Owen Mumma-Berman of Asbury Park raised $20,000 to help restore plaque in Library Park, Asbury Park.
By DENISE HERSCHEL
When 14-year-old Owen Mumma-Berman of Asbury Park was walking his American English Bulldog Watson through Library Square Park last summer, he thought it would be another typical day with his beloved pet by his side, eagerly exploring the park’s grounds. But as his dog began to focus on one particular patch of bushes, he soon realized that his seemingly average day was about to become a more interesting one.
He uncovered a plaque for Francis Asbury,, the first bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America.
Several days later, when Mumma-Berman returned to the park with his dog, he found two other marble stones in bushes near the border of the park. One of them had a plaque on it from 1966 in memory of several residents and one of the stones used to have a plaque which is now missing. According to Owen the missing plaque honored other important city residents as well.
“People have been walking through the park every day and did not know they were there. It was covered by huge bushes and you had to get on your knees to even see them,” he said.
So throughout the past year, Owen and his parents, James Mumma and Matthew Berman, have made it their goal to research the plaques, calling it the Asbury Park History Project, and to also promote awareness of Asbury Park’s history to current residents. They recently held a dinner fundraiser at their home for the project and raised $20,000 for the cause with more than 100 people attending the party.
“The reason for the party was for everyone to understand our plan and to donate to the project. We raised $20,000 dollars and we intend on using all of it for the project,” he added.
The park, which is located along Grand Avenue, between First Avenue and Asbury Avenue, has changed a lot since the plaques were put in place.
The city of Asbury Park was founded in 1871 by James Bradley who named it after Francis Asbury. Bradley’s vision was to create a thriving residential resort town. Bradley was a Methodist who “believed in an inclusive society where everyone was treated the same” and he wanted to also honor Asbury.
Owen said that the 1966 plaque tells how crab apple trees were planted in Library Square in memory of 20 prominent citizens. After some research at the Asbury Park Library, he discovered the missing plaque was placed in 1965, also to commemorate a group of citizens. The plaque’s dedication listed the names of many of who are in the Asbury Park High School’s Hall of Fame and one of the names is Joseph Ackerman, who founded Fitkin Memorial Hospital, later renamed Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune.
Owen said Asbury Park Mayor John Moor, the Asbury Park Department of Public Works, Owen’s parents and himself have “come up with a plan” for the park which is to put monuments in a founders circle. Benches and trees will be put in place and in the circle will be a concrete floor where people can color with chalk and make art. The fountain in the middle of the park will be tidied up as well.
When asked why he became involved in getting this project off the ground, he replied, “I cared about the town looking nicer. This park also really needed it. This project was the perfect opportunity to appreciate the town and its history. It has taught me that you can help to change the world no matter what age you are.”