By Gina Martinez
2017 was a year filled with notable Queens deaths, from politicians to entertainers to civic leaders.
In January Flushing-born philanthropist Max Kupferberg died at 97. Kupferberg and his family have been active in the Queens community, donating millions throughout the years to multiple causes and running their family business out of Flushing. Kupferberg and his twin brother Ken were born in 1919 to Romanian parents who came to the United States in 1903. Their father was a cabinetmaker and mother was a homemaker, He had six siblings in total. Max loved to give back to his hometown. He donated money and resources to Flushing Hospital and Medical Center, where he served as chairman of the board; the Queens Botanical Garden Society, the YMCA, Queens County Savings Bank, New York Community Bancorp, and many other organizations. In total Kupferberg supported over 40 local organizations
He and his wife Selma donated $10 million for programs, exhibitions and renovations at the former Colden Center at Queens College, which was renamed the Selma and Max Kupferberg Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in 2006. It includes the Colden Auditorium , the Godwin-Ternbach Museum The Arts Center and the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives.
In March Helen Marshall, who served as Queens borough president for 12 years after many nearly two decades as a Democratic lawmaker at the city and state levels, died in California at 87. Marshall was the first African-American borough president of Queens and the second woman to occupy the post in the most ethnically diverse county in the country.
Born in the Bronx on Sept. 30, 1929, she was educated at Queens College and taught until she became the first director of the Langston Hughes Library in Corona. She served as a state assemblywoman from 1983 until 1991, then ran for a seat in the City Council, where she served from 1992 to 2001. Marshall also directed the affairs of Queens County from Borough Hall for three consecutive terms from 2002 to 2014. She is survived by her two children, Donald Jr. and Agnes Marie. Her husband, Donald, died recently.
The entertainment industry was shocked in June when Queensbridge rapper Prodigy, one half of the famous rap group Mobb Deep, died in Las Vegas after a brief hospitalization. The 42-year-old rapper, whose real name was Albert Johnson, battled sickle cell anemia for years. He was in Las Vegas for a Mobb Deep performance at the time of his death.
Prodigy rose to fame in the early ’90s alongside rap partner Havoc. They released their first album, “Juvenile Hell,” in 1993, but reached success with their sophomore album “The Infamous,” which featured the hits “Shook Ones Pt. 2” and “Survival of the Fittest.”
The group became part of the hip-hop elite and collaborated with Wu-Tang Clan, 50 Cent and fellow Queensbridge rapper Nas throughout the years. In 2007, Prodigy was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for illegal possession of a firearm. He was released in 2011 from Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy, N.Y. After a brief break-up, Mobb Deep reunited in 2014 to release their final album “The Infamous Mobb Deep.”
In September colleagues were saddened when state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) died after battling an unidentified illness for years. Simanowitz, 45, had represented the 27th District, which covers College Point, Whitestone, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, Electchester, Pomonok, Briarwood, Kew Gardens, and Richmond Hill since 2011. Prior to being elected to the state office, he served as the chief of staff to Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn for 15 years until her retirement. Simanowitz is survived by his wife Jennifer, four children, his parents and his brothers Barry and Alan.
Simanowitz, a lifelong resident of Forest Hills, studied at Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe as a child. The assemblyman was a proud Orthodox Jew who often stood up for the Jewish community in the Assembly.
Simanowitz also served as a board member at the Yeshiva of Central Queens and contributed to the Queens Jewish Historical Society, the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and the 107th Precinct Community Council.
The following week in September, Long Island City mourned when civic leader Theresa Adams died of heart failure at the age of 75. Adams grew up in the Hunters Point section of LIC in the Vernon Boulevard home of her grandfather. She became a dedicated volunteer working for the betterment of the evolving neighborhood after she retired from the U.S. Navy in the early 1980s, where she was an operations supervisor.
Adams worked tirelessly on housing and care for seniors and veterans, pushed for more schools and community space and advocated for the waterfront parks. Adams began campaigning for a public library for the neighborhood in the early ’90s and she watched joyfully as the new $40 million state-of-the-art Hunters Point Library began rising along the waterfront on Center Boulevard. The library is scheduled to open in 2019.
Adams is survived by her son, Brian, who also grew up in the Vernon Boulevard home.
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart