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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.

Wendell: The Great Woodhaven Yard Sale

The Great Woodhaven Yard Sale returns on Saturday June 11th from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (rain date Sunday, June 12th, same times). Sponsored by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, the community-wide yard sale usually sees 40 to 50 participating households.

If you’d like to be one of those households, you can register for free by emailing the WRBA at [email protected] or calling and leaving a message at 718-296-3735.

For those of you not familiar with the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale, here’s how it works: instead of scattered households all over the neighborhood holding their yard sales by themselves on different dates, a large organized group holds their yard sales collectively, on the same exact day.

The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association advertises the yard sale far and wide, and distributes maps of Woodhaven with little flags indicating all of the yard sale locations. And for those who are interested in taking it to another level, they encourage members advertise some of the items they plan to be selling on the WRBA’s Facebook page.

The maps encourage people to come to Woodhaven because they know that there are going to be plenty of yard sales to check out. In previous years, we received reports of people coming from New Jersey and Connecticut to browse the goods put up for sale by residents. In one case we had a person come from Maspeth by bus, bring all the stuff he bought home, and come back on the bus to check out other houses.

Another advantage of the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale is that you don’t have to walk around town, illegally putting up flyers advertising your individual sale. The Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association will advertise your sale for you by including it on their map and distributing it to many interested parties.

One year, my wife and I visited about 3 dozen different yard sales and found some great stuff. We looked for clusters of flags on the map, indicating concentrated areas where we could hit 5 or 6 houses on the same block. We heard the same thing from other shoppers, so if you want to boost your potential for sales, try to create your own cluster by asking your neighbors to join.

And it’s always interesting to see some of the old gems that people have stored away for years, taking up space in their basement. If you’re a frequent watcher of shows like Antiques Roadshow you know that people don’t always know the value of their own belongings. It could be that the $5 item you just purchased is worth hundreds of dollars or more!

Now that you’re sold on the idea, let’s repeat how you can become part of the Great Woodhaven Yard Sale (Saturday, 6/11; rain date the next day). You can register by sending an email to [email protected] or by calling and leaving a message at 718-296-3735.

There is no fee for registering, but you are required to give the WRBA your name and phone number (in case they need to reach you) and the address where you will be hosting your yard sale (must be in 11421). Here is an important point: they will put a flag on the map indicating your location, but they do not put your address or any other information on the map.

Now, even if you’re not planning on being a participating household we hope that you’ll help advertise this event by word of mouth. Tell your neighbors, tell your family. And tell your friends in Richmond Hill and Glendale and Ozone Park and beyond to come to Woodhaven for the biggest yard sale of 2022.

Wendell: Remembering Woodhaven’s Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt

He was a Woodhaven boy. He lived on Jamaica Avenue. He attended PS 97 and Franklin K. Lane High School and picked up a few bucks delivering The Leader-Observer.

As a young man, he went to Queens College where he excelled in the classroom and on the baseball diamond. He was honored as a distinguished military graduate and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, where he trained to be a pilot.

He was just 23 years old and his future was bright, but Woodhaven was still close to his heart. While stationed at an Air Force base in Dover, Delaware, as a radar observer, he kept an old postcard of Forest Parkway in his locker.

He kept in touch with his folks regularly and they spoke about his next visit to his old hometown. In fact, his bags were already packed and he was ready to go on leave.

And he would be bringing home a surprise for his family, the young woman who he was planning to make his wife.

But Harry Schmitt never came home. In July 1958, he was killed while on a routine flight over the Atlantic off the coast of Cape May, New Jersey

As with any accident, the details of what happened are as murky as the waters Harry Schmitt’s plane crashed into. It appears that the pilot did not realize how low he was flying. In fact, he may have even skipped the jet across the top of the ocean.

The pilot ordered Harry Schmitt to bail, but because the plane was so low when he ejected, his parachute never opened. The Air Force speculated that he was killed instantly but we’ll never know for certain as the young man from Woodhaven was never found.

It was front page news here in Woodhaven. Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt was remembered at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.

The Leader-Observer expressed their grief and fondly remembered the boy who delivered this newspaper.

“From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone,” the paper recalled in an editorial.

They remembered his cheery greetings whenever he entered the newspaper’s office on Jamaica Avenue, and they shared how friendly Harry was to all of the customers on his paper route.

“The memory of Harry Schmitt’s grin and exuberant ‘Hi!’ will never be forgotten,” the Leader wrote.

But as the years went by, it would appear that the memory of young Harry Schmitt began to fade away in Woodhaven, but he was never forgotten, certainly not by American Legion Post 118.

Starting in 1961, our local American Legion has been honoring its members in their Garden of Remembrance, which was planned to be a “miniature Arlington Cemetery,” with a marker honoring residents of Woodhaven who died in service or afterwards.

It is a beautiful sight, a field of crosses filling the front yard of the post, each marker representing someone who is no longer with us. A ceremony is held every year in honor of those that the markers represent.

And every year since 1961, Harry Schmitt has been part of that Garden of Remembrance; a cross bearing his name has been on display, with all the others, every Memorial Day.

The Schmitt family left Woodhaven just a year after young Harry perished and they were unaware that the Post had continued to honor Harry in their garden each year. It touched them deeply that their Harry had never been forgotten.

In 2018, 60 years after Harry was lost, the Schmitt family returned to Woodhaven for Memorial Day services at the Post. Harry’s sister Margaret was presented with a memorial flag while everyone observed a moment of silence.

During the ceremony, Commander John Lawless asked everyone to look at the Garden of Remembrance. “Sadly, each year, our garden grows,” he said.

Each new marker is a new name that will forever be remembered and honored by American Legion Post 118 and the residents of Woodhaven.

Please note that American Legion Post 118 will be hosting a Memorial Day Observance at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue on Thursday, May 26th starting at 6:30 p.m. And on Memorial Day itself, resident will begin gathering at 10:30 for the annual Memorial Day Observance outside the post, in front of the Garden of Remembrance.

Holiday season officially arrives in Woodhaven

The 2021 Holiday Season was officially welcomed to Woodhaven Friday night with a wonderful celebration capped by the annual lighting of the Holiday Tree at Forest Parkway.
Sponsored by the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, this year’s celebration included pictures with Santa, hot cocoa and balloons for the kids.
“What better way to start the holiday season than with one of Woodhaven’s favorite traditions, the Christmas tree lighting,” said WBID executive director Raquel Olivares. “It was so great to see so many people from the neighborhood coming together, especially children, to remind us why Woodhaven is a special place.”
It was a welcome return to normal. It was good to see so many people come out for this tradition, including the Color Guard from the Franklin K. Lane ROTC. But as much as I think they came out for the tree and the cocoa and the pictures with Santa, I think a lot of people came out to see each other.
Both of our representatives in the City Council were on hand for the celebration, Robert Holden and recently elected Joann Ariola. And Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar came by to wish everyone well.
We were happy to see them and appreciated them taking the time to visit Woodhaven, especially when they have so many other special celebrations in their districts to attend.
The students of PS 97, under the leadership of Ms. Caceres, did a wonderful job singing different holiday songs celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, wrapping up with “Feliz Navidad.” I used to go to PS 97 when I was a little kid more than a few years ago, and as an alumnus I was very proud of these bright young kids.
The highlight of the night was, of course, Santa Claus. He came in, riding down Forest Parkway in a convertible driven by its owner, Community Board 9 chair Kenichi Wilson. Santa waved at the crowd and the kids cheered as loud as the train roaring into the Forest Parkway station.
There’s a nice story behind this year’s Santa, who was played this year by Officer Nick Salamone of the 102nd Precinct. This was his first time as Santa, and besides having the perfect first name to play St. Nick, he turned out to be a natural.
After a few tentative waves and getting a great response from the kids, our St. Nick let loose with a few booming “Ho Ho Ho’s” and everyone at Forest Parkway knew for certain that Santa had arrived. A few minutes later, Santa led the crowd in a countdown to lighting the tree.
Afterwards, children and their parents lined up to take pictures with St. Nick, while everyone else gathered in small groups and caught up with friends they hadn’t seen in a while. The temps were low that night, but we all got through it due to all the warmth generated by the people of Woodhaven.
It will be a memorable December for Forest Parkway Plaza. This coming Saturday at noon, the WBID will be presenting Frostbite Follies featuring the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus.
The Frostbite Follies consists of jugglers and clowns and various acrobats, as well as live music. They are currently barnstorming their way around New York City giving free outdoor performances.
There will be limited seating, so get there early to get a good view. The WBID will be providing popcorn and candy to all guests.
Congratulations to Raquel Olivares and Katty Garces and the entire Woodhaven Business Improvement District for their great work on this year’s tree lighting and for bringing the circus here to Woodhaven. It was great seeing everyone Friday night, and I hope to see you all again on Forest Parkway this Saturday.

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