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Wharton Music Center 2014 Spring Gala Honors Former Rahway Mayor


Wharton Music Center celebrates its 2014 Spring Gala on Saturday, April 26 at the Park Avenue Club located at 184 Park Avenue in Florham Park. The Gala, its annual fundraiser, will feature an online silent auction and performances by students of Wharton Music Center and the New Jersey Youth Symphony. Bidding for the online silent auction begins April 14 at

Honorees for the Spring Gala are The Visual Arts Center of New Jersey Executive Director Derek K. Mithaug and James J. Kennedy, former mayor of Rahway and pacesetter in arts advocacy. Mithaug served as Executive Director of Wharton Music Center from 2008-2013, a period of unprecedented growth and expansion for the community arts center which serves over 1000 students in Union, Morris, Essex, Somerset, and surrounding counties. His contributions include positioning the organization as a performing arts fixture in Berkeley Heights, the addition of a musical theatre and dance program, a state-of-the-art listening library and recording studio, and a notable merger in 2012 with the New Jersey Youth Symphony.

Before joining Wharton Music Center, Mithaug served as Founding Director of the Career Development Center at The Juilliard School, a position he held for nearly fifteen years. His other principal service roles include Senior Consultant and Faculty Director for the Casual Classic Music Festival in Seoul, Korea from 2001-2007, Chairman of the Career Development Task Force for the College Music Society from 2005-2007, and Faculty Consultant for the Envision Institute’s Central Europe Education Programs.

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James Kennedy, chief architect of the Rahway Arts District, served as Rahway’s mayor for twenty years where he helped create the Rahway Chamber of Commerce as a pioneer among its city merchants. Elected to five consecutive terms, Kennedy focused on economic development for the Union County city, creating the Rahway Center Partnership to revitalize the central business district. Kennedy laid the groundwork for New Jersey’s first research and development zone, insuring that Rahway remained the home base for the pharmaceutical giant Merck. One of the city’s major employers, Merck’s positive influence on the local tax base and as a creator of new jobs is immeasurable.

Kennedy’s belief that the vitality of artistic partners is as important to urban renewal as the presence of transportation, industrial, or healthcare counterparts sets him apart both as a legislator and community leader. He formed the Rahway Arts District in his fifth and last term in office, which began a decade-long venture to turn the manufacturing city into a dynamic artists stomping ground. He served as interim Executive Director of the Union County Performing Arts Center, leading the agency to sound footing and prosperity. In June 2012, Hamilton Stage opened its doors as a world-class, 199-seat performance facility at the historic Union County Performing Arts Center, the cornerstone of the Rahway Arts District. Since its inaugural season, the $9 million performance venue has hosted internationally acclaimed talent in dance, music, film, and theatre and increased attraction and foot traffic to downtown Rahway. The New Jersey Youth Symphony will appear at Union County Performing Arts Center for its 2014 finale concert on May 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Wharton Music Center, located at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights, provides music, theater, and dance instruction, educational programs, and performances for children, teens, and adults. In addition to instruction in all instruments and voice, WMC offers classes in musical theater, dance, drama, vocal music, music theory, audio recording, early childhood music, and music for children with special needs. Offering a range of musical genres including classical, rock, jazz, and blues, WMC is one of New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community music centers serving students in Union, Morris, Essex, Somerset, Middlesex, and surrounding counties.

WMC offers orchestral and ensemble music education for grades 3 through 12 through New Jersey Youth Symphony (NJYS) located at 570 Central Avenue in New Providence. NJYS, one of the foremost youth orchestras in the state, has ten orchestras and ensembles for which auditions are held annually.

For more information, visit or Wharton Music Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. 

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