By MADDY VITALE
Assemblyman Antwan McClellan has had quite a year. He got married. He was re-elected to office and he was just selected as the Republican whip, placing him in the senior leadership in the Legislature’s minority party.
And on Wednesday night, McClellan, 47, had yet another highlight, when he was honored for his work in the community, the county and the state as the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Citizen of the Year.
McClellan, along with members of the business community, were in the spotlight at a Chamber dinner at the Flanders Hotel.
In addition, there were businesses selected as outstanding. There was also a special Community Award presented to Mikenzie Helphenstine, who is battling cancer. She is a teacher in Ocean City and a coach. And a Community Award for Cindy and Bob Fertsch for their autism awareness non-profit organization, Heart of Surfing.
Michele Gillian, executive director of the Chamber, who presided over the ceremony, along with Chamber President David Allegretto, congratulated all of the winners and then said, “Tonight, we are here to celebrate our Citizen of the Year, Ocean City’s own, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan. Antwan, you have made a difference in Ocean City.”
Mayor Jay Gillian said McClellan represents, “the heart and soul of the community.”
“Whether it be helping the homeless, keeping our culture and history alive, teaching a kid how to shoot a basket, helping a friend or neighbor, serving our churches, standing up for what you believe in or being a mover and a shaker, you have made a difference,” Gillian said. “Antwan represents the heart and soul of Ocean City. Thank you for everything you’ve done for our city.”
When McClellan got up to the stage, he thanked his family, pastors, friends, current and former City Council members, the administration and the community he was raised in and loves so dearly.
At times, he wiped away tears and choked back his emotions as he spoke of people who were pivotal in his life and have helped shape him and make him the man he is today.
“Mom, my beautiful wife, my friends, thank you all,” he said. “Michele, (Gillian) I love you. You are the best,” he said and joked that her husband, Mayor Gillian, was all right, too. “Ocean City is about family. My family is important. My Ocean City family is important.”
He pledged that while serving in Trenton in the Legislature, he will continue to fight for what is right for Ocean City and the county and state. Faith, he said, is what forever guides him.
“We need to take care of ourselves and our people,” McClellan noted. “We need to have faith.”
McClellan, who lives with his wife, Angela, in Ocean City, was sworn into his first term in the New Jersey Assembly in January 2020. He was re-elected Nov. 2. He serves on several committees, including Assembly Appropriations, Homeland Security and State Preparedness, Tourism, Gaming and the Arts committees.
He is a member of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, where he has spearheaded the New Jersey Black Heritage Trail. He has worked to bring South Jersey together by creating Cumberland-Cape United, which is a group of Pastors and Community Leaders dedicated to encouraging and guiding children, according to a Chamber news release.
Additionally, he spearheaded the “Take Your Best Shot” program, which is helping Black Americans get their COVID-19 vaccinations through church community groups.
He currently serves as the confidential assistant/personnel director/public information officer in the Cape May County Sheriff’s Department. In this role, he works with the Sheriff’s Association, Chiefs Association and Prosecutor’s Office.
Prior to being elected as an Assemblyman, McClellan served on Ocean City Council, Ocean City School Board, and was a volunteer basketball coach and coach for the Field of Dreams program in South Jersey.
The following businesses that received awards were as follows:
The Business Renovation/Improvement Award, an award that is granted to a business that has taken an existing building and made physical and internal renovations to significantly improve its condition, was presented to Deauville Inn, Fortress Financial, Goji, Halliday Architects, Hooked on Breakfast, Jilly’s Downtown, Lenegan’s Plumbing & Heating, P. Francis, Peace of Wood, Shriver’s Downtown, and Spotted Whale.
Heist Insurance Agency was awarded the Outstanding Landscaping/Signage Award for their new signage.
Dorothy Phillips, Julie’s Headquarters, Keller Williams, and Pedego Electric Bikes received the Business New Construction Award.
The Outstanding New Business Award was presented to Churn House, Enchanted Boutique, Mangos and More, Payton Jewelry, Sand House Kitchen, Showstoppers Plus, and Sweetheart Coast.
This year’s Outstanding Civic, Community, Non-Profit Organization Award will be presented to Speitel Commons, Ocean City Housing Authority with assistance from the City of Ocean City.
Nick Bricker received the Outstanding Use of Technology Award for raising more than $150,000 for local businesses during the pandemic using social media.
The Outstanding Service to the Community Award was presented to Mikenzie Helphenstine.
Helphenstine, a teacher and coach in the Ocean City School District, is battling cancer and could not attend the ceremony. However, her family, friends and a host of teachers came out to honor her wearing bright pink “Mikenzie Strong” T-shirts.
“She has been described as having grit. A person with true grit has passion and perseverance,” Michele Gillian said from the stage. “She is a leader and a mentor to so many and Ocean City is truly lucky to have her as a member of our community.”
Heart of Surfing was inspired by Cindy and Bob Fertsch for their son Jamie in 2014. Jamie passed away in 2020. The non-profit organization provides activities for those who have autism or other developmental disabilities.
Special recognition awards was presented to Berger Realty for its 100th Anniversary, Skip Tolomeo for his years of service at Sea Oats, and Paul Landi for his years of service at Beach House Grill.