‘A Force in the Community’: Hilton Neighborhood Association Turns 25

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The Hilton Neighborhood Association celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The Maplewood Township Committee recognized the history and contributions of the Association at its September 15 meeting.

“It all began on Saturday afternoon, June 3, 1995, at the Hilton United Methodist Church,” said TC member Vic De Luca. “Residents wanted to stop the perceived practice of racial steering by realtors. They wanted more public funds spent on roads and parks in the neighborhood, and they wanted greater attention to the Springfield Avenue Business District.”

De Luca, who was the first president of the HNA in 1996 before getting elected to the Township Committee, praised the Association for its members’ contributions to the community. Besides creating its own newsletter, bylaws and dues system, members are responsible for starting Maplewood’s chess club, farmers’ market and more. These are the folks “whose shoulders we stand on today,” said De Luca.

He also noted the HNA’s political influence in town. “The Association is a not-to-be-missed candidates’ forum for the Board of Ed and the Township Committee,” said De Luca. “I wouldn’t be sitting in the seat I am now…without the Hilton Neighborhood Association being such a force in the community.”

Music and culture have also been important parts of the Association since its founding. According to De Luca, “one of the most exciting things was the Performers’ Cafe,” which featured displays of artwork, music, and poetry.

“The Association members are recommitting themselves to working on what’s best for the neighborhood and all of Maplewood. They are celebrating who they are, and embracing one another as a mosaic that represents the real world,” De Luca finished. Mayor Frank McGehee added that the HNA is “the blueprint for all associations, so thank you.”

The Hilton Neighborhood Association held a 25th Anniversary Celebration with the Maplewood Swing Band at the Springfield Avenue gazebo in Maplecrest Park on September 16 at 6:30 pm. 

See an article recently written by DeLuca in the latest HNA newsletter here:

It all began on a Saturday afternoon, June 3, 1995, at the Hilton United Methodist Church at the corner of Boyden Avenue and Tuscan Road (now an apartment building). Nearly 100 residents came together to press Township leaders to focus more attention and resources on the Hilton neighborhood. They wanted a stop to the perceived practice of racial steering by realtors, more public funds spent on roads and parks in the neighborhoods, and greater attention to the Springfield Avenue business district.

Three people from the neighborhood – Linda Sperco, Mike Gera and Gail DePaul – were responsible for getting us together on that June day and planting the seeds for the HNA. We came out of that meeting with an action plan to create an organization to address the needs of the Hilton neighborhood and focus on quality of life issues.

We created a newsletter, wrote up organization by-laws, established dues of $12 per year (same as now) and agreed to meet on the third Thursday of every month (also same as now). I was elected as the HNA’s first president in 1996 and served for two years before being sworn-in on the Maplewood Township Committee. Linda Sperco became president in 1998 and Gary Kaufman took over in 1999. In 2000, Carol Buchanan became the HNA president and served in that position with distinction until her passing in 2019. Mary Boehner is the current HNA president.

The HNA got busy from the start and it became a strong presence in the entire community. In a January 1996 HNA newsletter article, Linda Sperco wrote, “I hear and see a new sense of pride…the nay-sayers who said the demise of our neighborhood was imminent are much fewer in number these days. They’ve seen what we can do together.”

One of the most important steps we took was to embrace the diversity and multi-cultural spirit of our community. We did this by being deliberately inclusive in our leadership team and with our programs and activities. We launched an annual HNA International Festival at DeHart Park to celebrate the culture, food, music and traditions of our neighborhood’s multi-racial and multi-cultural population. We held that festival for six years and later joined with the Township’s East Hilton Neighborhood Preservation Project in sponsoring a neighborhood festival.

In 1996 the HNA joined with the College Hill Neighborhood Association and business and property owners on Springfield Avenue to organize the Springfield Avenue Partnership. At the time we felt the Avenue was a “dividing line” in Maplewood and we wanted to make it an inviting and viable commercial corridor. We instituted a Shop the Avenue 10% Discount Program for HNA members and encouraged people in other parts of Maplewood to patronize Avenue businesses.

The HNA’s first candidates forum was for the 1996 Board of Education election. Over the years the HNA’s candidate forums for the Board of Education and Township Committee have been “not-to-be-missed” events. The HNA has always been active in town-wide issues sometimes taking a position for or against and other times sponsoring programs where facts and information could be shared and points of views expressed. The HNA was instrumental in making sure the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood Library was not shut down.

Music and culture were always important for the HNA. In 1999, we started the Performers’ Cafe, where local talent performed music, song and poetry and displayed their artwork. In 2006 we started Movies in the Park, which became a popular summer event, and in 2017 we joined with the Maplewood Community Band to launch Porchfest.

Having fun and building a sense of community have always been mainstays of the HNA. We held Sunday Socials, garage sales, and an annual dinner on the Avenue. We marched in the Memorial Day Parade and had a booth at Mayfest. Each December we have an annual multi-cultural holiday celebration and we hold Black History Month and Women’s History Month programs in February and March of each year. Through the years we sponsored our annual Garden Awards and Holiday Decoration Awards.

So what is the secret for the HNA’s success over the past 25 years? It’s the people involved. Today we stand on the shoulders of Linda, Mike, Gail, Gary and Carol and others like Amy League, Roe Reed, John Harris, Al Brown, Charlie Leidig, Laurie Kutosh, Andre Cantelmo, Jim Buchanan, Maria Duraville, Joanne Beckerich, and so, so many more. Today our leaders are Mary, Melissa, Kat, Roslyn, Adebayo, Jeff, Sheron, Justyna, John, Maureen, Suzanne and Meredith.

I’ve had the honor of being involved in the HNA from the start and still serve on the Executive Committee. I most likely would not have gotten a seat on the Township Committee without the HNA being such a force in the community.

This year we celebrate our 25th Anniversary, a quarter of a century. Let’s recommit ourselves to working on what’s best for our neighborhood and all of Maplewood. Let’s celebrate who we are and embrace one another as a mosaic that represents the real world. And let’s get ready for the next 25 years.

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