On February 12, John D. Polhemus, a former Peace Corps volunteer who twice was elected Democrat to the Warren County Council of Freeholders, died. He was 81 years old.
Raised on his family dairy farm with a desire to become a minister, Polhemus was a Peace Corps volunteer after it was founded by John F. Kennedy in 1962. He spent two years teaching agriculture to the Quechua people in the jungles of the Beni River in Bolivia.
He later acquired and ran a bar in La Paz, where he met his wife, Rita, a U.S. embassy employee. He returned to New Jersey to run his family farm in 1967 and became a staunch supporter of farmland conservation.
After his wife Rita died of breast cancer in 1975, Polhemus raised his three young daughters as single parents.
He began running for the local office in White Township, winning the race for the school board in 1976 and in 1984 for the city committee. He served as mayor and board member.
Governor Brendan Byrne appointed him to his village advisory council.
Polhemus ran for freelance in 1986, seeking the seat of another Democrat, James Swick, who did not seek re-election. Polhemus defeated Republican Harold Reeves without gaining about 58% of the vote, even though ticket manager Jim Ruther (R-Allamuchy) scored his home constituency with 64%.
Faced with a challenge from former Hackettown Mayor James G. Smith in 1989, Polhemus won re-election, even as Courter garnered 52% of the vote to win Warren County in his failed bid for governor against Democrat Jim Flory.
After the death of New Jersey Senate Dean Wayne Dumont (R-Philipsburg) in 1990, Polhemus considered challenging Republican Senator Robert Little (R-Franklin). He refused, and the Democratic candidate received the Rev. Clarence Sickles, who finished third.
Polhemus failed to retain his seat in 1992, losing his bid for a third term to Republican Susan Dickey, garnering about 2,600 votes, 53.5% -46.5%.
President Bill Clinton has appointed Polhemus director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture New Jersey. Agricultural Services Agency.
“John was an exemplary civil servant, and his legacy in Warren County and White Township will survive him for a long time,” said Warren County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Palmieri. “It was impossible to leave the conversation with him without being deeply impressed by his honesty, kindness and love for his community.”
He sold his farm in 2004 after first using the state’s farmland conservation program to ensure it would remain a farm. After living in Baltimore for several years, he later moved to Massachusetts to be close to his family.
Polhemus is survived by daughters and three grandchildren.
A screening will take place Thursday at 4 to 8 p.m. at the Warren Hills Memorial House in Washington. Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at the United Presbyterian Church in Belvedere.