Revisiting the ‘Spirit of Hollybush’

Revisiting the ‘Spirit of Hollybush’

50th anniversary offers opportunities for education, recollection, connection

Christina Klotz Kales, Marilyn Pote Hutton, and Dave Vasile all did their part to ensure that the Summit at Hollybush was a rousing success in the Borough of Glassboro.

Fifty years later, Rowan University junior history and education major Daniel Cirino is committed to educating others so that the spirit of Hollybush is never forgotten.

Five decades to the weekend that President Lyndon B. Johnson and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin descended upon the borough for nearly 10 hours of talks about world peace at the Hollybush Mansion at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), Cirino spent Saturday, June 24, giving tours of the mansion as part of a celebration marking the summit’s 50th anniversary.


Learn about the summit here.


“My first year here, I would just walk to this side of campus and look into the windows of Hollybush,” Cirino,an Atco resident, said during a rare break between tours. Hundreds of community members joined together to tour Hollybush and other historic spots throughout the borough during a 50th anniversary celebration of the summit organized by the borough and Rowan.

The celebration included a shuttle loop that took visitors to Hollybush, Rowan’s Edelman Planetarium, the historic West Jersey Depot Museum, the Heritage Glass Museum, and Summit City Farm & Winery.

On Rowan’s campus, the celebration featured “A Few Famous Days,” a panel discussion with five local residents and former students who witnessed the summit; “Partners for Peace,” an original theatrical production presented by University students that gave a message about peace and understanding; a car show featuring classic vehicles from the 1960s; and the Spirit of Hollybush Dinner and Awards, an under-the-stars celebration that celebrated the summit’s 50th anniversary and honored some of community members who have played a major role in paying homage to the spirit of the summit.

The Edelman Planetarium presented “Ten Minutes to War," which told the story about a solar flare that almost caused nuclear war before the summit.

On the grounds around Hollybush, visitors viewed historical displays and posters commemorating the summit, including two signs in front of the mansion that were reproductions of billboards erected in Glassboro in 1967. Those who witnessed the summit preserved their memories at a video booth, while other visitors stood at the front of the mansion at the exact place where Johnson and Kosygin came out to greet thousands of citizens who crowded Whitney Avenue during the summit. Johnson’s message to the crowd at the time played throughout the day.

Easing Cold War tensions

While the summit produced no formal agreement between the leaders of the world’s two super powers, the meetings on June 23 and June 25, 1967 helped ease Cold War tensions between the countries. Among other issues, Johnson and Kosygin discussed their opposing views on the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, the nuclear arms race and conflicts in Vietnam. Johnson said at the time that their reasoning together demonstrated “the spirit of Hollybush.”

The significance of the University’s—and the borough’s place in history—was not lost on Cirino and his fellow student volunteers, who led hundreds of visitors on tours of Hollybush during the celebration. The tours were important—and fun—Cirino said.

“This is an honor I would have never dreamed of,” said Cirino, who collects Glassboro State College/Rowan memorabilia. “I often feel like people never truly understand how lucky we are to have this history. We made national and international news. We took center stage. That’s pretty sweet.

“We had a lot of alumni come through on tours and many people with their own personal stories,” he continued. “They are our liaisons to the past.”

‘A Few Famous Days’

During “A Few Famous Days,” a rich panel discussion featuring citizens who played roles in the summit, the stories flowed—both from the panel and from the audience. The chat was led by Rowan history professor James Heinzen, a scholar of Russian history and the author of The Art of the Bribe, a new book on corruption in Russia during the Stalin years.

Kales was a sophomore working in the office of the late Don Bagin, who ran the institution’s college relations office at the time. The institution had just 16 hours’ notice to ready Hollybush and the campus for the summit--and for the thousands of journalists who covered the event. At the time, Hollybush served as the home to University President Thomas E. Robinson and his wife, Margaret. In less than a day, the mansion was transformed into a meeting space for world leaders. The summit made international news.

“The hero of the Glassboro Summit was Don Bagin,” Kales said, noting that Bagin set up a first-rate press center in Esby Gym for the press corps and led the production of close to 1,000 press kits. “He knew this was an opportunity for Glassboro to shine. He knew how important it was.

“The thing that was so remarkable is that we were just average Americans living in a small town in the southern part of the state. Yet, we seemed to have an impact.”

Hutton, now a Methodist minister, remembers the excitement of borough residents during the summit. Later, she was chosen to be among a handful of women who traveled to Russia as part of a trip organized by McCall’s magazine. She left on her 19th birthday. The summit and the trip taught her about people—and about herself, she said.

“Both the president and the premier were welcomed by all of the crowd. The message was, ‘We’re happy to have you here,’” Hutton said.

“(Traveling to Russia) was just a beautiful experience. It helped me gain an understanding that people are all the same. At the heart, we’re all the same.”

‘It was quite a scene’

Vasile, then a police officer in Glassboro in just his second year, stood guard inside mansion throughout the summit. He was stationed in the foyer and stood at attention throughout the summit.

“It was quite a scene,” said Vasile, a Navy veteran who was chosen for the duty by Police Chief Everett Watson in part because he served his country. “To watch the way the Secret Service worked…what they did…what their role was…I understood a lot more about how they protected the president.”

Vasile, a borough officer for 30 years, only went home for a few hours during the summit. Once, he took a nap under the table in the kitchen of Hollybush, he said. He was not privy to the discussions between Johnson, a native Texan, and Kosygin, but he did meet the president.

“He was a big guy. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Everything is big in Texas,’” Vasile laughed.

Many alumni came back to campus to enjoy the Summit Celebration, but, for the Robinson family, touring Hollybush was a true homecoming.

“I’m thankful to be home again,” said Tim Robinson, 82, son of the late president and his wife. “For me, this visit is a poignant reminder of the many special occasions hosted by my parents for family, colleagues and the Glassboro community over the 16 years they lived in Hollybush.

“The ‘spirit of Hollybush’ was more than just a one-weekend phenomenon. It is what made Glassboro such a special place every day.”