Harrison Township offers citizens chance for tangible remembrances

Memorials to be etched on benches within Ella Harris Park.

Sample model of a memorial message which Harrison Township residents can ask to be placed on one of its benches within Ella Harris Park. The new memorial bench program, backed by the Recreation Commission, is looking to place memorials on all 16 of its current fixtures in the park. (Photo credit: Harrison Township Recreation Commission/Special to the Sun)

Harrison Township’s Recreation Commission wants to turn a relaxing section of Ella Harris Park into a memorial space by offering families an opportunity to be part of its Memorial Bench Program. 

Whether you have lost a loved one in recent months to COVID-19 or to any other illness, or if you simply want to recognize a local organization or honor someone else who holds a special place in your heart, the township is offering the chance for permanent recognition. 

Recreation Director for Harrison Township, Sharon Chew, noted that when she arrived in 2007, the township already had a few different benches engraved. She thought it would be a great idea to continue the bench engravings, and extended the program to include those who have been lost to the pandemic.

“We’re continuously trying to keep the park in good shape and attractive, she said. “One day while I was up there at lunch, I saw several benches needed to be rehabbed and thought we could do that as memorial benches.”

The renewal of the program won’t be limited to honoring those who passed due to illness, as Chew revealed the township received different calls from families for relatives who they just wanted to remember, as well as calls to memorialize deceased pets. 

“We’re always working on beautifying the park and to do things for residents during this tough time to give them something to look forward to when they go up to the park,” she added. “We’ve had to think outside the box all along. We’re up to nine benches already that are dedicated for people in Harrison.” 

To complete the task, Chew said the township will pair with Jeremy Binkley — who met with Chew at the end of summer to see if he could be of service — and his crew at a local woodworking shop to handle all message engraving. It’s a change from the first wave of bench memorials, which were completed with help from a company in nearby Pitman, that, to Chew’s surprise, no longer had the appropriate tools for the job.

“The actual repurposing of the benches is done in house with our own Public Works Department. They’re doing the painting,” Chew added. “Also, we’re not changing the location of the benches for this.” 

As far as the benches themselves, residents can get creative, but within limits: they’ll have space enough for up to three boards on the bench, which will be made from weather resistant trex composite wood. 

According to Chew, the engraving is done between each of the anchors for the back of the bench. Requestors’ messages are limited to 26 to 30 characters, including spaces, per each board. There are no limits to the content of a particular message. The Recreation Commission will contact residents within two days after receiving an order to personally go over the engraving on the chosen bench. 

“We will be utilizing all of the benches within Ella Harris Park, right now there are 16 total. We have several benches near the pavilion and playground area but also have many closer to our baseball fields and walking trail,” Chew said. 

There is currently no time limit to request a memorial, but the program is scheduled to last  until the remaining seven benches have been engraved. Chew wouldn’t commit when asked if that meant the program wouldn’t be extended if response was favorable. 

“It’s not to say at this point that we might not add additional benches and continue the program after we’ve sold the ones that are already there,” she offered. “But we have 16 total benches, some of which predate my tenure here, and nine spoken for. So it’s been very popular already.”

For any questions about the process before placing an order, contact the Recreation office at (856) 223-8777. To make an order, please visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/memorial-bench-program-ella-harris-park-tickets-119451222823.