By Kenneth Kowald
On March 13, 1986, then-Borough President Donald Manes committed suicide at home by plunging a kitchen knife into his heart.
That may have been the nadir of what was once called the “Forgotten Borough.” Staten Island seems to have that sobriquet now.
But from the ashes of this terrible event, Queens rose, in no small part because Claire Shulman became borough president and served well until 2002. Helen Marshall followed her and our borough continued to move forward.
When Alan Friedman died recently, I was reminded of that year and about revival and resurrection. Alan was hired in 1984, when the Hall of Science was being renovated. It needed to be badly.
As a representative of a large New York corporation which had been a supporter of the hall since its inception at the 1964-65 World’s Fair, I made visits to the facility to check on how our money was being spent.
To say that the Hall of Science was dark and gloomy would be putting it mildly. It was that to the point of being spooky. How any student, or anyone else, would be turned to learning science in such a place was almost inconceivable.
The museum reopened in 1986 — the year of the nadir — and it was a success from the outset. Alan was a dynamo. He had vision and wit. He had the right credentials and the full support of Shulman. The Hall of Science became a great success in the resurrection of Queens. Science was fascinating, fun and involving. Students learned and participated.
The exterior was welcoming and so were all the exhibits and activities. Science came alive.
Of course, many other elected officials helped, as did a board which wanted only the best and got it.
In that respect, the Hall of Science has not been alone. Were it not for official and citizen action, we would have no fine Queens Museum, no glorious Botanical Garden, no marvelous learning place like the Alley Pond Environmental Center, no wonderland like the Queens Farm Museum, no center of the arts like Flushing Town Hall.
All of those, over the years, were in peril of going out of business at some time or other. The community rallied and kept working and today we have those places and so many more. I am sure you have your own favorite.
Elaine and I have been members of QBG and APEC for many years and I served two terms on the APEC board.
But the citizens who rallied to these places were tireless and they had to be. What had been Gardens on Parade in the original World’s Fair was almost gone. Ditto for APEC. The Farm Museum was in the same category. Other places were in peril.
Look around you. How can you help? Money is always needed, but caring is most important, I believe. Determine to do something to improve your community this year — and do it.
And visit these places and many others in Queens, which need your attention and help. Go to events and classes there. There are many, all year long.
But, perhaps best, if you have the time, see QBG, APEC and the Farm Museum, for example, on a quiet weekday afternoon. I have done that and I remember those visits. The Farm Museum on a fall afternoon, for example, made a great impression on me. I wandered in a world of its own. It was magical.
Save your trees. Save the little and big greenspaces. The city is planning, we hear, to reach out to the boroughs about parks and playgrounds. Make sure that after any ribbon-cuttings that the support is there for maintenance and expansion. Get the community groups involved.
Alan was honored June 14 by the New York Hall of Science. Shulman, Marshall and others — elected officials and citizens — turned 1986 into a year of resurrection.