Sunnyside mourns loss of civic leader

By Bill Parry

Sunnyside residents are mourning the loss of one of their most civic-minded neighbors. For more than 40 years, Luke Adams immersed himself in community work as a president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and the Sunnyside Woodside Lions Club.

He was the leader of the Gateway Restoration project, which was responsible for the creation of the Sunnyside Arch, the neighborhood’s iconic symbol at 46th Street and Queens Boulevard. Adams was also a travel agent, a reporter and photographer as well as a community historian.

Adams died Monday night after suffering a cardiac arrest. He was 76. By his side was his longtime friend and collaborator Patricia Dorfman, the founder of SunnysideArtists.

“Luke Adams was a booster of Sunnyside and Queens in the same way that Joe Sabba, Lou Lodati and others who created the ‘Small Town in the Big City’ slogan of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, which Luke cherished as his mission,” Dorfman said. “He was generous to a point that made him penniless. He was known for being so outspoken as to be alarming to many, but was responsible to a large degree for the unity and fraternity among different ethnic, economic, religious and social groups in the area we still enjoy today.”

By Tuesday morning, word of Adam’s death spread through social media. City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) posted on Facebook: “We are all saddened by the news that Luke Adams has passed away. Luke loved Sunnyside like no other person and he was a neighborhood treasure for many years.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) also paid tribute saying, “Luke Adams was a Sunnyside icon who dedicated his life to making the neighborhood a better place, and he will be deeply missed. May his memory be eternal.”

When Adams became president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce in 1981, he began collecting old photos of the neighborhood. Over several decades he would research each photo that was donated and create informative captions. Some of the photos in his “concise archive” dated back to the 1800s, including his favorite photo of the Sunnyside Hotel taken in 1869.

He stored thousands of researched photos in an office at LaGuardia Community College in the hopes of one day opening a historical museum.

“I always wanted all the new people to appreciate Sunnyside and its history,” he said in a 2012 interview. “Only when you appreciate the place and the people that came before you can you take real pride in your neighborhood.”

After a funeral mass at St. Raphael’s in Sunnyside, Adams was scheduled to be buried Friday at the historic Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens. Maple Grove was established in 1875, six years after his favorite picture of the Sunnyside Hotel was photographed.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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