Home Palmyra News The top stories of the year

The top stories of the year

A memorial field and a visit from the friend of a King

As we come to the end of 2023 and look forward to the new year, the Palmyra Sun looks back at the top three stories that stood out this year in the borough.

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun

Field of dreams

In the Sept. 6-13 issue of The Sun, we shared a story about Palmyra’s “Field of Dreams,” by Albert J. Countryman Jr.

Area youth soccer clubs were just getting started in the ’70s when at the end of the decade, teenagers Billy Carr and Tim Beck spent a spring evening at South Jersey Select team tryouts on Palmyra’s Charles Street School field.

“As all soccer enthusiasts do, we hung out and kicked the ball around, watching and learning from the older players at the U15/16 tryouts,” recalled Beck, who went on to become a top goalie. “Although it was getting late, there was still daylight, and I remember that there were baseball and softball games going on at the same time.”

All of a sudden, a quick moving thunderstorm blanketed the field and lightning struck.

“The last thing I remember is going to get our sneakers to change into them,” Beck remembered. “I woke up in an ambulance, then again in the hospital. I did not know what had happened until days later. It turned out Billy and I had been struck by lightning. Billy was killed.

“At the time, our club was still in its infancy,” added Beck, past president of the Palmyra Riverton Soccer Club, “and its founders and coaches came together with the town of Palmyra to hold a fundraiser to keep Billy’s name and his personality alive in years to come.”

The club went on to create the Billy Carr Memorial Scholarship Award, which grants four annual scholarships to Palmyra High School students, a male and female from the borough and a male and female from Riverton.

The soccer pitch at the Palmyra Legion sports complex is called the Billy Carr Memorial Field. It has a brand-new turf field that was installed in September.

“The Palmyra Riverton Soccer Club has continued to grow since its inception,” observed club President Jeff Elliot Sr., who became a volunteer for the program 2002. “… We’ve expanded much since then. Over the past seasonal year, we welcomed around 400 players from a dozen towns to find a home to play soccer within the club.

“This year, we’re on course to have even more players involved,” he added. “Our organization is run entirely by volunteers, and we are fortunate to have such a fantastic group of volunteers who go above and beyond each year in the interests of our children and our community.”

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun
Civil rights leader Dr. Clarence B. Jones co-wrote the famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963.

Awe and respect

Civil rights leader Dr. Clarence B. Jones co-wrote the famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. We featured the Palmyra High School graduate in a Sun story headlined “When do you want me to go to Montgomery?” by Albert J. Countryman Jr. that appeared in the Sept. 20-27 issue.

A sense of awe and respect permeated the Dennis Flyer Theater at Camden County College last week as Dr. Clarence B. Jones came on stage singing a soulful, spiritual song about freedom.

Soon, the nearly 200 people in attendance sang with him.

“I am so delighted to be back home. As a little boy in Cinnaminson Township, I remember succotash, sweet corn and fresh tomatoes,” recalled Jones, a civil rights icon who co-authored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the March on Washington in August of 1963.

The Palmyra High School Class of 1949 valedictorian recalled that his parents were domestic servants working as a chauffeur and maid for the Lippincott family in Riverton. They sent Clarence to a boarding school in Philadelphia at age 6, an experience “that defined who I am,” Jones told the college audience.

Every day until he was 14, the Irish Catholic nuns told him, “Be a good boy. We love you. Jesus loves you. You are beautiful.”

“That implanted the sense that I am somebody deep into my spine,” Jones said.

When he returned home and attended Palmyra High, the school was 70% white. Nonetheless, he said, “I was voted president of the honor society and most likely to succeed by the students.”

Jones credited the nuns at boarding school for encouraging his education and went on to graduate from Columbia College and earn his law degree from Boston University. He moved to California and became a renowned copyright attorney, helping songwriters who claimed their music was stolen by other artists.

One day, a friend asked him to help Dr. King fight a tax evasion charge filed by the state of Alabama in 1960. Jones wondered why he should help King “just because he got his hand stuck in the candy jar.”

Then King came to his door.

“I turned him down,” Jones recalled. “Then he asked me to come hear him speak at the largest Baptist Church in Los Angeles. It was like the Black version of Beverly Hills. I was mesmerized. What does this Baptist preacher know about the Magna Carta?”

Jones noted that King then changed a poem by Langston Hughes and “put the words in my mother’s mouth.

“I started crying,” Jones remembered. “After the service, I said, ‘Dr. King, when do you want me to go to Montgomery?'”

From that point on, the two men became great friends and leaders in the Black movement.

Photos by Kathy Chang/The Sun
“We’re taking 170 acres of Brownfield redevelopment here and keeping greenfields, greenfields,” said David Haymes, assistant New Jersey DEP commissioner of the Contaminated Site Remediation & Redevelopment program at the groundbreaking for the Route 73 South Redevelopment Area.

Brownfields to greenfields

Lastly, we highlighted a project that has been going on for two decades in an article headlined “A long time coming,” by Kathy Chang, in the Nov. 22-29 issue.

It was hard for Palmyra Administrator John J. Gural not to get a bit emotional as he acknowledged the many public and private partnerships he’s made in building the Route 73 South Redevelopment Area.

“This is the culmination of really, I guess, my professional dreams that I have had since I have been involved with the borough of Palmyra,” said the former councilman and mayor, noting he was first elected to office in 1994. “Since then, this is what it has been about.”

A groundbreaking ceremony for Phase II of the Tac-Pal Logistics Center was held in October.

“Everybody who’s familiar with this project understands what it does for the borough of Palmyra,” Gural noted. “We have two PILOTS (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) paying the borough $2 million annually. In a town whose annual budget this year was just north of $10 million, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what sort of impact that has on the quality of life for our residents.

“It’s not just that though, it’s jobs … potentially hundreds of jobs.”

Applications ran out at a Tac-Pal Logistics Center job fair for Palmyra residents.

The borough and its longtime, dedicated partners, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, the Fair Share Housing Center, the Burlington County Bridge Commission and the Burlington County Board of County Commissioners have been focused on building the Route 73 South Redevelopment Area into a successful public/private partnership, one benefiting the entire region.

It was in 2003 that the site was first declared a Brownfields Development Area by the (DEA) Department of Environmental Protection. The largest sites of the Route 73 project area consist of 65 acres for the National Amusements Inc. site and 104 acres of the Fillit Corporation landfill site.

Phase I included the building of a 700,000-square-foot Tac-Pal Logistics Center warehouse on the National Amusements site, a former World War II Army training ground. The warehouse was built last year.

Phase II includes the building of another 700,000-square-foot Tac-Pal building on the Fillit property. In addition, 102 affordable-housing units will be built and there will be 34 acres of open space, including wetlands and shoreland restoration.

“We’re taking 170 acres of Brownfield redevelopment here and keeping greenfields, greenfields … that is not what used to happen,” said David Haymes, assistant DEP commissioner of the Contaminated Site Remediation & Redevelopment Program.

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