Endless Summer 2018
‘Listen to Your Wife'
Founders Award Winner John Divney Did, And Sea Isle Is Better For It
By Marybeth Hagen
John and Roseanne Divney at their home in Sea Isle City.
Many people had hands in making Sea Isle City the vibrant community and seashore destination it is today. One person’s fingerprints – the unassuming recipient of this year’s Sea Isle Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization’s Founders Award – are all over more recent developments.
John Divney never intended to become part of the solution when citizens sought change in Sea Isle City’s local government in 2006. By then, he was content golfing, bike riding and skiing his way through retirement from what is now GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals.
Still, Divney was well aware of the calls for change since close friends were involved in the movement for Sea Isle’s improvement, he says. After he expressed strong opinions on the subject, his wife Roseanne encouraged him to do something about it. His pals agreed.
“My friends said, ‘Listen to your wife,’” the man in the blue-and-white-striped Villanova Wildcats “National Champions” polo shirt says with a smile. “And I listen to my wife all the time!”
Divney did so by running for city council and winning in 2007 after residents replaced Sea Isle’s former commission government with one led by a mayor and five council members. This unplanned city councilman went on to serve three terms for a total of 10 years.
John Divney’s name might not come to the minds of residents or visitors who frequent inviting places throughout town.
Perhaps it should. Divney was instrumental in making the Welcome Center, Excursion Park and the countless events like concerts and the farmers market there, outdoor restaurant dining, parking spots aplenty, jitney service and other Sea Isle City enhancements realities, according to those who worked with him.
“John is really the reason for 80 percent of improvements in the city,” says former Sea Isle Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization President Bill Buchanan, who initiated the revitalization movement.
Roseanne Divney, Marlene and Mike McHale, and John Divney at the 2017 Around the World Social.
Buchanan also created the chamber’s Founders Award. The accolade, first presented in 2011, recognizes someone from the business, civic or political community who made considerable contributions to the well-being of Sea Isle City. Past winners include: Thomas Henry, Irene Jameson, Michael McHale, Dave Farina, Michael Stafford, Jim Iannone and last year, Buchanan.
Divney served on council in an era that Buchanan dubs “the renaissance period in Sea Isle.” And, “most of that renaissance was during an economic downturn,” he adds. “We had a dream team during those years,” Buchanan reminisces, an ideal combination of city officials and businesspeople who worked well together.
“We’re kind of a hybrid,” Buchanan says of the merged, nonprofit Sea Isle Chamber of Commerce and Revitalization group that was born back then.
“Without John, we would not have accomplished all that we did,” Buchanan muses. “He is a true leader, a visionary who knows how to work well with people and get the job done. John always spoke softly and said, ‘We’ll see what we can do.’”
Chamber Secretary Vicki Feeney seconds Buchanan’s emotions concerning Divney and the crew behind Sea Isle’s remarkable revitalization. “There were a lot of energetic, highly qualified people on the committee,” Feeney notes. Plus, they were “a fun group.”
While in the midst of town renewal, Feeney, Buchanan, Divney and former Sea Isle City mayor, commissioner and councilman Mike McHale sometimes traveled via automobile to various seminars in order to make informed decisions about Sea Isle’s future.
John and Roseanne with their grandchildren. Back row: Jack Divney, John Divney and Sam Divney; front: Annalise Tyson, Haley Tyson, Roseanne Divney, Owen Tyson, Bridget Divney and Lucas Tyson.
“You get to know one another well on long car rides,” says Feeney. “John Divney is a happy person, a person who challenges others to be better and to do more.” About that Founders Award, “John deserves it!”
Chris Glancey, the chamber’s president, agrees.
“John was great at helping us [the chamber and the business community it represents] as a liaison with city council,” Glancey says. “He’s big on public/private partnership” between city government and residents and businesses.
Glancey points to other town improvements that exhibit Divney’s fingerprints, improvements less evident than earlier mentioned innovations. Divney addressed infrastructure issues, like accessible roads and proper drainage, during his liaison days, Glancey says.
Not only that, Divney worked hard to ensure zoning for commercial and “mixed-use” development, Glancy adds. Mixed-use development blends residential and commercial properties, often in pedestrian-friendly areas like Landis Avenue. A mixed-use property might feature a storefront or a restaurant on the first floor and housing on the upper levels.
As for accomplishments during his “unique, fun time” serving Sea Isle’s enthusiastic citizens, Divney tends to redirect credit to others and clearly prefers the pronoun “we” over “I.”
This year’s Founders Award winner recognizes McHale for pointing to the need for zoning changes like mixed-use development, which preserves a strong commercial district and a town’s quality of life, he explains. “If you don’t have a strong business community, then you don’t have a town,” Divney asserts. “A strong business community increases property values.”
To their credit, city staffers were very involved in bringing jitney service into town, says Divney. The city and the chamber joined forces establishing entertainment at Excursion Park. And, city personnel continues to do a great job in organizing the venue’s busy schedule, he adds.
As for the town’s status as a dining delight, “Sea Isle City is one of the strongest restaurant towns in South Jersey,” Divney says with obvious pleasure before recalling efforts to introduce outdoor or sidewalk dining a while back. Outdoor dining was initially voted down by council, Divney recalls. Citizens were concerned about drinking issues.
“I said, ‘I will be back,’ ” Divney says with a subtle smile. “We cleared up that misunderstanding.” Councilwoman Mary Tighe and he went door-to-door visiting restaurateurs, citizens and council members in order to explain the sidewalk dining plan clearly, says Divney. Next time around, city council passed legislation allowing outdoor dining.
This accomplishment, among Divney’s others, comes as no surprise to his peers.
“John is a great uniter of people,” Glancey says. “He has the ability to bring people together … something that we need more of in this day and age.”
Around the World Social
September 28, 6-10pm, Sandbar & Grill
Tickets are $75 in advance, $90 at the door.
To purchase tickets call 609-263-9090, or visit the Welcome Center or O’Donnell’s Pour House.