Arts & Entertainment

Italian Heritage Lives On Through Bocce Tournament to Benefit Peppertown Park Renewal Project in Berkeley Heights

Members of the Peppertown Park Committee with Union County Freeholder Al Mirabella and Council Vice President Jeanne Kingsley. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Catherine Martine along with members of the Petrone Family.
Gay Hollowell and Midge Vicendese, committee chairs of the Bocce Tournament. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Credits: Bobbie Peer
President Jeanne Kingsley with Union County Freeholder Al Mirabella next to rendering of Peppertown Park during the Bocce Tournament in 2017. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Union County Freeholder Al Mirabella led the Pledge of Allegiance. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Catherine Martino threw out the first Pallino ball. Credits: Bobbie Peer
Sal Passalacqua of Dimaio's and Greg Gibbs of Giovanni's Bistro and Bar Credits: Bobbie Peer

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ -  The first annual Peppertown Park Bocce Tournament and Festival kicked off the fundraising efforts to benefit the Peppertown Park Renewal Project on Saturday at the park, raising $1,450.  

The tournament was the perfect start to summer with a "Little Italy" festival flavor. Berkeley Heights local eateries were showcased serving their meatball, sausage and pepper subs and pizza, while sounds of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra's signature hits crooned in the background  -- "That's Amore!"

Located in the heart of downtown Berkeley Heights, the goal of those working to renovate Peppertown Park is for it to become a cultural hub. "The dream is that it will be used as a site for Art in the Park, outdoor movies and performances, as well as be a family-friendly, multi-seasonal location that, when completed, will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for decades to come," said committee member Midge Vicendese.

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Donavan Hall, of Halls Garden Center and Florist, prepared the design renderings of the future park that were displayed at the event. He said it is the committee's hope that a bocce court will be incorporated. The renovation process is planned to be done in phases.

Neighbors reminisced of the times when farms occupied the corners of the township. Berkeley Heights was once known as Peppertown for the pepper plants that grew on the Petrone family farmstead, which is now known as Peppertown Park. Catherine Petrone Martino, 92 years old, remembers counting and bringing the cows to the water on her grandfather's farm as a child.

The renovation of Peppertown Park carries on the legacy of the original settlers. "It means my family lives on, along with all the Italian settlers," said Martino's daughter, Catherine Stetson.  

Stetson and her husband Joe serve on the Peppertown Park Renewal Committee and helped to organize the event.

Local leaders including Mayor Bob Woodruff, Council Vice President Jeanne Kingsley, Councilman Manny Couto and Michael D'Aquila, Township Administrator John Bussiculo and Union County Freeholder Al Mirabella and his family were in attendance to support the project and participate in the friendly competition. 

Committee Chair Midge Vicendese welcomed the crowd  to Peppertown Park. "We are hoping this becomes one of Berkeley Heights' most wonderful cherished traditions," she said. She recognized the members of the Petrone family that were present. "None of us would be here today if it weren't for your family," she said. 

Representing the Petrone family, Catherine Martino threw out the first "pallino" ball to start the tournament.

Teams learned the rules of bocce and the teams competed all afternoon. In bocce, balls are tossed on a long, narrow court. The game starts when one of two teams tosses a smaller ball, called the pallino, out onto the court. The teams then take turns tossing heavier balls in an effort to get closest to the pallino. The team that places their balls closest to the pallino wins.

The tournament winners were Biff Hollowell and Cos Scarcia of team Y and were awarded top prize of a family membership to Berkeley Swim Club (BSC), generously donated by the BSC. They will be first to have their names inscribed on the Peppertown Park Bocce Tournament plaque. 

Contributors to the Peppertown First Annual Bocce Tournament and Festival:

  • Special guests: Catherine Petrone Martino, Frank Petrone and Family, Phyllis Petrone
  • Food provided by local eateries: Biagios, Clemente's, Dimaios, Giovanni's, Marcello's, Stregga and Rita's Ice
  • Contributors: Halls Garden Center and Florist, Taylor Rental, Berkeley Swim Club, Berkeley Hardware and Paint, Ziggy
  • 50/50 sponsored by Berkeley Heights PAL
  • Peppertown Park Renewal Committee members: Donavan Hall, Julie Lloyd, Catherine Stetson, Bob Stetson, Angela Corrado, Manny Couto, Midge Vicendese, Tom Barton, Bruce Mustacchi, Michelle Bartiromo, Gay Hollowell, and Dr. Pat Smith
  • The committee thanks the Township and DPW

Peppertown Park Renewal Committee was established by an ordinance of the Berkeley Heights Town Council as an advisory committee and the volunteers formed a 501(c)3 charitable organization. Committee members hope to partner with the community, through fundraising efforts and by obtaining grants, to make the renewal a reality.  

Tax-deductible donations for the renovation efforts can be made online at or may be made by mail, by making a check payable to: Peppertown Park Renewal Committee, and sending it to the Peppertown Park Renewal Committee, 29 Park Ave., Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922.

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