WHITESBORO - Whitesboro natives traveled from as far as California, Maryland, Kentucky, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and Mays Landing to reunite in their hometown Aug. 31.
More traveled within walking distance for the 31st annual reunion.
“We are so grateful for what God has done in our lives for allowing us to come from various parts of the country to see friends and relatives,” Pastor Edgar Robinson said during the opening prayer before the crowd at Martin Luther King Community Center.
Dr. Harold Dean Trulear, associate professor of applied theology at Howard University, visited Whitesboro for the first time that day.
“I love coming to South Jersey. It’s a very hospitable place,” Trulear said. “I like small towns, I like small cities.
“The tendency in this country is to focus on large towns, large cities,” Trulear continued. “In 1901, with the eyes of the world on the new President Theodore Roosevelt, they should have been on a man he should have appointed to the Treasury Department named George White who, as part of his own vision for African American life in America, started Whitesboro.”
Reunion Chair Bernie Blanks caught the crowd up on what was new in Whitesboro since last year’s reunion.
“We have eight to 10 teachers from (Middle Township) School District working directly with children helping them with homework, and then when the homework is done, we provide them with a meal,” Blanks said. “Pastor Robinson used to get them those Cheese Nips and apple juice... now we moved it up to a meal.”
Blanks said this year, the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro provided over $20,000 in scholarships for Whitesboro students and served more than 80 children from kindergarten to sixth grade in summer camp and field trips.
“Those programs are directed by Rosie Jefferson who could not be here today,” Blanks said. “She’s getting her second son off to college.”
Blanks commended resident Edie Jones for a food bank, open Monday-Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the historic Whitesboro schoolhouse.
“We have an agreement with the township so that we can use that building for those programs,” Blanks said. “They support us all the way.”
Blanks recognized Whitesboro natives who died in 2019: James Graham (1956-March 2019), who worked at Jersey Cape Diagnostic Center for 44 years; Donald George Beaman (1940-March 2019), an Air Force veteran who worked in insurance; Daniel J. Wooten (died May 2019) a Navy medical officer in the 1960s who had been the first African American class president at Middle Township High School; and Lillian Inez Palmer (1918-May 2019) who spent decades working at the New York Transit Department.
Mayor Tim Donohue updated the crowd on the proposed post office at the northeast corner of Route 9 and Main Street behind the George White Memorial.
“We have reached out to Congressman (Jeff) Van Drew and we’ve talked to the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro to work together to try and have the post office dedicated in the name of Congressman George White,” Donohue said. “The agreement that we have made with the U.S. Postal Service will ensure the preservation of Whitesboro’s historic zip code, 08252.
“By placing the post office at a prominent location, it will enhance Whitesboro’s identity as a distinct and historically significant community within the borders of Middle Township,” he continued.
Donohue noted the county Open Space-funded tennis and pickleball courts at the community center. He also revealed plans to paint and make infrastructure improvements to the Whitesboro schoolhouse.
“We’ll be budgeting for that work next year,” he said, estimating the work to be done in 2022.
By next spring, the county Office of Emergency Management plans to install emergency generators at the community center so the building can serve as a shelter during weather emergencies. Meanwhile, the county animal shelter will provide a pet evacuation trailer which can hold 50 animals.
“Hundreds of people died in Hurricane Katrina because they refused to leave their animals behind,” Donohue said. With the trailer, “we wouldn’t have to make those decisions.”
In a closing remark, Stedman Graham, a founding member of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, said the focus on youth development should be countywide.
“We need to get bigger than just education in Whitesboro,” Graham said. “The fact of the matter is we’ve got a huge drug problem in this county... so our job as a county, not just Whitesboro, not black or white, is where we all work together... and apply it to our young people.”
Graham said positive role models during his childhood in Whitesboro turned him into a citizen leader.
“We’ve got to reach back and figure out how to help our young people so they don’t get caught up in drugs,” he said. “If you lose your community, you have nothing.”
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