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  • Al Campbell

Whitesboro Celebrates 30th Reunion; Oprah Joins Community

WHITESBORO - What was begun in 1988 as the first Whitesboro Reunion blossomed into a community-wide event highlighted Sept. 1.

Joining the celebration was centenarian Lillian Inez Palmer, who was born in Whitesboro June 13, 1918. She returned to her hometown from Washington, D.C.

She rose to wave toward the stage in the large white tent outside the MLK Community Center on West Main Street.

On that stage was Oprah Winfrey, who flew from the West Coast in her private jet, her partner Stedman Graham, one of the founders of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, Inc., Dr. Barbara Gaba, keynote speaker, president of Atlantic Cape Community College, Bernie Blanks, president, Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, Inc. and Middle Township Mayor Michael Clark and Committeemen Timothy Donohue and Jeffrey DeVico, and Chief of Police Christopher Leusner.

The crowd was in a festival mood, and cheered for Palmer.

All eyes, however, were on Winfrey who arrived and was escorted into the tent after stopping many times to have photos taken by fans and community members.

The milestone year was also marked by a U.S. Postal Service pictorial postmark that honored U.S. Rep. George H. White, the member of Congress for whom the community is named.

The postmark's details were explained by Della Moses Walker, New Jersey director of the Ebony Society of Philatelic Events and Reflections.

Gaba is the Atlantic Cape Community College's first female president as well as its first African American to hold the office. She told the crowd of her mother's great influence on her life, how the single mother raised a family. She recalled one of her mother's favorite sayings, "Everything happens for a reason."

She said at the outset of her career, she never intended to become a college professor, but through a series of extraordinary events, and an agency that called her back after she first declined the idea of becoming Atlantic Cape's president, she has held office for a year and a half.

In her post she oversees three campuses in two counties, the only community college in the state that covers two counties, she noted.

She remembered leaving her last job at Union County College on a Wednesday and taking the president's chair at Atlantic Cape on Monday.

"When I see the students, I see myself," Gaba said. She stressed the need for affordable college, reflecting how she had very limited financial means to enter college.

As an aside, Gaba said her mother, after raising her children and in her 50s, returned to college and received a degree from Fordham University.

When Graham, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro, Inc., took the microphone, he told the crowd, "I don't think you understand." He recited the achievements the community had made in the 30 years since the first reunion.

There are now sidewalks, more paved streets, a renovated once-segregated school that many older residents had attended before Middle Township integrated its grade school.

Graham cited the number of young scholars who have been assisted in attaining a college degree by the Concerned Citizens, and also the help given to younger students in the Homework Help Club at the MLK Center.

"I don't think you understand," he said several more times. Adding, "This is what Dr. (Martin Luther) King was trying to get us to be." He then recalled King's quotation of being the best streetsweeper, if that was what one was called to be.

Bernie Blanks and Bernie Blanks Jr., who celebrated his birthday Sept. 1, joined to unveil a plaque marking the 30th anniversary of the Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro that was given by Michelle Hudgins Ozumba. The plaque will be hung in the Whitesboro School on East Main Street, Blanks said.

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