The year in review: Looking back in Deptford

The top stories that made headlines in the Deptford Sun this year

Gov. Phil Murphy speaks at the Rowan College of South Jersey’s vaccine site to recognize the first doses distributed at the mega site. It is one of six mega sites across the state.

The year 2021 brought joy and recovery to Deptford Township as the tail end of the pandemic seemed to be in reach. With the start of COVID vaccine distribution and continued understanding of proper safety protocols, the township did not fear hosting more events, holding government officials accountable or spreading Deptford pride.

Here are the top stories that made headlines this year:

Better on the web

To start off the new year, Gloucester County launched its website redesign, with a new, clean look and customizable features for a user-friendly experience. And in March, Mayor Paul Medany helped launch the township’s own new and improved website to provide an accessible platform for residents.

The reorganization meeting at the start of the year provided an annual schedule of meetings and confirmation of the yearly budget. It wasn’t until April 19 that the township introduced the financial plan to the public, but it showed that for the 10th consecutive year, Deptford residents would not see a tax increase.

The township was awarded the Rutgers 59th annual municipal public information contest, in part because of Mayor Paul Medany’s weekly video messages to residents.

“This is a huge accomplishment for us because it included over 100 different municipalities,” Medany said.

In March, Deptford police developed a free weekly addiction-treatment program and took part in the Drug Enforcement Administration’s National TakeBack Day in April. Anyone with expired, unused, or unwanted prescription drugs was able to bring them to police headquarters for disposal.

In the midst of summer, Deptford’s mayor and council, along with the township parks and recreation department, sponsored a food truck and craft fair at Fasola Park, a five-hour event that included family activities, vendors and a beer garden.

The county board of commissioners and sheriff’s office offered specialized help this year to residents who might wander off or get lost due to Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome or other cognitive impairment, a program called Project Lifesaver.

“Gloucester County Freeholder Director Steve Sweeney, myself as deputy director and Sheriff Carmel Morina were passionate about launching this service in Gloucester County,” said Commissioner Director Robert Damminger. “We knew that having this program could save lives and was an opportunity to protect our disabled population.”

In the fall, a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center was set up at the Mullica Hill Library for those who needed assistance after Hurricane Ida ripped through the region, causing tornadoes in multiple areas. Fortunately for Deptford, minimal destruction was reported, but officials still helped those in need by sponsoring a community and storm relief barbeque.

“The families affected by this disaster needed a short break from the hours of work they have put into getting their homes and lives back together,” Medany said.

Early voting began for the governor’s election in October, and locally, the results saw four Democrats earn places on council by a slim margin: Wayne Love, Phil Schocklin, Bill Lamb and Ken Barnshaw. Republican candidates David Aber, Martin G. McDonough, Rich Nolan and Robin Vance were all featured in the Sun’s Meet the Candidates series.

During its Nov. 8 meeting, council implemented a No-Knock List to spare residents being solicited on their properties. It would give vendors, seasonal sellers and the like access to a list of homes off limits to them. Information on the list and how to register are expected to be provided in the upcoming year.

The annual Deptford fall festival on Oct. 9 boasted hay rides, gourmet food trucks and live music from Goodfellas Band. The family event at Andaloro Farm in Westville was sponsored by the Deptford mayor and council.

Puppies and Easter eggs

There was plenty of news about township events this year, activities that happened despite COVID precautions.

In February, residents cheered on three pups adopted through South Jersey’s MatchDog Rescue who were among contestants of Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. For those who wanted to give back to the community, the Gloucester County Cares About Hunger food drive took place in February.

Deptford hosted a free Easter egg hunt on March 27 at Fasola Park, and in May,
council started planning to relax COVID restrictions in the township. That led to community events such as movie nights and the development of the Pickleball courts at Fasola Park.

In early May, Deptford held its first farmers and crafts market, drawing nearly 40 vendors and local businesses for an outdoor event. Fasola Park hosted the township’s annual Juneteenth event, a long-standing tradition for African Americans that commemorates the date in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned they were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Gloucester County Board of Commissioners held its sixth annual Overdose Awareness Candlelight Vigil at James G. Atkinson Park on Aug. 31, National Overdose Awareness Day. More than 98 people who lost their substance abuse fight were remembered.

Throughout fall, the community center hosted a number of seasonal programs and activities for all ages. Many residents participated in classes like art, dance, beer making and language.

The annual Gloucester County Patriot Day ceremony on Sept. 11 marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and as it does every year, focused in part on local residents John Rodak, Nicholas W. Brandemarti and Perry Thompson, who were killed that day.

The Red, White and Blue Mayor 5K Run/Walk occurs every year, but the 2021 version had an overwhelming response. Runners and walkers were able to choose a standard 5K experience or a designated lane for participants showered in red, white and blue colors during the race.

The annual Deptford fall festival on Oct. 9 boasted hay rides, gourmet food trucks and live music from Goodfellas Band. The family event at Andaloro Farm in Westville was sponsored by the mayor and council. One of the most popular events of the year was the annual trunk-or-treat, where guests, businesses and township officials decorated their trunks and handed out candy to trick or treaters.

The 2021 Best of Gloucester County awards ceremony honored several local businesses, among them the Deptford Fence Company and event host Deptford Signarama.

Learning to live with COVID

At the start of the year, teachers were awarded for their accomplishments in the year prior, including COVID obstacles. Deptford science and social studies instructor Heather Imhof won Oak Valley Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year award.

Deptford science and social studies instructor Heather Imhof wins the Oak Valley Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year award.

Imhof started out as a substitute teacher for the Deptford school district before landing a job as an English language arts and social studies teacher before shifting subjects four years ago.

“We don’t have enough women in the STEM field,” Imhof said, referring to science and math learning. “I want to be a role model for girls. Especially show them it’s not that daunting, it’s not intimidating.”

Deptford High School teacher Kevin Sherry also won the Teacher of the Year award at his alma mater. Sherry has been working at Deptford since 2006; he teaches health and physical education while also coaching boys track and field and varsity soccer.

The township school district celebrated the official groundbreaking of the Deptford Middle School expansion in March. The school, formerly known as Monongahela Middle School, is now on its way to getting long-discussed upgrades.

As COVID restrictions were lifted, Deptford students were given more opportunities to express themselves and celebrate accomplishments. The high school’s June production of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” marked its first outdoor performance. Later that month, the Class of 2021 turned their tassels at the conclusion of a standard graduation ceremony no longer hampered by COVID.

Deptford’s board of education in June implemented the American Rescue Plan, a fund that offers relief for students at K-12 schools who suffered learning losses because of COVID. The district started to lift COVID restrictions and limited online learning at the start of the new school year.

The Gloucester County Institute of Technology returned to full capacity, and many other schools in the township followed suit. GCIT also started to reopen services like its student run hair salon and bakery.

Lake Tract Elementary School’s annual food drive collected 5,120 items to help replenish the pantry at Emmanuel Cancer Foundation in Woodbury Heights.

People who need people

Dr. Cesar Depaço and his wife receive a shadowbox from the Deptford Police Department in June, almost two years after the doctor’s donation of new K-9 Pelo.

Longtime Deptford resident Steve Solomone passed away in early February, leaving behind a legacy of winning and caring for all those who met him. The former Gloucester County College (now Rowan College of South Jersey) men’s basketball coach amassed a 301-48 career record with the Roadrunners from 1991 to 2001.

More tragedy ensued in Deptford this year, as lifelong resident John Grabbe and his wife Jenn had their lives forever altered in April after losing everything but the clothes on their backs to a devastating fire at their Evelyn Drive home. But with the help of friends and family, a fundraiser titled A Taste of Philly in West Deptford was held for the couple in May.

“Our community is awesome, and so many people have come forward to help,” said Grabbe family friend Carol Axelrod. “It just amazes me how people step up during their time of need.”

Stellato’s Market in Wenonah donated sandwiches to first responders in local towns all year, including a tray of food for the police department. Many others were highlighted for giving back to the Deptford community, one of whom was senior Eric Strouse, who planned the full rehabilitation of a neglected ball field at Almonesson Creek Park for his Eagle Scout project.

“I wanted to turn it into a place where little leaguers and neighborhood kids could play,” Strouse said in March after completing the project and earning his Eagle rank.

Also in March, Deptford’s Alan Willoughby became one of 45 artists selected to have his work, in this case ceramic vases, exhibited by the Newark Museum of Art for a summer exhibit.

“I’m very honored and excited,” Willoughby said. “As an artist, this past year in particular, I see us as a country faced with many challenges. And it’s hard for me to work in a studio and not make something that has some connection to the world around me.”

While school was out for the summer, Deptford resident and Vineland teacher Jeanne Andrews was one of 219 music instructors from across the country named quarter finalists for the 2022 Music Educator Award, sponsored in part by the Grammy Foundation.

“I never thought I would be connected with the Grammy Foundation, and I never even dreamed it was a possibility,” she said. “I am honored, proud and surprised all at the same time.”

Mary Schneider, president of the Gloucester County Women’s Club, gives back all year by running multiple charitable events through the club, including stuffing stockings for the troops and monetary donations to various nonprofits. The club also donated 75 backpacks filled with school supplies as well as lunch bags to schools in Gloucester County.

In October, the Boys and Girls Club of Gloucester County hosted a fall gala to benefit the organization’s after-school programs. Proceeds included a hefty donation from entrepreneur and board member John Michael Paz, who was honored that night.

Active military members in the township and county were honored on Veterans Day, including student and marine corporal Vinu Joseph. He was named Student Veteran of the Year at Gloucester County’s annual Veterans Day ceremony at Rowan College of South Jersey.

“I know sometimes, myself included, that we take our lives for granted,” he said. “But we are in the greatest nation in the world, and it’s only because of our veterans that fight for it every single day.”

Play ball!

January marked the return of high-school sports after they were hampered in 2020 by COVID. Safety precautions were implemented for both players and attendees.

While many seniors couldn’t celebrate their milestones because of a gap year forced by the pandemic, Deptford junior Brianna Stocklin was able to record a rare 100th career hit in May in a game against Collingswood.

“During preseason last year, before it eventually got cancelled, Stocklin had said that was her ultimate goal,” Coach Mindy Coxe said. “She wanted to reach 100 hits by the end of her junior year.”

In June, Deptford’s track team won back-to-back sectional outdoor titles, with seniors Julian Rodriguez and John Adams maintaining the team’s championship titles from 2019.

“I wasn’t able to really be on the team that won the sectional title in 2019, and that motivated me to really work harder, to get back there my junior year,” said Adams.

At the start of the current academic year, a celebration of the high school’s new Spartan Stadium attracted former and current coaches and athletes.