It all started in 1972 amidst the criticism and attacks by major news media referring to Cherry Hill as being a "plastic society" - void of any community spirit and with no cohesion of the elements that comprised Cherry Hill Township. Reality was that Cherry Hill was divided by major highways that criss-crossed all over the town separating the neighborhoods and organizations. In addition to this - ethnic and religious groups kept to themselves - and as well -- the Civic Associations and businessmen of the community. Everyone living or operating in the community of Cherry Hill were isolated from one another by the reality of these dividing elements that kept the community apart.
Inadvertantly all identities kept to themselves doing their own thing. There was no reaching out to one another. There was no main street in Cherry Hill for the townspeople to cross paths with! There was no community-wide activity to identify with! There was nothing to share with one another as a proud, vibrant community. Apathy ruled supreme back then! On top of the division of the community -- several negative events in Cherry Hill were highly spotlighted by the news media and Cherry Hill became a target of criticism and ridicule.
Why was this happening? In the early 70's - several high profile crime events brought alot of negative attention to Cherry Hill. The most serious one was when a deranged man killed 11 people in a office complex on Kings Highway. Another murder occured in a major housing facility on Chapel Avenue. These events brought much "unwanted attention" and the news media centered a "bulls eye" on Cherry Hill and attacked! The news media scrutinized our town for its many faults, some real and others not real. The press wrote damaging articles that appeared all over the State of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
We were being conceived as being a "plastic town" where the majority of residents were transient people, living in Cherry Hill for a short period of time and then moving out pursuing their personal goals. We were described as being upper middle class, educated and financially secure residents who selfishly cared only for themselves. There were no civic responsibilites nor time for community involvement by these temporary townspeople! They were only staying around for a few years never planting long term family roots in Cherry Hill. Because the news media believed all of this -- they perceived Cherry Hill void of community pride and civic responsiblilites. We were alikened to be people living in an attractive "plastic city" where no one intermingled or even cared for one another. There were no signs of community unity or community pride.
A small group of residents, who were concerned about all of the public negatively about Cherry Hill and the unwanted negative attention -- set up a community meeting in one of our homes. We invited the Mayor, Council members, civic group leaders and other prominent people to attend. Together we would address the negativity surrounding Cherry Hill and make appropriate plans to reverse it. A "Social Club" was established to address these issues to come up with a solution that would reverse the negative perception of Cherry Hill by the news media and general public.
Our members knew that we had to have "something very special" that would encourage positive community-wide activity. We needed a demanding "catalyst" that would jar the townspeople to unify together annually. We recalled a small part of Cherry Hill's history that mentioned a farmstead, located somewhere near the Cherry Hill Mall, that had cherry trees on both sides of a long road leading to the farmer's home. These cherry trees drew visitors from all over to see the beauty of the cherry blossoms that would appear on them every Spring.
It was decided that cherry trees would be the demanding catalyst that we weere looking for to rally the community together! Our cherry trees would tie itself to the history of the cherry trees that led to the farmer's house. The cherry blossoms would indeed be "something very special" for the townspeople to look forward to every Spring.
Our plan was to plant cherry trees throughout the township -- they would transcend over the dividing highways and isolated neighborhoods and be a common denominator for Cherry Hill's townspeople to rally under. The Spring arrival of the cherry blossoms would serve as a visual mandate for the townspeople to stage proud positive events reflecting Cherry Hill's diverse community.
Thoughts of a community-wide parade, in which all the diverse elements of Cherry Hill can particpate in, came into play. We would line a parade route with cherry trees to form a canopy of cherry blossoms to march under. We would name our parade the - "Cherry Blossom Parade" and we would have off-shoots of positive community activities surrounding it to create a "Cherry Blossom Festival" for Cherry Hill's townspeople. These were our idealistic plans!
This would be a challenging endeavor for us and we knew that it would take time and money to realize it. It would be extremingly costly to convert a shade tree lined avenue into a two-mile avenue of blossoming cherry trees. Funds had to be raised to pay for large shade tree removals, the cherry tree purchases and the expenses to stage a parade. We knew that this ideaistic quest would take many years to accomplish -- it was seemingly an impossible quest! We were aware that more than likely it would become an "impossible dream" for the townspeople of Cherry Hill -- never to be acheived! Yet - we committed ourselves to make this "idealistic quest" happen no matter how many obstacles came before us and forever as long it takes to achieve our goals.
We presented our idealistic plans to the Mayor and Council and it was received with little enthusiasm. The idea of removing large shade trees from a two-mile projected parade route was not acceptable or even feasible in the eyes of our political leaders. They would not support the removal of large shade trees to create a unique parade route lined with just cherry trees!
Our group was challenged to change their minds about what we wanted to do. We approached every family living on Chapel Avenue requesting permission to remove the shade trees on their property and assured them that we would replace them with cherry trees. The majority of them approved and signed the petition giving us permission to remove the large shade trees in front of their homes. We gave the signed petition to the Mayor and Council members and requested their support to make it happen.
The Mayor and Council were supprised and impressed that we managed to get approval from the majority of the home owners on Chapel Avenue. They decided to give our project a "test run" and approved a section of Chapel Avenue for shade tree removals to see if there would be any outcry from the community. The one block section of large shade trees were removed and there were no outcrys or objections from the community - - not one!
From that day forward we received full support from the Mayor John Holden and Council Members to pursue our plans to unify the township. One of our idealistic goals was started - the conversion of two-miles of Chapel Avenue into an avenue of blossoming cherry trees! We now had to encourage cherry trees plantings throughout the township.
The townspeople and diverse identities of Cherry Hill were encouraged to participate by the strong leadership of Mayor John Holden and his Council members! These community leaders supported us 100 percent! Their leadership and willingness to participate in these idealistic goals helped us to get the community-wide support we needed! Contributions started to come in to pay for the expenses that we were accumulating.
The cherry tree quest did become an accepted effort by the townspeople and community groups of Cherry Hill. The Courier Post, a leading South Jersey Newspaper -- became one of our biggest supporters. Their support helped to raise even more funds to pay for shade tree removals and new cherry trees replacements. We were also being mentioned on radio shows and by our community newspaper, the "Cherry Hill News"! Ken Garland, a famed radio broadcaster consistantly supported our efforts by announcing our progress on the air-ways. Seemingly, everyone was supporting our efforts to do something special for Cherry Hill.
The news of our effort spread throughout Cherry Hill and surrounding areas! The full community of Cherry Hill became active and supportive of our idealistic goals. Finally -- there was community-wide involvement of the townspeople working together, sharing a common goal to convert Chapel Avenue into a two-mile avenue of blossoming cherry trees and preparing for our first Cherry Blossom Parade.
The first cherry tree was scheduled to be planted on March 17, 1973 - St. Patricks Day! We placed ads in the newspaper advertising that Cherry Hill was going "PINK" on St. Patrick's Day! It drew alot of public attention. The "reality" to unify the townspeople of Cherry Hill was at last started. A major accomplishment for us -- was when the first cherry tree was planted on Chapel Avnenue on St. Patrick's day!
Contributions came in from all sectors of the township - - year after year! We raised the money to pay for large shade tree removals and the new cherry trees that replaced them. Contributions also helped to pay for the expenses of the Cherry Blossom Parades that we were presenting to the community. Additional funds were raised by activities we brought into the community. We had dinner dances, carnivals, hot-air baloon races, concerts at the high schools that helped to raised funds for our quest to bring the community proudly together! This continued for many years! Volunteers were always plentiful, young and old alike came to plant the cherry trees or to work on our community projects. They came from all sections of Cherry Hill -- there was no shortage of workers.
Year after year, even when new political leadership changed in town hall, this scenario repeated itself. Strong leadership from the politicians and diverse identities made it possible to receive contributions to pursue our idealistic goals over many years. Other positive activities were being organized - Hot-air ballon races, Carnivals, community dinner dance, bike and foot races, concerts and many more.
Everyone knew, from the very beginning, that It would take many years to achieve our goals! It was not going to happen overnight! This too was part of our original plan - to create an ongoing effort that would keep the community working together pursuing idealistic goals for Cherry Hill. It was important that our townspeople had to face new challenges every year -- that would forge a "community bond" that would keep us working together to achieve our goals.
Our group is committed to realize our idealistic goals! We will unify the townspeople and reverse the negative perception of Cherry Hill -- no matter how many obstacles lay before us or how long it may take for us to succeed!
Would we succeed?
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