The year 2021 brought joy and recovery to Harrison Township as the tail end of the pandemic seemed to be in reach. As the COVID vaccine appeared in the area at the beginning of the year, restrictions were lifted and more Mullica Hill residents started to adjust to the new normal.
Here are the top stories that made headlines in the Mullica Hill Sun 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. Later in the year, the Harrison Township Police Department launched a new Citizen Services Program website.
After a closely contested race decided by fewer than 25 votes, committee member Julie DeLaurentis was sworn in to a new three-year term at a virtual reorganization meeting in January. Lou Manzo was also sworn in by Senate President Steve Sweeney for another term as mayor.
Ronald Cundey, a Gloucester County native and veteran of Harrison’s police department for more than two decades, was named the new chief of police.
Mayor Manzo recognized Black History Month at the start of February, noting the Black history specific to the township in his message to the community.
“Black history is American history. It is Mullica Hill history,” he maintained.
The county board of commissioners and the county sheriff’s office began 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.”
For Pride Month, Main Street was decked with rainbow banners donated to the township by an anonymous resident. They represented LGBTQ Pride – a nod to the value of inclusion and diversity in Harrison.
The township committee hosted Harrison Township Day on June 6, when Main Street was transformed into a street fair featuring vendors, craft stations and a performance from a Pink Floyd tribute band.
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 Mullica Hill in the path of a category F-3 tornado, damage was significant, but no one was severely injured by the storm.
In October, early voting started for the gubernatorial election. The unaffiliated Manzo and running mate Michelle Powell won the race against Republican opponent Brian A. Bartholomew.
Puppies and patriots
Inspira Health in Mullica Hill was among centers that 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 vaccines.
Gov. Phil Murphy – who would win reelection later in the year – spoke at the Rowan vaccine site to recognize the first doses being distributed at the mega site.
“It is pretty exciting,” he said. “I just don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver; that’s the last thing we need right now.”
In February, residents cheered on three pups adopted through South Jersey’s MatchDog Rescue. They were among contestants in the Super Bowl’s furrier counterpart, Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl.
The 4th annual Chocolate Walk sponsored by the Mullica Hill Business Association celebrated Valentine’s Day weekend on Feb. 13. Residents were able to roam Main Street while enjoying treats provided by local businesses. Residents also participated later that month in the Main Street Mania free scavenger hunt.
Many local individuals wanted to give back in 2021. The Gloucester County Cares About Hunger food drive in February was a prime example. Mantua’s and Mullica Hill’s Healthy Kids Running Series (HKRS) returned for its spring session in April. The program encourages children to exercise by having them race in appropriate age groups for fun.
The annual arts and crafts festival took place at the Mullica Hill Arts Center in May, when nearly 100 vendors featured their crafts for display or sale. The original work created by local artists consisted of homemade scarves, protective masks, paintings, drawings and blown glass.
“Opening up the Mullica Hill Arts Center was a tribute to my mother, who was an artist,” said merchant Lynne Hagerty Perez.
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 who were killed that day: John Rodak, Nicholas W. Brandemarti and Perry Thompson.
Mullica Hill’s historic Civil War living history weekend took place in October for families to immerse themselves and learn more about the era. There were plenty of novelties for families to explore, including a weapons display and live music from the Pennsylvania Regimental Brass Band.
In October, the Boys and Girls Club of Gloucester County hosted a fall gala that benefited the organization’s after-school programs. Proceeds included a hefty donation from entrepreneur and board member John Michael Paz, who was honored that night.
The 2021 Best of Gloucester County awards ceremony honored local businesses, including some in Mullica Hill, and the Mullica Hill Arts Center won for best art gallery in the county.
Learning to live with COVID
The Clearview Regional High School District’s seventh annual Hoagies 4 Hope fundraiser occurred on Super Bowl Sunday and benefitted three local families with medical and financial issues.
Clearview parents created a Parents of the Clearview Class of 2021 group in October 2020 to help students struggling with their senior year due to the pandemic. The group helped plan events that gave out prizes to 390 seniors sponsored by local businesses.
More community news included Sophia Gambill, a senior at Clearview Regional High School, being 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.
Clearview also 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 throughout the country, measuring how well they serve students from various social and economic backgrounds.
In May, the Harrison school board recognized the yearly financial plan, which showed a loss of $280,009 in state aid. While a similar cut is expected in the upcoming year, the district does not plan to cut staff or student programs.
“We are always looking for ways to save money,” business administrator Robert Scharle said.
Clearview teacher Jennifer Smith Satterfield organized a pen pal program at the end of 2021 so her students could write personal letters to children living 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 noted.
At the end of the 2020-’21 school year, Clearview’s board of education implemented the American Rescue Plan, a federal fund that offers relief for students at K-12 schools who suffered learning losses because of COVID.
Members of the Harrison school board revised the 2021-’22 academic calendar to match that of Clearview High, giving its students a longer Labor Day holiday by closing school on Sept. 7, Easter break will be shortened in 2022 by two days.
Schools started to lift COVID restrictions and limited online learning in September to start off the new school year. The Gloucester County Institute of Technology returned to full capacity, and many other schools in the township followed suit.
When the Harrison school district’s board of education met in late September at the start of the new year, it faced a clear problem: a bus driver shortage. Because of that, the board approved an interlocal agreement with Kingsway Regional School District to borrow buses and share drivers for the 2021-’22 school year.
The Boys and Girl Scouts were back in action this year after COVID restrictions brought many programs to a halt. In the spring, Girl Scouts from Mullica Hill Brownie Troop #66438, a group made up mostly of third graders, collected and donated boxes of cookies to local first responders and health-care workers.
The donation was made to responders at Inspira Medical Center and firefighters at the Harmony Fire Company. It was just one of many charitable efforts made by the Scouts throughout the year.
The Rouh family donated a Cuddle Cot to Inspira Mullica Hill in honor of daughter Madelynn, who lived for only four days after birth. The couple was grateful for the center’s care after Madelynn’s passing.
“Our biggest thing is, we don’t want to forget about her,” Tina Rouh said. “We can do that by raising funds, collecting money and buying things that will help other families.”
Siblings and Clearview seniors Rory and Jackson Filinuk launched their apparel brand, True Ocean, in the spring. A portion of the profits goes toward keeping the oceans clean.
In May, Gloucester County Hall of Fame member Tom Hengel reached a combined 100 seasons coaching athletics at Clearview, 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,” he acknowledged.
Archmere Academy student and Mullica Hill resident Kusha Malik earned national recognition for her painting, “Saanjh Ki Beti.” It earned a Scholastic Art award for 2021.
Al Szolack wrapped up yet another successful season at his Do Hugs, Not Drugs children’s basketball camp last summer at Harrison Township Elementary School. The camp taught kids from third through 10th grade the basic fundamentals of basketball as they received positive messages on life from Szolack (better known as “Big Al”).
“My camp is not just about basketball,” he emphasized. “These kids get my powerful anti-drug message and a message about making good decisions in life.”
The Mullica Hill food pantry Your Place at the Table was spotlighted throughout the year for its efforts in serving about 65 local families a month. It typically serves families in Mullica, Mantua, East Greenwich, South Harrison and Elk, areas that do not have their own pantries.
Mary Schneider, president of the monthly Gloucester County Women’s Club, gives back all year long by running multiple charitable events through the club, including stuffing stockings for the troops and monetary donations to various nonprofits.
“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..
Past and present 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.”
League of their own
January marked the start of high-school sports returning to the fields and courts after a COVID hiatus. Safety precautions were implemented for both players and attendees.
Clearview Regional had a successful 2021 in many sports, including that of junior Ty Whalen, who won 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 at DREAM Park in Logan Township. The Pioneers scored 70 points in the cross country match to barely beat Mainland Regional and Highland, a matchup that some say is 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.”