NJ Hall of Fame Induction Warms the Asbury Park Night

Kelly Ripa, Ray Liotta, Tommy James among this year’s honorees.

Actress and TV Personality Kelly Ripa, a Stratford native, was one of the evening's honorees.
Actress and TV Personality Kelly Ripa, a Stratford native, was one of the evening's honorees.
Photo by Gary Gellman

The list of inductees into the New Jersey Hall of Fame grew a little longer Sunday night, and so did the red carpet from which they waved and vamped for home state well-wishers: Kelly Ripa, Ray Liotta, Tommy James, Chuck Wepner and Connie Chung were among the stars who strutted their way deeper into Asbury Park’s Conventional Hall than in previous years, shielding themselves against the cold and damp of an early May evening.

Once the long walk was over, the honorees settled into their seats at the Paramount Theater and the evening warmed with praise. Presenters heaped kind words on the inductees, who in turn praised their hometowns and the people who populate them.

“New Jersey to me means family. Family and Taylor ham, which you can’t find anywhere but here,” said Liotta, the Emmy winner best known for his roles in the movies Goodfellas and Field of Dreams. After producing some of the loudest whoops and wolf whistles from the Paramount’s full house with that line he, like most of his fellow inductees, turned sentimental:  “In Union, where I’m from, they used to say ‘Union has loads of good kids.’ What I have to say is that New Jersey has loads of great people.”

Another honoree, Wyclef Jean, gave a shout out to his Newark high school music teacher, Valerie Price. “I want everyone here to understand the power of music and sports in school,” said the former Fugee. “They’re very important.”

Talk show darling Ripa, who grew up in Stratford and was introduced by her father, Joe Ripa, thanked her fellow inductees, who she said have inspired her “more than you will ever know.”

And Chung, who was introduced by her husband, fellow TV personality, Maury Povich, said she never got to meet two of her heroes, Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, after “prowling the streets for them” throughout decades of living in Middletown. But Sunday night’s ceremony provided her with the next-best thing. “Steven Van Zandt is here, Little Stevie, and I got to meet him!,” she said. Van Zandt, in a shiny headscarf — a nod to the pomp of the occasion — was on hand to induct James, of Cedar Grove, the leader of the 1960s band Tommy James and the Shondells.

“He has one of the greatest rock’n’roll voices of all time,” Van Zandt said of the still bushy-haired James, best known for hits like “Hanky Panky” and “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

If celebrities lent the ninth-annual ceremony glitz, the host, 101.5FM DJ Big Joe Henry, tempered it with regular-guy charm: “I have goose bumps the size of beach balls,” he said, poking fun at himself for his failed diet attempts. When he called Mary Higgins Clark, mother of the suspense writer and honoree Carol Higgins Clark, of Washington Township, to the stage, he joked that they should write a book about him and call it “Silence of the Lambchops.”

The night’s more serious moments were reserved for posthumous inductees, including Peace Pilgrim, the activist from Egg Harbor whose 102-year sister accepted her award on her behalf, and Philip Kearny, the U.S. Army officer and Civil War hero who commanded the First New Jersey Brigade, losing his left arm in the process. Two of Kearny’s great-great granddaughters accepted his award for him, reminding the audience of his famous battle cry, which was oddly in keeping with the spirit of the evening: “I’m a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun,” he was heard to say. “Follow me!”

For a full list of the ninth annual inductees, go to njhalloffame.org.

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