Delran’s Year in Review

A look back at Delran’s 2019 happenings

Delran High School senior RJ Moten committed to play both baseball and football at the University of Michigan.

With 2020 on the horizon, it is time to look back at all that made Delran news in 2019. From sustainability to schools, playgrounds to proclamations, there was a vast array of topics making it into the headlines in this vibrant community.

A new chapter for The Sun Newspapers

In late March, The Delran Sun joined our family of 20 South Jersey Sun Newspapers. Actually, we should say re-joined. The Sun previously had a paper in the township, and we were excited to return to this civic-minded, engaged community.

Going greener in Delran

The Delran Green Team continued to sow seeds of sustainability knowledge around the township this year.

The group continued its newer spring tradition of handing out free tree seedlings to residents at Conrow Park in April. This was the second year the group took part in New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection Tree Recovery Program. The giveaway included a variety of seedlings, from flowering dogwoods to pines to black gums. The goal is for everyone to take different types of trees, plant them at home and report back to the Delran Green Team in a year to let them know how the seedlings fared.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – or today,” Green Team member Al Carp said, stressing it’s always a good time to help the environment. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

Later in the spring, Delran Green Team members teamed up with students from Delran High School and Millbridge Elementary School to clean up around the high school. The goal was to relay recycling knowledge to the younger generation.

“All the little pieces add up,” Delran School District STEAM Coordinator Erica DeMichele said. “It makes a difference.”

‘Wear orange’ in Delran

In May, Delran Council, Mayor Kenneth Paris and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, took a stand against gun violence. Council declared the first Friday in June as National Gun Violence Awareness Day to honor and remember the victims and survivors of gun violence and to declare that, as a country, more must be done to reduce gun violence. The proclamation asked residents to wear orange in awareness and support.

Vandana Nittoor, local communications lead for the grassroots Moms Demand Action group, was grateful for Delran officials for their action. “The fact that towns like Delran have issued this proclamation demonstrates that there is grassroots support for a conversation on gun sense in our country.”

According to Nittoor, Moms Demand Action supports the Second Amendment, but it recognizes that with the right to own guns comes the responsibility of making sure communities are safe.

Community comes together for Build Jake’s Place

After four years of fundraising, the long-awaited Build Jake’s Place at Delran Community Park officially held its “community build” in early May, when members of the community volunteered time to construct the nonprofit, all-inclusive playground. The locale is a place where children and adults of all abilities can play.

Build Jake’s Place is in honor and memory of Joseph Nasto and Kathleen Cummings Nasto’s son, Jake, who passed away at 2 years old from a heart defect. The first playground was constructed in 2011, and “Jake’s Law,” signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in August 2018, decrees every county in the state needs to build a similar all-inclusive playground.

The playground held its official grand opening on July 9.

HAB at Amico Island Park

On Sept. 4, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported harmful algae blooms were discovered in the Amico Island Park pond on Aug. 30. County officials advised residents to avoid contact with water during the bloom.

HABs occur when algae grows in excess and produces large quantities of toxins with harmful effects to people, pets and other wildlife, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

According to NOAA, the duration of a bloom “depends on physical and biological conditions that influence its growth and persistence,” which includes sunlight, water temperature and other factors. Warm temperatures and an abundance of light can contribute to HABs.

Locals were encouraged to contact county officials if they suspected HAB in any local bodies of water.

Education news

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – or STEM – is big in the Delran Township School District. In May, the high school held its third annual STEM Fair, the biggest the district had seen with more than 500 people in attendance.

The fair featured STEM projects, vendors, the police and fire departments, Palmyra Nature Cove’s virtual reality truck sponsored by NASA, public works vehicles and other related technology to display how STEM equipment is used in everyday life.

The school district’s STEM initiatives even attracted the attention of Gov. Murphy’s wife, Tammy. On the last day of the 2018-2019 school year, the state’s first lady stopped by Delran schools to learn about the district’s STEM and sustainability efforts. Accompanied by STEM initiatives coordinators Mary Jo Hutchinson and Erica DeMichele, Superintendent Brian Brotschul, Paris, Green Team member Al Carp and others, Murphy and her chief of staff walked the halls of Millbridge Elementary and Delran High schools learning about all the district offers.

The district was honored by Murphy’s visit, with Hutchinson and DeMichele saying it was a great way to raise STEM awareness. Delran schools saw other honors and accolades throughout 2019, as well.

In the spring, Stephen Grello and Juliana Stellwag were named the Delran High School Class of 2019 valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Grello was headed to Northeastern University to major in international business, and Stellwag was to attend Rowan University as part of its chemistry honors program.

Also in the spring, the Delran Board of Education received its Master Certification award from the Burlington County Chapter of the New Jersey School Boards Association. This is the highest level attainable and is determined by the amount of training its board members have gone through.

“I’ve been on this board for seven years,” BOE President Glenn Kitley said. “This collection of people is the best that I’ve been around.”

The honored board included Kitley, vice president Joseph Biluck Jr., Mark Chierici, Dawn Flanagan, Mary Melvin, Mark Oberg, Amy Rafanello, Colin Rafferty and Eileen Wachter.

Of the 600 boards in the state, only half are certified and less than 5 percent have the Master Certification.

Delran Middle School guidance counselor Jeffrey DeNick had an exciting spring, too. The Moorestown High School boys swimming coach was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. He was one of 39 coaches to receive the 2019 honor.

As of DeNick’s March induction, his teams nabbed two state championship titles, made 17 state playoff appearances and, at one point, completed a 48-meet winning streak.

In October, President Donald Trump announced the winners of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Among them was DHS science teacher Siobhan McVay.

“It’s an amazing honor to be recognized for your work,” McVay said after attending a special event for all winners in Washington, D.C.

The Delran School District wasn’t only in the national spotlight this year – it had international ties, too.

At the end of October, delegates from China’s Zhjiang Provincial Department of Education visited the high school as part of a sister school program between Zhjiang, Kean University and Wenzhou-Kean University. DeMichele and Hutchinson introduced the visitors to the Delran Innovation and Fabrication Lab – or Fab Lab – while student STEM ambassadors worked hands-on to teach the delegation about different technology.

“I think it was transformative for the STEM ambassadors to be teaching someone that doesn’t speak their language about the Fab Lab,” DeMichele said. “There’s an opportunity for people to learn and grow together.”

While the Fab Lab was in use through the fall, it had its official unveiling in mid-November, further supporting the district’s “STEM for all” motto. The state-of-the-art facility was presented on Nov. 12 by the Delran Township Board of Education and Delran STEM Ecosystem Alliance, with a keynote address by Congressman Andy Kim. The BOE also received a proclamation from New Jersey Senator Troy Singleton.

“This evening marks an historic event that began with a vision supporting rigorous learning environments in the area of STEM technology,” Superintendent Brotschul said at the unveiling.

Sports stars

In November, The Delran Sun’s sister publication, South Jersey Sports Weekly, named Delran High School’s Ryan Burrell its 2019 Boys Soccer Player of the Year. After moving from midfield to forward this season, the senior captain for the Bears led Delran with 19 goals and 11 assists to help the Bears to a sectional title and a berth in the Group 2 state championship game.

“I love the game,” Burrell said. “I watch it every Saturday morning when the Premier League is on. Me and my dad just talk about soccer 24/7. It’s pretty much our conversation at home.”

Earlier in the year, SJSW sat down with Delran’s two-sport star R.J. Moten during baseball season. The junior can supply power from the mound, at the plate and on both sides of the ball on the gridiron – and also had his sights on playing both baseball and football at a Division-I college.

That aspiration will come to fruition for Moten, who told SJSW during a pre-football season story in August that he committed to play both sports at the University of Michigan.

“Everything is just a blessing,” Moten said in August. “I thought Michigan felt right. When I stepped on the campus for the first time, it felt like home. Even the second time when I committed, I just walked off campus with a big smile on my face, but committing to Michigan doesn’t really give me any type of different focus this year.

“It’s not going to make me play any differently or be a different type of teammate,” continued Moten. “We’re trying to put Delran back on the map and we’re here to push each other to that. We have some real ballers on the team, and a lot of us are going to end up playing somewhere.”

The Bears didn’t improve their record this year, but they did stay steady, ending the season 8-2, and were co-champions in the West Jersey Football League Patriot Division.

Delran had another champion in the spring: Delran High School’s softball team knocked off host Audubon in the South Jersey Group 2 championship game to collect the program’s first sectional championship since 1995. Junior Lindsey Cramer led the Bears from the mound, striking out 141 batters in 21 games.

High school sports stars weren’t the only ones that shined – an older contingent also made its mark in SJSW.

In August, longtime Delran resident Bill Curzie talked baseball with SJSW. Curzie founded the South Jersey Men’s Senior Baseball League in 1991 when he was 57 years old. More than a quarter century later, Curzie continues to play for the Delran Cardinals in the 65+ age division in the John A. DeBenedictis League, an eight-team league with games running from late April through early October.

In August, Curzie and teammates Tommy Gaherty and Steve Elliott said they have no plans on slowing down.

“Every time I go up to the plate, I work with my guardian angel,” Curzie said. “I thank God every day. Probably a few times.”

People in the news

Delran natives were busy in 2019.

DHS graduates Miranda Powell and Bill Haas spearheaded another Camden Comic Con in April – a completely free, family-friendly event held at Rutgers University-Camden campus. Camden Comic Con drew thousands of people and featured workshops, vendor tables, live music, costume contests and more.

“Camden Comic Con is so different from any other convention you can think of, number one, because we keep it completely free for our attendees. That mainly started because all of our public programs at Rutgers are free. We’re a civically engaged campus,” Powell, the school’s Arts Education and Community Arts programmer, said.

Also in April, Delran resident and Rutgers University student Samantha Booth once again advocated for student financial aid on the national level, traveling to Washington, D.C., to speak with federal legislators for the third time.

“The experience was very humbling,” Booth said. “I went for the people who experienced student federal financial aid and they shared stories, such as first-generation students not having enough money to attend college. Hearing those stories and seeing those people be able to receive an education is very humbling. It also makes me feel more engaged in the political system because I’m going and actually advocating for something on behalf of other people.”

Booth, who was slated to graduate in May, said higher education policy would always be something holding her interest.

Retirement was one for the books for resident John Toppin – quite literally. The former school principal found a new passion writing investigative and historical fiction novels in retirement, and he published his third novel, “Little Girl Lost,” earlier this year – and was already working on his fourth, “Incident at the Chehalis River Bridge.”

“I always thought about writing,” Toppin said, who found inspiration for his first books through newspaper articles.

Toppin wasn’t the only one sharing his writing this year. Resident Elizabeth Crognale scribed a personal story of inspiration in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels All Around.” Working with her sister-in-law, Crognale put pen to paper to detail an experience she and her husband had with who they believe was an angel during Crognale’s hospitalization during cancer treatment. She hoped sharing her story would encourage others during trying times.

Delran Business Association member Joe Chascsa took action to help those in his community four years ago, and he continued those efforts in the fall with his Suits for Soldiers campaign. The Delran resident started collecting and donating suits when he became part of Farmers Insurance Company. The campaign benefits soldiers transitioning from active duty to civilian life.

“The campaign came from the idea that the men and women who serve in the military don’t join it to become millionaires … when their time to serve is up and they head into civilian life, we want to help provide them with the attire that could get them a job. To help the transition. We can do something to ease their financial burden,” Chascsa said.

Karen Siugzda also aimed to change people’s lives in 2019 – through laughter yoga. Siugzda became an instructor in the craft to spread positivity through the healing factor of laughter.

“The basic premise of laughter yoga is to laugh on purpose without using jokes or comedy,” Siugzda said. “I discovered laughter yoga about nine years ago. I was going through a really hard time in my life and I decided to try it … The experience I had from that first class was incredible and I knew I had to share this with others.”

Siugzda’s classes at the Cinnaminson Library do not include any actual yoga; the class will begin seated on the floor and start with breathing exercises before moving toward laughter exercises.

“I’m really glad I can lead a class and bring out that inner joy and inner child we have inside of us.”