By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
MAYS LANDING – The Atlantic County Sheriff’s Foundation Wednesday, Sept. 9 awarded $3,000 in scholarships to six recipients in its first-ever Sheriff Gerard L. Gormley Scholarship Fund during an event held under a tent in front of the Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing.
The scholarships honor the late Gerard L. Gormley who held the position of Atlantic County Sheriff longer than anyone else since the office was created in 1837. He served six terms over a 22-year period from 1947 to 1969.
Former NJ Sen. Bill Gormley attended the event along with several family members, state and county officials, and members of organizations supported by the Gormley family over the years.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, whose parents were good friends with the Gormleys, provided the audience with a humorous look at the Gormley, Sweeney, Murphy and Levinson clans as they grew up together in the Downbeach area. He talked about how his home was a center of activity for many of the four families’ children on Sundays for nearly 20 years.
“Those relationships continued throughout the years,” Levinson said.
Of Sheriff Gormley, Levinson said: “Hap Farley was the most powerful man in South Jersey and arguably the most powerful man in all of New Jersey. But Jerry Gormley was by far the most popular. I cherish the time I knew him and cherish the time we were together.”
Like his father, Sen. Bill Gormley’s “ability to bring people together to talk about issues that needed to be addressed has been unmatched,” Sheriff Eric Scheffler said.
The senator had a hand in creating the Atlantic City campus of Stockton University, uplifting the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, and supporting the expansion of AtlantiCare health system.
“We are honored to have our scholarship hold the name of Sheriff Gormley,” Scheffler said, “but generations of Gormleys continue helping the county move forward.”
The senator took to the podium and commended Scheffler for bringing the Sheriff’s Office outreach programs to the next level.
“The quality of people in this department would make my father proud,” Gormley said. “It’s not just about punishing people, it’s about changing their lives after the warrant is issued.”
Gormley said that as sheriff, his father often provided the “safety net” social services that prevent recidivism at his dining room table. He reached out to residents at all levels, including those seeking rehabilitation after incarceration.
“He treated people as they treated him. He reached out to these individuals and made them feel like they had a future,” Gormley said.
The newly created scholarship program would help to provide a safety net for recipients who also want to make the community better, Gormley said.
Scholarships totaling $3,000 were awarded to one Sheriff’s Officer and five children of Sheriff’s Office employees. Award recipients include Officer Adam Erskine of Mays Landing, who is pursuing a master’s degree, Jessica D. Amos and Bailey Holcombe of Galloway Township, Douglas J. Cericola Jr. of Egg Harbor Township, Erin T. Foster of Mays Landing and Reganne Engstler of Maryland.
Along with awarding the $500 scholarships, the foundation unveiled a timeline of the Sheriff’s Office that was installed in the lobby of the county courthouse.
Scheffler said when he took office three years ago, “there was no footprint” for the Sheriff’s Office in the county office building. He said he found a box of papers in the old sheriff’s residence in Mays Landing, which many referred to as “The Gormley Hotel,” that provided much of the information needed to create an historical timeline.
“I’m a little bit of a history buff,” Scheffler said. “I commissioned the historical timeline and it took a long time,” but many people contributed to it, including Sen. Gormley, he said.
“We are not only the oldest policing agency in Atlantic County, we are one of the oldest in the State of New Jersey and the country. It has an incredibly rich history of fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandchildren, grandmothers and granddaughters. I thought it was important for us to know it and remember it.”
Creating the scholarship program is a way to empower the people of the community, support the employees of the Sheriff’s Office and their children in the pursuit of education, he said.
Foundation President William Mazur said the foundation, which was formed three years ago, normally funds equipment for law enforcement, “but we wanted to build community and develop positive relationships with the people of Atlantic County,” which led to the creation of the scholarship program.
Other programs funded through the foundation include the Hope One mobile van, sober living assistance, transportation to drug treatment, emergency identification to eliminate barriers to obtaining treatment, leadership training, employee recognition, team building, Bring Your Children To Work Day, local sports teams and support for the Police Unity Tour. The Sheriff’s Office is currently assisting with food distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering food to senior citizens.
The foundation, which operates entirely on donations, along with a contribution from PBA 243, provided the financial support to create the timeline.
“It was an incredible day,” Scheffler said. “When we left the event, we already raised $3,500 for next year, which was already more than what we awarded in our first year. Our goal is to build on this every year and go as high as we can with special events and fundraisers. It’s a great way to honor those who work in the Sheriff’s Office, their families and the legacy of Gerard Gormley.”
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