By the time the Cherry Hill Board of Education again allows the public to attend its meetings in person, the district’s headquarters may have a different name.
The Estelle V. Malberg Administration Building is expected to be renamed for former board member and township resident Arthur Lewis, who passed away in the summer of 2019. The proposal was put forth by the school superintendent, Dr. Joseph Meloche, and his fellow administrators.
During the Policy and Legislation Committee report at the board’s April 13 meeting, Vice President Kimberly Friddell explained that Lewis meets the criteria for renaming.
“He was on the school board, so naming the administration building where the school board office is, or school board meetings are held, seems to be appropriate,” Friddell explained.
Meloche went on to provide background on Lewis, the first African American elected to the board of education. Lewis served from 1977 until 1983, after he and his wife, Evelyn, settled in Cherry Hill to raise their family.
As an employee of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Lewis was the highest- ranking African American in the Department of Justice, a role bestowed by then- President Jimmy Carter. During his 24-year career with the DEA, Lewis worked undercover, posing as a drug dealer for 12 years before becoming the agency’s deputy regional director for Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.
In 1971, he was the first African American to be named the special agent in charge of the DEA’s mid-Atlantic region, and he continued to make history when he became the first Black interim director of the agency also under Carter.
Arthur and Evelyn were also founding members of the Cherry Hill African American Association, which Melcohe described as “one of the most philanthropic organizations in Cherry Hill.”
“He was truly a local advocate in terms of civil rights for students, for governmental employees and for citizens,” Meloche said.
Corrien Elmore Stratton, who also serves on the board’s Policy and Legislation Committee, said Meloche shared a presentation with the committee, during which he gave some background on the administration building and provided information on why the board wanted to rename it in Lewis’ honor. During that presentation, Melcohe said the district does not frequently change names and it’s been quite some time since they last did so, but the superintendent and the board found the honor important and fitting.
“As a school district, when we take steps forward to improve what we’re doing and how we’re doing things, the recognition of Mr. Lewis and the historical significance of what he contributed to Cherry Hill, we believe it’s a very fitting time to honor him,” Melcohe noted.
No formal action on the renaming was taken at the April 13 meeting.