Home Washington Twp. News The top stories of the year

The top stories of the year

New job for the mayor, ice cream for the township

As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, the Washington Township Sun looks back at the top three stories in the community this year.

Courtesy of Washington Township Police Department
An ice cream truck was part of Ice Cream With a Cop on May 25 at the Washington Township senior center.

‘It’s the Bomb’

The Washington Township Police Department took its initiative Ice Cream With a Cop, to a whole new level with the unveiling of a Bomb Pop ice cream van paid for with forfeiture funds.

We featured it in The Sun in May with the headline, It’s the Bomb,” by Kathy Chang.

Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik said the idea was born three years ago after his cousin – a retired New York City police officer – sent him a photo of a similar ice cream vehicle he saw on the West Coast.

“He knew that our mission centered on community policing and that I would be interested in this type of outreach,” Gurcsik recalled. “I am always actively seeking new and innovative ideas to engage and create positive experiences with the community.”

A truck refrigeration company in Long Island upfitted the state-of-the-art 2023 Dodge Ram Pro Master, a high-top van with freezers, power and an ice cream window. It will offer hot chocolate and other snacks in the winter.

The vehicle was unveiled on May 25 at the township senior center, where officers handed out free ice cream and frozen treats.

Gurcsik believes the idea reflects the department’s Community Caretaking mission.

“Our police officers must be guardians of the community and not warriors,” he explained. “The community caretaking role of police builds trust. Our pledge to the community is to provide outstanding service now and in the future.”

The new ice cream vehicle will also be funded through donations from various business partners, other donations and grants, Gurcsik noted. It will appear throughout the year at outreach events, camps, the Fourth of July parade, DARE (Drug Awareness Resistance Education) graduation, school events and “pop up” events in residential developments.

Kathy Chang/The Sun
The Knights of Columbus color guard posted and retired the colors during the Honor Our Forgotten Veterans ceremony on Nov. 9 at Washington Lake Park.

Fighting ‘the demons’

The statistic that notes 22 veterans die every day by suicide is “22 too many.”

So the Knights of Columbus Sancta Familia Council held a ceremony to “honor our forgotten soldiers” on Nov. 9 in front of the Washington Township Lake Park amphitheatre. The Sun was there to cover it in a November story entitled, “The demons are not in the room,” by Kathy Chang.

Frank Vespe welcomed guests who included Mayor Joann Gattinelli and Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik. Albert Fratteli, a retired medic in the Army, and Fred Durso, a retired Air Force master sergeant, recalled their service.

The Knights of Columbus Color Guard posted, then retired the colors. Members of the VFW performed a rifle salute and played taps, and Michael Jones sang the national anthem and “God Bless America.”

Frank Pontelandolfo, a retired Air Force brigadier general, was the guest speaker. He spoke of “moral injury” that is plaguing those who served on the front lines.

Frank Alexander, recruitment director with the Knights of Columbus Sancta Familia Council and an organizer of the ceremony, said he is personally “familiar with PTSD.”

“When my father came home from the Korean War escalation, it was called battle fatigue, now known as PTSD,” he remembered. “The therapy he received on exiting the military was ‘Go home and forget the war.’

That was his treatment – forget the war.

“Unfortunately, he suffered from battle fatigue,” Alexander added. “He had horrible dreams and nightmares. He was claustrophobic upon arrival home. My mother shared with me stories of how he would crawl around on the ground when he fell asleep.

Alexander also recalled how his father lived with him for the last six years of his life.

“Some nights I had to sleep outside his room to make sure he was OK,” Alexander explained, “or to wake him out of a nightmare and let him know he was home, he was safe, it’s OK …

“The demons are not in the room. That’s what they are – they’re demons.”

Alexander said he struggled with the loss of his dad and honors him by providing “awareness and support” to prevent suicide among vets.

At the end of the Knights of Columbus ceremony, 22 American flags were placed in the ground to represent the 22 veterans a day who die from suicide.

After each flag was placed in the ground, a bell rang.

Outgoing Mayor Joann Gattinelli won a seat on the board of commissioners in the Nov. 7 election.

Moving on, not out

Lastly, Mayor Joann Gattinelli resigned her position on Nov. 27 to serve as a newly elected member of the Gloucester County Board of Commissioners. We featured the news, “Gattinelli resigns as mayor to join commissioners,” in a December article by Kathy Chang.

Gattinelli won her new seat in the Nov. 7 election by garnering 41,083 votes. Her running mates – incumbent Jim Jefferson and newcomer Matt Weng – received 41,048 and 39,842 votes, respectively. There were 187 write-in votes.

County Democrats tapped Gattinelli in March to run for commissioner seat after Heather Simmons announced she would run for the state assembly.

“I am honored to have received the endorsement of the Gloucester County Democratic Committee to seek the office of Gloucester County Commissioner,” Gattinelli said in a statement. “I am humbled that my service as mayor of Washington Township has been recognized and that the members of the committee have put their faith in me to represent them at the county level.

“I look forward to working together for the betterment of our county.”

Gattinelli defeated incumbent Mayor Barbara Wallace in the 2016 Democratic primary, then beat Republican Joseph Micucci to win her first term as mayor. She beat Republican Vincent Spinelli and independent candidate Giancarlo D’Orazio to win reelection four years later.

Gattinelli is a Washington Township High graduate and has lived in the municipality for more than 30 years with her husband and two sons. She owned Gattinelli Pizza and Pasta in the township for 12 years and holds a real estate license, according to the township website.

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