NJ Town Changes Mind, Won't Name Building After Obama

Wednesday, 03 Sep 2014 06:49 PM

By John Blosser

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A community center in New Jersey will not, after all, bear the name of President Barack Obama because the Willingboro Township Council has bowed to residents' angry protests and changed its mind.

Town Council members voted Aug. 7 to change the name of the community center from the John F. Kennedy Center to the President Barack Obama Center, but after 200 residents of the 31,000-resident town presented a petition signed by 1,200 locals in strong opposition and chanted "Vote it down" at the meeting, the Town Council voted unanimously to keep the name unchanged, the Burlington County Times reported.

The 155,000-square-foot building was a high school from 1965 until 1991, when Willingboro High School was built, and today serves as a senior center, recreation hall and auditorium.

Graduates of the school, whose sports teams were known as the Gryphons, felt that town history and school pride were more important than changing the building's name to honor Obama.

Councilman Chris Walker, who originated the idea to change the school's name, voted against it this time and said of the crowd, "They all expressed a great deal of pride in being a Gryphon. That made a difference in me reconsidering what we did," the Times reported.

"Kennedy came here in the '60s, and you just don't put in a president who is still in office and take out one who was assassinated," James Warner Jr., a 1984 Kennedy graduate, told the Times.

"Regardless that it"s not a high school anymore, for the people who graduated, it will always be Kennedy."

Yvonne Stepney told the local CBS affiliate station, "I am an alumni of John F. Kennedy High School. There's a lot of history here in Willingboro as it pertains to John F. Kennedy. He visited this great city. We have the John F. Kennedy Center. We have Kennedy Way. I was not for changing the name."

The center is undergoing a $4.9 million renovation that will add a banquet hall and upgrade the old building's entrance and lobby, according to Philly.com.

Mayor Eddie Campbell, who voted against the name change both times, said, "We have to listen to the people. The people have spoken, and we believe in government by the people."

Dawn Donnelly of Burlington Township told Philly.com she is a 1977 graduate of Kennedy High and "I'm an Obama supporter. I voted for him two times and I would vote for him again. It's not about that. Kennedy meant a lot to this town in the 1960s. They are changing history."

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