MONTCLAIR, NJ - on Friday September 14, 2018 family and friends gathered at St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair to celebrate the life for Wallace "Wally" Choice, Sr., who passed away on September 9, 2018.
Officiating, Bernadette Glover, Senior Pastor of St.Paul, began the processional to, "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands." The rendition was sung by Lorraine Baucom.
A common theme throughout the service was Choice's commitment to family, community, Glenfield Park and the thousands of children's lives he and his wife Celine have touched through Montclair Grass Roots, founded in 1968.
Born and raised in Montclair, Choice was a member of the Montclair High School Mounties basketball team and was a standout athlete serving under the guidance of legendary coaches Clary Anderson and Angelo “Butch” Fortunado. Aubrey Lewis, another well known athlete, attended Montclair High School with Choice.
Choice received a basketball scholarship to Indiana University, where he met his wife, Celine. There, he became the first African-American captain of a Big 10 (Hoosiers) basketball team. Choice then went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters and the Eastern Professional League (Continental Basketball Association).
When Choice had finished his basketball career, he returned to Montclair and opened a pharmacy in the 1960s. Choice Pharmacy was located at 218 Bloomfield Ave. Along with his wife, Choice also organized activities for the youth and advocated for improvements to Glenfield Park.
Musical selections during the service included "Amazing Grace" and "His Eye is on the Sparrow."
Acknowledgements and remarks came from a number of dignitaries recalling Choice's commitment to the community. Rev. Elizabeth Campbell, family friend, shared stories of growing up in Montclair with Wally and his family.
Proclamations were presented to the family by 4th ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville, Township of Montclair, and State Senator Nia Gill. Both leaders shared stories of growing up in Montclair and having Choice as a mentor and confidant.
Remarks were made by several other people, including Tanya Poteat and Ronald Murphy of the Montclair Child Development Center, who shared the story of the founding of the Head Start program. Starting with 75 children and 4 classrooms in Glenfield School to currently serving 490 children and their families in several communities in Essex County. They spoke reverently of the role Choice played in its origin.
Joseph DiVincenzo, Essex County Executive said, "I've known Mr. Choice for over 40 years. It took me 20 years just to really get him to like me."
The commentary was met with chuckles and prompted Rev. Buster Soaries to respond saying, "Yes it took 20 years plus a couple of million dollar investments to the park." This banter brought a little levity to the occasion.
Continued remarks were given by Brendan Gill, President Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Mayor Robert Jackson, and Councilman Robert Russo.
In keeping with the program of service, Wally A. Choice, Jr. approached the pulpit. "As I look out and see so many of you, I'm touched."
He added, "I had to realize that I shared my dad with all of you. My dad was about family, community, Glenfield Park."
The reflections of life was read by longtime family friend, Audrey Fletcher-Lee, who shared her first meeting with Choice at Choice Pharmacy. She spoke of the establishment of a life ong friendship that included milestones in making change for black Montclair residents in economics, politics and social justice.
The message of comfort was given by Rev. DeForest (Buster) Soaries who delivered a stirring message reminding all of the importance of having strong black male figures who were about family and doing for the good of the community.
Choice leaves to mourn: his wife of 60 years, Celine Choice, son Wally Anthony and his wife Rosalind, grandson Andrew Choice, and host of other relatives and friends.
Natalie Heard Hackett contributed to this article.