NORTH WILDWOOD – “I’m just an ordinary woman,” Kellyann Tolomeo said, during a Feb. 18 phone interview.
As a North Wildwood Councilwoman, she seeks to serve her adopted hometown with the same devotion she imparts to her family. Her experience includes a health crisis, political challenges, and even the loss of a child to suicide.
How can Tolomeo carry on, let alone cope? Faith and hope in God are the foundation of endurance, according to Tolomeo.
Tolomeo, 55, grew up in Grey’s Ferry, in the heart of South Philadelphia. From an early age, Tolomeo remembers her father saying, “God has a plan for every life.”
Tolomeo praised her parents for this early lesson. She was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, in the Irish-American tradition.
In 1986, Tolomeo married her high school sweetheart, Joseph, and settled down to raise a family. Four children - Shawn, Joseph, Tara, and Christina – joined the family rhythms of school, church, and summers at the shore.
“We had a summer home here. I grew up in Wildwood during the summer,” Tolomeo said.
The family rented, in North Wildwood, until 1997, when changes compelled her family to relocate.
Several Roman Catholic schools were beginning to consolidate, and Tolomeo wanted her family in a wholesome environment. She and her husband decided to make North Wildwood their permanent home.
“There was hardly anyone here in the winter then. Look at it now,” she said, referring to the city’s growth.
Getting to Know Tolomeo
Tolomeo said she quickly became involved in school affairs and recreational organizations. Interacting with fellow parents at Margret Mace Elementary School opened doors for new friendships. She also became an aide at the school.
“I’m a people person,” she explained.
In time, Tolomeo helped the local Republican Party by organizing events and distributing flyers.
In 2001, her husband suffered a stroke during his truck driver commute. Tolomeo said the community rallied around her, helping however they could. Her husband was involved in city politics at the time.
“A few people asked me to run for office,” Tolomeo said. One of her first supporters included Mayor Aldo Palumbo. She admits her enthusiasm was low at the time, yet considered the possibility of filling her husband’s shoes.
“I wasn’t a political person,” she explained. Yet, Tolomeo loves people and North Wildwood.
“A few people talked me into it,” she said.
After appearing before the Republican Committee, in 2007, she was selected to run for office.
“It was God’s will,” she added.
An Uphill Climb
Since 2007, Tolomeo served on various committees, i.e., finance, public safety, and public works, while interacting with the public.
“Some days are challenging,” she said. Not every day “in the office” is a smooth one, especially when dealing with all types of personalities.
Her favorite aspect of the job is meeting with residents and second homeowners. Some of her greatest challenges include property revaluations, securing the liquor license for Morey’s Piers, and beach conservation.
“I try to listen to the experts,” Tolomeo said about beach conservation. Shifting sands and coastal storms change the landscape each year, impacting the fine balance between tourism and environmental concerns.
Another concern for Tolomeo is keeping the tax base stable. She wants a town where seniors and families can afford to live.
Having a calm, laid-back spirit is an asset in government work, according to Tolomeo.
A Mother’s Grief
On a balmy July night, in 2013, Tolomeo’s life changed forever. Her spirit faced a test like no other, when her daughter, Christina, 23, committed suicide.
“I still have a lot of questions,” Tolomeo said. Christina suffered from depression, although she hid the signs. No note was left, and Tolomeo described her daughter as a happy, giving person. Grieving her daughter’s death took time, but Tolomeo persevered for her family.
“I had to go on,” she said. Love for others and their pain helped steer the course through the fog.
“Someday, I will meet God and ask Him why,” Tolomeo said.
Since Christina’s passing, Tolomeo continues serving her community and finding new ways to reach out. The Chrissy Tolomeo Memorial Walk takes place every year since 2016, to raise suicide awareness.
Has tragedy dampened Tolomeo’s faith?
“Sometimes, I shy away from God,” Tolomeo said. Yet, she never doubts God’s existence. Even with her questions, Tolomeo said, she prays every day and believes the divine plan will prevail.
As the world continues through Covid, Tolomeo remains optimistic for North Wildwood’s future.
“I hope – sometimes I doubt – we can get back to embracing people,” she said. She describes herself as a “hugger,” and looks forward to attending concerts again.
“I want businesses to thrive. I worry for them,” she said. Economic recovery is crucial, as tourism requires time to rebound.
Tolomeo believes much can be learned from previous generations who endured world wars, the Spanish Flu, and scarlet fever.
“This is a test,” she concluded. As is the nature of all tests, she believes North Wildwood will come through.
“Life is a puzzle,” she added.
She said she will carry on, caring for her family and the residents she vowed to serve.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.