WESTFIELD, NJ — She may have been born in a small town in Arkansas, but it’s hard find anyone more involved in Westfield more than Sherry Cronin since she and husband, John, settled here in 1993. For the past 16 years, she has served as executive director of the Downtown Westfield Corporation. She also serves as treasurer and vice president of finance for the Westfield Historical Society.
Cronin never would have been in Westfield at all had it not been for a phone call — by chance or providence — when she was a real estate auditor for Prudential. She'd started selling their insurance in Florida but, as her career advanced, she was transferred to their Newark offices in the late 80s. More was to change in her life besides relocation.
A recruiter, John Cronin, was looking for a qualified auditor.
“After setting up an interview, he asked me to dinner at the Spanish Tavern," she recalled, smiling broadly. That became more than a business meeting when they started dating.
Although she did switch jobs to Mutual Benefit Life, another abrupt change occurred in just six months when her mentor, a labor lawyer, died suddenly in New Orleans. He had been her close friend and mentor during her college years at Mississippi State and U of Southern Miss. She relocated there and lived in an apartment above his law offices for 16 months to take care of the menagerie of animals he’d had — both wild and tame — as well as help with the disposition of his complex estate. John went with her.
Eventually, she made her way back to Prudential on the couple's return to a Montclair rental. Both had traveled enough around New Jersey to know they wanted to buy their dream home in Westfield as soon as they saved enough.
Within three years of realizing that dream, the Cronins’ son Daniel was born. Six years later along came Evan, now 14, and a Westfield High School student. Now 20, Daniel is a Penn College student majoring in aviation. He just made his first solo flight, a thrill for him, but his mom admitted, “Even though he's a good student, a great mechanic and knows what he's doing, it still makes me nervous.”
Their dad is still a recruiter and also serves as chairman of the Westfield YMCA. He co-manages the Westfield PAL Flag Football program.
A Move to the DWC
While still at Prudential, Cronin became a volunteer with Westfield’s Main Street program, a precursor to DWC, in 1996. Her financial skills had become obvious along with her organizational abilities so that by 2001 when a new executive director was needed, she became "the provisionary leader," as she described the post. The job had been offered in writing to another candidate but he never responded to the offer.
“My lucky break,” Cronin said. “As a result, the board chose me. I'm very grateful to them.”
Cronin has been instrumental in many innovative projects.
“Our first duty is to our property owners,” she explained. “We work with businesses and keep the public informed on latest happenings.”
And there have been plenty of “happenings” under her leadership. Exactly 16 years ago, her first year on the job, the 5K and Pizza Extravaganza kicked off, along with the expanded Sweet Sounds Downtown Jazz Festival, with concerts Tuesday nights in July and August.
Cronin saluted Saul Drittel, former owner of Milady’s and community leader, for his valuable leadership on the Promotions Committee.
“Nothing slows him down. He does so much for jazz night, among other DWC events,” she said.
In turn, Drittel saluted Cronin and her in-house team: Beth Brenner, assistant executive director; Jamie Lemberg, digital and social marketing; and Courtney Nemec, whose internship is partially funded by the Westfield Foundation.
“I’ve been working with Sherry for years,” Drittel said. “She runs a good ship. Her team coordinates every aspect of jazz night, including hiring all the bands. The latest Pizza Run drew so many runners and watchers, the streets were completely jammed. Our town is at its healthiest because of the DWC team.”
Nancy Priest, another community leader, has worked with Cronin for years with the Westfield Historical Society, with Priest as president and Cronin as treasurer and vice president of finance.
“Sherry’s one of those very capable people who contributes so much of herself to everyone,” Priest said. “She has a financial mind and really cares about the town and its history. She’s always out there looking for solutions an finding ways to make things better for Westfield. She’s smart, with a lot of creative energy. We need more people like her. She doesn’t want to take credit for many things that would not have been done if not for her.”
Downtown activities abound year round thanks to the DWC. Recently, Girls’ Night Out expanded to become Girls Day & Night Out, attracting throngs of women. Dine Out Westfield, a two-week twice-yearly event, offers diners enticing discounts. And the downtown sidewalk sales and holiday entertainment —including an annual visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus — are designed to bring shoppers to Westfield’s brick-and-mortar stores.
The seven-member DWC board is heavily involved on various DWC committees partnering with owners and tenants to improve building facades, encourage and implement economic development and promote Westfield as a desirable destination to establish businesses.
DWC’s offices are located in the basement of 105 Elm Street. They’re not “hiding out,” Cronin wanted it known.
“Why would we take a choice location in the downtown district that should be occupied by a business entity?” she explained. “We’re fine right here.”
Somehow, Cronin finds time to serve on the board of Downtown New Jersey, a non-profit state organization providing support to other downtown districts. In 2011 she was president of the Westfield Rotary Club and continues as a member. She's also involved in the Westfield Historical Society's fundraising for a Reeve Education Center where Westfield’s extensive archives will be housed along with community programs.
“This is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but I love the constant challenges,” Cronin said. As the interview wound down, she joked, “I might be like Oliver Wendel Holmes’ poem about the ‘one-hoss-shay, built in such a logical way that it ran for one hundred years and a day.’ I don't expect to last that long but one day I’ll probably just give out.”
Her supporters feel confident that scenario is a long way off.