The pair are only the second duo to share the title in the last 60 years.
From the very beginning, Debbie Browning Hess and David Hess were brought together by a shared desire to give back. Saddened to learn the Moorestown Community House would no longer host teen dances, the pair and their fellow Moorestown High School students started their own nonprofit: Moorestown Youth Activities Council.
They helped fix up an old movie theater on Main Street and rented the space for $1 from the owners so teenagers could have a place to go. It was 1968: Hess was 17, and Browning Hess was 15.
The pair hasn’t stopped giving back to the Moorestown community since.
Their fellow residents have surely taken notice given they were named the 2019 Mooretown Co-Citizens of the Year by the Moorestown Service Clubs Council. They are only the second duo to share the title in the last 60 years. Browning Hess said sharing the honor with her husband makes it all the more special.
Both Browning Hess and Hess were born and raised in Moorestown. They met through the Moorestown Youth Activities Council, which was a welcome excuse to see each other at their Sunday meetings.
After they wed, there was never a question about leaving Moorestown in Browning Hess’ mind. Her family moved to Moorestown and started a farm in 1898. Seven generations have tended to the ancestral land, and she farmed since she was a small child. There was no question she and her children would tend to the farm as well. The pair has three children and seven grandchildren — all of whom help out on the farm in some capacity.
Growing up, giving back was just part of Browning Hess’ way of life. Her mother would often give a bouquet of flowers to someone if there was cause for celebration or if their day needed a little brightening up. Her family was also always giving away food from the farm.
As they became adults, the pair thought it was important to be a part of the solution rather than just complaining, so they took up active roles in the community. Hess was one of the founding members of Sustainable Moorestown, and Browning Hess is one of the longest standing members of the Moorestown Open Space Advisory Committee.
For years, the pair has also been quietly doing good behind the scenes. They regularly donate food to the needy through local organizations like Live Civilly and make an annual donation of flowers to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for Memorial Day. With all these acts of kindness, the couple has asked to remain anonymous, but somehow word’s gotten out.
When Browning Hess learned the funds to plant the hanging baskets along Main Street had run out, with the help of some volunteers, she and her husband potted plants from their greenhouse. In autumn, they thought Main Street shouldn’t be the only part of town to feature fall foliage, so they purchased corn stalks from a farming friend and placed them down Camden Avenue.
The pair regularly host local fundraisers on the farm. Following her mother’s passing, Browning Hess took an active role in fundraising for Alzheimer’s research. The duo annually raises funds by participating in Philadelphia’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s. On their best year, they raised $5,000 for Alzheimer’s research.
They agreed they were shocked to learn they’d been named citizens of the year.
“There are so many people that volunteer so much of their time,” Browning Hess said. “It’s a humbling experience and extra special to us because it’s together.”
Hess said Mooretown has so many strengths as a community, and for that reason, he’s always seen it as their responsibility to get involved and ensure Moorestown continues to have a lot to offer.
“There’s just so much going on in this town that is good that people don’t realize. You try to keep that going,” Hess said.
The Citizen of the Year dinner will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the Moorestown Community House at 6 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Moorestown Community House or by contacting the Rotary Lunch and Breakfast Clubs, or The Lions Club. Tickets are $55 each, and tables can be purchased.