BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
The Parks Department and members of the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) teamed up on June 11 for a special Elmhurst Park Day of Service in memory of Parks Department manager Jennifer Kao.
Kao, a senior project manager with the Parks Department’s Planning and Parklands division, worked with the community to help create the park on the site of the former Elmhurst gas tanks. Tragically, Kao died earlier this year.
The Elmhurst Park Day of Service began with a special tree planting ceremony in Kao’s honor led by Dorothy Lewandowski, the Parks Department’s Queens commissioner.
“I had an opportunity to work with Jennifer when I came here about 10 or 11 years ago,” Lewandowski recalled. “She was an important part of the Parks Department. Her character and dedication went above the task. I greatly miss her.”
Kao was also fondly remembered by her fellow Parks Department colleagues, as well as community members.
“I think it’s a real testament to Jennifer Kao’s reach across the agency in working with various members to get projects done,” explained Parks Department Assistant Commissioner for Planning Alyssa Konon.
“For all of us who knew her, she was a very dedicated person who was very thorough and followed through on numerous tasks,” Konon said. “I’m sure it would please her to know that we’re all here today on something that she started. Here we are following through on something that she helped to make happen.”
COMET representative Richie Polgar also expressed gratitude for Kao’s work in creating Elmhurst Park.
“This park is one of the greatest things that have happened to this area,” Polgar said. “It’s so great to see this many people enjoying the park as it was intended to be. I’m so glad we have it.”
According to Lewandowski, COMET member Christina Wilkinson reached out to her shortly after Kao’s passing requesting that the community plant a special tree in Kao’s memory.
The tree planted in Kao’s honor is an Eastern Red Bud. “It gets beautiful, heart-shaped leaves and little pink flowers in the early spring that bloom against the wood, so it looks like the stems are lit up with pink,” said Queens Director of Horticulture Adriana Jaceykewycz.
Community volunteers and Parks Department employees continued to work on cleaning the park and planting new flowers and shrubbery well into the afternoon.
“This is a good spot to come back and contemplate about not only our own lives, but Jennifer’s, too,” Lewandowski said.