EDISON – Memories flooded back 64 years when Mayor Thomas J. Swales Jr. served in office as township and county officials, family and friends came together to rededicate the park named after him in the 1990s.
This summer the municipal park, Swales Memorial Park at Park Way and Elm Street, underwent enhancements: new plantings, new playground equipment and renovations to its basketball courts and pavilion.
“This is a testament to how government and community work the best,” Edison Township Mayor Thomas Lankey said. “The park looks tremendous. This is one of eight [parks] that we started [this summer] and we are going to continue through to all the rest [of the parks] that we have over the next few years and try to repurpose, resurface and rededicate all these parks.”
Seven parks were initially identified to be most in need of improvement, but Swales Park was added to the list after the Swales family and Beautiful Edison, a non-profit corporation, made a $37,500 donation to pay for upgrades at the park.
Lankey joined Middlesex County Freeholder Deputy Director Charles Tomaro, former Councilman Robert J. Engel, family, friends, and members of the non-profit corporation Beautiful Edison for the rededication on Sept. 27.
“As I look around I see the Swales family, Engel family, and I think back because I grew up with those families,” the mayor said, adding even if you were not related to either family, they invited you in as extended family.
Lankey said the Swales family is considered royalty in Edison.
“Anything you see around you, you can probably pinpoint to the Swales family,” he said, similar to the Yelencsics, Engel and Tomaro families. “Edison would not be anywhere near where it is today without the Swales family.”
When Engel was a councilman in the early 1990s, he moved for the park to be named in honor and in memory of former Mayor Thomas J. Swales Jr.
Swales served as Edison’s mayor from 1955-58. He was the owner of Best Block Cement Company from 1946 through when the company was sold in 1987 to Clayton Block Company; the owner of the Edison Lanes bowling alley; and the president of the Thoroughbred Breeders Association, a post he relinquished when Gov. Brendan Byrne appointed him to the N.J. Racing Commission, where he served until 1980.
He was also a former board chairman at JFK Hospital in Edison.
Swales died in 1991 at age 81.
Engel said Swales was good friends with his grandfather, Julius Engel, who served as Edison mayor from 1931-35 and from 1947-51.
“When I ask family members how close were the Swales and Engel families, they said very close,” he said. “They [the elder Swales and elder Engel] were politicians together. They would go down to Atlantic City and decide who would be mayor … sometimes it got a little rough. They were business partners on many ventures. The Swales family had a shore house directly across from the Engel family down in Seaside. They were very, very good friends.”
Engel said it was an honor when he served as councilman to name the park after Swales.
“He was a good man,” he said.
Tomaro said he referred to Tom Swales Jr. as “Big Tom” and through family businesses he employed hundreds of people throughout the years and supported the community, whether it was donating land to Edison Boys Baseball and the American Legion, to paying for some of their employees to go through college.
The cost of the Swales Memorial Park renovations was about $700,000, funded by a matching $350,000 grant from the Middlesex County Open Space Trust Fund secured through the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Tomaro said along with donations from the Swales family, Beautiful Edison, Atlantic Realty, Ray Catena and Wick Companies, the improvements were also made possible through the Edison Township tree fund.
“Back when I served on the [Township Council] in 2007, I put an ordinance together that dedicates 30% of the tree fund to pay for park improvements,” he said. “We have 30 parks in our community and that money for the tree fund comes from the developers, not from the taxpayers.”
During the rededication ceremony, a sign was unveiled in memory of former Mayor Thomas J. Swales Jr. as well as his son Thomas J. Swales III.
John Poyner, president of Beautiful Edison, said improvements to Swales Memorial Park fulfills their mission of improving quality of life for Edison residents. This is their endeavor since its inception in January 2018.
“We look to the future to continue drawing on relationships with the Edison community and to support new ventures,” he said.
This summer, Edison also made park and playground improvements to Beatrice Parkway Park at Kingsbridge Drive and Beatrice Parkway; Blossom Street Park at Blossom Street and Jefferson Boulevard; Edison Woods Park on Karen Place and Rinear Drive; Gateway Park on Howard Avenue; Old Post Park on Gurley and Stevens roads; Polansky Park on New Dover Road and Grove Avenue; and Stephen J. Capestro Park at Grandview Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org.