On a warm, but otherwise gray Saturday morning, at an otherwise unspectacular plot of land outside one of the downtown core’s signature shops, Mary Previte was honored with a gift that should last longer than her grandchildren’s children.
Previte, a longtime Haddonfield resident who served the community as well as state government, passed away almost a year ago, at the age of 87, following injuries sustained when she was hit by a car.
In remembrance, the Shade Tree Commission set aside two trees to be planted: a white oak to take root at her longtime home of Roberts Avenue, and, on Oct. 10, a columnar red maple on Kings Highway just a couple paces from the iconic heart sculpture at Kings Court.
“This is a native tree. And though it’s local to this area, the reason we selected the Armstrong cultivar, is because it’s known as a columnar,” explained Robin Potter, chairperson of the STC.
“So if you look at the branches, right now they’re clustered together, they aren’t very vertical, they don’t extend outward very far. As the tree grows, it will expand, but the branches won’t stick out too much.
As with all real estate, tree selection and placement comes down to location, location, location. Since Armstrong red maples are expected to grow to only 50 feet high and only as wide as 20 feet, the new addition won’t be an impediment for vehicles parked along the strip, or an intrusion for residents who live in apartments directly in the tree’s vicinity.
“We wanted to find a tree that would be a good neighbor, just like Mary was a good neighbor,” Potter added.
Although cancelled in July due to COVID-19, the borough’s Fourth of July parade is an annual tradition, and for decades, Previte eagerly organized various activities for her home street’s own celebration of American independence.
“I like to call this the ‘Tree of Hope.’ Mary was truly remarkable, a woman of the borough and we miss her dearly,” said Mayor Neal Rochford. “I hope people will come by this tree often and think about Mary and all the contributions she made to Haddonfield. I want to thank the Garden Club. It’s a special community to be able to work with the borough to get this done.”
Speaking of horticulture, Previte played host to ordinary citizens and some notable public figures while presiding over her piece of land at Crows Woods Gardens.
“When Mary was serving in the state assembly, she met me. And I was running the campaign of people running against her. After that campaign, and after I became commissioner, I said ‘I think I want to get a plot and garden down there with my kids.’ Mary was the first person (to welcome me), and she was thrilled,” said Commissioner Jeffrey Kasko.
In 1998, Previte ran for and won a seat on the New Jersey State Assembly, representing the 6th District as a Democrat for four terms, until 2006. The post had been held previously by Republican John Rocco for more than a quarter century. But none of that mattered when it came down to plotting and planting and enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures.
“Never, ever did Mary and I have a disagreement going back to political stuff. She was a genuine person, who was real and didn’t take things personally in public service. Her and I had nothing but admiration and respect for one another,” Kasko continued.
That same admiration and respect, from the community and for Previte, drew more than two dozen people to a simple ceremony in the downtown core. It ended with a simple message.
“This has been a difficult year for all of us. We will get through the virus and everything else that we have to face over the next months and years, but how nice is it that we can mark this occasion and have something to remember her by,” Kasko concluded.