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Dedication Recognizes Long-Time Glen Ridge Resident and 1952 Olympic Gold Medalist

ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO DEDICATES "HORACE ASHENFELTER TRACK" IN ESSEX COUNTY WATSESSING PARK

Glen Frieson
Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. (standing at right) dedicated the "Horace Ashenfelter Track" in Essex County Watsessing Park on Friday, October 14th. The honor recognizes long-time Glen Ridge resident Horace Ashenfelter, who won a Gold Medal in the Steeplechase in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Ashenfelter, who is now 93 years old, used the Watsessing Track to train for the Olympics. Looking on with the County Executive after the bronze plaque and new track sign were unveiled are (seated) Lillian and Horace Ashenfelter and (standing from left) Freeholders Patricia Sebold and Cynthia Toro, and Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake.
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Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. dedicated the “Horace Ashenfelter Track” in Essex County Watsessing Park on Friday, October 14th. The honor recognizes long-time Glen Ridge resident Horace Ashenfelter, who won a Gold Medal in the Steeplechase in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Ashenfelter, who is now 93 years old, used the Watsessing Track to train for the Olympics.

“Horace Ashenfelter was a phenomenal athlete and his performance in the Olympics was legendary, overcoming tremendous odds and competing under great pressure to win a Gold Medal. Mr. Ashenfelter inspired our nation with his victory and, in the more than 60 years that have passed, has acted as a role model for generations. He is not only respected for his athletic accomplishments but his humble demeanor and dedication to his family,” DiVincenzo said. “It is an honor for us to name the track where he trained after him so that others can learn of his achievements and be motivated by his story,” he added.

Ashenfelter’s son James spoke for his father during the ceremony. “We are so grateful for this recognition. He claims to have run more laps on this track than any other, and in addition to jumping over the benches, he would like his children up and jump over us for practice,” James said. “This is close to his heart because it’s been a part of his life. This is home for him,” he added.

Elected officials and friends of Mr. Ashenfelter talked about how appropriate the dedication of the track was.

Two-time New York City Marathon winner Tom Fleming said that as a high school student he rode his bicycle to Mr. Ashenfelter’s house to meet him, and seeing the Olympic Gold Medal was a great inspiration. “Naming this track is something that had to be done,” Fleming said. “This man motivates me. I am thrilled that this recognition was made for a champion like Horace,” he added.

“Not only did the County Executive have the vision to improve the track, basketball courts and sidewalks, but he had the vision to name the track after such a deserving individual,” Freeholder Britnee Timberlake said.

“This is a fitting tribute to one of Glen Ridge’s most notable residents. What’s so special is that Horace Ashenfelter is an American icon who just so happens to live down the street,” Glen Ridge Mayor Stuart Patrick said.

“We are so impressed to have someone of Mr. Ashenfelter’s stature associated with Watsessing Park. We thank Joe for finding significant ways to honor people like Mr. Ashenfelter and for what he’s done to improve the park,” East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor said.

“I want to thank the County Executive for recognizing Mr. Ashenfelter in such a classy and unique way. It has always been mythical to have an Olympic hero reside in Glen Ridge, but it’s been Horace’s understated qualities that have made him a great person,” Glen Ridge Councilman Dan Murphy said.

The bronze plaque for Mr. Ashenfelter begins with a quote by Ashenfelter himself: "There are few distance runners who are born great. You have to work very hard very often." It continues with “Horace ‘Nip’ Ashenfelter did not start to run until age 23 when, as a married man, he returned to Penn State after serving as a fighter pilot during World War II. Once he began to run, he dominated long-distance track competitions in events ranging from two-mile races to cross-country events, indoor and outdoor, from the late 1940s through the mid ‘50s. He held three national collegiate titles and 15 national AAU titles. An FBI Agent, he had to work overtime to earn enough vacation hours to compete in the 1952 Olympic Steeplechase in Helsinki. Each night, after putting his children to bed, he would train in Carteret or Essex County Watsessing Parks, often using benches as hurdles. His Olympic victory, in unofficial record-breaking time (8:45), over Russian Vladimir Kazantsev, was considered a victory of Democracy over Communism, during the time of the ‘Cold War.’ It earned him the Sullivan Award as American Amateur Athlete of the Year. He also participated in the ’56 Olympics. A five-time Millrose Games winner of the two-mile run, he was named to their Hall of Fame. Inducted also to the National Track and Field and the NJ Sports Halls of Fame, he is proud that Penn State named its indoor track for him, and that his long-time hometown of Glen Ridge holds the Thanksgiving Day Ashenfelter 8k Run. At the age of 93, he still enjoys a daily jog.”

The Rev. Dr. David Stinson, senior minister at Glen Ridge Congregation Church, gave the invocation. The Glen Ridge High School Choir performed the National Anthem and a musical interlude during the program. Members of the Glen Ridge High School Track Team also attended the dedication.

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