The year in review: Looking back in Mantua

The top stories that made headlines in Mantua this year

Like many instructors, J. Mason Tomlin art teacher Nicole Jordan had to teach two-thirds of the school year online through Zoom because of COVID.

As the pandemic slowly escalated, Mantua Township proved that 2021 was a year of hope and betterment for the community. As the COVID vaccine started to be distributed at the very beginning of the year, restrictions were lifted and more Mantua residents started to thrive as normalcy seemed within reach.

Here are the top stories that made headlines in Mantua 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.

In the annual reorganization meeting on Jan. 4, John Legge started his third term with the Mantua Township committee after winning a close race in the 2020 election.

“I appreciate that the residents put their faith in me to reelect me,” Legge said in a conversation with The Sun. “It’s kind of hard to believe that the last term went by so fast.”

The Gloucester County Board of Commissioners and the county sheriff’s office started offering specialized help this year to residents who might wander off or get lost due to Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome or other cognitive impairment, through 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.”

Mantua Township held its annual county based cleanup event in late April, where residents volunteered to pick up litter in areas around the community. And on April 24, the police department rolled out the #StraighttoTreatment program to assist those struggling with addiction.

In the fall, a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) was developed at the Mullica Hill Library for those who needed assistance after Hurricane Ida ripped through the region, causing tornadoes in multiple areas. With Mantua in the eye of the storms, damage was plenty, but no residents were severely injured.

The township committee recognized September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month through a proclamation presented to Tom DiRusso, of the organization End of Prostate Cancer, which educates men about the importance of prostate screenings.

“I asked to present this proclamation on behalf of the township, as this disease has directly impacted my family,” Legge said. “My dad is a prostate cancer survivor.”

Early voting for the gubernatorial election started in October. Democrats Shawn K. Layton and Robert Zimmerman won their race against Republican opponents Ryan Campbell and Jake Cheesman. Campbell was fewer than 100 votes away from beating incumbent Layton.

Vaccines and vigils

A GoFundMe page was launched in April to support reconstruction of a new pavilion at VFW Post 7679, after a strong wind storm caused the first one to collapse. Volunteers helped rebuild and more than $10,000 was raised for the effort.

Inspira Health started administering the Pfizer COVID vaccine to health-care workers in January. Rowan College of South Jersey was one of six mega sites across the state distributing the shots at the beginning of the year.

In February, residents cheered on three pups adopted through South Jersey’s MatchDog Rescue who were among contestants in the Super Bowl’s furrier counterpart, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl. And later that month, residents gave back to the community through the Gloucester County Cares About Hunger food drive.

Mantua’s and Mullica Hill’s Healthy Kids Running Series returned for its spring session in April with COVID safety protocols in place. The program encourages children to exercise by having them race in appropriate age groups for fun.

A GoFundMe page was launched in April to support reconstruction of a new pavilion at VFW Post 7679, after a strong wind caused its collapse. Volunteers in the community helped rebuild the structure, a project that was in the works for a decade, and more than $10,000 was raised.

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.

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 killed that day: John Rodak, Nicholas W. Brandemarti and Perry Thompson.

The Boys and Girls Club of Gloucester County hosted a fall gala in October whose proceeds benefited the organization’s after-school programs. The event raised thousands of dollars, including a hefty donation from entrepreneur and board member John Michael Paz, who was honored that night.

The food pantry Your Place at the Table was spotlighted during the year for its efforts to serve about 65 needy families a month. The pantry typically serves people in Mullica Hill, Mantua, East Greenwich, South Harrison, and Elk, towns without their own pantries. Since the pandemic began, Your Place at the Table has not turned anyone away.

Sparing spare change

The Clearview Regional High School District’s seventh annual Hoagies 4 Hope fundraiser on Super Bowl Sunday benefitted families with medical and financial difficulties. And Clearview parents created a Parents of the Clearview Class of 2021 group in October of the previous year to help students struggling during the pandemic. They gave out prizes to the 390 seniors sponsored by local businesses.

More Clearview news came when senior Sophia Gambill was named one of more than 4,500 candidates in the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. Clearview students Ishareet Sohal and Luke Walters also received $1,000 scholarships from the Heart Community Scholarship Foundation for leadership in the community.

This year, Clearview was named the best high school in Gloucester County, according to U.S. News & World Report. The report ranked more than 17,800 public high schools nationwide, measuring how well they serve students from various social and economic backgrounds.

The Boys and Girl Scouts were back in action this year after COVID restrictions brought many programs to a halt. Mantua’s Troop 7083 honored five Eagle Scouts on May 16 with the organization’s highest rank, thanks to their more than 700 community service hours completed in 2019 and 2020.

Clearview students Matthew Krokenberger, Tim Bonaventure, Noah Kizer, and Daniel Levine, and Gloucester County Institute of Technology student John Koza all crossed from Boy Scouts to Eagle ranks.

A May fundraiser saw J. Mason Tomlin students donate spare change totaling $1,803 to Mantua’s K-9 unit. Tomlin students Avellin Wells and Seamus McGinty were named winners of the Species on the Edge Art and Essay Contest in Gloucester County. One winner from each state county was selected.

“I picked the golden-winged warbler because it looked interesting and none of my classmates were picking it,” said Wells, who placed first in the county.

As an end-of-the year project, Clearview teacher Jennifer Smith Satterfield organized a pen pal program so her students could write personal letters to children in Kibera, Kenya.

“Between my social studies class, my SURE Club, and a few other groups in the school, students made encouraging and inspirational cards for these kids,” she said.

At the end of the 2020-’21 school year, the Clearview’ district’s board of education implemented the federal American Rescue Plan, a fund that offers relief for students at K-12 schools who suffered learning losses because of COVID.

Schools started to lift COVID restrictions and limited online learning in September to start off the new school year. Gloucester County Institute of Technology returned to full capacity, and many other schools in the township followed suit.

In the fall, it was announced that Mantua school Superintendent Robert Miles would resign his position, effective Dec. 31. Miles assumed the role in August 2020, but he was not expected to complete the 2021-’22 school year as superintendent.

“I have had a great relationship with the board, staff and community, but have decided to take a step back for a few years while my kids are young,” Miles explained.

After raising over $500, Klara Pedersen and her mom this summer paid for about 60 children’s books for donation to school libraries in Mantua and surrounding elementary schools. The J. Mason Tomlin Elementary School student was crowned Little Miss Wheelchair in 2019 and has since used her platform for good.

People in the news

Mantua school teacher Meghan Marro was named the first woman chief in the Beach Haven Patrol’s history. Her qualifications include 10 years of experience as a lifeguard and as a physical education teacher at Tomlin elementary.

“I want to help people, whether that means saving lives or helping shape someone’s future or maybe just changing someone’s day for the better,” she noted.

Siblings and Clearview seniors Rory and Jackson Filinuk launched their apparel brand, True Ocean, in the spring. A portion of the profits will go toward keeping the oceans clean.

April saw the formation of Mantua nonprofit For Kitty’s Sake, a feline program that supplies new foster parents with anything a kitten needs, including food, litter and toys. Its owners are Melyssa Katz-Sampieri, Ann McCallion and Holly Reed.

“We are always looking for people to volunteer and donations,” said Reed.

In May, Gloucester County Hall of Fame member Tom Hengel reached a combined 100 seasons at Clearview, coaching sports from freshman boys basketball to girls track and field.

“If somebody had asked me back then how long I’d be coaching, I probably would have said five to 10 years,” Hengel said.

After raising more than $500, Klara Pedersen and her mom bought about 60 children’s books that will be donated to school libraries in Mantua and surrounding elementary schools in the summer. Pederson, a Tomlin student, was crowned Little Miss Wheelchair in 2019 and has since used her platform for good.

“We just wanted to increase the representation of people in wheelchairs, while making it more mainstream and more normal, more acceptable,” Klara’s mom explained, as the mother and daughter emphasized donating books that feature people like Klara.

The impact of Hurricane Ida storms that began in late August devastated a number of local businesses, including the South Jersey Wildlife Rehabilitation and Sanctuary. Destroyed by fallen trees, the organization got help from local volunteers and donors.

“The property is part of the Woodland Act, and we are surrounded by trees. I panic every time we have any kind of severe possible threats,” said Mantua resident Angelique Gorham. “If I had taken this one lightly, our animals probably wouldn’t be alive.”

Mary Schneider, president of the monthly Gloucester County Women’s Club, gives back all year long by running multiple charitable events through the group, including stuffing stockings for the troops and food drives.

“During the summer, the club put together and donated 75 backpacks filled with school supplies as well as lunch bags to schools in Gloucester County,” she explained.

Military members in the township and county were honored on Veterans Day, including student and Marine Cpl. Vinu Joseph, who was named Student Veteran of the Year at Gloucester County’s annual 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.”

Sports come back

Clearview High School had a successful 2021 across many sports, including junior Ty Whalen winning the 132-pound state title in wrestling.

January marked the return of high-school sports after a COVID hiatus, with safety precautions implemented for both the players and attendees. Clearview had a successful 2021 across many sports, including junior Ty Whalen winning the 132-pound state title in wrestling.

“The ‘corona’ season has probably developed me into a better wrestler, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without that time period,” Whalen said of COVID.

The Clearview girls tennis team won its second consecutive Gloucester County Open Championship at the start of the school year, and the girls cross country team clinched the program’s first sectional title on Nov. 6 at DREAM Park in Logan Township.

The Pioneers scored 70 points in the cross country match to barely beat Mainland Regional and Highland, both of which scored 73 points. It is believed to be South Jersey’s closest sectional in cross country history.

“My biggest goal was to lead my team to a sectional title,” Clearview junior Abigail Waddington said. “I wanted us to be able to make that possible and to build up a program of girls that could compete for one.”