Even though he’s said he’s not “the guy” behind the Haddonfield Outdoor Sculpture Trust, Stuart Harting is the chairman of the organization dedicated to expanding the minds of residents and beautifying the downtown core through a series of artistic fixtures.
Harting was named the 2020 Haddonfield Citizen of the Year at the annual Mayor’s Breakfast on Jan. 18. That honor arrived just over a week after HOST hosted the 20th installation the group has overseen: a series of three triangular pieces dubbed “Three States of Being” on the front lawn of Grace Episcopal Church.
“There’s so many people in Haddonfield that work so hard that really deserve this. Even though they’re not named and standing here, I feel like I have to share this with everyone, because we all work so hard for the town,” Harting said.
“I gotta thank my family. I really had no idea. My wife was sick this morning and yesterday and I had no idea she could even get out of bed. The whole thing was just so hidden. And it’s really, really appreciated.”
Harting entered 2020 having already been honored with the Alfred E. Driscoll Award last year by the Haddonfield Civic Association for his work toward bringing public art to the borough. He used his temporary pulpit at First Presbyterian Church to lay down a challenge to those in attendance, particularly the HMHS LEOs and Boy Scouts, who helped to serve the early meal.
“I hope all of you – and the kids who are here – realize the value of being a volunteer. And I want to hear from everybody in the future. I want you to step up and continue to do what you do, not only for the Lions, but for the town at large.”
Harting then ruminated on the deep origins of his own desire to use his citizenship for a greater purpose.
“Going back about 50 years, Jack Tarditi and I were volunteers for the Junior Chamber of Commerce and I was volunteering for different convicts getting out of prison,” he revealed during a Jan. 24 conversation with the Sun.
“My job was to find (the convict) a home and a job. The first one that I did sponsor was an armored car robber. Fortunately I was able to find him a job and a place to live. He was older than me. It took a long time. Most employers were frightened, didn’t want to take a chance.”
Harting also relayed a disturbing story from his early years working with Family and Adult Social Services in Camden County, when the idea of homes for those of different dispositions weren’t exactly welcomed.
“When I first joined, there were group homes for people to live in and (people opposed to the idea) would attack the homes before anybody could move in, take out all the copper wiring and rip the electrics apart, to try and prevent that.”
“We brought the FBI in a number of times to remedy that situation. I think group homes have come a long way in the last 30 years as far as acceptance into communities. Regulations and government oversight have increased tremendously, and that’s to the advantage of those with behavioral issues.”
Harting additionally mused on the recent history of the multitude of residents who do their part – sometimes silently – to make things work.
“All of our boards in town are volunteer: zoning board, historical society … and then there’s a whole slew of people we don’t consider, who step up and get involved in coaching sports. You multiply that by every group of people who are here, and you have literally hundreds volunteering at once,” he said.
One thing which places Haddonfield in rarified air, is the sheer quantity of volunteer positions available that don’t revolve around membership with a board. Harting dispensed some valuable advice for parents of children old enough to become aware of their community and the world around it.
“Parents should just take each child by the hand, and involve them in something for just a couple hours at a time. All the kids should get involved in something, at an early age,” he offered.
A member of the local Rotary, Harting has seen first-hand how Rotaract has impacted high-school aged volunteers. With HOST, he wants to see younger children take an active interest in the children’s sculpture zoo – elementary school kids as “zookeepers” to help maintain its unique art. As a proud borough resident, his wish is for adults to maintain Haddonfield’s reputation.
“The people power in this town is tremendous,” Harting said in his closing remarks at the Mayor’s Breakfast.
“I ask everyone here, to just ask one person to volunteer for some activity. And I know that everybody here can get one. Can you imagine what kind of action and activity that would have? It would just boost us so much.”