Palmyra’s year in review

2019 has been a year of personal and community achievements for Palmyra.

STEPHEN FINN The Sun: Before their graduation ceremony, Palmyra High School’s graduating class gather in the cafeteria preparing for the big moment.

The year 2019 has been one of personal and community achievements for Palmyra. Its residents have been honored with several prestigious awards. Local government has held a variety of events and celebrated some major victories and several organizations have raised money for different departments within the school district.

These represent just a few of the township’s biggest news stories of the year:


Palmyra High School’s NHS lends a hand to local critters

At Palmyra High School, the National Honor Society is about more than just good grades – it’s about good deeds and good character. This year, the group collected donations for the Almost Home Animal Shelter in nearby Pennsauken as a service project.

“Each year, the group selects a project. Last year [2018], we sent care packages to those affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” said National Honor Society advisor for Palmyra High School Sabrina Bonner.

“We put together care packages with everything from deodorant and toothpaste to canned goods and we shipped them out to them because they didn’t have supplies.”

NHS member Sara Smyth comes from a family of animal lovers, so for her the service project was a natural fit. She had previous experience fostering kittens through shelters such as Almost Home and contacted the organization to inquire about what items it  needed. She then designed a flier for the project, asking for donations based on the shelter’s needs.

“There are different things I found on their list that you would have never thought to bring in, so I feel like it will be more beneficial than doing a regular collection,” said Smyth. “Towels are one of the big ones, and heating pads.”

Palmyra schools address student safety

ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) is a training program to prepare schools and organizations for an emergency situation.

The Palmyra School District hosted a community information session at Charles Street Elementary School on Feb. 28 about the implementation of ALICE training throughout the district. The information session was led by Superintendent Brian McBride, Safety and Security Officer Richard Dreby and School Resource Officer Omar Kendall. 

According to, “ALICE training instructor-led classes provide preparation and a plan for individuals and organizations on how to more proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event. Whether it is an attack by an individual person or by an international group of professionals intent on conveying a political message through violence, ALICE training in option-based tactics have become the accepted response, versus the traditional ‘lockdown only’ approach.”

Charles Street kicks off Read Across America

Elementary schools across the nation recognize the March 2 birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel —  the author and illustrator more famously known as Dr. Seuss — with a celebration of reading. 

The National Education Association started Read Across America in 1997 to celebrate and promote reading at an early age. Dr. Seuss is responsible for introducing countless young people to reading and his birthday represents a perfect opportunity for schools to get kids excited about books.

Starting on March 4 this year, a week full of activities at Charles Street Elementary School centered around the Read Across America program. Throughout the week, the school opened its doors to a number of guest readers from the community and enjoyed a variety of activities celebrating reading.

Charles Street School’s educator of the year

Each year, schools throughout the state nominate outstanding staff members to be recognized as part of the New Jersey Educator of the Year Program. 

According to the state Department of Education, the program highlights educational innovation, student achievement, the rewards of teaching and important services outside the classroom environment that lead to student success. 

This year, at Charles Street School in Palmyra, first-grade teacher Kristine Stagliano was chosen as an educator who exemplifies those qualities. It was a complete surprise to her, but obviously a welcome one.

“It took a while for it to really settle in,” she said.

Still credits trailblazers for her years of basketball success

Valerie Still loves nothing more than promoting good news and encouraging others.

As the Palmyra School District’s public information officer, Still spent lots of time each week sharing news about student accomplishments within the district. She’s not someone to talk about herself, even though she finds herself in an elite group of female basketball players.

The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame announced Still would be inducted into the hall as part of the Class of 2019. The induction ceremony took place in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 8.

Still’s basketball playing career includes countless accolades. She played at the University of Kentucky from 1979 to 1983, scoring 2,763 points and recording 1,525 rebounds. Those numbers remain the school records for both the men’s and women’s programs.

Still would go on to play professional basketball for more than 15 years, with more than a decade in Italy, where she was an eight-time Italian League all-star. She came back to the United States in the late 1990s to play for the Columbus Quest of the American Basketball League, where she led her team to two championships. After the league folded, Still finished her career with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA.

“As a child, you don’t see all of the outside influences,” Still said about the people who didn’t want her to play sports. “I wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to be a professional athlete. If you’re true to yourself and really follow your passion, everything else … falls into place.”

PHS holds second annual Panther Con 

School can be a scary place for a young person, especially one making a transition into a new building with new faces and an older student population.

Palmyra High School aimed to ease some of that anxiety and remind kids that school can also be a place for friends and community through its annual Panther Con celebration on Feb. 15. 

The event, in its second year, was open to parents and students and featured a little something for everyone. For one night, the school’s gym was transformed into something resembling the floor of a comic book convention, complete with costumed superheroes and characters from a wide variety of popular movie franchises such as “Star Wars.”

“For us, it’s a chance to get the whole community into our high school; we have a very small community and it’s a shame to not have everybody here know each other,” said Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Stacey Saia, who came to the event dressed as Ursula from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

‘High School Musical’ hits the stage

Palmyra High School’s Palmyra Players attempted something a little different for their spring play. Director Lynn Lofland, who in previous years directed students in classics such as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “The Music Man,” left this year’s play selection up to her students. They opted for more modern fare with their choice of Disney’s “High School Musical.” 

The play follows star high school athlete Troy Bolton, who falls for “nerdy” beauty Gabriella Montez. The two end up auditioning for the upcoming school musical while simultaneously juggling their existing obligations to the basketball team and the academic decathlon.   

Although Lofland said this particular play wouldn’t have been her first choice — she prefers to expose young people to traditional works — her students’ show of dedication and work ethic over the course of several rehearsals won her over.

“It’s worked out better than I thought it would because they really have taken ownership of it,” said Lofland. “They take responsibility, they work together and they’ve designed a lot of the choreography.”

Scalise graduates from Burlington County Fire Academy

Frank Scalise was honored at his graduation from the Burlington County Fire Academy Firefighter One Program on Jan. 8. Looking back, he says he never expected to come so  far with firefighting.

Scalise joined Palmyra’s Independence Fire Department in April 2018. He needed service hours before graduating high school and volunteering at his local fire department seemed like an easy way to complete them.

“At the time, I didn’t think of the fire department as a long-term commitment, but after I was there a few weeks, it turned into something I could possibly want to do for the rest of my life,” Scalise said.

“It really pulled me in, the camaraderie, the leadership and skills that you learn.”

Riverton Library celebrates childhood reading

The Riverton Free Library came alive with music and dance on Jan. 28, all in celebration of reading. Sing-along songs and dance took the place of the usual quiet and calm of a library for an anniversary celebration of the 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative.  

Libraries throughout the county have been celebrating the anniversary with a party for children participating in the initiative, whether they have completed their 1,000 books or are new to the program.

The program is a nationwide initiative that encourages parents to read to children at a young age. Participants keep track of how many books they’ve read or have had read to them using Beanstack, a reading challenge app. Each milestone reached earns the child an online badge he or she can show at the local library to be featured on a wall of fame.

“For little kids, it’s like practice for when you’re in school,” said Riverton librarian Nancy Fort. “It helps them to socialize, to sit and pay attention, and it’s always great to have books read to you, so it really helps to develop that language that they need.”

Palmyra’s Phoenix 15 Studio supports Relay for Life

Palmyra resident Jeanie Klein has a passion for fundraising when it comes to causes she believes in.

Through the years, she has raised money for leukemia and junior diabetes research and the American Heart Association, and has participated in Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge event. 

As if all of that wasn’t enough, she also co-chairs the committee for her local Relay for Life events and has been raising money for the American Cancer Society for 10 years. Klein was hooked after participating in her first Relay for Life event.

“It inspired me to get more involved, so I did,” she said. “I was so impressed; there were all these adults and kids of all different ages up all night long selling cookies, eating, talking, having a good time. It was awesome.”

Klein teamed with Phoenix 15 Studios in Palmyra on March 30 for a unique fundraiser. It  was her third time teaming with the art studio, owned by residents Frances and Gene Davis.

Heroes Foundation presents soccer club with AED 

The Palmyra Riverton Soccer Club is all about fun and the love of the game, but when it comes to the safety of its athletes, it isn’t playing around.

“It’s on everybody’s mind,” said Tim Beck, president of the club.

That concern for players recently led South Jersey Soccer League board member Scott Hartman to send an application to the Heroes Foundation for an automated external defibrillator (AED) to keep on site at Legion Field, where the soccer club holds practice.

The foundation granted Hartman’s request and on March 27, Grace Nucifore, a representative from the foundation, showed up at Legion Field to present the club with its own AED.

“It’s just a positive for everybody to have something close and know where it is,” said Beck.

Local historian talks Palmyra home owned by Titanic survivor

A piece of history hit the market in Palmyra earlier this year. A property at 521 Leconey Ave., listed for $204,900 on real estate brokerage website Redfin, was described as “a magnificent Victorian home with 9-foot ceilings, crown and ceiling moldings.”

What the listing failed to mention is the property was once owned by August Henry Weikman, a survivor and the sole American crew member of the RMS Titanic.

According to Will Valentino, trustee of the Palmyra Historical and Cultural Society, the home’s historical significance to Palmyra goes back even further than Weikman’s time as its owner. 

Before Weikman moved to Palmyra in the 1890s, the home was built by Rebecca Lore, the daughter of Isaiah Toy, a local politician and landowner who gave Palmyra its name in 1849.

Fast forward to 1921: Weikman returns to his hometown a local hero after the sinking of the Titanic. Wheelchair-bound after suffering severe frostbite to his legs, he had to be wheeled from the train station, where he was met with crowds of people eagerly awaiting the return of one of the 706 people to survive the Titanic disaster.

Palmyra Cove celebrates 50th anniversary of moon landing

The Palmyra Cove Nature Park celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in grand style July 19, with a kickoff event for its Weekend on the Moon at the park’s Institute for Earth Observations.

Throughout the weekend, the institute ran educational programs, including planetarium shows, NASA STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) challenges, virtual and augmented reality experiences in the innovation lab and solar viewing with sun scopes. 

“We’re proud to be celebrating this historical event with help from our friends and colleagues from NASA,” said Palmyra Cove Nature Park and Institute for Earth Observations Executive Director John Moore.

“But we’re also proud to be able to offer visitors a firsthand look at how these experiments on the moon were conducted, thanks to a scientifically accurate, virtual reality program developed right here at the Institute for Earth Observations.”

Epworth celebrates 10 years of fighting hunger

Through its work with the Bread of Life Food Pantry, Epworth United Methodist Church has  fed the hungry throughout the area for the last 10 years. 

Although the pantry is housed in the Epworth building, according to Pastor Charlie Soper, it has been kept alive through the efforts of several churches throughout the area.

“The food pantry works because of all the cooperation of a number of the houses of worship within Palmyra, Cinnaminson and Riverton,” said Soper.

To celebrate the success of its food pantry program and all the people and organizations responsible for that success, the church held a 10-year anniversary celebration block party on Sept. 15 outside of its building on 5th Street. 

According to Soper, the block party was open to the whole community and featured food, live music, a bounce house and games for kids.

Grove Park renamed after former Police Chief Flournoy

Palmyra officially renamed Grove Park in honor of former Police Chief Payton Flournoy Saturday, Sept. 7.

Known for his character and pride for Palmyra, the community and residents from all around gathered to honor the late chief.

According to Mayor Michelle Arnold, Flournoy was the first African American chief ever to be appointed in Palmyra and in Burlington County. He is also universally believed to be the first African American chief of police in the country. 

“He was an upstanding man,” said Arnold. “Everyone respected him and had nothing but positive things to say about him. The fact that he was the first African American chief of police in Burlington County, the state and widely believed the nation, that is overshadowed by the integrity of the man.”

PHSFEE looks to update art department

The Palmyra High School Foundation for Educational Excellence (PHSFEE) held its third annual casino night Oct. 5. The fundraiser brought together parents, teachers and the community to celebrate and benefit the high school.

Over the last two years, PHSFEE has raised more than $30,000 at casino night, enabling it to support the Palmyra High School science department by supplying funds for items that may not have been budgeted. This year’s event’s proceeds were earmarked for the art department.

“On behalf of PHSFEE, I would like to thank our local businesses for your sponsorships and donations,” said Christine Murnane, board of trustee and Casino Night co-chair. “Thank you to the numerous volunteers, our Palmyra High School Interact Club students, Sacred Heart Church and our close-knit community for coming together to support all the children of Palmyra High School. Your response was overwhelming and greatly appreciated.”

Council hopes ‘A Day Without Water’ goes beyond one day

A proclamation signed by Palmyra Borough Council in October encourages residents to think about an essential, yet often overlooked, part of everyday life – water.

The proclamation designated Oct. 23 as “A Day Without Water” in the borough, meant to be held in conjunction with New Jersey American Water’s fifth annual Imagine a Day Without Water public awareness campaign.

Led by the Value of Water Campaign, the day focuses on educating the public about the importance of accessible water and the crucial need for investment in water infrastructure nationwide. 

According to New Jersey American Water, while water is imperative for many everyday functions, it often remains overlooked due to the accessibility to quality water in this country. Not much thought is given to the journey water travels from source to tap, undergoing hundreds of tests and treatments and flowing through many miles of main.

In a state as old as New Jersey, it may not come as a surprise that much of the state’s aging water infrastructure requires investment, considering New Jersey’s pipes have been working around the clock for 100 years or more.

Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity to bring the issue to light, one of the main reasons why Councilwoman Bernadette Russell wanted to present the day to the borough council and why the rest of the members agreed to bring it to Palmyra.