Taxes, blazes and bears: Greater Morristown’s big stories of 2015

Bear lazing above the Green Photo by Bill Lescohier
Bear lazing above the Green. Photo by Bill Lescohier
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Fire at 15 Pine St. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Fatal fire at 15 Pine St, July 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

By Kevin Coughlin

The year 2015 was momentous in Greater Morristown.

There were devastating fires. A landmark tax case shook New Jersey nonprofits.  We lost the man most responsible for creating the Morris School District. The once-magnificent centerpiece of Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital came tumbling down, despite protests from preservationists.

Bear lazing above the Green Photo by Bill Lescohier
Bear lazing above the Green. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Morristown struggled to dispose of the winter’s relentless snow.  An internet legend donated a composting toilet to the Community Garden. And a bear romped across the historic Morristown Green.

Here’s a look in the rear-view mirror. At the bottom, we pick the year’s top local stories, and name our Person(s) of the Year.

 

JANUARY:

On a bitterly cold night, Ukrainian Americans picket the Mayo Performing Arts Center’s 20th anniversary concert because its features Russian conductor Valery Gergiev; he gets a warmer reception inside.

On the same evening,  fire sweeps through a swath of Elm Street, destroying the venerable Del’s Novelty and B.W. Clifford Inc. storefronts and displacing some 25 tenants; the fire’s cause remains unsolved.

Video: Nightmare on Elm Street

MARCH:

The Minstrel Acoustic Concert Series, a Friday night staple in Morris Township, is honored by Morris Arts for 40 years of music — an anniversary that is celebrated throughout the year.

A Morris Plains man is charged with drunk driving after crashing through a Morristown storefront.

This vacant Market Street storefront sustained heavy damage when a car sailed through it. The incident remains under investigation. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
This vacant Market Street storefront sustained heavy damage when a car sailed through it in March 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

JUNE:

Construction starts on the $13 million expansion of Morristown High School.

The Morristown council approves a 185-unit apartment complex and park as Phase Two of the long anticipated Speedwell Avenue redevelopment.

Artist's conception of proposed Phase Two of Speedwell Redevelopment. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Artist’s conception of proposed Phase Two of Speedwell Redevelopment. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

JULY:

Morris Township reopens Ginty Pool after $2 million in renovations.

Column top is removed from the Kirkbride Building at the former Greystone psychiatric hospital. Photo by Kenneth Hoffman
Column top is removed from the Kirkbride Building at the former Greystone psychiatric hospital. Photo by Kenneth Hoffman

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark donates $10,000 for a composting toilet  at the Early Street Community Garden, near his boyhood home in Morristown.

Despite years of protests by preservationists, the state proceeds with demolition of the 139-year-old Kirkbride Building at the former Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital on the Morris Plains/Parsippany border.

One tenant escapes with his dog, but a roommate perishes as a fire of undetermined origin ravages a Pine Street house.

Video: Fatal fire on Pine Street

A Somerset County man at Morristown’s Headquarters Plaza is arrested wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a backpack with two semi-automatic pistols, hollow-point bullets, a fake badge, handcuffs and a police baton.

AUGUST:

Bria Skonberg with Mayor Tim Dougherty, who launched the Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest five years ago. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Singer Bria Skonberg with Mayor Tim Dougherty, who launched the Morristown Jazz & Blues Fest five years ago. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival marks its fifth anniversary–and five straight years of perfect weather.

SEPTEMBER:

Demolition makes way for the future home of a triangular law office touted as the “Gateway to Morristown” on Market and Bank streets.

Three years after plans were unveiled, a CVS pharmacy opens on Speedwell Avenue, as part of a broader redevelopment proposed more than a decade earlier.

Signs in front of Gregg Bruen's Morristown home blame U.S. immigration policies for rising school taxes and overcrowded homes. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Signs in front of Gregg Bruen’s Morristown home blame U.S. immigration policies for rising school taxes and overcrowded homes. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A Speedwell Avenue resident erects giant lawn signs protesting rental stacking that he says is ruining his Morristown neighborhood.

At a tumultuous meeting of the Morristown Housing Authority, the executive director discloses a federal investigation… and a commissioner allegedly attacks another commissioner who happens to be the mayor’s wife.

 

OCTOBER:

The Morristown Green becomes the wild frontier, as a black bear makes himself at home.

Video: Bear visits historic Green

At the first TEDx Morristown, a high school senior presents a blueprint for retooling our educational system.

Katlyn Waldo and Louie Marin of Carolyn Dorfman Dance perform at TEDxMorristown 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Katlyn Waldo and Louie Marin of Carolyn Dorfman Dance perform at TEDxMorristown 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

 

NOVEMBER:

Morristown sends shock waves through New Jersey’s nonprofit hospital community by extracting some $25.5 million in property taxes and penalties from Morristown Medical Center, via a settlement with parent company Atlantic Health that ends a legal battle dating to 2008.

Gov. Christie christens the Morris Plains headquarters of Honeywell, which moved from Morris Township after a two-year redevelopment fight.

A defeated Morristown council candidate challenges votes by the Seeing Eye president and other blind citizens… then changes his mind.

Democratic candidates challenge results after a bizarre election in Morris Township… but still fall short.

DECEMBER:

Gov. Christie serves man at Morristown's Market Street Mission. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Gov. Christie serves man at Morristown’s Market Street Mission. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Dave Scott of the Market Street Mission gets a New Jersey Hero award from Gov. Christie, who takes a break from his presidential campaign to serve in the soup kitchen.

Sentenced to prison, a Somerset County man who brought handguns and hollow-point bullets into Morristown’s Headquarters Plaza breaks down in court.

Video: Sentencing in HQ gun case

Morristown holds its first public hearing on proposed uses for Pioneer Park at Headquarters Plaza.


COMINGS AND GOINGS:

Morris Township Mayor H. Scott Rosenbush
Former Morris Township Committeeman Scott Rosenbush

After 19 years of service, Morris Township Committeeman Scott Rosenbush steps down in March because of a move to Utah; Matheu Nunn is named to fill out his term.

Atlantic Health in March names Brian Gragnolati as president and CEO, replacing Dr. Joseph Trunfio, who retired.

Dr. David Shulkin, president of Morristown Medical Center, is tapped by President Obama in March to become undersecretary of health for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rabbi Donald Rossoff retires in June after 25 years leading Moristown’s Temple B’Nai Or; he and his wife, Fran Rossoff, a longtime member of the Morris School District board, announce plans to return to their native Chicago area.  Rabbi Ellie Miller is installed as senior rabbi in November.

WINNERS CIRCLE: From left, Fran Rossoff and her husband, Rabbi Don Rossoff; Jeannette Thomas, Leonard Posey and Ann Rhines. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
Fran Rossoff and her husband, Rabbi Don Rossoff, with school board members Jeannette Thomas, Leonard Posey and Ann Rhines in 2012. Photo by Marie Pfeifer
Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast discusses his vision for the Morris School District. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast discusses his vision for the Morris School District, September 2015. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Weeks after starting as Morris School District superintendent, Mackey Pendergrast addresses the Morristown High commencement; over the summer he maps an ambitious plan called “The Way Forward.”

Betsey Hall retires from Morristown-based Homeless Solutions in July, after 17 years as CEO of the nonprofit, which manages 57 affordable rental homes across Morris County.

Betsey Hall, president of Homeless Solutions Inc., outside the HSI shelter in Morris Township. HSI is celebrating 30 years of helping Morris County's homeless and working poor. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Betsey Hall, president of Homeless Solutions Inc., outside the HSI shelter in Morris Township. HSI is celebrating 30 years of helping Morris County’s homeless and working poor. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Maria Norton ends a 48-year career at the Morristown & Township Library, retiring as director in August.

Video: Maria Norton retires from the library

Tricia Pongracz, former curator of a biblical museum, assumes executive director duties at Morristown’s Macculloch Hall Historical Museum in September.

Ken Chin and his wife Jody Marcus flank Tricia Pongracz, director of Macculloch Hall, at the the museum's 'Whiskey & Wardrobes' fundraiser at the Kellogg Club. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
Ken Chin and his wife Jody Marcus flank Tricia Pongracz, new director of Macculloch Hall, at the the museum’s ‘Whiskey & Wardrobes’ fundraiser in October. Photo by Jeff Sovelove

Morristown Administrator Michael Rogers, instrumental in crafting five straight zero-increase budgets during a decade-long career in Morristown, leaves in September for a higher-paying post in Summit.   Jillian Barrick is hired from Perth Amboy as his successor.

After a 13-year tenure that included a hurricane, a tropical storm and a Halloween “Frankenstorm,” Morristown Town Engineer Jeff Hartke calls it a career in September.

Fourteen months into the job, Drew University President MaryAnn Baenninger  officially is installed as Drew’s 13th president in October.

December is the swan song for two Morristown council veterans: Second Ward Councilwoman Raline Smith-Reid  (16 years) and Council President Rebecca Feldman (eight years) of the First Ward. Hiliari Davis-Oyesanya succeeds Smith-Reid; Bob Iannaccone will take Feldman’s seat.

Video: Feldman to residents: ‘Get Involved!’


IN MEMORIAM

EAT YOUR COLORS: Chef Melody McGinley Whitelaw. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
EAT YOUR COLORS: Chef Melody McGinley Whitelaw. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

February

Chef Melody McGinley Whitelaw, a dear friend of MorristownGreen.com, supported numerous charitable events with her cupcakes, brownies and vivacious personality.

 

July

Kelly Marie Smith, 31, was remembered for her 'wonderful smiles, spirit, joy and talents.' Photo: RyanFuneralHome.com/
Kelly Marie Smith, 31, was remembered for her ‘wonderful smiles, spirit, joy and talents.’ Photo: RyanFuneralHome.com/

A house fire on Pine Street in Morristown takes the life of Kelly Marie Smith, 31, a hair salon employee who was starting anew.  The fire’s cause remains undetermined.

 

 

John Cunningham and his companion Judy Kendall at 2010 season opener of the Community Theatre in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
John Cunningham and his companion Judy Kendall at 2010 season opener of the Community Theatre in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Judy Kendall  enabled the late author John Cunningham to take a victory lap in his 90s; his devoted companion survived him by three years and was 79.

August

Jeff Giardina, whose brave battle against an aggressive form of cancer inspired the community, dies while vacationing with his two young sons and wife Lori Ann, owner of The Creamery.

Jeff and Lori Ann Giardina at the Creamery with sons Christian and Justin. Photo courtesy of Lori Ann Giardina
Jeff and Lori Ann Giardina at the Creamery with sons Christian and Justin. Photo courtesy of Lori Ann Giardina

October

Steve Wiley, 86, was a lawyer, politician, poet and civic leader who raised millions for the Community Theatre, the Morristown & Township Library and the Morristown Green; yet his greatest feat, many believe, was creation of the Morris School District.

Video: Remembering Steve Wiley

December

Morristown High School alums mourn Christa Lassiter Lee, ’75, murdered by her son in North Carolina, according to news reports.


MUSIC

Our favorite shows of 2015…

Kristin Chenoweth’s season-opener at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in September. Dazzling.

Sarah McLachlan at MPAC in December. A mesmerizing performer at the top of her game.

Red Molly’s farewell concert at The Sanctuary in August. A class act goes out the same way it came in… in perfect harmony.

Video: Red Molly’s New Jersey finale

Squeeze acoustic at MPAC in December. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook sound good as ever… but Tilbrook’s blazing guitar seals the deal.

Tom Paxton’s goodbye to The Minstrel in July.  A legend…just don’t call him that to his face.

Video: Tom Paxton zings Donald Trump

Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues at MPAC. An acoustic evening brings his melodies to the fore.

Judy Collins cheats Father Time at The Sanctuary in August, rebounding from an outdoor meltdown.

Melissa Etheridge solo in October at MPAC.  This one-woman band rocks.

The Kennedys — Pete and Maura — blaze their own trail. At The Minstrel in April, they celebrate 20 years not with old favorites…but with original tunes from three new albums.

Video: Minstrel Magic from the Kennedys

The Harmonium Choral Society: Dark Night of the Soul in March, or Spem in Alium in December?  Flip a coin.

Actor Jack Lemmon’s son Chris is a chip off the old block in a Twist of Lemmon, a tart tribute at the Bickford.

William Shatner at MPAC in January. An Enterprising show… out of this world.


 STORIES OF THE YEAR:

1. Morristown’s tax settlement with Atlantic Health. It’s being felt across the state.

2. Fires. They brought tragedy and destruction to Morristown in 2015.

3. The Green Bear. Where is George Washington, frontiersman, when you need him?


THE MORRISTOWNGREEN.COM  “PERSON(S) OF THE YEAR” :

The unnamed security person(s) at Headquarters Plaza who observed a man acting suspiciously one morning in July and alerted authorities. The suspect was arrested with two handguns and illegal hollow-point bullets.

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