The Civic Scene: Ramsaran, Cataldi known for community preservation

By Bob Harris

There are many volunteer civic activists in Queens. One is Ashook Ramsaran of Fresh Meadows and another was the late Nancy Cataldi of Richmond Hill. They are two of the many volunteer civic leaders who made their neighborhoods better places to live.

Ramsaran is active on the executive board of the Fresh Meadows Civic Association, where he has devoted time to preserving the quality of life of his neighborhood. He attends civic meetings and goes to demonstrations and rallies concerning zoning issues.

He has recently received a proclamation from the City Council for his contributions to the community, partly for his civic activities but mostly because of his concern about the people of the Indian diaspora and universal human rights. His family came from India to Guyana as indentured laborers who worked in rice fields.

Ramsaran wanted an education, so he secretly went to school. He excelled in school, won a scholarship to high school, became a teacher, worked in the local courts and eventually immigrated to the United States in 1968.

Here he became an electronic engineer and started his own company, Ramex Inc., which manufactures electronic equipment. His business has been ranked as among the top 100 Indian-owned businesses in the United States for the past 10 years.

He is the executive vice president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin and chair of their Tracing Our Roots Committee, director of the Guyanese East Indian Civic Association and director of the Guyanese Business Council and collaborates with St. John’s University’s Committee on Caribbean and Latin American Studies to organize seminars, the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and India’s Ministry of Overseas Indians.

Cataldi died a year ago after a career as a historian, community leader, preservationist, curator, author and photographer. She worked hard to preserve the houses in Richmond Hill. She was president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society since 1999 and advocated for the creation of a Richmond Hill historic district.

Richmond Hill has blocks of Victorian housesthatdevelopers or regular people want to buy and turn into multi-family buildings or tear down and build small apartment houses.

Cataldi fought to preserve the Victorian homes by having the area made into a historic district, but the city Landmarks Preservation Commission has refused to calender the issue, so there could be a public hearing to discuss the proposal. Like Ramsaran, Cataldi has fought the city development lobby, which wants to build but not preserve the historic communities of Queens.

Rallies, press conferences, publications and civic meetings are the way Cataldi labored to alert the public and city officials to the beauty of the homes in Richmond Hill. In 1994, she purchased a 1905 Victorian house and restored it to its original condition, which won her a Queensmark Award. She managed to achieve individual landmark status with the Richmond Hill Historical Society for a few buildings.

Other accomplishments were the placing of the RKO Keith Richmond Hill Theatre on the state Registry of Historic Places, receiving a Grassroots Preservation Award by the Historic Districts Council and the City Council presenting her family a with a proclamation outlining her accomplishments. Now we need the LPC to realize the vision of Cataldi and designate part of Richmond Hill a historic district.

GOOD AND BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: My wife is annoyed with me because I do not want to visit China. I do not want to give China more dollars. We are already indebted to it enough. We have to work with China since it is a rapidly developing nation, but there is such a thing as buying American, although we have to watch out not to increase our tariffs on imported good.

Another reason for not wanting to give China my money is that it is repressive. I have read that when people go to Beijing to register complaints with the government, a right the people are supposed to have, the protesters are locked up in secret prisons and then sent back to their towns.

A recent article reported that a critic of the government, Huang Qi, had been given a three-year prison sentence because he complained that the schools that collapsed during last year’s earthquake were poorly built. It is estimated 5,335 children died in these schools. He was convicted of having “state secretes.” So much for the People’s Republic being for the people.

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