The year 2013 brought a curious mixture of challenges and controversies; kindnesses, harmonies, community involvement and notable deaths. Through our look back, the Chester/Community Spirit remembers.
The Spirit of the Communities We Serve
Thanks to the vision and organizational skills of Paul A. Bennett, publisher of the Chester/Community Spirit, and the Delaware County Historical Society (DCHS), the City of Chester hosted the first-ever parade to honor Black History throughout Delaware County in February.
The parade helped kick-off an exhibit at the Museum of the History of Delaware County. The grand marshal of the parade was Chester resident William R. Hilton, who joined the military at 16 and fought at Heartbreak Ridge, one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War.
Also participating in the parade were members of the 3rd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, members of the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club and contemporary groups including the Kollective Talent Drill Team, the Delaware County Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women and the Chester Club of the National Association of Negro Women’s Business and Professional Clubs, Inc.
The parade also highlighted several elected and appointed officials throughout the county who hold the distinction of being the first African-Americans in those positions. The effort resulted in DCHS being awarded the prestigious Lee Brown Award presented by the Delaware County Historical Preservation Society and County Council.
In Darby, Friendship Circle Senior Center was selected as a pilot program launched by Senior Community Services that will allow seniors to grow old in their own homes. The Aging at Home program will benefit senior citizens from all the communities in the William Penn School District. The program should give seniors more dignity as they age and enhance their quality of life while staying in a comfortable, familiar environment. Currently, there are more than 7,000 citizens in those communities who are 60 or older.
Weary of violence in their community, residents and politicians in Yeadon hosted the 2013 Summer of Peace Family Fun Day in July. State Sen. Anthony H. Williams (D-8) and state Rep. Ronald Waters (D-191) worked with the Young Democrats of Delaware County and local businesses to bring music, food and games to help get kids off the streets and out of trouble. Similarly, the Violence Reduction Basketball League gave more than 500 kids between 14 and 16 throughout the county and Philadelphia a chance to play basketball while also enabling their coaches to mentor them in financial literacy, business and education.
Sharon Hill residents staged a March of Dreams at Memorial Park to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the progress made for civil rights of African-Americans. Former Harrisburg City Councilwoman Pat Stringer told The Spirit the event embodied Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of not just bettering a race, but a community.
In Chester, a group of dedicated people, including many senior citizens, ramped up a fight to restore Deshong Park to its once majestic position in the city. In September, a day long celebration was held to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alfred O. DeShong’s gift of his 27-acre estate to the city. A new gazebo was erected in Sun Village Park, and the New Born Learning Trail was dedicated in Chester Park.
Chester also rolled out the red carpet as King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Sylvia of Sweden, accompanied by Eero Heinaluoma, speaker of the Parliament of Finland, visited the Finnish Settlers monument at Crozer Park. The visit was part of the 375th anniversary of the first Swedish and Finnish settlement in the Delaware Valley. Chester Mayor John Linder and members of City Council, as well as members of the Delaware Valley Finnish Americans and the Finnish-American Society of the Delaware Valley, greeted the visiting dignitaries upon their arrival.
Aston commissioners celebrated the Aston Township Historical Society’s 20th anniversary with a proclamation. Society President Sheila Withelder accepted it on behalf of the Board of Directors.
Also in Aston, 48-year resident Helen Morgan was named 2013 Citizen of the Year. Morgan has donated much of her time to the community.
In Chester City and Parkside Borough, officials instituted recycling programs, proving to be successful, and in Lower Chichester Township, commissioners continued cracking down on landlords who neglect their properties.
In Trainer Borough, Police Chief Francis Priscopo was named Person of the Year for 2013, and Chichester School District employees came out in support of members of their close-knit school community who are fighting breast cancer.
All five Chichester district schools were represented at a Hilltop Elementary School walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society, Riddle Hospital Breast Cancer Foundation and the Susan B. Komen Foundation. The purpose of the event was also to heighten awareness about the disease.
District teachers Colleen Biddle and Kathy Hughes; and teaching assistant Janice DiMarino, all in various stages of treatment, were touched and grateful for the outpouring of love and support.
An award of recognition was presented to longtime Lower Chichester township secretary/treasurer Rose Achbald for her more than 50 years of dedication and service, especially her 20 years spent as liaison to the Environmental Advisory Council.
Also in Lower Chichester, commissioners presented a plaque to Clayton “Jimmy” Johnson for his service to the township.
Johnson retired several months ago after spending 35 years working in various capacities including plumbing inspector, building inspector, deputy code enforcement officer, code enforcement officer, Board of Health member; in the Public Works Department and others.
The closing of Holy Saviour and Immaculate Conception of Lourdes Catholic churches in Lower Chichester and Marcus Hook, respectively, hit both communities hard. The faithful mounted respectable campaigns to try to save their beloved churches- but to no avail.
In Brookhaven, residents continued a fight against the proposed development of the Chester Water Authority property at the intersection of Edgmont Ave. and Coebourn Blvd. An informal proposal calls for development of the parcel which would house a new Giant supermarket and several other stores.
Perhaps the biggest news, however, was that Brookhaven, a “dry” town since its founding, voted in a referendum to allow liquor to be served in the borough.
Aston commissioners heard complaints from residents of the Fishers Corner Mobile Home community who voiced concern that they will be forced from the property they call home if a zoning change is approved.
The property, at the intersection of Concord and Convent roads, has been owned by West Cork Development LLC for the past 13 years. Local builder/developer Joseph Buoni has made application to commissioners to change the zoning from mobile home to institutional.
On the international level, the loss of Nelson Mandela is still fresh. The former South African president and apartheid opponent passed at age 95 on Dec. 5th, though it felt much shorter since 27 of those years were spent in prison. His passing has increased the number of young students who learned about the freedom fighter’s legacy. This was demonstrated at a memorial event by the National Congress of Black Women and the Chester NAACP where students took to the podium to promote their new knowledge of Mandela.
Mandela also ranked among the Top Five Google searches last year.
In the community, Upper Chichester suffered a loss when longtime township secretary Dora Coleman passed away July 8th. She was the secretary for 38 years – also the first African-American — and left a significant mark on the township.
Trainer Borough is mourning the death of retired Police Chief Jim Magaw who died suddenly Dec. 17th.
Other notable passings in 2013 included Aston resident/businessman Thomas Ahern; longtime Delaware County pediatrician Dr. Richard Barr; Josephine Furillo, founder of Furillo’s sandwich shop in Chester; former Chester Police Chief Floyd C. Lewis III; Neil Stong, president of the Chester-based Stong, Inc.; Sod Vaccaro, member of the Four Aces singing group; longtime Penn-Delco School District secretary Ginny Seleyo; and Parkside Councilman James Kilgallen.