Voices to remember

In the last month Queens has lost two voices of conscience—men who spoke out fearlessly about the importance of community and the sanctity of the borough.

Kenneth Kowald, a longtime columnist for the TimesLedger, brought his penetrating intelligence and keen eye to pieces about green spaces in Queens, endangered architecture and those annoying missteps by our elected officials.

Kowald, who had lived in Richmond Hill for many years before moving to Nassau, died Aug. 12 at age 88.

Less than a week later Frank Skala, a determined activist who passionately guarded the interests of his Bayside neighborhood, died Aug. 17. He was 78.

A well-known figure on Bell Boulevard, Skala often appeared in our newsroom in sweat shirts bearing long letters to the editor about zoning violations, the parking crunch and what he contended were mindless proposals to relocate the Bayside post office.

A fixture on Community Board 11 for years, the outspoken Skala pooh-poohed a DOT plan to create a slow zone in part of Bayside as “a hoax.”

“When you see a cop pull over one person going more than 25 mph, let me know,” he said.

Kowald confined his activism to his pen, which he used to write elegant columns about defending Queens cultural institutions, such as the library system, and a tongue-in-cheek proposal to hold public executions at Citi Field. Well into his 80s, he began writing a blog called “No Holds Barred” for the paper’s website in which he mused about the separation of what he called faith and state because church connoted only one religious group.

Until his health deteriorated, Skala rarely backed down from a good fight: He contended construction at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children had created a dangerous intersection and called Bayside HS’s installation of an LED sign outside as a “bait and switch” tactic after he had given the money for a plain white sign.

Both men cared deeply about Queens and the institutions that shaped the borough.

Kowald often invoked historical references, saying we had much to learn from Ben Franklin, whom he had discovered as a student.

In a column on his favorite cause, he wrote: “We are a great city. In my jingoistic view, the greatest in the universe. Let’s show it in our greenspaces.”

Skala preferred the barricades—the community board meeting, the occasional protest, his civic’s candidate debates—for his activism.

“Dad always wanted Page 1 in the Bayside Times,” his daughter told us after seeing his obituary. He earned it.

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