventoried our collection itself, and then we were able to contact other folks and separate institutions who had photographs that we may be able to use and did use,” said Heritage.

The biggest thing for the two, they said, was to include a portion about Elk and South Harrison townships as portions of Mullica Hill was incorporated by them. Heritage added neither of the two townships has historical societies, so the book became the “repository for the history of those areas.”

Turk said each chapter begins with a brief narrative to place the photos in context for readers, however, some stories remain untold because photographs couldn’t be sourced.

Copies of the book are at the Harrison Township Historical Society, Old Mill Antique Hall, Parsonage, Yellow Garage Antiques and Harrison House Diner.