EGG HARBOR CITY – One probably doesn’t stay elected to the same office for nearly a quarter of a century without being considered “beloved.”
And the love filled the room at the Tuscany House Sunday, Jan. 20 as some 120 people came to honor retired Mayor Peter Elco of Absecon.
“I am humbled and honored to have the pleasure of sharing my retirement recognition with you,” Elco said, following brief speeches by state Sen. Jim Whelan, Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Jim Schroeder, Absecon Councilwoman Kim Horton and former Absecon Councilman Tom Coyle.
“This day offers us a time for reflection and mutual appreciation,” he said.
He thanked his family and friends for many years of support. Before being seated as mayor in 1989, Elco had served on City Council.
“To my loyal and caring wife, JoAnn, I sincerely thank you for remaining at my side, offering honest advice, and lifting me during the most difficult of times,” Elco said. “Our children, Lori, Dan and Blaine endured the experience of frequently not having a father at home. We often exchanged ideas about the ways to improve the worth of the community. My brother, Paul, and sisters, Anne and Kathy, sent over kindly pick-me-up advice. And let me not forget my mother, who gently reminds me of the importance of helping those in need.
“Together, we made a difference,” Elco said.
He noted that despite not always agreeing, city officials were able to resolve problems and move Absecon forward.
“Together, we provided inspiration,” Elco said.
He thanked the city’s Democratic Club, which worked to help the mayor and others win the opportunity to serve.
“Together, we addressed the need for diversity,” he said.
Elco thanked municipal employees, saying they worked side by side with him to make each day a little better and safer for the citizenry.
“Together we worked to recognize the importance of high standards,” he said.
He thanked residents who served in various activities on numerous boards and in numerous organizations.
“Together, we led by example,” Elco said.
He thanked former and present officials, administrators and professionals.
“Together we moved our ideas and then placed a foundation under them,” Elco said.
He told the assemblage that they all worked to move worthy civic endeavors.
“We mirror each other, and through our chosen means of participation, we have marched as one to discover the true measure of success in an effort to secure and solidify our place in time,” Elco said.
Many friends, residents, co-workers and officials shared their thoughts about Elco with The Current.
“He beat out my cousin Orvis Leopardi,” Vonnie Clark said of a former mayor who lost the post to Elco. “They’re still friends. If my cousin had to lose, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have had beat him.
Planning Board member and former City Councilman Jerry Savell and Elco were boyhood friends.
“He defines what a friend is,” Savell said. “He’s always there when you need him.”
He spoke of numerous occasions and good times shared.
Former Planning Board Chairman Henry Gorohoff said Elco was “a great guy; dedicated. We’ve all learned a lot from him.”
“He’s done a lot for this community,” said former City Council president and Planning Board Vice Chairman Glenn Hayden. “His service goes back many years.”
Planning Board Planner Robert Reed said Elco always tried to do right by the community.
“In 16 years as a planner, he always just asked me to do my job,” Reed said. “He never told me what the result should be.”
Port Republic Mayor Gary Giberson said Elco should be remembered for his compassion.
“He is the most compassionate person I know,” Giberson said. “He always puts the needs of others ahead of his own.”
John Armstrong, the man who succeeded Elco as mayor, said that after 32 years of public service, the Elcos will have time to travel and learn a few things.
Armstrong was master of ceremonies at Elco’s dinner.
“During the campaign, Pete was always there,” Armstrong said. “I hope not to disappoint him and his people – the people of Absecon.”
An invocation was offered by Rev. Heather Sugden, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church.
Whelan said Elco was a good guy – “good for something.” He thanked the former mayor for his service and wished him and his family many happy years.
“The best politics is good government,” Schroeder said. “Pete exemplifies that. He’s quiet, but has a very strong manner of fulfilling his tasks.”
Elco might not be in a class by himself, Schroeder said, “But whatever class he’s in, it doesn’t take long to call the roll.”
Horton said Elco always helped with campaigning.
“He knew everyone,” she said. “He always carried a pad to take down their concerns.”
She praised his speeches to the elementary school graduates and on Memorial Days.
Coyle told of meeting Elco in college. He spoke of sports and of being introduced to politics for the purpose of serving and helping others.
He told of Elco’s careers as an English teacher and sports coach at Holy Spirit High School and later with the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority.
“Pete has inspired others, simply by setting high standards for himself,” Coyle said. “He always wanted to dream more, to do more and become more. His approach is based on an innate humanity, basic decency and involvement.”
Anne Havens of Absecon said it was great growing up as Elco’s little sister.
“He was on the football team,” Havens said. “So everyone wanted to go out with me.”
He cleared the way as she grew up as well.
“I’ve always been so proud of him,” Havens said. “He was always a leader. He’s continued that way his whole life. We’re very proud of him. Our mother, Anna Elco, is 95 – she lives at Absecon Manor. She’s so proud of her baby.”
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