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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] 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!

Elmhurst resident Helen Sokol turns 100

Born in 1922 in Nanticoke, Penn., Helen Sokol eventually moved to Queens as a young woman to spearhead her life, career, and family.
Now, Sokol celebrates 100 years of life and nearly 80 years of calling Queens home.

Her friends at AARP Elmhurst Rego Park Chapter 2889 organized a birthday celebration for her, in which representatives of local elected officials and other community members attended.

Sokol, whose family came from Slovakia, lived with relatives in Middle Village when she first moved to the city in the 1940s.

She later moved into a one bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, after she married her husband, Emil.

The Sokols had three sons: Emil, Thomas and Edward, and two grandchildren: Katie and Brian.

Edward Sokol, who owns Ace Wine & Liquor on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, said that his mother is known for many things, but most notably, she’s known as a hard worker.

Before she had children, Sokol worked in communications for American Airlines at LaGuardia Airport. She was also heavily involved with different trade publications, including Billboard.

“Even though she only had a high school diploma at that point, she was able to work herself up and become involved with different publications,” her son, Edward said.

“She was a hard worker from the day she started, to the day that she retired,” he continued. “I could celebrate her every day.”
People also remarked upon her sense of humor and love of swing music and dance.

In celebration of this milestone, New York City Councilman Robert Holden, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo, NYS Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards presented Sokol with various certificates.

As for her secret to a long, healthy life, Sokol said she made sure to always keep busy and surround herself with people who make her feel young.

“A big part of my life was taking care of my mother who had health problems, and then my husband. But I always dealt with young people,” Sokol said.

“I never heard people complain about their aches and pains and things like that, so I never knew what to expect,” she continued. “As long as you’re around young people, you’re curious. And the young people I worked with accepted me as one of their own… as long as you’re feeling young, that’s what matters.”

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