TOMS RIVER – L. Manuel Hirshblond was involved in so many aspects of Toms River life, that his passing now leaves a hole in the hearts of many who knew him. He passed away at 93 surrounded by family.
He had been the township clerk and it’s administrator – running the day-to-day operations of the town – for decades, retiring in 1989.
A 1944 graduate of Toms River High School (back when there was only one), he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1991.
He became so ingrained in the daily workings of the town that few could imagine it without him. In fact, the meeting room where the governing body now decides everything is called the L. Manuel Hirshblond room.
According to the Fire Company No. 1, he was a member for 66 years and its former chief. He served in the Navy during WWII.
“Rest easy Chief Hirshblond. Your work here is complete. We will take it from here…” the fire company stated on social media.
Ron Weingroff, the former chief of Fire Company No. 1, talked highly of Hirshblond.
Everyone in the department looked up to him, he said. If there was anything they needed to know, they came to him – whether it was history or something to do with the town. He was even sought after for medical and personal advice.
“My dad died in the line of duty. Manny was on the back of the fire truck, consoling me,” he said.
Getting on in years, he didn’t go on calls any more, but was still a part of the company doing important work behind the scenes, such as helping organize the Halloween parade.
He was the friendliest person you could ever meet, was involved with everyone, and would visit sick members in the hospital.
People who worked under him said “He was hard. He did his job, but he took care of them,” he said.
Weingroff joined the company in 1973, and that’s how they met.
“Everyone is quite upset about his passing,” Weingroff said.
Mark Mutter, the township historian who is also a retired township clerk, counted Hirshblond as a mentor and friend. He brought him to an event in 2017 at the Toms River library to talk about the history of the township. The common refrain throughout the afternoon was that the town has changed with all the development. Hirshblond had been the clerk/administrator when the town ballooned with new construction.
“Sometimes, our local officials didn’t make the right decisions,” Hirshblond said of some of the development. “A lot of things went on that shouldn’t have.”
In 2018, Hirschblond sat down with the Toms River Times to talk about how he helped bring the filming of “The Amityville Horror” to film in town. Part of his job was taking care of the residents, keeping them off the set, and using local businesses for anything that the crew needed.
Hirschblond had been the division manager with Walter Reade theaters. His father owned the TRACO Theater on Washington Street, where Abbott and Costello once performed “Who’s On First?” A connection through the theater world reached out to him because a film studio was looking for locations in New Jersey.
They had a picture of a New England home that they wanted to film in. Hirshblond said immediately he knew a house that was a virtual twin. No one could believe how close the connection was. That house still stands on Brooks Road, in downtown Toms River. It is much prettier today, but those eye-like windows on the side are iconic.
As the clerk, he worked on getting the proper approvals through the township for the short duration of the filming.
This wasn’t his only brush with show biz, although this one was a little closer to home.
A 1976 article of The New York Times talked about the bicentennial celebration in Dover Township (as it was called back then): “Clerk- administrator L. Manuel Hirshblond of Dover Township will play Capt. Joshua Huddy of the New Jersey militia in the Bicentennial re‐enactment of the Revolutionary War battle here.
“Mr. Hirshblond expects to be back in his office in the afternoon, his neck intact through the expedient of borrowing a parachute harness from the Lakehurst Naval Air Station to wear under his shirt. The harness hook, rather than his noose, will bear his weight.”
The filming of this scenario is still on file in the township.
The article goes on to explain the goings-on of the township meeting, which included recreation and other minutiae that Hirshblond no doubt had a part in.
That knowledge came in handy, former Mayor Thomas Kelaher said.
When Kelaher had an idea for something new for the township, he’d bounce the idea off Hirshblond, who would then say “That’s a lame brained idea. We tried it years ago, and here’s the lame brain who tried it.
“Manny and me go way back,” he said. They had a long-time friendship and their wives taught together. “I just admired the guy.”
The governing body is currently a directly-elected mayor and a township council. It used to be a township committee who would choose one of their rank to be mayor every year. But despite all that, it was people like Hirshblond who kept the wheels rolling.
“They would come and go, but he was the stabilizing one,” Kelaher said. “I always thought that Manny was the glue that kept Toms River together.”