By Stephanie Meditz
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”