News from the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association

The Year Of Change Continues

The year isn’t even three months old, but it has already seen significant changes to the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association (WRBA).

In January, I wrote in this column about how Edward K. Wendell completed four years as WRBA president and handed over the reins to new leadership. This month, I write about yet another major development in the organization’s changing of the guard: the recent resignation of Maria Thomson from the WRBA board of directors.

As the Times Newsweekly reported last month, Maria’s resignation comes after four decades of service with the organization. She joined the WRBA board when the association was still just a couple of years old, and she played as large a role as anyone in helping it develop from its infancy into the group it is today.

To those who are unfamiliar with Woodhaven, it can be difficult to appreciate fully the enduring impact Maria has made on the neighborhood. To those who are familiar with Woodhaven, the significance of Maria’s resignation should be readily apparent.

For years, Maria has been a ubiquitous and instantly recognizable presence in the neighborhood. As a child growing up here, I could not identify all the activists or political figures in Woodhaven, but I definitely knew who Maria was. She was, and remains, one of a kind. Maria had been at her civic efforts for a decade before I was even born, and her years of tireless work have earned her the nickname “the mayor of Woodhaven.”

Decades later, despite her resignation, she is still involved with the WRBA, an organization she has served as its president and in just about every other officer position. Maria plans to remain a member of the block association, though not in a leadership capacity. And her other roles in the community ensure that the WRBA’s current leadership will still have ample opportunity to collaborate with her. She will continue to work as executive director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District and the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation-two organizations that grew out of the WRBA-and to serve as a member of Community Board 9.

Maria’s contributions to the neighborhood are too numerous to catalog exhaustively. For years, she advocated the landmarking of the Forest Park Carousel, which finally occurred last June. She fought to protect Woodhaven’s firehouses from closure, to combat dishonest practices by unscrupulous realtors, and to close business establishments that contributed to crime in the area. She continues to organize the annual Wonderful Woodhaven Street Fair along Jamaica Avenue, an event attended by thousands. (This year, it will be held on Oct. 19.)

Two of Maria’s features that I came to appreciate most acutely by serving alongside her are her tenacity and her unparalleled institutional memory. Maria truly is a fighter. If she thought you were in the wrong, she’d let you know it (as I learned firsthand on more than a couple of occasions). And she could often cite a few examples from past years to support her point of view. I did not agree with every one of her viewpoints, but Maria had a way of ensuring you gave due consideration to her arguments. She had a clear vision of what Woodhaven should be, and she pursued that vision doggedly.

In a year that had already seen significant changes at the helm of the WRBA, Maria’s resignation ensures that 2014 will be one of the most important years of change in the organization’s directorship.

It has been an honor to serve with Maria. I look forward to continuing to see her at the WRBA town halls and around the neighborhood that bears her indelible imprint.

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Editor’s note: The next Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting is this Saturday, March 15, 1 p.m., at Emanuel United Church of Christ (91st Ave. & Woodhaven Blvd.). Blenkinsopp is member of Community Board 9 and director of communications for the WRBA. For additional information on the WRBA, visit www.woodhavennyc.org.

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