Maspeth’s Candlelight Vigil Honors All Vets

A separate candle was designated for each conflict where American lives were lost. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected] 

At the intersection of Grand Ave and 69th Street, dozens of Maspeth residents paid their respects to all veterans at the 37th Annual Memorial Candlelight Ceremony on Monday evening. 

The event was hosted by the United Veterans & Fraternal Organizations of Maspeth, and organized by Chairperson Carole Stein, Eileen Hagen and Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. 

Following an invocation by Reverend Joseph Wilson, and the Pledge of Allegiance recited by attendees, this year’s Grand Marshall, Paul A. Feddern, delivered a speech on the purpose of Memorial Day. 

“Memorial day marks the beginning of summer for some people,” said Feddern, who enlisted to serve in the Vietnam War in 1967. “But just remember that is not the purpose of Memorial Day. We are here to honor all the people that have given their lives in sacrifice. Keep that in mind when you start your barbecue.”

Paul A. Feddern is a Vietnam War veteran and this year’s Grand Marshall. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Feddern, a longtime Forest Hills resident, says that he has attended the Maspeth vigil for over ten years. Following his deployment he was an officer in the NYPD. 

No war, veteran or victim was excluded from the vigil. In total six candles were lit and carried by representatives from various local chapters to the front of the ceremony. 

One candle each was lit for veterans of World War l, World War ll, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. A separate candle, honored by Francis Cardinal Spellman Council, Knights of Columbus and Ladies Auxiliary, was reserved for Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and all American victims of terrorism. The last candle was lit for all prisoners of war (POW) and those who went missing in action (MIA) during military conflict. 

“May the light of these candles light our deceased American veteran’s journey and may perpetual peace concur their immortal souls,” said Stein, after the candleholders stood together in unity. 

Some veterans say they have been attending the vigil for years. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Stein also took it upon herself to write original lyrics to recite at the ceremony to reflect on the impact of Memorial Day and what it represents to veterans and regular Americans. Her act was a mix of slam poetry and song that Stein says she spent two weeks crafting. 

“Their courage, love and devotion we must remember. Their legacy shall never fade away,” Stein rendered during her spoken word performance.

To conclude the ceremony, students and performing arts players from the St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Academy of Queens sang “God Bless America” as the sun set. 

The vigil precedes Maspeth’s Memorial Day Parade which will be held on Monday, May 29 and begin at 1 p.m at the same spot, Maspeth Memorial Park. 


Middle Village 8th Grader Wins Gold at MathCon in Chicago

Council Member Robert Holden awarded Mark with a certificate in his office following his MathCon win. Photo Credit: Council Member Holden’s office

By Iryna Shkurhan[email protected] 

Mark Primak, an 8th grader from P.S./I.S. 49 in Middle Village, was one of the gold medalists at this year’s MathCon competition in Chicago. 

The victory at the national two-round student math competition came after weeks of preparation with a local advanced math study group based in Forest Hills, and the financial assistance and support of Council Member Robert Holden’s office.

Mark’s math teacher, Saida Atmaca, initially entered the entire school in the online qualifying round of the competition. From there, only the top finalists were selected to participate in the in person competition in Chicago. Mark was the only student in his school who qualified. 

His mother, Ellen Primak, says that Mark has been studying math and reading in Russian and English since he was three years old. And despite only being in the 8th grade, he has completed several college level math classes. For the past six months, he’s also been volunteering to tutor a group of students in algebra through Many Math Circles & More. 

“So I was pleased, but not surprised,” recalled Ellen when she heard Mark secured a spot in the finals. “He’s gifted.”

But despite qualifying, Mark’s family did not not have the financial means to afford an overnight trip to Chicago. Despite the obstacle, Ellen was determined to find a way for Mark to compete nationally. 

She reached out to Atmaca, to see if any support was possible, who reached out to the school’s Principal Thomas Carty.  The message then landed at Holden’s office, who represents Middle Village where Mark has lived his entire life. 

The council member’s office offered to fund all the expenses for the trip, which included airfare and accommodations for Mark and his mother for two days. He also put Mark in contact with Donghui Zang who runs Russell Sage Math Team, an advanced study group, out of the basement of his Forest Hills home with Coach William Collins since 2018.

Since Mark was the only one in his school heading to the competition, prior to the connection he didn’t have a team to practice with or even know anyone who was in his shoes. In the 2019 MathCon competition, the Sage team secured several individual wins and won third place nationwide as a team.

Donghui Zang with Mark outside his Forest Hills home where practice sessions were held. Photo Credit: Donghui Zang

Zang said that Mark fit right in with the group that meets every Monday evening for an hour and a half to prepare for competitions. 

“He was very social despite being a newcomer to the group,” said Zang in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “He always sits in the front and center.”

The 2023 MathCon competition was held on May 13 in Chicago. Contestants were given 100 minutes to complete 32 questions covering algebra, combinatorics, geometry and number theory. Each question had a designated number of points based on its difficulty level. 

Mark was one of three 8th graders from across the country who secured a gold medal.

“He was absolutely blown away. He was ecstatic and jumping from joy for the next three days. He’s been sleeping while wearing his medal,” said Ellen in an interview with the Queens Ledger. “And he’s still wearing it most of the time.”

Following his return from Chicago, Holden presented Mark with a certificate of recognition in his office. He was joined by his mother and Zang. 

Our district has terrific students, and I’m honored to have helped Mark achieve this incredible feat,” wrote Holden in a Facebook post announcing the victory. “Remember this name because Mark will someday change the world.”

In the fall, Mark is heading to Stuyvesant High School, a specialized high school which requires a top score on the citywide entrance exam to gain acceptance. Afterwards he hopes to go into the STEM field and “change the world,” according to his mother. 

“We were all so happy. I couldn’t believe it,” said Zang, who describes his math group as a home where students can make friends and overcome challenges. “It’s always exciting to see how the students excel, how they improve and how they can learn something.”

Forest Hills Festival Uniting Communities For A Generation

2019 Forest Hills Festival of the Arts on Austin St. Photo: Michael Perlman

By Michael Perlman | [email protected]

For over 20 years, the Forest Hills Festival has been a tradition that unites Forest Hills residents and visitors with local merchants and nearby businesses, offering nearly every type of service.

On June 11 from 10 AM to 6 PM, diverse international foods and high-quality merchandise including novelties will line Austin Street from 69th Road to 72nd Road, and “Restaurant Row” will once again become an outdoor performance venue.

This festival, which is among the most distinctive neighborly and family-friendly events citywide, is the creative vision of Leslie Brown, longtime president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, whose mission is the 3 C’s: “Commerce, Community, Culture.” “Culture brings the community together and commerce makes the community thrive.” Chamber members consist of 125 local members.

“My goals are to support our community’s small businesses and promote Forest Hills by bringing as many visitors and residents together to enjoy shops, restaurants, and all businesses,” she said.

Not only is Brown the founder of the Forest Hills Festival, but Jazz Thursdays each summer. She reminisced, “The festival came about as a way to showcase Forest Hills businesses and allow its business owners and residents to come together at a fun family event.” Part of her vision was to showcase local talent. Throughout the festival’s history, performers included dance students, martial arts students, fencing students, young musicians from local music schools, local jazz singers, and even world-class performers on a large stage. “This year will be the 3rd annual Sandwich Eating Contest, sponsored by Stacked Sandwich Shop,” she said.

This is community at its finest. She said, “Many families and people plan the start of their summer activities by attending the festival. The rides, the local talent showcased at the beginning, and the entertainment that continues in the mid-afternoon is what everyone looks forward to. There is always something to discover and someone to meet.”

The business district began to take shape after Forest Hills’ founding in 1906, and Austin Street would soon be nicknamed, “The Village.” Even today residents and merchants share long relationships of community support, according to Brown. “Business owners will support a patron’s kids’ Little League team, or a customer will spread the word about a business they love. Mutual respect and connections still exist here, so we need to celebrate such communities, since AI and internet shopping lead us away from human contact,” she said.

Not only have a few new stores opened this year, adding to the community’s diverse offerings, but the owners are ethnically diverse. Year-round, Austin Street becomes a magnet for shoppers from the five boroughs and Long Island.

Nancy Valentin, owner of NV Jewelry, founded her business in June 2010 and participated in at least 10 festivals. She feels additionally proud being raised in Forest Hills. Her kiosk will offer earrings, bracelets, necklaces and rings, and of course new jewelry creations. “No matter what circumstances or challenges women have endured in their lives, a piece of jewelry will empower them, and make them feel the very best,” she said.

Michelle Charlesworth of Eyewitness & Nancy Valentin of NV Jewelry.

Valentin embraces the sense of celebration that runs throughout the streets of the festival, as well as the rapport she builds with longtime and new clients. “Leslie Brown does such an amazing job selecting diverse vendors. She always cares about the needs of others, which truly shows,” she continued.

“The Forest Hills Festival is one event I look forward to all year long,” said Christopher Iavarone, owner of Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts at 73-25 Woodhaven Boulevard, which serves the community since 2009 and puts on a show every year. The students will take the stage and provide demonstrations.

Sensei Christopher Iavarone of Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts, Demonstration on Restaurant Row.

“It enables me to plug into the community and showcase kids who worked hard in their classes and give a platform to express themselves through martial arts. I choreograph the moves and the music. The community will have an ‘inside view of our school’ on a daily basis.” Kickboxing and jiu-jitsu are the true forms of the art, but by having different people perform, introduces a new dynamic each year. “When we put up a tent and have a huge tiger, it brings smiles to our community, and then we get to work with people one-on-one,” he continued.

Iavarone explained his mission. “Self-defense and physical conditioning are two most important aspects. We help kids who aren’t confident, but then are able to defend themselves from bullies. Adults also benefit greatly, as soon as they step through our door.” He considers his classes as a 3D activity. “It’s fun, teaches a life skill, and you get fit.”

The musical sensation, Yacht Lobsters, is sailing the waves and will newly take the grand stage on Restaurant Row. The seven-piece ensemble will engage a large audience at 3 PM, followed by a second set at 4:10 PM.

Yacht Rock is a genre that is a conglomeration of many artists, mostly from the 1970s and early 1980s. As a tribute band, the goal is typically to emulate their sounds. “For a tribute to be unique, it’s almost an oxymoron, but we take it pretty seriously. We go beyond copying music by taking songs that we heard a million times and love, and doing something unique,” explained musician David Mendelson of Yacht Lobsters, who anticipates performing and giving back to his birthplace, Forest Hills.

Singing sensation Yacht Lobsters. Photo: Arazelly Guevara

The character of the musicians also distinguishes them from other tribute bands, and Mendelsohn considers their harmonious teamwork a blessing. Afterall, vocal harmonies are a significant element of the genre. “We are trained musicians from NYC, who I feel are some of the best in the world,” he said.

Some staples of Yacht Rock are “Africa” by Toto and “You Make My Dreams Come True” by Hall & Oates. Their repertoire even reflects the sounds of Steely Dan, which bears Forest Hills roots. Yacht Lobsters is big on medleys, and therefore takes segments of classics and consolidates them along a theme, which may include some titles that may not qualify as Yacht Rock, but complements it. “The Magic Medley,” consisting of “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John and “Magic” by Pilot, and it may also allow the audience to hop on a “Magical Mystery Tour” by The Beatles.

Also original is how songs typically performed by high tenor males take on a new context through their female solo vocalist, Charly Kay, a master of blue-eyed soul. The band also takes pride in jamming and improvisation, varying from typical Yacht Rock.

Since the mid-2000s, Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios, made a mark on the Forest Hills Festival. She explained, “The kids love dancing for their very own community, and we hope it spreads joy to all. After the performance, our booth turns into one big dance party. You can stop by to get information about our programs and free trials, to just say hi, or to dance with us.”

All Star Studios team performing at their best, 2021. Photo: Rysa Childress

As a small business owner, she strives for a family atmosphere and giving back to the community through their art form is emphasized to all dance students. She explained, “Our Shining Star dance team does do competitions, but that is not our main focus. The teams do a multitude of performances to share their love of dance with the community and fundraise for those in need. Outside of their year-end recital, many team dancers perform for seniors in nursing homes, kids in programs at Queens Center mall, and have done an amazing job with fundraising events and shows for Autism Awareness organizations.” In their studio, she coordinated the PJammin’ Party to fundraise for American Childhood Cancer Association, donate time, gifts, or money to City Harvest, Forestdale Foster Care & Social Services, and From Our Hearts To Your Toes.

For a few years, Dream City, owned by Corrie Hu, has been a festival participant. Dream City is a children’s play and learn center that is on a mission to create a fun and safe learning environment, sparking curiosity while encouraging social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

Corrie Hu, founder of Dream City, 2nd from left.

Hu opened prior to the pandemic in January 2020. She reminisced, “While we were only open for 7 weeks before NYC shut down, I was so touched and amazed at the support from our community, and that we were welcomed back as soon as it was safe to re-open. Dream City is a type of business that requires a high level of trust from parents to bring the most cherished people in their lives to our business, and I am forever grateful for their trust in us.”

Participant Stephanie Khan is a perfect example of a business that recently underwent expansion. Now the Stephanie Khan Medical Office is located at 110-78 Queens Boulevard. Many years ago, statistics revealed that there is a shortage in primary care physicians. Therefore, nurse practitioners were to fill in the gap of primary care. She wants fairgoers to be educated on what is a nurse practitioner and how they can help the health of their loved ones.

Khan explained, “Many illnesses and complications are manageable through medication and lifestyle choices. It is important to have strong communication and relationship with your healthcare provider, which is something I strive for. I also focus on shared decision-making, when it comes to treatment options. My goal is for people to feel empowered over their health and to empower future nurses and nurse practitioners to follow my lead in improving primary care.”

Chef François Danielo and fifth-generation breadmaker of La Boulangerie de François at 109-01 72nd Road, is a mainstay at the festival. He has participated in nearly all since opening in 2011, initiating an authentic bakery cafe experience in Forest Hills. He will always cherish the community’s response. “I will always remember the first time we made crepes outside for a 14th of July, French Bastille Day,” he said.

Francois Danielo of La Boulangerie, right, in September 2017. Photo: Michael Perlman

As patrons sit at a communal table at the café and observe the art of baking through a viewing window, fairgoers have observed the preparation of crepes, in addition to enjoying native pastries. When asked about his favorites, he selected the croissant, and as for more recent additions, Ispahan and Caramel Petit Gateau.

Danielo considers Forest Hills a small town that grants a great warm feeling. “Our bakery is like the town bakery, when patrons come and buy their bread and croissants.”

Twenty-four-year resident Christine Sheehan opened Dude’s Delicious Dog Treats last year. Her kiosk will offer homemade dog treats with quality ingredients. She aspires to grow the brand and business, while contributing to the health of dogs.

Dude’s Delicious Dog Treats table setup. Photo: Christine Sheeha

In response to last year’s festival, she said, “I was thrilled that we sold out, but more importantly with the great community response and most specifically our dog community. Many of our dog park buddies not only purchased items, but to sing the praises of our products to other dog owners. It really warmed my heart to see so much support and meet other dog parents and dogs.”

She founded her business stemming from a passion for dogs, baking, and the many lovely residents she met as a result of getting her dog, Dude. “I never thought that a dog would enrich our lives the way it has, but my husband and I can no longer think of life without him,” she said.

Sheehan will be in front of the new Pet Club that opened on May 14 at 71-24 Austin Street. “Our businesses can support each other by being a gathering area for dog owners,” she said.

Bus Brings Free Mammograms to Glen Oaks Women

The bus, equipped with a mammogram x-ray machine, was provided by the American-Italian Cancer Foundation. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

By Iryna Shkurhan | [email protected]

A free mammogram screening bus stood on Union Turnpike in Glen Oaks on Friday, May 19 to give women the opportunity to detect breast cancer. 

Any woman living in NYC between the ages of 40 and 47, who hasn’t received a mammogram in the past year, was eligible for the service. Uninsured patients were welcome, and those with insurance did not have to pay a copay and had their deductible waived. 

“This mammogram event means a lot to the community, and any other groups,” said Shirly Huang from the Coalition of Asian-American IPA, a sponsor of the event. “It doesn’t matter if they are Asian or Latina, cancer doesn’t care what ethnic group you are in.”

Approximately 20 women made an appointment for a screening, and anyone eligible who was walking by was also able to make an appointment on the spot. 

Earlier this month, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) unveiled new guidelines that recommend women get their first mammogram at 40, unless they have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors which would warrant earlier screening.

USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts who develop recommendations for preventative services based on the evidence and effectiveness of existing programs. Previously they recommended that women in their 40’s make an independent decision on when to start screening based on medical history and recommended they receive one at 50. 

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S, as well as the second leading cause of cancer death for women, according to the National Cancer Institute. The USPSTF predicts that this new change in guidelines could result in 19 percent more lives saved. 

Black women are also 40 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, despite being less likely to be diagnosed with it, according to American Cancer Society.  Some factors include high rates of genetic mutations, dense breasts and delays in treatment and diagnosis due to systematic inequalities.

Representatives from SHARE and CAIPA were joined by Council Member Linda Lee. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

“It is systemic,” said Sharon Browne, an outreach coordinator for SHARE, a nonprofit working to support and educate women who have been diagnosed with cancer. She set up a table at the event to distribute literature and answer any questions. 

Browne is a two time survivor of an aggressive form of breast cancer. And despite her preventative efforts to annual mammograms, she detected a lump just two months after a mammogram turned up negative. 

“I think it’s of the utmost importance to educate,” said Browne, who recalled an older woman who approached her table and didn’t know that cancer can spread from one part of the body to a distant region. She also said that she has met women who only got their first mammogram in their 50s because they were never informed about the appropriate timeline.  

“It’s not their fault,” she said. “They just don’t know.”

In her years of experience, she found that the most impactful way to educate women is community events like this, as well as support groups, doctors visits, TV and 24-hour hotlines where any questions can be asked without limits. 

Council Member Linda Lee, who represents swaths of eastern Queens, sponsored the event and also took it as an opportunity to get a mammogram herself. 

Sponsors of the event said that there are some certain barriers that get in the way of women receiving consistent preventive care. Some women may be embarrassed by the vulnerability of the screening process for cervical and breast cancers. While others may only want care from a doctor who speaks their language and understands their culture. 

A look inside where the screening takes place. Photo: Iryna Shkurhan

Other women who are more recent immigrants may be uninsured, don’t have the right documents or may have to wait long periods of time for accessible care. Many of the women at the event also acknowledged that life can get busy, which hinders their ability to prioritize preventative care.

The mammogram bus was provided by The American-Italian Cancer Foundation at no cost to patients. Generally, organizers say that it is often booked up and can be found across all five boroughs, five days a week year-round. 

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