Jefferson Township celebrated its Bicentennial in 2004 with a year-long celebration involving many memorable events and programs celebrating the 200th anniversary of its formation in 1804. Many people were involved in making the celebration a reality, with Jack Kelly serving as chairman of the Jefferson Township Bicentennial Committee. Russ Felter, who was mayor at the time, said, “Those involved displayed true united patriotism and volunteerism.”  

The Jefferson Chronicle has learned that the year-long celebration started off with a spectacular Bicentennial Ball on January 24, 2004. After months of planning, the event was held at The Jefferson House in Lake Hopatcong. The menu consisted of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres followed by a dinner buffet representative of the era including corn chowder, a green salad, carving stations offering Virginia ham and turkey, pork and sweet potatoes. Guests also enjoyed Chicken Francese, Seafood Newburg, stroganoff with noodles, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and peas. Beer, wine and soda were available, and a Venetian table of delectable desserts concluded the festive meal. 

The event was open to all residents and invited dignitaries, and a reasonable ticket price allowed 160 people to attend. Dignitaries as prominent as then President George W. Bush were invited! In an effort to also raise funds for the upcoming celebratory plans for the rest of that year, several raffles were held including a 50/50, a charcoal rendering of the township gazebo drawn by Ron Weidel, and a large basket of bicentennial commemorative items.

The bicentennial commemorative articles were also offered for sale throughout 2004 and included an afghan created by John/Joan Crafts and Gifts in Mertztown, PA featuring nine depictions of significant events and places from Jefferson’s past and present copied from preserved black and white postcards on file with the Jefferson Township Historical Society. A celebratory 2004 calendar with beautiful photographs of the township taken by John Archibald, Robert Keppel, Sal Pisani, Ben Smead, and Richard West;  the Treasured Recipes cookbook that featured real recipes from township residents; a t-shirt with a logo designed by resident Rosemary Bush; a baseball cap with Bush’s logo; a Thomas Jefferson bookmark with a gold tassel;  a commemorative pin designed by Jefferson Township student Kristina Runne;  and a beautiful holiday tree ornament were among the commemorative items.

Ben and Deborah Smead were dressed to the nines at the Bicentennial Ball! (Photo courtesy of Robert Keppel)

Committee members, township officials, and many guests came elegantly dressed in beautiful costumes indicative of the 1800s, while some came in formal attire. In an article written by Karen Maurer on behalf of the Bicentennial Committee, “The most daring of the group came in satin and lace, top hats and tails, and even a few wigs.” 

Township Girl Scouts including Jess Arena, Ava Tews, Annamarie Amato, and April Sparling dressed in period outfits and conducted red carpet interviews as guests entered the venue. As some girls from Troop 155 Jefferson North were working on pre-requisites for their Gold Award, Lindsay Kolvik from Troop 1012 came to help the younger girls as part of her own Gold Award requirements. Councilman Brooke Hardy served as Master of Ceremonies with the Rev. David Muyskens, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Berkshire Valley, leading the invocation; and Rev. Linda Prinz, Pastor of the United Presbyterian Church of Lake Hopatcong, lead the benediction that evening.

Mayor Felter gave the Bicentennial Toast; and numerous proclamations and resolutions including ones written by 25th District Assemblyman Richard A. Merkt, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders Director Jack J. Schrier, NJ Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghusyen, NJ Governor Richard J. Codey, NJ Senator Jon S. Corzine, and even the President of the United States George W. Bush were read along with congratulatory letters from other New Jersey municipal dignitaries.

Following their prior extensive research, at the dinner, the committee announced the oldest living native-born residents born in Jefferson Township. Alma Moran at age 96 was recognized as the oldest living female native; and Charles “Wesley” Ackerson at age 88 was recognized as the oldest living male native. Ninety-five-year-old Herman Eck was acknowledged as the oldest living non-native male resident while Wilhelmine “Minnie”  Hammer at age 95 was recognized as the oldest living non-native female resident. Both women were not in attendance as Moran had moved to a facility in Denville, and Wilhelmine was in a rehabilitation facility. Both gentlemen, however, were in attendance and were presented with a plaque and a special commemorative bicentennial afghan.

At 88 years of age, Wes Ackerson was recognized at the Ball by Jack Kelly and Mayor Russ Felter as the oldest living male native. (Photo courtesy of Robert Keppel)

The oldest resident families of the township were recognized as were the supporters and donors to the ball, along with Jefferson’s own elected officials, including Council President Richard Yocum, Council Vice President Robert Birmingham, Councilmen Brooke Hardy and Michael Sanchelli, and Councilwoman Debi Merz. The Bicentennial Committee chaired by Ada Felter and members Laurie O’Shaughnessy, Frances Slayton, Richard Willis, Christine Williams, Rose Kelly, Jack Kelly, Richard West, Thomas Kieran, and Julie Mastricola were recognized as well. Guest speakers were Congressman Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, Senator Anthony Bucco, and Freeholder John Inglesino. 

Chairman of the Bicentennial Committee Jack Kelly, Master of Ceremonies Councilman Brooke Hardy, and Mayor Russ Felter presided in the presentation of awards and recognitions. (Photo courtesy of Robert Keppel)

Classical music during the cocktail hour was provided by residents Judy and Tim Adriansen, choral selections were performed by the Jefferson Township High School Men’s Ensemble under the direction of James Wynne,  and a dance performance of the Virginia Reel was performed by The Morris County School of Dance and included members of the Bicentennial Committee. Dance music and entertainment was provided during the evening by the seven-piece band Scoot on Down (which included several musicians who were Jefferson Township residents). Art Bonito from Jefferson Highlights Community TV filmed the evening’s activities. 

The 2004 Jefferson Township High School Men’s Ensemble under the direction of James Wynne performed for the guests. (Photo courtesy of Robert Keppel)

The Bicentennial Ball’s corporate sponsor was the law firm of Courter, Kobert and Cohen, P.C. Support and donations came from Gig the Florist, The Bicentennial Committee, The Jefferson House, Jefferson Highlights Community TV, Jefferson North Girl Scouts, Jefferson South Girl Scouts, and West Photo Imaging.

A time capsule was buried on municipal grounds containing information about the Bicentennial celebration of 2004 and will be opened in 2054 for all to learn of this momentous Jefferson Township event firsthand. The capsule is said to contain a total of 75 items representing the township’s typical lifestyle at the start of the 21st century, including news events, popular culture, township information, local restaurant menus, a high school yearbook, submissions by local school children, an American flag that flew over the State Capitol, and personal items from the Wroblewski family in remembrance of their son Marine Second LT. John T. Wroblewski who died in 2004 while serving his country in Iraq. Tom DeSena of Lake Hopatcong won a lottery for a chance to include a personal item in the capsule.

It was indeed a spectacular event that will always hold a special place in Jefferson Township’s history.

Sources: Bicentennial Memories of The Township of Jefferson NJ 1804-2004; The 2004 Jefferson Township Bicentennial Ball program;  Bicentennial Committee members Robert Keppel, Richard West, and Laurie O’Shaughnessy; the website http://www.jeffersonbicentennial.org

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