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President and Executive Director
Montclair Grass Roots
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In 2009, the community center was named as the "Essex County Wally Choice Community Center" in honor of Montclair resident Wally Choice, who has been President and Executive Director of Montclair Grass Roots, a community organization that has provided recreation and educational enrichment programs for children, for 48 years.
In addition, the football field and two softball diamonds were modernized that same year.
When former Harlem Globetrotter and NBA draft pick Wally Choice was growing up on Mission Street, he lacked any means to leave the neighborhood, and Glenfield Park "was all we had at that time," Choice said.
Years later, after retiring from a career in basketball, Choice returned to the place of his roots, and dedicated more than 40 years to the county park that had played such a major role in his formative years. When Choice and his wife Celine's only son, also named Wally, was about five years old, "I wanted to make sure he had a place to go," the elder Choice said. "It became evident there was a need," and, along with a group of residents, Choice established Montclair Grass Roots in 1968, aiming to make Glenfield Park the community gathering place it had been during his youth. "Mr. Choice has been a positive role model for generations of young people ... laying a strong foundation that has helped alumni of the Grass Roots program to find success throughout their lives," DiVincenzo stated. Born on Willowdale Avenue and raised on Mission Street, Choice, now in his mid-70s, played for the Mountie basketball team and earned a scholarship to play hoops at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he met his future wife, to whom he has been married for 51 years. During his freshman year, the 6-foot-5-inch Choice became the second African-American student athlete to play on the team, and that year the Indiana Hoosiers also became NCAA champions. Eventually, Choice would become the team's first African-American captain. After graduation, Choice was drafted to play for the St. Louis Hawks at a time when the National Basketball Association consisted of eight teams, and the league only extended as far west as St. Louis, Mo. The Hawks "drafted 10 of us and none of us went to camp," Choice said. "In those days, that was common." One alternative was the Globetrotters, a team with which Choice toured the world for about three years. After that, he entered the Eastern League, consisting of about nine East Coast teams, and played for five years for the Trenton Colonials and the Madisons, of Easton, Pa., he said. Later, Choice would again be a draft pick - for the U.S. Army, serving at Fort Dix for 18 months while he and his family resided in Corona, N.Y. In 1962, the Choice family moved back to Montclair, where Wally Choice bought an ice cream, soda shop and drug store he frequented as a boy, the Elm Pharmacy on Bloomfield Avenue, renamed it the Choice Pharmacy and ran it for 10 years. He later operated the Lackawanna Shoe and Parcel Service, inside the Lackawanna Plaza mall, for 20 years.
The work being done to that field will make it safe for those children," said Wally Choice, President and Executive Director of Montclair Grass Roots.
It's a model that counties and towns can follow about how to get the community involved," said Wally Choice of Montclair Grass Roots, which submitted an application for improvements to Essex County's Glenfield Park in Montclair.
"We went so long without any attention being given to the parks. It's a pleasure to be a part of what we are accomplishing today," he added.
Joe DiVincenzo has made the park system into a gem for the whole community," said Wally Choice, President of Montclair Grass Roots, Inc., which has been offering recreation programs at