Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante, the true star of local concerts

By Jessica Meditz

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Joe ‘the Dancer’ Ferrante of Flushing attends nearly every community concert or event.

If you live in the area and have attended a free, local concert or parade, chances are you’ve seen Joe Ferrante in action.

Ferrante, 72, who calls himself “Joe the Dancer,” has an appearance you just can’t miss: usually sporting a bright yellow muscle tee and denim shorts along with his long ponytail adorned with colorful hair ties from start to finish.

He can be spotted easily at the front of any public event that has music, truly dancing like nobody’s watching.

A resident of Flushing since 1958, Ferrante travels across the five boroughs and Long Island to attend free concerts.

In true New Yorker fashion, Ferrante does not drive, and uses his own two feet and a MetroCard to get around — with the occasional ride from his many friends.

“I started gathering information about free things to do in New York and found out about all the parks, like Eisenhower Park and Bryant Park,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘Why would people pay when there’s so much free stuff to do in New York?’” 

“Now I have people that have computers and send me print outs sometimes or they call me. I keep my ears open,” Ferrante continued. “Every single day I find new things to do.”

One of Ferrante’s personal goals is to attend as many free events as he can.

Before the pandemic wreaked havoc, he attended 321 free events in 2019. This year, he’s already up to 165 events.

Although Ferrante has never taken formal dance lessons, he has been freestyling his moves at shows for as long as he can remember. He also learns from watching other people dance.

A die-hard fan of the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Ferrante lived through the time where Motown and doo-wop classics were big, as well as the golden era of classic rock.

In fact, he attended Woodstock in 1969 while he worked for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.

“Festivals were a new thing at the time and nobody knew what was going on. That was the first time I did acid, which I did for three days, and I still was good to go to work on Monday,” Ferrante said.

“I didn’t see every band that was there, and there was a lot of stuff going on…you wandered around, you went to the lake,” he continued. “I remember Santana, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and Ten Years After. It was excellent.”

Ferrante attended Woodstock a month before he was drafted to the Army.

He served in Texas from 1969 to 1971, and feels “lucky” that he wasn’t sent straight to Vietnam, like many men were at the time.

“I lucked out because I took typing in high school and went into a company which had over 90 percent college graduates. I got hired because I knew how to type and they said they were losing the guy from New York, so they got another guy from New York,” Ferrante said. “My job was in Congressionals, and I was a fact finder. I would find information about what really happened…you really could hardly help anybody, but once in a while, you actually got to help someone out.”

After he came back from serving in the Army, Ferrante continued to attend concerts and other places where he could dance, such as the Dr. Pepper Music Festival in Central Park, clubs during the disco frenzy and at various locations in the Hamptons, where he and his friends would rent houses for cheap.

Ferrante busting a move in Juniper Valley Park at a concert featuring band Half Step.

Today, his moves range from one best described as the fish swim, where he puts his arms together and swirls them around as if he’s swimming, to skipping around the front of the stage.

“I love to skip because it’s so much fun. I think I started doing the skip a few years ago,” Ferrante said. “It makes you feel young. When you’re standing in one spot and you skip around, you get more refreshed because you’re in a brand new spot.”

Ferrante said that many people have come up to him over the years at shows to compliment his routine and even join him while he dances.

His signature look, along with his moves, symbolize his free-spirited personality.

Ferrante has not had a haircut in about 15 years, and underneath all the rainbow scrunchies on his ponytail is his own hair. He’s been sporting the look for around eight years.

“It was just so dark and dreary, I had to add some color to it,” he said.

Although he’s probably one of the most positive people in the borough, Ferrante didn’t always have the best outlook on life.

In the past, he suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction, and is now almost 20 years sober.

When Ferrante first became sober in 2005, doctors discovered he had esophageal cancer.

He also experienced cirrhosis of the liver as a result of drinking, which left him unable to walk for quite some time.

“I had to use a walker to walk, and eventually graduated to a cane. Now look at me. I’m 16 years cancer-free,” Ferrante said.

He added that after he got sober, he was in a 10-year slump, but eventually realized he had to turn himself around.

“My whole life, I always felt like I should have died many times, and God has given me something to do,” Ferrante said. “He must want me to inspire people.”

As an Italian-American, Ferrante’s Catholic faith is important to him and brings him peace, along with his own spiritual readings and meditation.

He has been retired for the last 19 years and is very happy to live a blissful life with no cell phone or computer.

As he gets closer to his 73rd birthday in October, Ferrante encourages younger folks to be more optimistic and see the good in their day-to-day lives, as you never know when your last day will be.

“When I go to sleep at night, I ask myself ‘Did I do the best I could today?’ And 95 percent of the time, the answer is yes,” he said.

He went on to debunk the typical “glass half empty or glass half full” question that’s supposed to determine if someone is an optimist or a pessimist.

The glass is always full,” Ferrante explained. “Even if it’s only half filled with liquid, the other half is still filled with oxygen. So it’s always full.”

Shawn Eldot: The local king of chess

Forest Hills teacher inspires students through chess

By Jessica Meditz

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Shawn Eldot of Forest Hills was recognized as one of the nation’s leading chess instructors.

Although some teen movies portray the game of chess as a thing for “nerds,” Shawn Eldot strives to prove to kids how cool it can be.

The Forest Hills resident works full time as a chess instructor, teaching people of all ages the ins and outs of the board game that’s been around for centuries.

Eldot first discovered his love of chess at the age of nine.

He played in tournaments throughout his childhood and teen years, racking up numerous awards for his impeccable performance.

A Bayside native, Eldot attended Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, where he played less frequently due to the stress from college applications, SATs and other exams.

However, he did play one High School Championship and won.

“Chess is an art and a science, and it shows a lot about a person. It teaches many disciplines,” Eldot said.

“It also builds critical thinking skills and builds friendships because a lot of people learn to play at some point. Chess has so many benefits and beautiful aspects,” he continued. “It’s a beautiful thing for kids to learn as well because parents don’t want kids to play video games all day. Chess is not only fun, but it shows a competitive spirit.”

Eldot, who has a background in mathematics, earned his master’s degree in higher education administration at Queens College and is in a PhD program at Liberty University.

His ultimate career goal is to one day be a dean of a university, but teaching children will always remain special to him.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he ran a large chess program at P.S. 196 in Forest Hills for years.

But similarly to the way he’s pursuing his PhD, Eldot quickly began to see the benefits of the technology right at his feet.

He offers online chess lessons to both adults and children via Zoom, and teaches students from coast to coast.

Eldot teaches chess to people all over the country.

“I try to bring a fun aspect to the game, because chess was always kind of a competitive sport. But I try to make it a fun thing where it doesn’t matter if one wins or loses. It’s all about having fun, enjoying and thinking,” Eldot said. “Any time that anyone learns something new is always a beautiful thing. Once you start learning, you enjoy the beauty of it.”

Eldot added that his students are always extremely appreciative of his efforts, and make it known to him that he’s the best chess teacher.

On top of that, the video chat giant, Skype approached him in 2016 to write an article about his work as a chess instructor.

The article named Eldot as one of the nation’s leading instructors.

“A lot of my references are not only from New York, but all over the U.S. — California, Arizona, Texas. Everyone gave positive feedback…for example, ‘I had chess instructors before but Shawn’s different.’ It makes me feel good,” he said.

Eldot taught chess to students in public schools across Brooklyn and Queens prior to the pandemic.

“Even when I would walk inside the elementary school, the kids loved me so much,” Eldot continued. “As soon as I stepped foot in there, I made such an impact because I understand what it means, maybe not to have the nicest teacher. I want to make everyone comfortable and provide a learning environment.”

Along with technology on his side, Eldot is grateful for the grassroots and word-of-mouth support he’s received from students and parents, helping him gain exposure for the services he provides.

He offers single-person lessons as well as “chess buddy” lessons, where two people can join the lesson at one time to play with one another. Each session lasts about an hour.

Eldot says he’s happy to be able to teach people the art of chess who may have never had an opportunity to learn the game before.

“It’s such a benefit to one’s life and it shows a lot about personality. When you play a chess game, it shows who you are as a person. Even if you don’t know a person, but you sit in front of them and you play them, you know who you’re dealing with, whether they’re a giving person, a creative person or a tricky person,” he said. “Without words, chess could tell you a lot about a person, even if you speak two different languages, but we both know how to play, a friendship is built on that.”

He appreciates the fact that the game brings communities, families and friends together, and continues to highlight the benefits of playing chess.

“My main goal in life is just to help someone learn and have fun,” he continued.

“When someone ever calls me and says, ‘Shawn, what’s the difference between you and someone else?’ My answer is always the same: ‘Do one lesson with me, and you’ll be the judge.’”

For more information on Eldot’s chess lessons, give him a call at (347) 471-4890 or visit his Craigslist page.

Maspeth local remembered: Joe Martino, the ‘13th Apostle’

By Jessica Meditz

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Martino was honored as Grand Marshal at the Queens Veterans Day Parade in 2017.

Many people utter the phrase, “I wear many hats” when describing themselves in an interview or biography.

It’s true for some people—others, not so much.

Joseph “Joe” Martino, who was a Maspeth resident and ran Hess Miller Funeral Home on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, certainly fit the bill.

Joe passed away in June of 2022, leaving a void in the Queens and Brooklyn communities he served in various ways. He was 94 years old.

His son, Mike Martino, said that even in his father’s final years, he continued to follow his own personal mission: giving back to the community.

“Dad had a really big personality. Like many people from his generation, he was defined by just a few key things: his faith, his family and his country. Fundraising was also always extremely important to him,” Martino said.

“As an Italian, he was passionate about everything that he did, because he used to tell us, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing the right way,’” he continued.

Although Joe Martino was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1927, he came from an old school Italian family from the province of Salerno in the town of Sanza, located in the Campania region of southern Italy.

Martino married his wife, Antoinette, in 1951, and they quickly moved to Maspeth.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in Japan from 1945 to 1947, and one of his biggest roles was serving food to 5,000 men every single day as a cook.

“His service was everything to him, so his participation in the VFW for years and years was always extremely important to him as well,” Mike Martino said.

His support for all the men and women in the armed forces prompted him to take his role as commander of the VFW Queens Post very seriously. Martino served there for four years.

In honor of his service, Martino was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Commemorative Victory Medal in 2017 and was named Grand Marshal of the Queens Veterans Day Parade the same year.

Martino was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Cpmmemorative Victory Medal in November 2017.

Following the same sentiment, Martino and his son Anthony fulfilled a personal mission to provide funeral services to veterans who had no family or funds for a burial, incurring the costs to put on a service with dignity.

“That was very, very important to them, especially with my dad being a veteran and the services they could provide,” Martino said.

“He won countless awards and recognitions, which really didn’t mean anything to him,” he continued. “The important part was performing the mission.”

Joe Martino had a great passion for helping the less fortunate, as shown through his work with St. Vincent DePaul Society and St. John’s Bread and Life.

Joe was a member of St. Vincent DePaul Society for 50 years, where he served as president of the Brooklyn/Queens chapter for several years and went on to receive the St. Vincent De Paul Medal of Honor. 

The Martinos began volunteering at the St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Bedford Stuyvesant during 1984, and Joe was quickly asked to be a member of the board of directors.

Today, the organization feeds over 1,000 clients daily.

Joe helped kickstart their mobile unit, which feeds hundreds of clients per day in Queens and Brooklyn.

Antoinette and Joe Martino received awards for their charitable work, including the Bronze Apple from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Caritas Medal from St. John’s University.

It is among the highest honors awarded by the university for outstanding service to the less fortunate.

“Even in failing health, he was still performing his mission. For example, he made sure that turkeys were getting delivered at Thanksgiving,” Martino said.

“He could have just thrown that all off, but he just had to know it was all being done,” he continued. “My dad never used the term ‘poor,’ he used the term ‘less fortunate.’ He always felt that the ‘poor’ was a nomenclature that shouldn’t define people. Certain people just had less money than others, and certain people had less ability than others.”

Joe’s passion extended to his Italian cooking.

Martino enjoyed cooking for his friends and family.

One of his specialties was the seven varieties of fish he would prepare each year on Christmas Eve for Festa dei sette pesci, or Feast of the Seven Fishes, in which Italian-Americans abstain from meat as a sacrifice.

The meal would take days of advanced preparation, which Martino loved every second of.

“He also made his homemade sauce on Sunday mornings, and then the family was off to church service,” Martino said.

“And when he came back, he had the big Italian meal in the afternoon for everyone. Everyone napped afterward, as one would envision,” he added. “The guy could really cook.”

The Martino family became closely involved with St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Maspeth, which was almost like a second home for Joe.

He was an active parishioner at the church for the past 65 years, and in 2009, he was inducted to the St. Stan’s Hall of Fame for his many years of dedication and commitment to the parish. 

A true man of faith, Martino made every effort to go to Mass each Sunday — even during the pandemic.

Although he was not technologically savvy, Joe would stream masses from around the world through the iPad gifted to him by his family. Even if he didn’t speak the language the priest was speaking, the faith was within him.

“Before I delivered the eulogy, one of the parishioners in his church before the funeral said, ‘Your dad was like the 13th Apostle. He was out there just doing God’s work, without seeking any recognition,’” Martino reminisced.

“I talked about that in my eulogy about his helping the less fortunate. Once he heard of what the need was, if he didn’t have the ability to take care of it, he went and recruited someone or found someone to do it,” he continued. “Whenever I came back to New York to visit, like around Thanksgiving holiday, my dad would say, ‘Take a ride with me.’ But little did I know in the trunk of his car, he had 30 frozen turkeys…and we would drive from one end of Brooklyn to the other delivering them to the less fortunate.”

Joe is survived by five children: Anthony, Michael, Maria, Joann and Annemarie; six grandchildren: Paul, Nicole, David, Matthew, Valerie and Frankie; and three great grandchildren: Paul Jr., Anthony and Kira.

Although Martino was close with his biological family, they say that Joe had many “chosen” family members in the community — who often got invited to family gatherings and dinners.

2022 marks the 40th year of Hess Miller Funeral Home operating under the Martino family.

Anthony Martino will carry on Joe’s legacy of family, faith and community in his memory for many years to come.

New QBG head looks to take garden to next level

By Jessica Meditz
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Evie Hantzopoulos is the new executive director of the Queens Botanical Garen. (Photo: Eryn Hatzithomas)

Evie Hantzopoulos began her role as the executive director of the Queens Botanical Garden in late January, just in time to see her favorite plant, the red dogwood, in its prime.
In the same way the dogwood’s stems turn a beautiful bright red in the winter, Hantzopoulos brings a bright new perspective to the 39-acre oasis in Flushing.
She fills the shoes of Susan Lacerte, who held the position for 27 years and brought the garden back to life during a time of crisis.
“I’m super grateful for the work Susan has done, like helping to make the new Visitor and Administration Building happen and expanding the collections,” said Hantzopoulos. “Now I think about how I can build on her incredible work and honor the work that she did, and then really work with the staff and the community to take the garden to the next level.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Hantzopoulos lives in Astoria with her husband and three children, and has called Queens her home for nearly 24 years.
Although her background is not in environmental horticulture, Hantzopoulos feels passionately about gardening and environmental causes.
“My parents were both farmers when they lived in Greece, and they brought a lot of that knowledge with them when they came here,” she said. “I garden in my backyard, and when my kids were younger I helped bring gardens to their schools.
“I know a bit as an amateur, but I’m going to be learning a lot in terms of horticulture and working in the garden,” she added. “I’m very grateful we have experts here who really know their stuff.”
Hantzopoulos has extensive experience managing nonprofits. She served has worked at Global Kids for the last 25 years, the final 11 years serving as executive director.
Global Kids is a nonprofit organization that works with kids in all five boroughs, focusing on youth development, civic engagement and global education in underserved communities.
In addition to developing the organization’s programs and expanding its outreach to different cities, Hantzopoulos spent time mentoring educators and teaching workshops.
“Children add a perspective to the conversation that is really meaningful and critical,” she said. “Everyone questions how much they know, but children have thoughts, ideas, experiences and viewpoints that should be listened to, because a lot of times it’s their future we’re talking about.”
Hantzopoulos is excited to continue her journey as an educator through her new role at the Queens Botanical Garden, especially with a $34 million state-of-the-art Education Center on the horizon.
The building, which is expected to break ground in the fall, will allow staff to serve more than double the amount of people through expanded programming.
“Right now, our education building is not serving our needs,” said Hantzopoulos. “It’s very limited.
“Also during COVID, there’s limitations on how many people we can have in the building,” she added. “This new building is going to be designed to be adaptable, with indoor and outdoor classrooms.”
Hantzopoulos has been a member of Community Board 1 since 2010, and also co-founded Frontline Foods Queens, which distributes meals to frontline workers, NYCHA residents and food pantries.
She is a founding member of Astoria Mutual Aid Network, Astoria Urban Ecology Alliance, and 31st Avenue Open Street.
She recently ran in the Democratic Primary for City Council in Astoria.
“The experience was certainly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and I learned a lot,” Hantzopoulos said of the campaign. “Now I’m figuring out how to serve the city and community in a different capacity.”
Hantzopoulos acknowledged that although the garden looks a bit different during the colder months, it is still a serene escape from the chaos of Flushing’s busy streets.
She feels optimistic about the warmer months to come, as indicated by the 2,500 people who attended the recent Lunar New Year celebration at the garden.

Evie Hantzopoulos speaks at the garden’s recent Lunar New Year celebration. (Photo: Josh Feinberg)


But most of all, Hantzopoulos is grateful to be able to wake up every morning and go to work at such a beautiful place.
“I wanted to pick a place where I could fully get behind its mission and potential, as well as somewhere that I could marry my different interests,” she said.
“I found a great group of people and a beautiful space that so many people love,” she added. “Now, it’s about working with the team to figure out how to build upon the foundation and really showcase just how special of a place it is.”

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