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Longtime 'Voice Of Crusader Football' Jack Cleeland Dies At 94

Jack Cleeland was an athlete, football announcer and a member of the Board of Education -- among his many roles in the community.
Jack Cleeland was an athlete, football announcer and a member of the Board of Education -- among his many roles in the community. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Brian Peoples

ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. -- Jack Cleeland, of Elmwood Park, died on Friday, Feb. 10. He was 94.

A Marines veteran of World War II, Cleeland was heavily involved in athletics and his community for decades. When he was growing up, he earned the nickname of "the Orchard Street Streak" because of his speed.

He was a three-year varsity letterman on Eastside High School's undefeated track teams, where he set two conference records that held for nearly two decades. He was also a football star at the high school. He then played semipro football for the Clifton Rams, winning the North Jersey title; the EP Eagles; and the 20th Century EP baseball team.

Cleeland served on the Board of Education for over three decades, beginning in 1947 -- as president, VP, member of the athletic committee, and building chairman, during the period when two grammar schools and the high school were built.

He also was "the voice of Crusader football," announcing games from 1962 until he retired in 2009. He was honored at a pregame ceremony last September, at the first game on the newly refurbished high school football field and track. The press box there sports a plaque honoring him.

The funeral home provided a quote from that event:

If you haven't guessed it by now, Jack loved our town and did everything he could to make it a great place to live. He wants to thank everyone whose lives he has touched and the committee for this great honor.

Cleeland was a founding trustee of the Elmwood Park Athletic Hall of Fame -- and he was inducted into it, in its first year, in 1991. He was also a longtime high school track official and volunteered for many state Special Olympics.

"His dedication and service to the Borough for more than 60 years will remain an example of the ultimate in community service, perhaps never to be matched again," said Brian Peoples, who is the current president of the Hall of Fame's board.

"A friend and mentor to many, including myself, he will be deeply missed."

Cleeland had also been a president of Ironworkers Local No. 483, and he also served on the Zoning Board for 17 years. He was a charter member of Fire Company No. 4 on the Boulevard, and he was a fireman for 27 years. He was a member of the American Legion for 57 years, the VFW for 54 years and the Elks for 27.

He also started the American Legion baseball team in the in the early 1970s, which won the Bergen County title.

A number of years ago, Cleeland was the grand marshall of the Memorial Day parade, and during the 100th anniversary parade, in 2016, he was recognized as one of the town's honored citizens.

He is survived by his children, Thomas Jack and his wife Gail, and Jane Rita Kirsch and her husband Ira; grandchildren Bryan Kirsch and his wife Casey, Kerri and Karen Cleeland Murphy, and Lindsay McJury and her husband Patrick; great-grandchildren Jackson Kirsch and Spencer Cleeland Murphy; and sister-in-law Althea Lowe.

Cleeland was preceded by his wife, Rita (Pyott) Cleeland.

Visitation will be from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, at the Patrick J. Conte Funeral Home, 274 Market St., in Elmwood Park. The funeral service will be at 10 a.m. on Tuesday at the funeral home, with Rev. Jeffrey Leininger officiating. Interment will be in George Washington Memorial Park, in Paramus.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the Elmwood Park Athletic Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 42, Elmwood Park, NJ 07407.

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