Help the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Woodhaven Make a Difference: The Woodhaven Beat

Today you have an opportunity to help change someone’s life, and it won’t cost you a penny. All you need to do is tell someone you know about the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women right here in Woodhaven.

Perhaps you know a woman who never got the opportunity to finish high school. That diploma can often be the key to a better future. It can open the door to better job opportunities or maybe even a promotion in a current job. Or maybe a high school diploma can even be the first step in going to college.

This September, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women will begin holding open registration for their tuition-free classes for the 2022-2023 school year. While there is a $30 fee to register, there is no fee for any of the classes or the books.If anyone has any questions the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women in Woodhaven can be reached by phone at 718-738-0588 or by email at [email protected], or you can visit their website at www.ssndecwomens.com.

To ensure the safety of all students, you must have proof of vaccination in order to attend classes at SSNDEC Woodhaven. And for all dates and times listed below, please arrive on time and wear a mask.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center offers classes to prepare women to take the TASC (formerly the GED).

Classes begin in September 2022 and continue until June 2023. To register, come to the center (located at 87-04 88th Avenue, across from St. Thomas the Apostle Church) on Wednesday, September 14th or Thursday, September 15th between 9:30 am and 1:30 pm.These classes are for women who are 20 years of age or older; committed to working toward their high school diploma; and can attend classes from 9 am to 1:30 pm Monday through Thursday. They should also have sufficient background and reading and writing skills in English to work on the high school equivalency curriculum.

And if you know someone whose English skills need some work, or perhaps they cannot speak the language at all, the School Sisters also offer ESL (English as a Second Language) courses.Again, these classes are tuition-free and are offered on six levels, from Introductory to Level 5. Classes are scheduled between Monday and Thursday, 9 am to 3 pm (the schedule will vary depending on the level of the class).All women must take a placement test to determine the best level to begin. This test will be given on Monday, September 12th at 10am. Please do not bring children to the test. Students who take the placement test can register the very next day (Tuesday, September 13).

What a difference you could make in the life of the person you share this information with. And not only will it make a difference in the life of that person but the impact will be felt by their children and the entire family.

Changing the lives of women and their families was exactly what SSNDEC Executive Director Sister Catherine Feeney had in mind when she and her fellow sisters opened the educational center back in 2003 in Ozone Park. In those early days, the center had just over a dozen students and it was strictly a GED (high school equivalency) program.

In short order, they also saw a need for an ESL class so that they could better serve a larger segment of the community. The classes were such a hit that they soon needed to find larger quarters and that’s what brought them here to Woodhaven, taking up residence in the former convent that was the home to the nuns that taught in St. Thomas the Apostle.

After the move to Woodhaven, the School Sisters had the room to expand. And with convenient access to transportation (they are near the J train and the Q56 bus along Jamaica Ave., the Q11, Q21, Q52Ltd, Q53Ltd, and QM15 along Woodhaven Blvd. and the Q24 along Atlantic Avenue) they were able to greatly increase the number of women they could help.

Well over two thousand women have been helped by the School Sisters in the years since they opened their doors. And as a byproduct of these classes, their children and entire families are helped. As a result, this can only help improve our neighborhood.

I have been honored to witness the students of SSNDEC over the years and watch them thrive in the warm, encouraging environment provided by the teachers there. I’ve been told that many students have heard about this wonderful program through the pages of this newspaper from friends or family. Now it’s your chance to help someone!

Wendell: Woodhaven Art Circle puts out call for artists

Calling all local artists! The Woodhaven Art Circle has put out a call for their very first art show this fall, which they hope will become an annual staple in our community.

“Our mission is to bring the arts to our neighbors, our community and our youth,” says Mahfuza Rahman, the artist known as MSR. “We hope to root out those artists who have retreated inwards when the pandemic hit.”

“Woodhaven is full of talented artists, and through the help of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society we have begun to discover and connect with each other,” MSR adds.

The Woodhaven Art Circle’s Fall Showcase is scheduled for Saturday, September 24th and will be held at Emanuel United Church of Christ on 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. If you are interested in participating, email the Art Circle at [email protected] or follow them on Instagram at @woodhavenartcircle.

Much of the work on display will be on sale and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women, located on 88th Avenue and 87th Street in Woodhaven, to help fund their free ESL program for women.

The members of the Woodhaven Art Circle are not only excited for the opportunity to show off their skills but they are looking forward to meeting and collaborating with other like-minded artists in our community.

“Everyone has something to bring to the table,” says the artist known as Dark Reconstruction. “We want to make sure the voices and visions of marginalized and emerging creators have a platform in our neighborhood.”

Technoquilter Jennifer Lambert sees tremendous potential for our art collective and how it can impact the community. “Art is the pulse of an individual,” she says. “It can radiate and engulf a neighborhood and bring the community together, helping to understand, grow and unify our colorfully rich diverse Woodhavenneighborhood.”

Currently, the Woodhaven Art Circle consists of a few painters, muralists, a photographer, a technoquilter collage artist, a jewelry maker, a textile quitter, a published writer and poet, a musician/busker and a DJ. But there’s not only plenty of room for more artists within each discipline, the WAC is open to all forms of arts and expression.

The group is excited to see where the WAC fits into our community and how it will help local artists.

Christine Barbour, an accomplished and published poet says “An arts organization is important to the community because it takes the artist out of themselves, from behind closed doors, and allows them into a learning community of like-minded individuals where, for the most part, their creativity will soar.”

“Our mission is to encourage artists to come out and share their message with the world to help inspire, heal and motivate others to discover (or rediscover) an artistic ambition that has resided within their soul,” says artist Deborah Camp, whose work may be familiar to you as she often paints murals on the windows of local businesses.

“We hope this exhibition is going to be the catalyst for launching and sparking uplifting discussions revolving around art with the inclusion of the diverse community from the youth to the elderly of all walks of life,” Camp says.

All local artists are welcome to participate, with a focus on the local artists right here in Woodhaven. MSR sees Woodhaven as fertile ground for growth.

“Woodhaven is a community filled with different cultures and we are hoping to bring them together by sharing our different artistic expressions,” she says. “There will be several free interactive workshops including mandala making, painting, arts and crafts, and an open microphone for storytelling.”

So if you’ve been creating art and would love to show off your talent and collaborate with fellow local artists, this is a great opportunity to do so. Maybe you know someone who is very talented but just hasn’t had the chance to show off their skills. Please pass this article along to them.

This is just the start of a movement here in Woodhaven, a movement driven by creatives and artists. It will be interesting to check back with them in the near future to see how well they are developing!

Wendell: Living History at Woodhaven’s Friendly Church

This past weekend, the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society was honored and blessed to give a presentation on the 145-year history of Emanuel United Church of Christ to its members as well as some of our usual group of local history fans.

In preparation for this, Emanuel opened up their archives to us, allowing us to look at some old documentation, including church books, booklets from special events and old photographs. It gave us just enough information for us to start filling in some interesting blanks.

Emanuel originated in Brooklyn as a small storefront mission opened in 1877 to serve the German speaking populace who had moved from Manhattan.

One year after arriving in Brooklyn, Emanuel moved to a more permanent home on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg. It was at that location that Emanuel would grow, lasting nearly half a century at that location.

Through our research we were able to deter- mine that, remarkably, this building still stands, occupied these many years by the Our Lady of the Snow Society, an organization founded in the late 1800s to support Italian immigrants in New York City.

The front page of The Leader-Observer in 1923 described Emanuel’s last mass at Graham Avenue, telling how the church elders slowly filed down

the steps for the last time before handing over the keys to the new owners, a local synagogue.

It was a great feeling to travel to Williams- burg to see this piece of Woodhaven history and see how little this building had changed over the past century.

Once the population began moving from Brooklyn out east, Emanuel started a small mission in Richmond Hill (on 107th Street) to serve that population. That mission eventually purchased a small plot of land at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 89th Avenue to erect a portable building, which previously sat next to Christ Congregational on 91st Street.

For about a decade, there were two Emanuel Churches, one in Brook- lyn and one here in Woodhaven, before they sold the Graham Avenue location and merged with the mission here in Wood- haven. With the money they received from the sale of the church they were able to build a new church on 89th Avenue, opening in 1924.

The Leader-Observer described the new church as having “red stipled faced brick with terra cotta trimming. There will be a ninety foot tower with a handsomely pillared front. The entire exterior is to be of Gothic design having but a slightly modernized touch which will only enhance the beauty of the effect. The interior is to be finished in oak and will have a seating capacity of over four hundred.”

The new church was built by Fraser & Bereau, the company that also built St. Matthew’s on 96th Street and our Woodhaven library on Forest Parkway. Henry Bereau of that company was a longtime resident of Woodhaven.

But the new church only lasted 16 years as it fell victim to the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard from 1 to 10 lanes. Woodhaven lost well over 100 houses due to that, including Emanuel and the original American Legion building.

And that led to the construction of the ‘new’ church, which has sat on the corner of 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard for the last 83 years. It is a beautiful building with lots of local history and we thank the people at Emanuel for opening up their vaults to us.

And as a special bonus, on Sunday we were joined by Walter Steffens, who was the first baby baptized in the new church. It was a wonderful morning, the folks at Emanuel are always so welcom- ing to our community and we are blessed to have them.

The Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society loved bringing Emanuel’s history to life and we will repeat the presentation via Zoom on Tuesday, August 2nd. If you are interested in attending this free presentation, please email us at [email protected]

Wendell: Remembering the Great Cyclone of July 13, 1895

William Schmidt owned a saloon and hotel at the south-east corner of Rockaway and Atlantic. Above the bar he kept a clock and it was said he always kept the time just right.

When the cyclone struck, the front window of his establishment exploded, sending shards of glass and splinters of flying. The debris struck the clock and it never ran again.

And that is how we know that the Great Cyclone of July 13th, 1895 – 127 years ago next week – struck Woodhaven at 4:19 p.m.

It had come from the west, originating in New Jersey, sweeping through East New York and uprooting trees and toppling tombstones in Cypress Hills cemetery. By the time it was done, it caused over half a million dollars worth of damage, and that’s in 1895 dollars!

It first hit Woodhaven at Jamaica Avenue and Elderts Lane, near the future home of Franklin K. Lane. Passengers on the Brooklyn, Queens County and Suburban Railroad, which had just been electrified the year before, huddled inside their derailed cars, sparks flying everywhere, as telegraph and trolley poles came crashing down around them.

One woman was trapped inside an outhouse as it was hurled more than a block away; miraculously, she suffered only cuts and bruises. A cow was swept up in the air and carried off, never to be seen again. Trees and chimneys were ripped from their foundations and flew through the air as if they were no heavier than feathers.

The worst scene of destruction was at the newly built 2-story brick schoolhouse at University Place (95th Avenue) and Rockaway Road (today, a Boulevard). PS 59 had been built in 1890 on land purchased from famed manufacturer Florian Grosjean, whose clocktower on the border of Woodhaven and Ozone Park still stands today.

The roof of the PS 59 was ripped off and the upper-half of the building collapsed. One block east of the school, 16-year old newlywed Louise Petroquien was at her sewing machine when she looked out the window and saw the massive dark cloud approaching and ran outside to warn her mother.

The site as it exists today.

She emerged from a side doorway but before she could shout out a warning, a large beam torn from the roof of PS 59 slammed into her head and neck, killing her instantly.

In the days following the storm, over 100,000 people came to Woodhaven via the Long Island Railroad on Atlantic Avenue to view the damage. While locals bustled about, clearing away debris, visitors dropped coins and bills into barrels set up for the close to three hundred people who lost everything, or nearly everything, to the storm.

The main attraction for the visitors, however, was the home of Ms. Petroquien. The family permitted visitors to enter her home, through the door which she had rushed out of, stepping over the very spot where she lost her life.

They were led into the parlor where they could view and pay respects to the young bride, who was laying in a rosewood coffin under a large pile of flowers that visitors could buy outside for ten cents. When the pile got too big, flowers were taken back outside where they were re-sold.

Another victim of the storm was 5-year old Johnny Kolb. The boy had been playing on Atlantic and Rockaway when the storm hit and afterwards he was discovered lying under the rubble by PS 59 School Superintendent William F. Buckley.

Buckley was also a member of the Woodhaven Volunteer Fire Department and had heard the cries for help from the young boy. He carried Johnny Kolb inside where a doctor examined him and found that the boy had broken both an arm and a leg.

However, the next day, his condition took a turn for the worse and he passed away, bringing the number of Woodhaven fatalities to two. Both Louise Petroquien and Johnny Kolb were buried in Cypress Hills cemetery on the same day.

Today, the intersection of 83rd Street and Rockaway is now part of Ozone Park. There is nothing to indicate that this was once the scene of a powerful and destructive storm. An office building stands where the school once sat; for many years, this building was well known as a Friendly Frost appliance store.

Only that this storm struck on a Summer Saturday afternoon prevented this from being a far more tragic tale. Had this happened on a school day, with a building full of children, we’d be writing a far different story 127 years later.

Wendell: Celebrating Woodhaven’s 187th birthday

Next Monday, we will celebrate this great nation’s birthday. But did you know that this week marks another birthday?

Friday July 1st is Woodhaven’s true birthday as it was on that day in 1835 that the first papers were filed and the first piece of land was purchased in the Village of Woodville, which would later be renamed as Woodhaven.

In recognition of this neighborhood’s birthday, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has two special presentations planned.

The first is “The Birth of Woodhaven,” a visual presentation which covers the history of the earliest days of Woodhaven. This free presentation will take place over Zoom on Tuesday, July 5th starting at 8 p.m. Email us at [email protected]mail.com for an invite.

The second will be our first live presentation in over two years and will take place within the Sanctuary of Emanuel United Church of Christ on Sunday, July 10th. First up will be an abbreviated mass starting at 10 a.m. followed by a special presentation by the WCHS up at the altar.

Emanuel is such a lovely church it will be an honor to give a presentation there and we hope people will come out to enjoy a bit of history in these surroundings. For those of you unfamiliar with Emanuel, it is at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 91st Avenue.

Emanuel United Church of Christ, at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, where the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be hosting a special presentation in the sanctuary on Sunday July 10th at 10 a.m.

There will be a lot of interesting material to cover, starting with Emanuel’s long and interesting history which stretches across several boroughs and nearly 150 years, with the last 100+ years right here in Woodhaven.

We’ll tell you about the construction of the current church and how that related to the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard. And we’ll introduce you to the previous 2 church buildings in Woodhaven that Emanuel occupied. But we’re also going to touch on some of the interesting history in the area immediately surrounding Emanuel United.

For starters, we will take a look at St. Anthony’s Hospital, which was directly across 91st Avenue from Emanuel. Many of us remember St. Anthony’s in its declining years, before it was torn down to make way for blocks of housing and a new school (P.S. 306).

But did you know that St. Anthony’s hospital did groundbreaking work in the fight against tuberculosis, tripling our city’s ability to treat TB cases, which exploded at the end of World War 1. However, locals didn’t take kindly to the intake of all those TB patients and fought hard to shut it down.

We’ll also look at the grounds that Emanuel is currently built on as it was once part of the beautiful estate owned by Florian Grosjean, who opened the tin factory nearby on Atlantic Avenue.

We’ll also have a quick look at Atlantic Avenue and the Long Island Railroad line which ran along the surface for many years before being moved underground. At the same time, they built a bridge (technically, a viaduct) that would carry motorists over Atlantic Avenue, another huge controversy of its time.

So there’s a lot of ground to cover but it will be especially interesting talking about the history of this church, which has been such an integrated part of our neighborhood’s history.

And a big part of that was the Anniversary Day parade, which took place on the first Thursday every June and people built floats that were decorated to match each year’s parade theme.

Smaller kids rode on floats which were pulled by older volunteers or the Boy Scouts. Mothers pushed their young infants in baby carriages or strollers which were also decorated in colorful crepe paper.

So if you’re a fan of Woodhaven and want to celebrate it in style, join us at one or both of our free presentations on the 5th and the 10th of July.

And this Friday, when you see your friends in the neighborhood, don’t forget to wish them a Very Happy Woodhaven Birthday!

Wendell: Woodhaven’s own Professor Yoerger

George Yoerger’s future was set when a muscular stranger with a handlebar mustache walked on to his farm in East Norwalk, Connecticut and inquired about renting the family’s barn.

“I’m John L. Sullivan,” the man said, introducing himself. “I’m champion of the world.” The legendary Sullivan, aka The Boston Strong Boy, was the first heavyweight champ and he spent the next few months training on the Yoerger farm, and young George soon knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Inside the ring he was a tough fighter, but his true calling was outside the ring, where he became a well-respected boxing and self-defense instructor. At the turn of the century, he moved to Brooklyn with his wife Minnie and opened a gymnasium at Broadway and Myrtle which was an almost immediate success. Dubbing himself “Professor” Yoerger, he lured in customers with the promise:  “Six lessons free if you hit me on the nose!”

But while he was busy training pupils how to box, Minnie began to get cozy with one of his friends and the neighbors began to talk. One approached Yoerger with these suspicions and one night he and two private detectives burst into their apartment and found his friend hiding in the bedroom.

Yoerger sued his friend for $100,000 for alienation of affection and the trial made scandalous headlines for several months.

He returned to the headlines several years later when a small gang of thugs tried to rough him up for some money and a blue diamond he had in his possession. They failed to see the flaw in their plan and the Professor of boxing whipped the bunch of them and called the police. Another public trial followed, and Professor Yoerger was hailed a hero.

Later in life he met a much younger woman and they fell in love. The woman was Florence Lott, whose family was among some of the earliest residents of Woodhaven, many of whom are still buried in the Colonial Era Wyckoff-Snedicker Family Cemetery (on 96th Street in Woodhaven).

They moved into Lott’s family home on Lott Avenue (named for the family, and today known as 76th Street), a few hundred feet south of Jamaica Avenue, where it still stands today.
Yoerger semi-retired from the boxing profession and closed the gym in Brooklyn (though he opened a small private gymnasium in the backyard of his home in Woodhaven). Since training was still in his blood, he embarked on a second career – training dogs. He started his training with his own dog, Trixie, who he would take out for paid exhibitions.
Trixie’s most popular trick was to sit at a table, open a menu, select a meal, go through the motions of eating and when finished, wiping her face with her paw.

Trixie was advertised as the dog “with the mind of a child,” and with each public appearance, his renown as a dog trainer grew, and this business flourished as well. He was commissioned to write several newspaper articles giving owners advice with their dogs and his fame was such that he and Trixie were asked to take part in a dog show at the Jamaica Arena to help raise funds for the Helen Keller Free Clinic.

Helen Keller herself attended the show and it was said that she affectionately pet many of the hundreds of children and their dogs that took part in the show. She told one reporter that if she was to be granted but a single split-second of sight that she would choose to see “a child and its dog.”

In his later years, Yoerger added fencing, trick pistol shooting, and diamond appraising to his activities, also finding time to found the Long Island Society of Magicians. In 1949, Professor Yoerger (by now in his 80s) appeared on television, providing commentary for live bouts being broadcast from the boxing arena at Ridgewood Grove.

Professor George Yoerger would pass away in 1951 shortly after his 84th birthday (his young wife Florence would outlive him by over twenty years, passing away in late 1973).  He had a long, remarkable life, and it’s even more remarkable when you discover the fact that he was deaf his entire life.

Professor George Yoerger was a colorful character and you can learn more about him and other interesting people from our community’s rich history at monthly meetings of the WoodhavenCultural & Historical Society. Email us at [email protected] for more information.

Wendell: Summer Series concerts return to Forest Park

Nearly 100-year-old Seuffert Bandshell still rocking this summer

You know summer is here when you start making plans to spend nights in Forest Park at the Seuffert Bandshell watching concerts, live shows and movies.

The nearly 100-year old Forest Park Bandshell will be the site of concerts, live shows and movies, kicking off with a concert by the Queens Symphony Orchestra on Sunday June 26th at 5:15 p.m. The Thursday Concert series includes tributes to Bruno Mars, Queen, Elton John, Santana, Tom Petty and Meat Loaf.

The 2022 Summer Series kicks off Sunday June 26th at 5:15 p.m. with a concert by the Queens Symphony Orchestra. Titled “Queens Rising,” this concert will celebrate “the dynamic nature of this city and diverse heritage of this country.”

The Thursday concerts are always a fun mix of tribute bands and this year is no exception:

Thursday July 7th at 7:30 p.m. Bruno vs. Mars, a tribute to Bruno Mars.

Thursday July 14th at 7:30 p.m. Queen Flash, a tribute to Queen and lead singer Freddie Mercury.

Thursday July 28th at 7:30 p.m. Captain Fantastic, a tribute to Elton John.

Thursday August 11th at 7:30 p.m. Milagro, a tribute to Santana,

Thursday August 18th at 7:30 p.m. Refugee, a tribute to Tom Petty.

Thursday August 18th at 7:30 p.m. All Revved Up, a tribute to Meat Loaf.

There will also be a few live shows which sound like fun:

Thursday July 21st at 7:30 p.m. Camelot, the famed romantic musical about King Arthur.

Thursday August 4th at 7:30 p.m. The Queensborough Dance Festival will put on a show with a variety of dance styles including Jazz, Indian, Modern, Hip-Hop and more.

And finally, we’re being treated to a couple of Monday Movie nights:

Monday, July 18th at 8:00 p.m. The Poseidon Adventure, the tale of the survivors of a luxury passenger ship that gets hit by a huge wave and turns upside down.

Monday, August 22nd at 8:00 p.m. Rocky 3, the one where Rocky fights Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. Loads of fun.

That’s quite a lineup! Many thanks to Portia Dyrenforth, administrator of Forest Park, for putting together such a nice slate of shows.

We have enjoyed many shows at the bandshell in recent years; we even have our own little area where we sit and meet friends for each show. The Seuffert bandshell is a lovely place to sit on a summer evening and enjoy live music.

Speaking of the Seuffert Bandshell (pronounced “Soy-fert”), it is nearly 100 years old and is named after bandleader George Seuffert Sr. For many years, Seuffert and his band entertained people at the bandshell and it was officially named in his honor in 1979.

But have you ever heard of a man named Harry Tourte? He was the President of the Homestead Civic Association, was popularly known as “The Mayor of Woodhaven,” and was the driving force behind the erection of our beloved bandshell (which cost $25,800 to build at the time).

“For years, Mr. Tourte worked for a bandstand in Forest Park and carried his fight to every department of the Greater City which had any authority in the matter,” said the Leader-Observer of Harry Tourte.

But there’s a bittersweet ending to this tale. As the bandshell was being built, Harry Tourte was stricken ill and hospitalized. It looked for a while that he might recover in time for the opening but he took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away having never laid eyes on the bandshell he was responsible for getting built.

“Harry Tourte was an indefatigable civic worker,” said the Leader upon his death. “Forest Park’s bandstand is truly a monument to his efforts, one which he was not privileged to see, but will be dedicated to his memory.”

Sadly, there is no sign or marker for Harry Tourte, but when you next get there, say a quiet word of thanks to him for bringing this beautiful bandshell to life, for future generations of Woodhavenites to enjoy.

Wendell: Caps off to this year’s grad class and teachers

As we hurtle into June I want to offer congratulations to all graduating students of the Class of 2022. The past few years have been unlike any other years and you will have plenty of stories to tell years from now.

And what a badge of honor – to complete so much of your work from home, under duress and all kinds of stress; not only are congratulations in order, you deserve a hearty well done!

And thank you to all the teachers that stuck with it, especially in those early days as the bugs were being ironed out. Thank you for being there for these students during these difficult times.

Miss Roth, Miss Beckerman, and Miss Linser of PS 60 as they appeared in the Leader-Observer upon winning awards as Outstanding Teachers.

It’s amazing how the names of your teachers stick with you. Someday I’ll be a very old man, but if someone were to ask I would be able to rattle off their names as if they were lifelong friends instead of grade school teachers that I haven’t laid eyes on in decades.

Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth…my grade school teachers from first through sixth grade at P.S. 60.

Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth. Their names come as easily to me as the everyday lineup of the 1986 Mets. The memories of those six ladies, my first teachers, are still with me more than 40 years later.

Miss Epstein was my first grade teacher, and the way I remember it she was a kind old lady who taught us how to sing “Do Re Mi.” But when I look at our class picture, she couldn’t have been more than 30 at the time.

But to a six year old, 30 seems really old. And to a scared little kid who didn’t want to leave home, Miss Epstein taught me that school was a fun place to be.

Miss Vogel was my first crush. She wore mini-skirts and had long black hair. She was the teacher that said I needed “extra work writing original sentences and compositions.” As a result, my parents encouraged me to write every day; what started as an exercise turned into a career.

Miss Werber frightened me. I always seemed to be on the wrong side of discipline in third grade. Every time I acted up, Miss Werber was there to scold me. If she taught me one lesson, it was that there are consequences for your actions, especially when you get caught sticking paste in a classmate’s hair.

Miss Beckerman introduced me to an entirely different world when she encouraged me to expand my reading. At her recommendation, I bought my very first “non-children’s” book through the Scholastic Books program, a World War II novel called “The Survivor” by Robb White.

Children’s books never interested me again, and I now own thousands of paperbacks. Over 45 years later, that first book is still in my collection.

Miss Linser helped me learn math. Up until fifth Grade, mathematics was a dirty word to me. Math lessons frightened me.

She took the time, keeping me and a few other kids after school, and took all of the fear out of math. To this day when I have to multiply something, I can hear Miss Linser doing the “times table.”

And then there was Miss Eleanor Roth. We had moved away from Woodhaven in the middle of sixth grade when I was 11, and I didn’t handle the move well.

I was lonely in my new neighborhood and I felt scared and alone, and as a result my work suffered.

They let me finish out the year at P.S. 60 even though I had to be dropped off and picked up every day. In the afternoons, Miss Roth sat with me on a bench in the playground. She didn’t have to; I was old enough to wait on my own. But she did it to be kind.

And on that bench she would just talk to me. Not so much about school, but about the things I liked to do, such as reading and drawing and playing baseball.

And so she ended my education at P.S. 60 by tying up all the other lessons I learned there. And when I left P.S. 60 for the last time, on Graduation Day in June 1976, I never saw the inside of that building, nor Miss Roth, again.

But they are all still with me. Epstein, Vogel, Werber, Beckerman, Linser and Roth. It may be overdue, and in some cases too late, but I want to let them know that they made a difference. The lessons they taught a little boy over nearly half a century later are still paying dividends, and for that I am forever grateful.

Wendell: Dominick Brienza, Woodhaven fixture, dead at 73

Woodhaven is mourning a terrible loss this week. Dominick Brienza, a longtime fixture on Jamaica Avenue, owner of Sal’s Pizza for the last 2 decades, passed away after a brief illness.

“Our hearts are broken,” said Raquel Olivares, executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “Dominic was a kind and generous man and we are all better off having known him.”

“Dominick was a great man whose commitment to our community ran deep,” said Martin Colberg, President of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.

Dominic was a very familiar face in Woodhaven, having done business on Jamaica Avenue for over 50 years. But his familiarity with Jamaica Avenue went back even further, to his early childhood when he moved here from Brooklyn at 9 years old. He not only went to St. Thomas the Apostle but he went to PS 97 and as a young man he worked as a busboy at Le Cordon Bleu.

Dominick went to Edison High School and then went to City College where he studied to be an engineer but he was looking for something a little bit more hands-on so he switched to education with plans of becoming a teacher.

But it was the 70s and New York City was bankrupt and not hiring any more teachers, so Dominick Brienza took a different path – and we are forever grateful that he did.

He purchased and operated “Dom’s Deli” near the corner of 90th Street and Jamaica Avenue and that was a fixture in Woodhaven for nearly 19 years.

Eventually, the deli itself grew old and needed a complete overhaul so Dominick gutted it out and instead of a new deli he opened a laundromat, which he ran for the next 10 years.

After the laundromat, Dominick was able to put his Education degree to use as a social worker for Catholic Charities, specializing in criminal victim assistance for seniors, an experience he found very rewarding.

But Jamaica Avenue came calling again and he bought Sal’s Pizza, which he owned for the last 17 years. Sal’s was the kind of business that was often the first stop for former residents of Woodhaven whenever they came back to town.

The pizza from Sal’s always reminded folks of the pizza from the old days. But it wasn’t just the tasty food that kept people coming back time and time again. Dominic was a big part of that.

He was a good man, the kind of person you were always happy to see, the kind of man we need more of in the world these days.

Last fall, Dominick was honored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame Educational Center for Women, presented with their Commitment of Service Award.

“He holds a special place in his heart for the education that we continue to offer in this neighborhood,” Sister Cathy Feeney said when announcing this honor.

“An entrepreneur extraordinaire, Dominick has fed generations at his deli and most recently at Sal’s Pizza. Dominick is never outdone in generosity,” Sr. Feeney said.

As word spread around town and on social media, people began to share their thoughts about Dominick and the words kind and generous were frequently used.

People shared memories of Dominick, many of them stretching all the way back to their childhood when he ran Dom’s Deli, which is when I first met him. As a kid, I always admired how friendly and funny he was. Dominick had a great smile and a terrific sense of humor, which is what I will miss most about him.

He was a kind and decent man and he will be deeply missed in Woodhaven and on Jamaica Avenue. Our deepest condolences go out to his wife Andrea and all of his family and friends.

Friends and residents will gather this Thursday evening, June 2nd, at 8 PM in front of Sal’s Pizza at 85-07 Jamaica Avenue to pay tribute to Dominick. Please join us for this Woodhaven tribute to a man most of us knew and loved, a good man who will never be forgotten.

Wendell: Memorial Trees still standing in Forest Park 102 years later

Of all the memorials in and about Woodhaven, of all of the monuments and tributes to those who sacrificed their lives for our country, I think the most touching is the Memorial Trees in Forest Park.

Woodhaven was a small but growing community and World War I took a tremendous toll on its population. Week after week, names of young Woodhaven men who were killed in battle appeared under the somber headline Taps on the front page of the very newspaper you are reading right now.

By the time the war had ended, over 60 bright young lights had been extinguished, their lives ‘sacrificed on the altar of liberty,’ as the Leader-Observer described it in 1918.

After the war had ended the families of the fallen, supported by the residents of Woodhaven, came up with a plan to create a unique memorial that would live on for years to come.

One tree was planted in the name of each fallen soldier along the road through Forest Park. On Sunday, May 11th 1919, residents from Woodhaven gathered in Forest Park, across from the golf clubhouse, and took part in a somber ceremony honoring their lives.

That year, and each year after, the families of the fallen would decorate their loved ones’ tree for Memorial Day. For the families, it was more than just a memorial. For them, it was a place to grieve their losses.

The names of the fallen soldiers would be etched in bronze and affixed to a large marble monument. If you want to see those names, that monument now sits in the front yard of American Legion Post 118 on 91st Street and 89th Avenue.

But it’s the memorial in Forest Park, the long row of 103-year old trees, which really touched me as each of those trees each had a very personal connection to the families of the dead.

As time marched on, the tradition began to fade and was all but lost by the time yet another World War came to pass. Pretty soon, even the memories of this lovely tradition were gone.

But this tradition was revived in 2015 when the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society rediscovered the purpose of the trees. And ever since, residents of Woodhaven have decorated the trees and paid honor to these young men from Woodhaven.

But on top of paying tribute to the soldiers, I think the purpose of the tree decorations is to honor the families and the pain and loss that they all suffered.

On Memorial Day, we all pause and pay tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in service to our country. And then, we go back to our lives.

But for the families of the dead, their pain goes on and on. And every day, when the sun rises and the sun sets, their pain is still there. To me, that’s what the Memorial Trees symbolize; that although the young men the trees were planted for have been gone for over a century, the pain their families endured continued long after.

And so, it is very fitting that the residents of this community carry on this tradition in the names of the families who lived with this pain for so many years. And I think that if those families knew that their neighbors were carrying on that very personal tradition a century later, it would help ease their pain, even just a little bit.

A small group gathered this Monday in Forest Park and one by one, decorated the trees. At the back end of the trees, where the road is now closed to vehicular traffic, we paused for a moment of silence and played Taps.

We have no guarantees this tradition will continue deep into the future. We hope it will. We hope that future generations will learn of this and continue to honor the fallen and their families for many years to come.

But in the here and now, the best we can do is to remember and to pray; to pray that these families found some measure of comfort in their lives.

And together we pray that someday there will be no need for any new memorials. That would be the most fitting tribute of all, and it can be summed up in one word – Peace.

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