Last year's Chestnut Hill Award winner Sister Carol Jean Vale (right) presents this year's award to Larry McEwen. (Photo by Steve Ladner)

by Barbara Sherf

More than 100 area residents and dignitaries turned out for the Chestnut Hill Community Association Annual meeting on April 20. Held at the Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, attendees were treated to community spirit in form of appetizers donated by Tavern on the Hill, drinks courtesy of Brewer’s Outlet, and dinner catered by Top of the Hill Café and served by volunteers from Teenagers, Inc.

Jane Golden, executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, entertained and inspired the audience with images of its work and humorous stories about working with graffiti artists with nicknames like Knife, Pez and Tran.

“I befriended these kids,” she said, “invited them into my home to look at art books, and the next day I woke up to find “Cool Jane” tagged in several prominent locations around the city. I said to Tran, ‘you could have just thanked me,’” as the audience laughed in amusement. “We cleaned things up before I got fired.”

Golden, who has been with the program since its inception in 1984, said at some point along the way she realized the program was not about art.

“The light went on, and I had an epiphany and realized it’s not about the art – it’s about social change,” she said. “Art can have a catalytic impact on a community in the form of change.”

She noted that of the 3,558 indoor and outdoor murals throughout the city, only a half dozen have been defaced.

“Respecting the process, collaboration and community involvement are the keys to making this work,” she added. “I’ve seen it and I believe in it.”

During the question and answer segment, Golden was asked what the holdup has been with painting a mural on the train trestle near the Trolley Car Diner.

“We made headway several years ago, and it came to a halt with PECO,” she said. “I’m willing to revisit it and am committed to meeting with you within the next two weeks to try to get it moving again.”

Following Golden’s presentation, Patricia Cove, who has overseen the Community Awards Committee for the past five years, talked of being honored to have been part of the process.

Cove then introduced Sister Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, president of Chestnut Hill College. Vale, a past recipient of the Chestnut Hill Award, took to the podium to introduce this year’s recipient, Lawrence D. McEwen. McEwen was cited for his work on the Land Use Planning and Zoning (LUPZ) Committee in making Sugarloaf a part of Chestnut Hill College.

“I think Chestnut Hill is a place that people gravitate to by choice,” McEwen said. “We must all try to remember the heart of a disagreement and bring together our basic commonality. There is never a lack of interest or participation in this community and that’s a good thing.”

Jane Piotrowski, vice president for Social Division, and a past recipient of the Meritorious Service Award, introduced winner Marilyn Paucker, citing her efforts as president of the board of the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment (CHCE).

Paucker talked about the tumultuous year the CHCE has experienced.

“It’s been a wild ride and there have been plenty of bumps along the road,” she said. “We were forced to vacate our home on Crittenden, and, thanks to the generosity of Richard Snowden, we were able to find a new home on the Avenue. The next bump was the vote in December to close the center due to finances. But then three angels came through and we were in business again before we closed. We are alive, and stronger and better than ever.”

She talked about the Design Showcase the center is planning and that the center has “a satellite location here at the Center on the Hill.” Imagine that,” she added.

Paucker accepted the award on behalf of the angels and CHCE executive director Mary Zell and her assistant, Sue Davis. She thanked her family for attending and she thanked her Chestnut Hill family for its continued support.

Finally, Paula Riley, a past recipient of the Distinguished Service Award, introduced the incoming recipient, James A. Black, Jr. Black, who lives at the Hill House, has made it his mission to clean up and take care of trees and trash within a six-block walk of his home.

“I walk and I see what needs to be done on the R7 and R8 lines and in the neighborhood,” Black said. “I have removed many killer vines and worked with city agencies and SEPTA to address these issues. I’ve gotten and given a good steer, and I’m honored to have received this award.”

Next up was Larry Hochberger, associate publisher of the Local, who talked about it being a “turnaround year for the Local and its website.” He noted the addition of a daily e-newsletter and a host of new web pages for comments, shoppers and community problems.

“It’s a newspaper that half the people swear by and half the people swear at,” he said as the audience nodded, laughed and clapped in agreement.

He noted a variety of awards the Local has received for its print and online version. “These awards were received over newspapers with much larger circulations,” he said. “We have established relationships with high schools and colleges. They are learning from us and we are learning from the students.”

He noted that there is a ‘spirited debate’ going on right now at the Local and newsrooms across the country over how much information to give away online.

“The Local and thelocal.com belong to you, so speak up and let us know what you think,” he added.

Jean Hemphill, president of the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, gave the State of the CHCA Finances report.

“Our goal was $105,000 and we came close to $100,000,” Hemphill said. “We allocated 23 grants to community groups, including Teenagers Inc. The money can’t buy the programs – they have to be run by volunteers. But we can help with supplies and support and that is what we look for in giving out the grants.”

Tolis Vardakis, past president of CHCA filled in as emcee for current CHCA president Walter Sullivan, who was unable to attend.

Vardakis suggested that individuals go to www.chestnuthill.org for a full report on the CHCA finances and list of incoming officers and directors.