Peace Pilgrim, an Egg Harbor City native who spent 28 years walking back and forth across the country spreading her message of peace, may have had her words translated into more than a dozen languages, but until recently she was a virtual unknown in her hometown.
But a small group of residents led by Barbara Reynolds have brought Peace Pilgrim to prominence locally, successfully lobbying the city to create Peace Pilgrim Park in 2005 and organizing the annual Peace Pilgrim Celebration, the sixth iteration of which will take place Sept. 20-22.
The planners have a minimal budget with which to pay for the celebration, so it's largely collaborative, which fits its namesake well.
"One of the reasons that makes it such a nice event is that it's like Peace Pilgrim," said Nanette LoBiondo Galloway, a member of the Peace Pilgrim Celebration Committee. "Things that you need will come, and everything we need is just provided, somehow, some way."
This year's Peace Pilgrim Celebration will open Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at Egg Harbor City Community School with a yoga class and a screening of a documentary about Peace Pilgrim's life. It will continue Sept. 21 with the 9 a.m. two-mile Walk for Peace, a film screening at 10:30 a.m., and a potluck dinner featuring vendors, a health fair, kids activities, a drum circle and more from noon to 4 p.m. The event will conclude 1 p.m. Sept. 22 with an interfaith peace service at St. John's United Church of Christ.
Peace Pilgrim was born Mildred Lisette Norman in Egg Harbor City on July 18, 1908. After suffering a crisis in the early 1950s, she came to the realization that unhappiness is caused by internal strife. She renounced her possessions, save for her clothes, shoes, comb and toothbrush, and embarked on the first of seven treks across the country on foot in which her simple ideals inspired thousands. She died in 1981 when a car she was riding in was struck while she was on her way to a speaking event.
While this year's celebration will be the sixth official one, the first day to honor Peace Pilgrim actually was observed in 2007 in Peace Pilgrim Park on the 99th anniversary of her birth. Not wanting to have to go through the permitting for a large event, Reynolds and a few Peace Pilgrim devotees held a small gathering in the park.
"It was like, five or six of us, under the gazebo out there, under the pouring rain," Reynolds said. "Pouring rain. And that was the 99th, and then the 100th, we made a big celebration, and it just continued. Now people know."
One of the special guests at this year's event will be Belmar author Merry Brennan, who earlier this year published a biography called "Peace Pilgrim: Walking Her Talk against Hate." She will be autographing copies of her book and selling them at cost, donating a dollar to the nonprofit Friends of Peace Pilgrim for each book sold.
While she has been a fan of Peace Pilgrim since being handed a pamphlet of her words at a rally in the 1980s, Brennan didn't become involved with the celebration until after the publication of the book. Now that she's part of the group, Brennan said she can't wait to take part in the event.
"Peace Pilgrim has really been a model for me in my life, and publishing the book has opened my circle even wider," she said. "I feel like it's been a wonderful blessing to be able to connect with the people who are working down here in her birth town."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Sixth annual Peace Pilgrim Celebration
When: Sept. 20-22, various times
Where: Various locations in Egg Harbor City
How much: Free
More info: visit peacepilgrim100.com