For some lucky attendees at the recent New Jersey Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, it was a glorious, glamorous view from both the front row and from alongside the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, site of the 11th annual event honoring some of the state’s brightest stars in various industries. Mother Nature was evidently one of the guests of honor, also. Although the weather forecast for the entire day was foreboding and early arrivals were traveling through rain, the skies magically cleared and rays of sunshine sparkled through the windows of the Grand Arcade just as final preparations were being made.
Nineteen names were inducted, some posthumously, into this year’s all-star class of past or present New Jersey residents, receiving the Garden State’s highest civilian honor for their outstanding achievements in the categories of arts and letters, enterprise, performing arts, public service, and sports, plus numerous charitable endeavors. Honorees included author Peter Benchley, sports writer Jerry Izenberg, author George R.R. Martin, photographer Timothy White, businesswoman Mary Roebling, TV personality Martha Stewart, entrepreneur/restauranteur and philanthropist Tim McLoone, and businessmen J. Fletcher Creamer, Sr., F.M. Kirby II and Arthur F. Ryan. The list also included actor Jason Alexander, musical group The Smithereens, musician Southside Johnny, New York Giants Harry Carson and Bart Oates, basketball player and coach Anne Donovan, and gymnast Laurie Hernandez, plus activist Elizabeth Allen and physician and professor Victor Parsonnet. Unsung Hero award recipients were Aviation Museum founders Joseph and Anne Salvatore.
The day’s star-studded festivities began with a private luncheon in Convention Hall attended by the honorees, NJHOF board members, sponsors, families and other special guests. As they dined, members of the media set up their cameras and equipment while curious onlookers gathered on either side of the red carpet that stretched from the doors of Convention Hall to the Paramount Theatre entrance. Soon after 6 pm, the procession began, with each VIP being introduced as they exited the hall and briefly stepped up onto a stage to be photographed before continuing down the red carpet, stopping along the way to be interviewed many times over and then heading to a cocktail reception on the second floor.
The induction ceremony began in the theater at 7 pm, with celebrities filing into the orchestra as enthusiastic fans filled the seats in the balcony. Each honoree was announced by someone with whom they had close personal or professional ties, including many celebrities, followed by a brief biographical video and photo montage highlighting his or her accomplishments.
The acceptance speeches ran the gamut from humble to hilarious to heartwarming. The last inductee of the evening was Jason Alexander, who gave a great comedic spin on what was ultimately a lengthy event. But the acceptance that perhaps left the greatest impression and brought the entire crowd to its feet, faces streaming with tears through astonished smiles, was the one given by McLoone, who opted to keep his self-deprecating remarks brief and shunned the limelight. Instead, he stepped back and took his place behind a group of special needs students from Matheny School who came onstage in their wheelchairs and joyfully sang together. Matheny, he explained, is one of the facilities that his volunteer organization Holiday Express visits each year, and it was those special audiences and dedicated volunteers that he credited with his recognition.
Throughout the evening, the theater was kept rockin’ and rollin’ with music performed by Jon Bon Jovi’s side band, The Kings of Suburbia. They were joined at times by The Smithereens, Darlene Love (who introduced McLoone), Southside Johnny and Bon Jovi, who also introduced Southside. The boisterous grand finale featured a performance by The Smithereens and then the entire musical entourage playing together onstage. McLoone, on keyboard, rallied his fellow NJHOF inductees to come up and join in as audience members stood mesmerized, with everyone singing the beloved Ben E. King song, “Stand by Me.”