It was a walk down Memory Lane as I made my way through the doors of my beloved James Madison High School in the Midwood section of Brooklyn to meet with the principal and former first lady Matilda Cuomo to engage the school in her mentoring program.
For decades, beginning with her husband’s elevation to governor of New York State, Matilda Cuomo has devoted her life to being a fierce advocate for families and children. She created Mentoring USA which has grown into an international movement, and has written books on the subject, and at 85 she’s not slowing down.
When she shared with me that she had engaged the principal of Midwood High School to create a mentoring program, I told her my high school Madison was Midwood’s rival, and I’d like to visit there to let them learn about the mentoring program too.
So, within days we had an appointment with Jodi Cohen, the principal of the school that has graduated four Nobel prize winners, United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer and my beloved friend, now known as Judge Judy, plus Joel Zwick who directed the delightful “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” plus many television series, and presidential hopeful U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, to name just a few! But enough bragging about the past.
As I walked through the sparkling clean, quiet halls, I tried to remember my three years there many decades before. I was thrilled to see the handsome, 1,500-seat auditorium where I played violin in the orchestra and sang my heart out in “Sing,” the interclass musical competition that lives on today. Each class completes against the other and now there is inter-high school “Sing,” a competition that has become a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
They still have Fidelitas, a community service honors club I created when I didn’t get into Arista! Remarkable!
But I was there to help my friend Matilda make her case to engage the students at Madison to become mentors to their classmates in lower grades. The idea would be for the juniors to mentor the freshmen and earn a letter of commendation from the governor to add to their college applications, and most of all to encourage each one’s growth.
Hopefully, it will begin and the tireless Matilda Cuomo will see the fruit of her labor fulfilled in the borough of her birth.
Visiting Gracie Mansion
With holiday season parties filling every night, it was fun to visit Gracie Mansion at the mayor’s invitation to the press corps.
The cold night found me checking in and going through security to enter the powder blue, crystal chandelier-lit ballroom.
The 1799 building became the mayor’s official residence with Mayor Fiorello la Guardia in 1942 and sits majestically facing the East River with views of the Triboro Bridge in Carl Schurz Park at East 89th Street. It was handsomely restored to its elegant roots during Mayor Bloomberg’s term in office.
I had visited him there for a breakfast meeting when he invited then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to meet with a small group of weekly newspaper publishers. The room had stunning wallpaper murals of bucolic country gardens that made me feel transplanted back in time.
The mayor makes the mansion his home now, so just a few public spaces were open the frosty December night. But it is a special feeling to be in a house that has so much history. It was a memorable night seeing the mayor walk the room to say hello.
A man who walked the earth in our lifetime — and who made a difference to our country by working on the Manhattan Project that changed history and also made a difference in our communities, endowing dozens of life-changing, impactful organizations — passed away this week at 93.
Max Kupferberg and his twin and two other brothers, the first graduates of Queens College, never forgot where they came from. The family of seven children arrived from Romania in 1903, living in Flushing when it was mostly farmland.
Having worked on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos as well as being involved in the project the four brothers founded after their WWII service, which became a leading electronics manufacturing company Kepco, Max and his wife of 63 years, Thelma, donated $10 million to the Queens College Performing Arts Center.
He and his brothers and their wives and families have supported more than 40 organizations in Queens and beyond.
I loved what he said about his years at Queens College: “It taught me how to speak, how to read, how to understand — all the things that are most important in one’s life.”
It rings true today for the immigrants of the 21st century.
We were proud to honor him as Philanthropist of the Year at the Kings of Queens, and his nephew and children continue to serve on many nonprofit boards. I’m delighted to serve with Seth Kupferberg on the board of the Queens Museum.
Max’s legacy is in good hands.