Ken and Barbara Rudzewick: A Maspeth love story

By Jessica Meditz

Ken and Barbara Rudzewick tied the knot on Oct. 6, 1962 at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church.

“It’s not just mortgages and money, it’s romance as well,” Kenneth Rudzewick said with a smile as he reminisced on the place where he met his soulmate, Barbara.

The Rudzewicks, known lovingly by many in the community as Maspeth’s power couple, or Mr. and Mrs. Maspeth, properly met in 1958 while working at Maspeth Federal Savings Bank.

Ken, 85, met then-Barbara Cheperak, 82, at the bank when he was 20 and she was 17. Because they’re both Maspeth natives and had mutual friends, they knew of each other, but never made that personal connection.

Ken feels it was fate that brought him to his wife.

“I was playing football at the time, the team was having a dance and I needed a date. I wasn’t going to meet anybody at the dance, and I didn’t have a steady girlfriend,” he explained. “But then I said to myself, ‘There’s a cute girl that works at the bank and she lives two blocks away,’ and I asked Barbara to join me. She did, and the rest is history.”

Ken worked at Maspeth Federal during its humble beginnings when it only had 15 employees, and the company has since grown to 144. The Rudzewick family legacy began at the bank in 1999, when Ken was elected president and CEO.

Barbara attended nursing school and worked as a nurse for 25 years at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens located in Flushing, which was known as Booth Memorial Hospital at the time.

The dynamic duo went on to tie the knot on Oct. 6, 1962 at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, where Ken attended grammar school and where they sent their children.

Photographs from the day are enough to evoke a nostalgic feeling – even for those who did not live through the era – as seen through the glamorous mod bridal cap Barbara sported.

“Our reception was at Antun’s in Queens Village, which is still there,” Barbara said. “I still have my wedding gown; I had it preserved.”

They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this past October with their family and friends at West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills.

Ken and Barbara had four children: Thomas, Jill (who passed away in 2012 due to breast cancer), Glenn and Roger.

They have nine grandchildren: Nicholas, 27; Kristian, 22; Emily, 20; Katie, 17; Meghan, 16; James, 14; Matthew, 13; Brendan, 12; and Ryan, 8.

The couple has been on numerous adventures together, traveling as far as Venice, Italy, as well as nearby destinations including Fire Island on Long Island.

The Rudzewicks in Venice, Italy.

Referring to the latter, Barbara said jokingly, “He nearly got me killed that day…we picked up rowboats and Ken had a cooler. The waves were extremely treacherous…I’ll never forget. But it was fun, we made it and we did it together.”

Many of their fondest memories and achievements happened right here in their hometown of Maspeth.

The Rudzewicks can be spotted at most community events, from street co-namings to Maspeth Federal’s annual summer concerts.

In fact, Ken came up with the idea to hold the summer concerts in the bank’s parking lot over 50 years ago, and casually informed his wife about it before a morning stroll.

“I told him, ‘Go ahead, go,’” Barbara said. “I thought he was crazy.”

The tradition’s been alive for 55 years. Another quintessential Maspeth event that the Rudzewicks are involved in is the annual Memorial Day Parade down Grand Avenue, an annual tradition since 1975.

Ken and Barbara also feel it’s important to fulfill their civic responsibilities through groups such as the St. Stanislaus Kostka Educational Endowment Committee, the Maspeth Kiwanis and the Kowalinski Post.

At last year’s 11th annual Hall of Fame Dinner Dance at St. Stan’s, the couple was completely surprised when the announcement was made that the school gym would be rededicated “Rudzewick Hall.”

The gym of St. Stan’s was renamed “Rudzewick Hall” in their honor.

“That was so special. I was absolutely overwhelmed, but so honored,” Barbara said.

“And they spelled our name right,” Ken added with a chuckle.

The Endowment Committee has raised over $380,000 for the school, going toward a STEM lab, scholarships, computers, Smart Boards, upgrades to the school’s electrical service, as well as school summer programs, and the Rudzewicks are proud to play a role in that.

Ken and Barbara attribute their success as a family and couple to the community of Maspeth – being they’ve lived here their entire lives.

They feel the tight-knit neighborhood has allowed them to dedicate themselves to their children and spend quality time with friends and family.

As for their secret to a healthy and happy 60-year marriage, Ken said that luck certainly is a factor, but shared some words of wisdom.

“Never give up on your mate, no matter what happens. It works, if you can do it. It’s not easy – there’s lots of bumps in the road – handle them as they come along,” he said. “And don’t take yourself too seriously…I think a lot of people do. That ruins a relationship. If you lose your sense of humor, it’s all over; that’s why God gave it to us. He knew we’d have to laugh through these things.”

They will continue to laugh together for the rest of their lives – no matter how old the “Ken and Barbie” jokes may get.

Excessive trash near Frank Principe Park affects quality of life

Tractor trailers parked there every day, residents say

By Jessica Meditz

The trash-filled tractor trailers park along Borden Avenue morning, noon and night. (Photo: Lance Lovejoy)

Residents of Maspeth say their quality of life has been negatively impacted since at least the summer – due to the presence of excessive waste material trucks.

Locals say that tractor trailers filled with waste garbage park along the service road of the Long Island Expressway by Frank Principe Park.

The vehicles usually park on Borden Avenue in the morning and remain there all the way up into the evening hours, leaving the liquids to drip onto the street, smells to waft into the air and parking spaces to be taken away from local drivers.

Lance Lovejoy, a Maspeth resident who lives right up the block from the park, feels that the situation is a lost cause unless the signage along the road is changed to make it no standing for commercial parking.

According to the current signage, vehicles cannot park there from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. There is also a three-hour commercial parking rule, prohibiting commercial vehicles from being parked at one location in a residential area for over three hours.

“The whole park is almost like a garbage dump over there. It stinks, and it was worse during the summer when it was hot, but it’s still going on,” Lovejoy continued.  “They’re waste material trucks, garbage and dripping liquids onto the floor. I guess the drivers, when they do come back, they sit in them for a while and they’re throwing all their garbage on the sidewalk.”

Liquids ooze out of the trucks. (Photo: Lance Lovejoy)

He added that some of the neighbors have even told him that they’ve seen truck drivers publicly urinate in the vicinity.

“Nobody is happy right now, over there,” he said.

Deputy Inspector Kevin Coleman, Commanding Officer of the 104th Precinct, has sent officers to the site to issue tickets to these vehicles.

However, Lovejoy feels badly that police resources are being used for this issue, and wishes it could be handled in a more direct way, as there are more pressing issues in the community that need to be addressed by police.

“Police could be doing other important things than worrying about a garbage truck,” he said.

Councilman Robert Holden is aware of the issue, and has taken steps to address it – including visiting the site last Friday with multiple agencies and civics. In addition, they visited the location at Cypress Avenue between Cypress Hills Street and Vermont Place in Liberty Park – which is facing a similar quality of life issue.

A task force was convened with the 104th Precinct, NYPD Transportation, The New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).

According to Daniel Kurzyna, Holden’s Chief of Staff, the police will increase enforcement of commercial vehicles parked at that stretch.

“Council Member Robert Holden believes that quality of life is paramount, which is why he convened a task force to tackle illegal parking of tractor-trailers and waste haulers in residential areas, particularly a park,” he said. “His constituents deserve a good quality of life, and he is committed to fighting on their behalf to ensure they have that.”

New Citi Bike stations ‘on hold’ for District 5

CB5 votes to send letter to DOT requesting input

By Jessica Meditz

The original proposal for the Citi Bike expansion in District 5, circulated by the DOT.

As the implementation of new Citi Bike stations for Queens District 5 comes closer, the debate on where they should go continues among members of the community.

Following an eventful Transportation Committee meeting of Community Board 5 on Nov. 29, the incoming installations are now “on hold” pending community feedback — much to the dismay of some residents.

The committee resolved that it would pen a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT), requesting that the board be able to play an “active role” in the implementation of the program and the placement of these stations. In the interest of preserving as many parking spaces as possible, the committee stated a preference for stations on sidewalks, daylighting and no parking areas.

At CB5’s monthly meeting on Dec. 14, the board voted overwhelmingly in favor of submitting the letter, in hopes that they can figure out a way to make the Citi Bike system work for everyone.

CB5 voted in favor of sending a letter to the DOT, requesting that they play an active role in the implementation of the program.

“A lot of people in the community have various opinions on it, and everyone just wants to make sure it’s implemented in a way that provides the maximum benefit, while minimizing any consequences or downstream negative effects,” Eric Butkiewicz, a Middle Village resident and chairman of the Transportation Committee, said in an interview.

He said that the DOT has scrapped the original map of the draft plan that was circulated earlier this year, in wake of the pause for community input.

The installation of the stations will be delayed until at least January, but it’s not certain as to when residents will begin seeing more Citi Bikes.

“I think this is the proper way to do it. [The DOT] is open to community feedback and how they go about putting these stations within the grid, and I think that’s where we come in as a Community Board…what works and what doesn’t,” Butkiewicz continued. “It seems that the DOT has scrapped or put aside locations in the previous plan that were right outside businesses, which they thought were a good idea. Once they consulted or heard feedback from those local businesses, they found out that it would conflict severely with the ability for them to operate.”

While Butkiewicz feels the recent conversations around the Citi Bike installation have been productive, other locals feel disappointed in the new plans and left out of the conversation — including Rachel Albetski, an urban planner who resides in Ridgewood.

She and another resident attended the last Transportation Committee meeting to engage with board members and publicly discuss Citi Bike in a positive light to demonstrate that many locals are in favor of the expansion happening as quickly as possible.

“As soon as the door was opened to let us into the meeting, we were immediately questioned by the District Manager [Gary Giordano] where we were coming from and who we’re associated with…I was really taken aback,” Albetski said in an interview. “I’ve never ever been treated like that at a public meeting.”

Albetski claimed that she was told the entry restrictions were COVID-related, and that she did not see a Zoom link immediately available as a remote option.

She was eventually let into the meeting and shared her thoughts about Citi Bike to all who were present.

“I just wanted to give a positive voice to someone who is pro Citi Bike, and part of that stance is being in favor of seeing them in the roadbed and not on the sidewalk. Once they’re on the sidewalk, you’re further congesting sidewalk space…sidewalk space is at a premium and they’re already congested. It just doesn’t make sense to put Citi Bike on the sidewalk,” Albetski said.

She argued that the discussion at the meeting to go back to the drawing board in terms of placements of the stations was confusing, and said that this would only delay the project from community members who will benefit from more Citi Bikes now.

“That process should be open to more people besides the ones in that room because I don’t really think that it’s completely representative of what everyone in the actual broader community thinks. You’re saying that no one wants this and that the community is against it, but there’s actually a broad swath of people out there that really want to see it,” she said. “It’s just good to have another option for people when they just want to get around within their neighborhood, and it’s a great supplement for trips that would have been made by transit or car.”

Various letters of support from locals were submitted to the public forum of the recent monthly board meeting, as well as another letter questioning whether or not the CB meetings are actually public.

In reference to the Transportation Committee meeting, Giordano said that all members of the public who wanted to be let in, were indeed permitted to enter.

“I had some concern about additional people coming, to the point where it would be unsafe — especially with COVID,” he said. “We didn’t have anyone standing outside not able to get in.”

All members of the community were then encouraged to become involved in future meetings, reiterating that every meeting — both committee and board meetings — are open to the public.

Maspeth Chamber of Commerce seeks new members

By Jessica Meditz

Maspeth Chamber of Commerce members got together last week for their monthly meeting.

Since 1953, the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce has dedicated itself to preserving the community and helping local businesses thrive.

With factors such as gentrification and the influx of big box stores and chains, the Maspeth Chamber strives to be a voice for small businesses and mom-and-pop shops — but has struggled recently due to a lack of support and membership.

While the Maspeth Chamber has around 75 paid members, the number of active members is significantly lower — between 10 and 15 members participating in meetings and events.

It was stressed at the last chamber meeting, held on Dec. 13, that one of their biggest goals right now is to conduct outreach and get more businesses interested and excited about joining the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce.

“We definitely need more help. There’s not enough active members. We continue with the events that we’ve been doing over the years, but we really want to try and expand our business outreach, give more support to businesses and really be able to have a touch point with them and have people going around, figuring out what the issues in the community are,” said Kristen Sapienza, treasurer of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce. “Right now, we just don’t have the bandwidth to do that, because we don’t have enough active members.”

Perks that come along with being a member of the Maspeth Chamber include a free listing on their website and a link to their own site, more accessibility and communication with local government officials and candidates, free advertising via events and initiatives and the opportunity to meet and discuss community issues with fellow business people.

The Maspeth Chamber is proud to host community events that have become traditions over the years, such as the Grand Avenue Street Festival in the spring, and the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in winter during the holiday season. They’re also responsible for the ornate holiday lights along Grand Avenue.

The holiday lights along the avenue cost over $17,000 to put together. Sapienza said that while the chamber loves engaging in this tradition, the cost has become a burden, and they are seeking out community support to continue it year after year.

“Every year, it becomes more and more, and it’s a big cost. I don’t think that people realize how much it actually costs,” Sapienza said. “We do have a certain amount of businesses that do donate, but it’s only covering a fraction of the cost at this point, since they are so expensive. We’re really relying on donations from the community…we do receive a grant from the city, but again, that only covers so much.”

Another initiative the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce seeks to work out is the establishment of a Business Improvement District (BID); however, it has proven to be difficult with the lack of membership and the pandemic.

A BID would enhance city services and add additional programs that improve the business climate as well as the quality of life for all who utilize the area — including services such as sanitation, public safety, business services and public space improvements.

One immediate way to support the business community of Maspeth is to shop local this holiday season.

“Businesses over the last few years have been struggling, the economy’s not great, and  COVID and everything, they really took a hard hit. When you’re supporting a local small business, you’re essentially supporting a family, and that’s why I think it’s so important to shop local,” Sapienza said. “With all the other big stores, you’re really contributing to a big corporation, but here, you’re supporting your neighbor.”

*In the print version of this story, it was incorrectly reported that the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony in front of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank cost over $17,000. The holiday lights along Grand Avenue is what actually cost that amount.

Maspeth family wants you to remember the reason for the season

By Jessica Meditz

For the past 15 years, the Cotoia family has transformed their own little corner of Maspeth into a winter wonderland.

The holiday season is a time when many people become more grateful for what they have, admire the little things in life and make their loved ones feel special through the art of gift giving.

Seventy-five-year-old Maspeth native Angelica Cotoia — better known as “Mrs. Maspeth” or “the bracelet lady,” wakes up and lives her life like this every day, and the holiday season is just another time to shine.

As an Italian and devout Christian, Cotoia is all about giving to others, keeping tradition and being thankful every day for God.

“I’ve been doing the bracelets for about seven years…I buy them and give them out. They have crosses on them,” Cotoia explained. “I give them to everybody, and there are times when people really need to feel God. I’ll pray with them.”

Each year for the past 15 years, Cotoia and her children work hard after the Thanksgiving holiday to transform their little corner of Maspeth, on Caldwell Avenue and 70th Street, into a winter wonderland.

The Cotoia family. Angelica Cotoia is wearing blue.

Her home, easily spotted by its awning adorned with a cursive letter C, is decorated from top to bottom with multi-colored lights, lit-up candy canes at the entrance, a blow-up Santa Claus, snowman and Christmas tree, a wreath and most notably, in the center, a sign that reads “Jesus is the Reason.”

Her daughter, Christina Dimitropoulos, lives across the driveway from her mother on Caldwell Avenue. They embrace their neighborly setting with decorations that connect the two houses in the middle of the driveway.

Passersby are greeted by Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North when they walk by Dimitropoulos’ home.

Dimitropoulos’ home features a 20-foot blow-up statue of Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North from the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as well as a light-up sign that says “Celebrate Jesus!”

Her daughters, Paula Behling and Graceann Faulkner, and son Joey Cotoia, also live within the circle, taking part in the decorating tradition each year. Her son, Michael Cotoia, lives in Whitestone, but makes a regular appearance at their Sunday night dinners.

Faulkner’s home on 70th St. illuminates the block with Christmas spirit.

All six Cotoia children were born and raised in that original house on Caldwell Avenue, including Freddy Cotoia, who was killed in 2001.

I lost a son, and I remember telling God, ‘Why did you do this to me? How come you did this to me?’ And God, in my spirit, told me, ‘I know how you feel because they killed my son, too,’” Cotoia said. “That took me to a new place…a place where I could deal with this. Now I’m to a point where I celebrate his life, and he is a part of this life — every single day.”

Freddy is a big part of why Cotoia feels it is essential to keep Christ in Christmas, along with her six grandchildren — all named after the Cotoia children — Michael, Joseph, Gracie, Freddy, Christina and Paula.

We believe the gift from God was Jesus. because it opened the door for gates of heaven. He was a true gift, and that’s why people started to give out gifts,” Cotoia said. “It was just to show love, and God is love. There isn’t anything about God, that’s not love.”

The Cotoia family’s outdoor Christmas decorations are their way of giving a gift to the community during the holiday season, making others smile with special sights and kindness.

In the past before COVID, they would hire a man to sit outside the house and play Santa Claus and purchase gifts for local children. Locals would come to celebrate and donate, and those funds were given to charities, including Boston Children’s Hospital to support cancer research.

Cotoia said she would like to bring that level of community engagement back at a future time.

She’s proud to continue living in the community she’s always called home, and treasures her deep familial connections to Maspeth — exemplified by her family’s longtime businesses, such as Occhiogrosso’s Bakery, as well as her son Joey’s business, J. Cotoia Construction Inc., with the blue van that can be spotted all over town.

In fact, family legend has it that in its early days, this newspaper’s earliest editions were printed in the basement of Grosso’s Groceries on Grand Avenue in the ‘40s, which was owned by her grandparents.

“I really believe that my gift from God is not necessarily money, he gives me enough to pay my bills and I do, then I share with others,” Cotoia said. “He gave me children, grandchildren, in-law children and extended family that I can’t be anything more than grateful for.”

56th annual Maspeth tree lighting awakens holiday spirit

By Jessica Meditz

L to R: Grace Meng, Kristen Sapienza, Maryanna Zero, David Daraio, Michael Terry, Robert Holden, Tom Rudzewick. (Photo: Zachary Simonetti)

Last Friday, the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce brought holiday cheer to the neighborhood with its annual Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Held in Maspeth Memorial Square, a sentimental corner of the neighborhood, locals gathered with their loved ones to sing Christmas carols, watch live performances and wait patiently to meet Santa.

Musician Robert Laucella serenaded the crowd with classic Christmas songs, including “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Michael Terry, president of the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce thanked the audience for their enthusiasm as well as the event’s sponsors: 69th Street Beer Distributor, Barbara Pryor, Blossom Nails, Croce Entertainment, Duffy’s Floor Service, Jim Von Eiff Insurance Agents, Maspeth Federal Savings, Maspeth Town Hall, Michael Falco, O’Kane Realty, Papavero Funeral Home and this newspaper, the Queens Ledger.

Congresswoman Grace Meng spoke at the event, feeling gratitude for the district she represents, along with the holiday season being back in full swing.

“Thank you so much to the Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Maspeth Federal Savings and all the sponsors for making this event possible. Every year, our community gets to come together and watch this amazing Christmas tree get lit,” she said. “You can’t get a better view of the Manhattan skyline than from right here in Maspeth, so I’m proud to represent Maspeth and other parts of Queens.”

Councilman Robert Holden wished the crowd an enjoyable holiday season and encouraged folks to shop locally on Grand Avenue.

He also shared his plan, along with the help of Meng, to cap the Long Island Expressway to “unite Maspeth like the old days.”

“It would be one Grand Avenue — not upper, not lower, but one continuous shopping area and maybe a park or a parking area for cars to help the storekeepers,” he explained.

To add to the Christmas spirit and sense of community, dancers from The Queens Movement Studios performed an upbeat hip-hop routine for the audience.

The St. Stan’s Players followed shortly thereafter, singing and dancing to “We Need a Little Christmas.”

In the spirit of giving, two raffles were held, and two lucky winners got to go home with a brand new bicycle and a VTech KidiZoom Smartwatch.

The highlight of the evening was when Santa Claus arrived, greeting all the children with gifts and a warm smile.

Santa came for a visit at the end of Maspeth’s annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. (Photo: Zachary Simonetti)

Although the tree lighting ceremony occurs annually, a Middle Village resident named Angelina said events like the tree lighting are essential to the community.

“They really put a lot of effort into it year after year,” she said. “With all the craziness going on in the world, this is something that is done for the children in our community to bring them happiness and spread holiday cheer. I am thankful to be a local and be able to go to these events every year.”

Maspeth Starbucks files for union

Employees participate in national strike

By Jessica Meditz

Employees of Starbucks’ Maspeth location participated in a strike outside the store.

Maspeth’s only Starbucks store, located inside the Shops at Grand Avenue, has become the third one in Queens to file for a union election with Workers United NY/NJ, the independent union representative of Starbucks Workers United.

Fifteen of the location’s 16 employees signed union cards, as well as penned a letter to Starbucks’ president and CEO, Howard Schultz. In their efforts, they join fellow workers from 30-18 Astoria Blvd. and 22-28 31st St. in Astoria as Queens locations to unionize.

In their letter, the employees claim they have experienced mistreatment from managers and district managers, that they are understaffed, underpaid and not given enough hours to work.

“Concerns have been voiced over and over again during our time with Starbucks. However, no changes have been made whatsoever, which is why we have decided that unionizing is our best and only option at this point,” the letter said. “We are the ones who run your stores, we are the ones that do our best to treat the customers with kindness and warmth, and we are the ones who can make your sales happen, yet we are being treated as if we are not the ones who are the reason this company still stands along with your customers.”

Last Thursday, Nov. 17, employees of the Maspeth Starbucks store joined fellow Starbucks workers within Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island, as well as over 110 locations across the country, in Red Cup Rebellion, a national unfair labor practice (ULP) strike.

The strike took place on the same day the company gave out red cups with the purchase of any seasonal drink, and called on Starbucks to “begin bargaining in good faith and fully staff all stores.”

Employees of the store gathered outside at 7 a.m. to demonstrate, and handed out Starbucks Workers United branded cups to passersby.

Employees of the Maspeth Starbucks participated in a strike outside the store on Red Cup Day, giving out Starbucks Workers United cups.

“I think the most important thing that motivated people to be here today in this weather was the misbehavior from our district manager. She is very manipulative and has always been condescending to her staff,” an employee named Azim, who requested his last name be omitted, said.

“This is not the feeling in just this store. If you go to any of the Starbucks in this district, I think everybody would resonate with that.”

Azim has worked at the Maspeth Starbucks for three years, and has been with the company for a total of seven.

He added that people’s schedules often get rejected, and folks aren’t working enough hours to pay their bills, and that the store is quite short-staffed, with claims that there are sometimes just two employees working the floor during the busiest rush.

Another employee, Kelly, who also requested her last name be omitted, said that being located across the street from Maspeth High School causes the busy rush hour in the morning, making the job much more difficult while being short-staffed.

“We should not be told by DMs that we should move up in the company for more money if that is what we need, that we need to motivate partners not to call out or pick up more shifts than scheduled, and proceed to compare our work with other fast food workers,” the employees said in the letter to Schultz. “We should not be told that our pay is more than enough compared to others when at the end of the day, we are still at only a dollar and change above minimum wage.”

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comment with regard to the Maspeth location.

Back in April, Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery located at 61 Ninth Avenue in Chelsea, Manhattan, won their union election, becoming the first flagship store to unionize with Starbucks Workers United/Workers United.

The location has been striking for over 20 days after the company failed to provide information regarding confirmed reports of bed bugs at the store and to set a bargaining date to have workers’ needs met.

According to data from More Perfect Union Action, a registered District of Columbia 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, workers at 345 Starbucks stores in 39 states have filed to unionize.

Those workers follow in the footsteps of employees of Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y., whose Elmwood Ave. location made history as the first unionized Starbucks location in the country.

Starbucks employees are demanding that the company meet with them to improve standards in staffing and scheduling, along with other bargaining proposals, such as for workers to have the ability to wear union gear on the clock, no dress codes, and a commitment to non-discrimination.

Grand Avenue sees death of two truck drivers

Two dead in separate Maspeth incidents on same day

By Jessica Meditz

One of the crashes occurred at the intersection of Borden and Grand Avenues in Maspeth. Photo by Robert Baranja.

Two truck drivers died within hours of each other in two separate incidents on Wednesday while working on Grand Avenue in Maspeth.

The first crash occurred at around 2:50 a.m. on Nov. 9, when 49-year-old Chad Hallenbeck of East Durham, N.Y. was struck in front of 56-05 Grand Avenue by a 2007 Chevy sedan going westbound, according to police.

When officers from the 104th Precinct responded, they observed Hallenbeck unconscious and unresponsive, lying on the roadway with severe body trauma.

Emergency Medical Services pronounced him dead at the scene, and transported the operator of the sedan to NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, where she is listed in stable condition, having sustained minor injuries.

Following an investigation performed by the NYPD Highway District’s Collision Investigation Squad, the vehicle operator was identified as a 43-year-old female, who remained at the scene.

It was determined that while traveling westbound on Grand Avenue, she crossed over the double yellow line into the eastbound travel lane — striking Hallenbeck and his parked and unoccupied tractor trailer.

No arrests were made and the investigation remains ongoing.

Later in the day at around 10:40 a.m., about a mile down the road at the intersection of Grand and Borden Avenues, a truck driver operating a 2023 Freightliner Truck crashed into the cement pillar in front of Maspeth Federal Savings Bank. The collision also left the shelter for the Q58 and 59 buses shattered and destroyed.

Photo by Robert Baranja

Police say the driver, 50-year-old Stephen Roy Bennington of Croydon, P.A. experienced a medical episode behind the wheel.

He was taken to NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, where he was pronounced deceased.

Robert Baranja, who works in Maspeth nearby, said he saw the crashed CVS Health truck when he stepped outside of work.

He was pleased to see the site cleaned up quickly and the FDNY’s timely response.

“It’s unfortunate what happened, but the fire department is right there,” he said. “The bridge and the LIE are right there too, so as far as the location where it was, it could have been a lot worse.”

According to the DOT, Maspeth is ranked No. 4 for highest freight activity out of the city’s 21 established Industrial Business Zones.

The Maspeth Industrial Business Zone is home to more than 850 industrial businesses.

Jim Regan inducted as Maspeth Kiwanis president

“We’re going to continue to move forward,” he said

By Jessica Meditz

Regan (L) being inducted as president by Lt. Gov. Rodriguez.

Local Kiwanians gathered for an afternoon of celebration at O’Neill’s in Maspeth to welcome a brand new president.

James “Jim” Regan has stepped up to lead the Kiwanis Club of Maspeth — and as the executive director of Martin Luther School, he’s no stranger to leadership.

He will fill the role of Glenn Rudzewick, immediate past president of the club.

Every term, the acting president runs that Kiwanis club for one year. If they don’t renew, another member must take the reins.

“Kiwanis is all about helping children and our communities,” said Victor Rodriguez, lieutenant governor of the Queens West Division. “Changing leadership kind of encourages people to do different things and share different ideas.”

Also an eventful part of the ceremony was the installation of the Board of Directors: Jim O’Kane, Maryanna Zero, Glenn Rudzewick, Tom Rudzewick, Joan Sammon, Michelle Masone, Geri Hughes-Crowe and Barbara Pryor.

The club’s Board of Directors were installed.

Each member promised to serve their community and live up to the Kiwanis motto, “Serving the Children of the World.”

Upon his induction, Regan reflected on the milestones the Maspeth Kiwanis and other local clubs have achieved for their neighborhoods, and expressed his willingness and gratitude for taking on the role of president.

He emphasized how Martin Luther School’s values are based in reaching out and creating opportunities for leadership service to the community, and he plans to set the same example.

“I have to say Kiwanis is all about community and the people we serve in this community. Being a proud member of this community for many years, I’ve been the executive director of Martin Luther for about seven years now, but I’ve been a member of the staff for 42 With that being said, being a resident here and also being in the community, I understand the importance of a group like Kiwanis and how it has an impact on what we do and who we support,” Regan said.

“Maspeth has certainly been generous in that case, and we’re going to continue to move forward,” he continued. “I also want to thank Glenn Rudzewick, who stepped in last year and has held this leadership role several times. Through his mentorship, I’m much looking forward to what he can do in terms of assisting myself and in my position here.”

On Nov. 13, the Kiwanis Club of Maspeth will host their annual Pancake Breakfast, which will be held at Martin Luther School from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

All funds raised will go toward benefitting local children, seniors and the community in general — from medical and sports programs for young people, to anti-graffiti programs to beautify the neighborhood.

Maspeth honors Mary Anne Verbil Walter with street co-naming

By Stephanie Meditz 

The community joined friends and family of Mary Anne Verbil Walter to commemorate the street co-naming in her honor.

The community took to the corner of 58th Avenue and Brown Place to honor Maspeth’s own Mary Anne Verbil Walter, a beloved teacher, Girl Scout troop leader and avid volunteer.

Named in her honor right beside the house she called home, “Mary Anne Verbil Walter Way” symbolizes her impact and legacy on the neighborhood — as did the large crowd that gathered to celebrate her street co-naming.

Verbil Walter taught at various schools in Queens and Brooklyn — Blessed Sacrament in Jackson Heights, St. Stanislaus Kostka in Greenpoint and P.S. 89 in Elmhurst. 

She found creative ways to make learning fun for her students, such as collecting paper crowns from Burger King for the Epiphany procession and dressing up as Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus during Reading Week. 

She was recognized by the United Federation of Teachers for her dedication to the profession. 

Her generous heart and dedication to service extended well past the classroom. She took part in multiple committees, including the annual Giving Tree that provides food and gifts for families in need at Christmastime, Thanksgiving food drives and several after-school programs. 

Her daughter, Rachel Walter Riebling, recalled that one year, her mother “worked her magic” and brought Christmas to a student whose father lost his job days before. 

“Everyone else’s committee would have four people. She would have 96, because everyone wanted to be with her,” Maegan Walter-Garvey said of her mother. “She just had a passion for teaching and she went above and beyond.” 

She remembered that her mother would always leave the house with wet hair because she was constantly on the move to plan and organize events. 

Although Verbil Walter was never a Girl Scout herself, she became a troop leader as a teenager so that her younger sisters would have a troop. 

The pastor from the Maspeth Methodist Church asked her to help run the troop temporarily after the former leader quit. 

She ultimately led Girl Scout Troop 4734 for 30 years and touched the lives of all the children she met. The Girl Scouts she led went on to register their own daughters in the same troop. 

“All these people have been reaching out to me lately just remembering her taking them to camp for the first time,” Walter-Garvey said. “She treated everybody’s child like her own and did everything she could to make every experience special.” 

Walter-Garvey recalled that her mother helped her run Girl Scout troop meetings months before she died. 

Verbil Walter’s four daughters — Maegan Walter-Garvey, Sarah Walter, Rachel Walter-Riebling and Hannah LeFante — are all still involved with the Girl Scouts even though they live in different states. 

Verbil Walter’s daughters, Sarah Walter, Hannah LeFante, Maegan Walter-Garvey and Rachel Walter Riebling recited the Girl Scout promise.

At the street co-naming, they recited the Girl Scout promise as an homage to Verbil Walter’s life of service to both her community and country. 

She and her Girl Scout troop placed flags on veterans’ graves before Memorial Day, and she became the Girl Scout representative in the United Veterans and Fraternal organization of Maspeth. 

Verbil Walter was also in charge of the Veterans’ Day essay contest held in conjunction with the Memorial Day parade. 

“She would get so excited when the essays would come in, and you would see the pride on her face as the next generation of patriots stood before her,” Sarah Walter said. 

“Her favorite part of that was meeting the kids…she loved actually getting to talk to the kids about their essays,” Walter-Garvey said. “She was the queen of personal relationships.” 

Verbil Walter was a lifelong advocate for her community. In her freshman year of high school, she started the Mission Club, which raised money for both UNICEF and the school. 

“Mom went out of her way to make sure that everyone was included, felt welcome and felt special,” Walter-Garvey said. “She befriended everyone.” 

Walter-Garvey recalled the time her mother invited two Duane Reade employees who were foreign exchange students to her home for Thanksgiving. 

In addition to her community service and humanitarian efforts, Verbil Walter was a devoted wife and mother. 

“We are the lucky ones. We were blessed to have this beautiful woman as our mother,” Walter Riebling said. “She was always there, no matter what. Swim meets, recitals, games, presentations, spelling and math bees, Mom was there. When you had a bad day at school or work, Mom was there. When you needed to vent, Mom was there. She was truly the most selfless person.”

Her four daughters took turns with the mic, sharing a heartwarming speech with the crowd.

Since Walter-Garvey followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a teacher, the two would go shopping for classroom supplies together. 

She joked that, if her mother saw her picture on light posts in Maspeth, she would have ripped them down and insisted that she did not need recognition. 

She also followed her mother and father’s example of what a marriage should look like. 

“We have always professed that the husband and wife team of Mary Anne and Mike was the best that Maspeth has ever produced,” Walter Riebling said, quoting Ken and Barbara Rudzewick. “To use a baseball analogy, Mary Anne was the leadoff and Mike was the cleanup hitter.” 

Maureen Tompkins, a lifelong friend of Verbil Walter, came up with the idea of a street co-naming in her honor. 

“The day of Mary Anne’s funeral…I listened to this eulogy and I said, ‘I know people that know Mary Anne will never forget her, but what about the rest of the community? We have to do more. It can’t end here,’” she said. 

Also in attendance was Mary Ann Todzia, who recalled that Verbil Walter would constantly reach out to her regarding community efforts, such as sending Christmas cards to veterans. 

“Whatever we were doing, she was there. I knew I could count on her. I knew I could ask her for advice,” she said. “She’s probably sitting on a fluffy cloud with her group of veterans doing something good.” 

The street co-naming was presented by Councilman Robert Holden, who hopes the community will be inspired by Verbil Walter’s life of service. 

The family was presented with a City Proclamation and a DOT street sign identical to the one that hangs on the corner of 58th Ave and Brown Pl.

“She only wanted to bring people together, whether that was in her home, school, church, community of Maspeth, The American Legion or Girl Scouts,” Hannah LeFante said. “She always showed us how family is not always what you are born into. She made every person feel important, special and loved.”

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