Moorestown Township thrived in 2021, with new initiatives and new faces giving way to a better tomorrow. After a difficult year of dealing with COVID, Main Street’s businesses, old and new, reopened and community gatherings again brought out residents.
The business of governing
Gov. Phil Murphy virtually swore in new council members Dave Zipin, Sue Mammarella and Jake Van Dyken on Jan 4. They joined reelected Mayor Nicole Gillespie.
Mammarella was elected deputy mayor, a seat previously filled by Brian Donnelly, who announced his resignation and left a fifth seat vacant. Mammarella nominated Quinton Law; a move met with unanimous support by fellow council members.
Law made Moorestown history on two fronts. He became the first Black person appointed to town council in late January and is one of the founding members of Moorestown Alumni for Racial Equity & Inclusion (MAREI), a multicultural group that advocates for racial equity and inclusion in the Moorestown school district.
Law explained that council continuously seeks revenue sources to lower the tax rate.
“Every decision that I make (up there) on the dais will be with the thought, ‘How does this affect the Moorestown taxpayer? And how can I create revenue to give Moorestonians the services they deserve, but also keep costs low?’” he said.
Thomas Merchel announced on Jan. 25 that he would step down as township manager. Kevin Aberant, former Moorestown township mayor and solicitor, filled his seat in July. Aberrant was officially sworn in by his father-in-law, Uri H. Taenzer, on Aug. 9.
“Kevin has a long-standing commitment to our community, extensive experience in municipal law and is deeply knowledgeable of the many complex issues we are dealing with in Moorestown,” said Gillespie.
In February, council members discussed plans to create the Moorestown Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Task Force, an unofficial committee tasked with brainstorming ways to move the conversation on inclusivity forward in town.
Since its inception, the task force has put out a community survey and will focus on analyzing the results and preparing a presentation for council that will show their findings and include targeted recommendations.
In December 2020, township officials were nearing an agreement with the Moorestown Mall for 300 apartment buildings, with 20 percent set aside for affordable housing.
The Moorestown Mall Redevelopment Plan – a three-phase timetable created with the goal of promoting stabilization of the mall – sought to transform the current site to a Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) project with as many as 1,065 multifamily units and a hotel on the grounds.
By August, council had appointed Heyer, Gruel & Associates as the redevelopment planner and approved a plan for the project to move ahead. Meanwhile, in order to move forward with plans for projects such as Percheron Park without overspending, council brainstormed sources of new income.
On April 12, council voted to allow the sale of alcohol in four locations throughout Moorestown. And given that New Jersey voters approved a statewide ballot question legalizing the recreational use of cannabis in 2020, Moorestown formed its own cannabis subcommittee.
The group not only recommended that taxes go to the township’s general revenue fund for direct tax relief, but also saw council approve an ordinance that addressed hours of operation, approved zones for such businesses, types of cannabis businesses permissible within the township, civil penalties and more
Before summer, council approved a proposal brought forth by Mark Pensiero, president of Save the Environment of Moorestown (STEM). Pensiero planned to convert 90 acres of land at Swede Run Field into a mixed-use site with pollinator/grassland fields.
By the end of summer, STEM had completed the installation of a 4,500-square-foot native pollinator garden at Swede Run Field. The garden surrounds the historic stone building that forms the centerpiece of the 120 plus acres of preserved property.
“This garden is a great way to help out our pollinators and enhance the beauty of this amazing, preserved property,” said Pensiero. “It is hoped this garden will help inspire others to add native pollinator plants into their gardens.”
Moving to the end of the year, council approved outdoor dining for restaurants and residents, with safety precautions in mind.
Police Chief Lee Lieber requested a resolution that allows the township to utilize recently adopted state law in hiring police officers that is outside the standard civil-service process. Council approved both the ordinance and resolution.
To end 2021, the township announced that the Percheron Park project was expected to break ground in the spring. At council’s final meeting of 2021, Moorestown residents John and Kathy Logue were announced as the 2022 Citizens of the Year.
Back to school
Students returned to in person classes for the latter half of 2021, with social-distancing guidelines in place.
The board of education named Caryn Shaw its new president and Lauren Romano vice president on Jan. 5. Shaw took over from Sandra Alberti, who had held the seat since July 2017. Returning incumbents Jack Fairchild, Lauren Romano and Maurice Weeks were officially sworn in on Jan. 5.
Halfway through March, the school board asked that the district present a plan for a five day return for grades four to 12. Meanwhile, its June 15 meeting saw upset and frustrated parents.
According to former school superintendent Scott McCartney, anyone in attendance at the public portion of the meeting was asked to wear a mask during the session. When several people refused and became disruptive, the board contacted police.
McCartney retired in June, and Dr. Leonard Fitts served as interim superintendent until Michael Volpe was named the new superintendent.
“I just want to say how absolutely thrilled and excited and humbled I am to have been named next superintendent of Moorestown Township public schools,” Volpe said.
Moorestown High School students attended their homecoming dance, football game and pep rallies for the first time in a year. The school’s visual and performing arts department, featuring the Moorestown Madrigals and the concert choir, presented a winter concert on Dec. 2 to end the year on a high note of music and celebration.
Choral Director Caela Johnson is excited for the new school year.
“I’m just looking forward to building more relationships with my students,” she offered.
Engaging the community
The Burlington County COVID Vaccine Mega-Site opened on Jan. 15 at the former Lord & Taylor store in the Moorestown Mall. Front-line health-care workers and first responders were among the first to receive shots.
Toward the end of February, MoorUnity held a Red/Blue Workshop designed and run by Braver Angels, a bipartisan, nationwide organization aimed at depolarizing America. Participants engaged with each other in a peaceful manner.
MoorArts, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the performing arts in Moorestown’s schools, hosted its first virtual concert on March 22. “Heart in the Arts” benefitted the organization’s scholarship and grant programs.
December Shover, owner of A Rose in December, and Dave Silver, founder of Operation Yellow Ribbon, joined forces with Lenape Regional High School District bus drivers and Honey Post restaurant co-owners Christine and Eileen Dzwill, for “Operation Unity in the Community” on March 28. Residents donated supplies for care packages for troops overseas.
The Moorestown Garden Club participated in the 2021 Philadelphia Flower Show with an entry into the Best Outdoor Container & Window Garden Display (using living plants) category. It was the first flower show to be held outdoors, at FDR Park in South Philadelphia and ran from June 5 through the 13.
On May 15, members of South Jersey’s Muslim community came together in person. Moorestown resident Saima Bhutta hosted a celebration for Eid al-Fitr, a feast that marks the end of Ramadan’s month-long fast.
Just in time for the summer heat, the Strawbridge Lake Beautification Committee hosted its 3rd Annual Paddle Board/Kayak Race and Family Festival on June 12. And the township hosted its third annual End of Summer Block Party Food Truck Event on Aug. 18.
After an eventful summer, Mission Voice partnered with the Parks and Recreation Department to host a 5K race/one mile walk at Strawbridge Lake on Sept. 18. A new playground and children’s pond were also dedicated.
The DiPasquale family of Moorestown hosted its fourth Tractor-Trailer Challenge in the parking lot of the Moorestown Mall on Sept. 25 and 26. Proceeds went to a disaster relief supply drive for Hurricane Ida victims in Louisiana. Carrying the items was a 53-foot tractor-trailer donated by Bohren’s Moving Company of Robbinsville, and the parking lot space was donated by the mall.
Moorestown’s 2021 fall season was full of familiar events.
The Moorestown Education Foundation hosted its annual golf outing fundraiser on Oct. 4 at the Laurel Creek Country Club. According to foundation President Debtosh Chakrabarti, all funds from the outing are used for two types of grants, the Excellence in Education mini-grant, and a general grant.
After its cancellation last year due to COVID, the Moorestown Business Association welcomed back the Autumn in Moorestown festival for residents on Oct. 9. Moorestown resident Chris Scafario was this year’s coordinator for the festival’s car exhibition, which showcased vehicles from all generations, from classic to muscle to race vehicles.
FamilyPromise of Burlington County partnered with Chimney Rustic Ales in Hammonton to host the Hops Against Homelessness fundraiser on Oct. 15, an event that featured food vendors, music and craft speciality beers
On Nov. 27, the Community House of Moorestown hosted Relief Beerfest, an annual fundraiser for Moorestown’s Relief Engine Company 312. Firefighter Dave Mann was ready for residents to participate.
“It’s a great time for us to get to know some of the locals on Main Street and here and there through town,” he said. “We obviously appreciate their support.”
On Nov. 11, the Moorestown Braver Angels Alliance sponsored United We Run, an 11-mile jaunt to benefit Moorestown resident and retired firefighter John Scully. Scully has been running through town with the American flag ever since 9/11 to honor its victims’ memories.
December was a month like no other in 2021. Plenty of holiday events, such as the Lions Club Holiday Parade, Main Street Candlelight Stroll, the tree- and menorah-lighting ceremonies and a few Christmas choir concerts helped get residents in the holiday spirit.
Carving their own paths
Rudy Jones is currently employed in Philadelphia as a stunt coordinator on the upcoming movie “Not for Nothing,” a crime drama set in South Philly. Jones has over 400 credits in the music and radio industry.
Jack Walker realized he had dreams that were higher than some, but that didn’t stop him from accomplishing them. In the latter half of 2020, he hiked the Appalachian Trail solo, a journey that ended on Dec. 24.
“Coming back, I’m trying to keep that mindset going, chasing my dreams,” he noted.
Pete and Julie Bender, owners of Moorestown Hardware on Mill Street, were named the 2021 Co-Citizens of the Year. They kept their business open through COVID.
“You make your family what it is if it’s good or bad,”’ said Pete. “You’re instrumental in creating an environment that allows [people] to foster or flounder. We feel that same level of responsibility [about Moorestown].”
ABC News anchor Linsey Davis will anchor the weekend edition of “World News Tonight” on Sunday, it was announced in early February. She had much to celebrate, her one-year anniversary as anchor of ABC News Live’s first primetime streaming evening newscast and the publication of her third children’s book, “Stay This Way Forever.”
Jared Cannon, founder of Simply Good Jars, appeared on the show “Shark Tank” on March 5. He created a patent-pending package that preserves fresh ingredients without preservatives. For every jar a customer recycles, Simply Good Jars donates one to a community in need.
“Being there on the carpet with the sharks in front of you – sharks in front of your face – it was equally energizing, inspiring and terrifying,” Cannon said.
John Khanlian was awarded the first Moorestown Humanitarian of the Month title. On March 31, Kelly McCabe, owner of TLC Home Care Services, gifted 40 health-care workers with goodie bags from Spavia’s Day Spa and a catered meal from Georgetti’s Catering.
Mark Pensiero and his colleagues at STEM were awarded a pollinator kit from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation with about 1,000 plants. The First United Methodist Church of Moorestown welcomed two female pastors in June. Rev. Dr. Gina Hendrickson is the first woman appointed as lead pastor at First United and Rev. Jessica M. Campbell is her associate pastor.
The Sarin Joshi family was presented with the Humanitarian of the Month Award for September, the first to win as a family. They split their donation between two charities, Live Civilly and The Unforgotten Haven.
“The most recent winners, the Joshi family, were nominated because they donate to charities by collecting things like books from the neighborhood or food, and they have annual drives that they just run, so they are constantly giving to people,” said Rosie Hagerty, employee of the Janet Knowles Charitable Foundation.
Arts for art’s sake
Students from Moorestown Theater Company received a Freddie G Excellence in Acting award at the 2021 Junior Theater Festival Texas. The festival took place from June 25 to 27 in Sugar Land, Texas. Moorestown Theater Company students Malana Homan-Hepner and Juliet Morgan were named Junior Theater Festival All-Stars and cited as dynamic student performers.
Moorestown High School student Ryan Casinelli had art displayed at the Moorestown library throughout June and created a portrait of Carl Lewis that received Congressman Andy Kim’s attention and recognition.
The portrait is now displayed in Kim’s office.
Casinelli, along with Moorestown High School alums Sean Allen and Wasiu Ojuolape Jr., created a mural in South Philadelphia for Bianca Nikol Roberson and other victims of gun violence.
Matt Skic serves as curator of special exhibits for The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. He and his team showcased more than 40 rare American flags and historic documents at the museum in July and through Labor Day weekend.
In September, Moorestown’s Perkins Center for the Arts was ready to celebrate the fall season with a few events that returned after COVID: the fall juried exhibition, Pumpkin Palooza, the Decaf Concert Series, Coffee & Classics and the Small Works Show.
The 2020-21 Moorestown High School basketball team received positive news at the start of the year when Gov. Murphy announced fans could attend games in person at a limited capacity.
The Moorestown High School football team celebrated Spirit Week by playing its annual homecoming game in November. On Dec. 9, the team brought the season to a close with its annual football banquet dinner.
Marc Parellada notched his first career hat trick for the Moorestown High men’s soccer team in its win over Timber Creek in the first round of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group III Tournament.
Although Moorestown Friends’ student and tennis player Bella Pescatore played in seven matches last season, this year turned out to be better. As a senior, she secured first singles titles in both the Burlington County Open and the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships.