50th Maple Leaf Award recognizes community service

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — On Sunday, May 6, Joan Crystal, Cynthia Thompson and the Maplewood Garden Club will be honored as recipients of the Maple Leaf Award for volunteer and community service.

“This year’s Maple Leaf Award recipients include relatively long-time residents of Maplewood,” Maple Leaf Awards Chairwoman Mary Devon O’Brien said in a press release. “Whether the volunteer work of this year’s recipients has been given for service to maintain and enhance the character of Maplewood and its traditions; for the support and enrichment of opportunities for young people; for the conservancy and beautification of Maplewood; for the care and health of Maplewood’s children and adults; or for the safety and well-being of our community, these volunteers are exceptional individuals whose dedication and service have made Maplewood a better place to live.”

The 50th annual Maple Leaf Award Ceremony and brunch will be held at Pantagis Renaissance, Route 22 in Scotch Plains, beginning promptly at 12:30 p.m. This event is open to the community and people should plan to arrive early in order to find seating.

For reservation and ticket purchasing information, contact O’Brien at 973-763-4135.


Joan Crystal

Born in Brooklyn, Crystal earned a bachelor of science degree in education at Adelphi University. After earning a master of science degree in education from Brooklyn College of CUNY, Crystal worked full-time for 43 years at a major municipality, specializing in public personnel management focused on test construction, administration and position classification.

In 1973, Crystal married Bernard Crystal III, and they had a son, Joseph, who attended Prospect Co-Op Nursery School, Tuscan Elementary School, Maplewood Middle School, Columbia High School and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, from where he graduated with bachelor’s degree. Joseph Crystal is now an architect doing project management with an architectural firm in West Orange, and he and his wife, Rebekah Gale, live in Maplewood with their 9-month-old son, David.

Joan Crystal moved to Maplewood in February 1981, and she began her community contributions as a volunteer with Boy Scouts Troop 3, where she served six years as Troop Committee secretary. She also served for six years on the General Government and Public Safety subcommittees of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.

Crystal’s volunteer service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Maplewood has touched the community in a special way. Her significant and longtime service with the VFW, in conjunction with the annual Memorial Day Parade, has ensured a successful Memorial Day tribute year after year. Her responsibilities included parade planning, recruiting marchers and volunteer helpers, handling publicity, developing the order of the march, coordinating with Maplewood’s municipal agencies, and supervising the activities at the assembly site.

She performed the intake for the monthly blood drive, including troubleshooting for the District 4 Blood Drive. At the East Orange VA Hospital, she held holiday parties for the patients, welcoming patients and helping to place the refreshments in individual servings for the patients. For approximately 23 years, Crystal has been a long-term, active volunteer with the VFW Ladies Auxiliary.

Serving since 2011 as the information desk volunteer at the Maplewood Memorial Library, Crystal greets patrons, shelves materials, answers questions, assists patrons using computers and the copier, teaches patrons how to use the online catalog, and helps patrons locate books in the library. She was appointed by the Maplewood Township Committee to serve as a member of the Maplewood Seniors Advisory Committee when it was created in 2017; there, she continues to attend monthly meetings and make suggestions on ways in which Maplewood can be more senior friendly.

Crystal contributed significantly to the predecessor committee on senior citizens, which developed the mission statement for SOMA Two Towns for All Ages, including the logo selection, developing the job description for the project director and determining the organization structure. She is also a member of the member management team, which serves as the executive board for the organization, and she is a member of the local steering committee, which is comprised of volunteers working on the various subcommittees of the organization. Her volunteer service includes the organization’s various sponsored events, including but not limited to the volunteer fair and the Repair Cafe.

For the past two years, Crystal has helped with the town-sponsored flu vaccination clinic patient intake and, for the last three years, she has worked as a volunteer at the Maplewoodstock Beer Garden, run by the South Orange Elks, where she checks IDs and sells tickets. As a more than 20-year volunteer at the Maplewood Civic Association 4th of July Celebration, Crystal assisted in administering the push, pedal, pull parade and the baking contest; supervised Scouts selling refreshments; sold wristbands/tags; collected tickets for the circus; assisted in setting up and administering the art project; and worked the Baker Gate. She is also a member of the South Orange Elks, the Maplewood Senior Club and Maplewood Senior Share.

The Maple Leaf Award expresses Maplewood’s appreciation for Crystal’s generous service to improve the community and the lives of her fellow residents.


Cynthia Thompson

Thompson grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Polyclinic Hospital School of Nursing in 1975 and St. Joseph’s University in 1978. She moved to Maplewood in 1982 with her husband, Kevin. There they raised their three children: Katie, who graduated from Columbia High School in 2002 and Syracuse University in 2006; Brian, who graduated from Montclair Kimberley Academy in 2005 and Colgate University in 2009; and Connor, who graduated from CHS in 2011, Michigan State in 2015 and Rutgers in 2017.

Thompson worked at St. Barnabas in its Family Care Center from 2005 to 2013, and she earned her Certified Registered Nurse in Maternal-Newborn Nursing in 2011. She attained her International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in 2013 and has worked as a Calm Baby RN since 2013, helping new families adjust to the changes in their lives after bringing a newborn home from the hospital. Thompson’s compassion for helping others extends beyond her professional life; in the mid-1990s, she volunteered in Newark, providing care and love to infants and toddlers at Babyland Nursery.

From 1995 to 1998, she managed Girl Scout Troop 529’s cookie sales and, in 1995, she was a member of the Project Playground Committee to plan, fundraise and oversee the building of large playground at the corner of Valley Street and Oakland Road. Also, while her children attended Tuscan School and Maplewood Middle School, she served as a volunteer member of the executive PTA and HSA boards at those schools. Thompson continued her involved volunteer contributions with the Columbia High School Marching Band Parent Association and as a parent volunteer with the MKA ice hockey and lacrosse teams. She served as the fundraising chairwoman for CHS’ fencing team from 2008 through 2011, and she received the David Milton-Hall Award for volunteerism from the fencing team. She also served as co-chairwoman of Midnight Madness at CHS from 2010 to 2011.

While her son played there, Thompson served as manager of the Bridgewater Bears Youth Ice Hockey team from 2000 to 2004. Her volunteer service involved detailed communication between coaches, players and their parents, as well as the scheduling and travel arrangements for games both locally, nationally and internationally.

As a member of Prospect Presbyterian Church since 1989, Thompson has served as a Sunday School teacher for many years. She participated in the Parish Nurse Program, helped institute and maintain its blood pressure screening program, and was instrumental in having members participate and become certified in CPR training. Then, after research, she had an AED unit placed in the church. From 1990 to 1992 and again from 1996 to 1998, she served as the administrator of the Prospect Co-Op Nursery School Executive Board of Directors.

For many years, Thompson served as the children’s activity coordinator for the Interfaith Hospitality Network during the weeks when Prospect Presbyterian Church was the host. She bought supplies and toys and planned evening activities for the children, and recently her service focused on cooking and serving evening meals to the IHN guests. She also served as publicity chairwoman for Prospect Presbyterian Church’s annual rummage sale, and as a recent moderator of Deacons, an in-church group that provides care — meals, rides and serves in-home Communion — to shut-ins and members in need.

“My true passion!” said Thompson, “is the Prospect Presbyterian’s annual Secret Shoppe,” which she originated with three friends as a holiday shopping event mainly for the church’s and Prospect Co-Op’s children. From 1996 to the present, it grew to include Maplewood-South Orange children from preschool through middle school, with nearly 300 shoppers in 2017. The year-long endeavor includes purchasing merchandise for sale and gift-wrapping and pricing supplies, as well as organizing a gift-wrapping party prior to the sale. Community Girl and Boy Scout troops, who volunteer to help the little shoppers make their purchases, are contacted; more than 80 Scouts helped in 2017. Thompson also volunteers in her immediate neighborhood; from 1991 to 2011, she has served as a co-coordinator of her neighborhood block party, the Crescent Capers, managing reservations, purchasing food for the event and booking activities for the children. Now she counts spending time with her three little grandchildren as her greatest joy.

Maplewood has benefited from and is grateful for Thompson’s generous gift of time and talent.


Maplewood Garden Club

Continuously active since 1927, the Maplewood Garden Club, a 501(c)3 organization with 172 members, has among its objectives to aid in the conservation of Maplewood’s natural resources, including wildflowers and birds; to provide gardening information and horticultural education; to stimulate interest in good gardening; and to further horticultural beauty in the township.

Wherever you go in Maplewood, you will see one of the Maplewood Garden Club’s beautification efforts: the several theme gardens, the revitalized sundial site in Memorial Park and the landscaping at both libraries, as well as the contribution of trees and shrubs throughout the parks and along some of the streets. Each summer the MGC will pot up the planters at the railroad station, plant the traffic island at the Baker Street and Maplewood Avenue intersection, and contribute flowering plants for the town pool. The MGC continues to introduce rare and unusual specimens to the township and continues its ongoing efforts to enhance public spaces.

The MGC’s Victorian Conservatory, a popular attraction in Ricalton Square each holiday season, was added to Dickens Village in 2001 for the MGC’s 75th anniversary. The Durand-Hedden Herb Garden — a collection of herb species used for culinary, medicinal, fragrance, ornamental and craft purposes — was designed and installed by the MGC in 1979 to complement and enhance the historic Durand-Hedden House, and MGC members continue the garden’s maintenance and development.

Supported by a $10,000 grant from the New Jersey American Water Co., the MGC designed, constructed and planted the Hilton Rain Garden, a 1,200-square-foot rain garden, adjacent to the Hilton Branch Library. In 2006, the Memorial Garden behind Town Hall was created to commemorate the contributions of long-time MGC members Vincent Ferraro and Max Idel to the Garden Club and the greenhouse; a stone wall was built, a hand-crafted trellis erected, and boxwood, roses and clematis planted.

The MGC’s annual plant sale, which takes place each May on the Thursday through Saturday before Mother’s Day, attracts gardeners from all over New Jersey and beyond. Proceeds from the sale fund all MGC activities, programs and projects.

At the wreath-making workshop, the MGC members create wreaths that are used to decorate the railroad station, Durand-Hedden House, the YMCA, the libraries and other public buildings. In addition to the wreaths that are donated to the train station, MGC members decorate a holiday tree for the railroad station lobby.

School-age children enjoy hands-on activities related to all aspects of gardening, meeting regularly in the greenhouses. Children experience the fun and satisfaction of gardening with a skilled youth leader. The Maple Food Garden, located near the Greenhouse, has become an important part of the MGC’s youth gardening activities. The young gardeners plant, weed, water and harvest vegetables, which are taken home by families and contributed to local food pantries.

Annual scholarships are awarded to Rutgers University students and to Columbia High School seniors who have shown an interest in studying horticulture, landscape design, environmental studies or related scientific areas.

Each year, MGC members visit a number of gardens and garden-related exhibits, including Chanticleer and Ambler Arboretum in Pennsylvania, New York’s High Line and the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The Garden Club of New Jersey has twice been honored to receive a Certificate of Appreciation and Recognition from the Maplewood Township Committee and the Maplewood Civic Association. In addition, the Maplewood Garden Club received the Myra Brooks Garden Therapy Trophy for Outstanding Work in Garden Therapy, the Garden Club of New Jersey Award for Largest Membership Growth of an Over 50-Member Club, and the Garden Club of New Jersey Certificate of Merit with a Gold Seal for an Excellent Yearbook

Maplewood says a big thank you to the Maplewood Garden Club’s dedication to conservancy and service to enhance Maplewood parks and public places.