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'Service Above Self' Drives Moorestown Citizen of the Year

2014 honoree Will Merriken wants this year's Citizen of the Year festivities to bring a renewed focus on volunteerism.

Will Merriken, principal at Merriken Financial Group, is Moorestown's 2014 Citizen of the Year. Credit: Provided
Will Merriken, principal at Merriken Financial Group, is Moorestown's 2014 Citizen of the Year. Credit: Provided

Volunteerism may be experiencing a downturn, but it’s always been a part of Will Merriken’s life.

“Rotary has a phrase—‘Service above self’—and I believe very strongly in that concept,” said Merriken, Moorestown’s 2014 Citizen of the Year. “I do my best to help make the world a little bit better than when I arrived in it.”

Merriken was selected as Citizen of the Year by the Moorestown Service Clubs Council—which consists of the Rotary breakfast and lunch clubs, Lions Club and Y Service Club—for his many volunteer efforts, including:

  • Co-founded the Moorestown Lacrosse Club in 1988 with fellow Moorestonian Val Curran, after Merriken’s and a neighbor’s sons expressed an interest in learning how to play.

  • Coached for the Moorestown Soccer Club for several years in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Of his time with the soccer club, Merriken said: “It was as much of a learning experience for me to learn from the kids as for me to coach them.”

  • Involved with the Moorestown Rotary Lunch Club since moving to the area in 1975, serving on the Rotary Club’s board of trustees and as its president during 2006-2007.

  • Involved with the Moorestown Community House’s capital campaign.

  • Served on the township Recreation Advisory Board.

Merriken, Moorestown’s 60th Citizen of the Year, moved to Moorestown with his wife Louise nearly 40 years ago to take a position as development director at Moorestown Friends School. As a youth, Merriken attended a friends school in Long Island that was “pretty much a carbon copy” of Moorestown Friends, he said.

It’s almost certain his schooling played a part in his community service habit as an adult. According to Merriken, “the Quaker culture has a very strong service component to it. I got a lot of exposure to service and doing things for other people.”

Nonetheless, the news he’d been named Citizen of the Year was surprising and humbling, Merriken said. “None of us do this type of volunteer activity hoping to get recognized.”

According to those involved with the Service Clubs Council, he almost didn’t get recognized.

Kevin Aberant, the lunch Rotary’s representative on the council, said there was talk of skipping the Citizen of the Year this year due to lack of interest and involvement.

“When that was a possibility, I was very disappointed,” said Aberant. “As a community, we should be so thankful of the many volunteers and the many, many hours they devote to making Moorestown a great place to live.”

Due to the efforts of Aberant and others, the Citizen of the Year was saved and the annual banquet—scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, at Merion Caterers in Cinnaminson—will be held. But the fact that canceling it was ever on the table underscores the current state of volunteerism in America.

“It’s getting more challenging to get volunteers, to get people involved,” Aberant acknowledged.

As a result, this year’s Citizen of the Year banquet—at Merriken’s request—will put a renewed focus on community service and the groups that rely on it. Local nonprofits will have tables set up outside the main banquet hall to raise awareness, and during the ceremony more recognition will be given to this year’s student honoree.

“It’s important we focus people’s attention on it,” said Merriken. “If we want to be a better people and a better planet, it’s our responsibility to make it happen.”

Tickets for the banquet—which will also feature live entertainment this year—can be reserved by calling or stopping by the Moorestown Community House (856-235-0326). The event begins with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. The main program starts at 6:45.

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