The top stories of the year

Events in 2023 included a Hollywood visit

Photo courtesy of Kim Gathers
Actor Chevy Chase (center) hosted a meet-and-greet in town to interact with attendees at the Harbaugh Village house lighting on Dec. 3. An RV in the driveway resembled one in the Chase film “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

This year’s events in Mullica Hill – including the holiday appearance of actor Chevy Chase – had people in the township talking about what to expect in the future.

A week of suicide awareness

- Advertisement -

August saw the announcement that the week of Sept. 10 to 16 would be dedicated to raising awareness of suicide and its prevention. Numerous events in town were hosted by local businesses and community organizations to focus on those topics.

Among them were a presentation, Talk Save Lives, at the Mullica Hill library on Sept. 13 and a community and reflection service at Trinity Church the following day. The week culminated with the Wings of Life 5K/1K walk at Ella Harris Park on Sept. 16, which saw a turnout of more than 800 people, according to its host, the Paul Michael Donahue Memorial Foundation.

“What a morning,” said resident Sarah Zuba. “The turnout for the Paul Michael Donahue Foundation Wings of Life walk and run was a powerful testament that the community is here for everyone who needs support.”

The week also took note of all those who died by suicide, specifically three Mullica Hill residents: Paul Donahue, Brian Blazek and Andrew Matter. The foundation named for Donahue pays tribute to him and works to prevent others from the same fate.

“This is really prompted by the tragic loss of three young people in our community, Paulie Donahue, Brian Blazek and Andrew Matter, over the last nine months or so,” Mayor Louis Manzo noted. “Clearly these families have been impacted and their lives have been altered forever. And our hearts go out to them.

“We have brought together the mindset of hopefully (providing) the annual process to be able to shine a light on this,” he explained, “and be able to spread the awareness of the suicide-prevention tools that are out there for everyone to be able to utilize.”

Warehouses in play

August brought with it major news that the Joint Land Use Board’s rejection of the Russo Development four-building warehousing project along Route 322 had been reversed in state Superior Court, effecively approving it. The board had voted unanimously last December to oppose the project, after concerns were raised about its viability and potential negative impacts on traffic, pollution and wildlife.

The court disagreed.

“The court finds the defendant’s (the board’s) denial of plaintiff’s (Russo Development) site plan application was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, and, accordingly, it is hereby reversed,” a court statement said.

Residents took to social media sites, including Facebook, to continue voicing their opposition to the warehouse project, the starting date for which has yet to be determined.

Manzo addressed the news at the township’s committee meeting on Aug. 21.

“The judge, in a very detailed decision, basically did what’s called a reversal,” the mayor explained. “He overturned the denial of the Joint Land Use Board of that project, and actually reversed the decision. So as we speak, that project is approved by the court.

“As far as an appeal by the Joint Land Use Board,” Manzo added, “that’s a question for the … board (itself). It’s not our purview. They’re a separate door from us. That’s a question for them and their solicitor.”

“Chase-ing” a movie star

The popular venue Harbaugh Village and its George house – the scene of several township events in the fall and winter – got a special guest visit in the form of comic actor Chevy Chase.

Known for films such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Three Amigos” and “Caddyshack,” showed up for the George’s House lighting and toy drive on Dec. 3. He had the honor of plugging in the lights of the house, modeled after the home in “Christmas Vacation,” complete with an RV in the driveway.

The song “Hallelujah” – just as in the movie – began to play in the background as soon as Chase lit up the house. The actor also took the opportunity to address the crowd.

“I love all of you,” Chase said. “So great that you came out to this. It’s very, very nice of you. I hope, really, you have a great Christmas. It’s a wonderful place we’re at, and it’s beautiful by the way it’s been decorated. Well done.”

The person behind the village, Steve Harbaugh, is often referred to as the Clark Griswold of New Jersey, the character Chase played in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and a moniker the actor alluded to in a video before the lighting.

“Hello Griswolds of New Jersey,” Chase said. “Your house is a beaut, Steve. Great job with your toy drive.”

- Advertisment -