BY DEAN MOSES
A small crowd gathered around a secluded patch of grassland in Juniper Valley Park located on 80th Street and Juniper Boulevard North to celebrate the life of community leader Thomas V. Ognibene on Sunday, Oct. 11.
Adjacent from an erected podium stood an easel displaying a photograph of Ognibene, a former councilman in the 30th District. Over the course of his tenure, the late elected official became a beloved figure throughout his constituency and was mourned by many more after his death in 2015.
In order to celebrate a life well lived, Councilman Robert Holden, Councilman Eric Ulrich, former Senator Serphin R. Maltese, Vietnam Veterans of America Queens Chapter 32, along with many others arrived to pay their respects.
“It has been five years since we lost Tom Ognibene. I remember the emptiness I felt. We lost a mentor. We lost such a great man,” said Holden.
He continued by speaking of his friend’s dedication to cleaning up Juniper Valley Park.
“This was all covered with weeds, trash everywhere. I took photos and sent it to Tom. When he got elected, he said, ‘Let’s rebuild the park.’ We did that. Thanks to Tom Ognibene’s funding, every part of the park was refurbished.”
Both Councilmen Holden and Ulrich felt a deep kinship to Ognibene through his mentorship, friendship and father-like love. It was stated that Ognibene took in aspiring political leaders and mentored them, and in doing so set a high standard of leadership.
“He set the bar so high for public service that people in this community have the right to expect all of their elected officials to work just as hard for them; to be just as honest, straightforward and gets results for them. That was what Tom was about: A man of honesty. A man of results. A man of conviction of principals, conservative conscious, trying to lead the city and community in a better direction. That is what today we are celebrating a life of service and dedication,” Ulrich said.
In addition to speeches by elected officials, people who knew Ognibene best, such as his widow Margaret, shared memories and amusing anecdotes from both his time in office and personal life, proving there is still more to learn, even after a person’s death. Many learned that Ognibene served in the military for the first time while others chuckled at stories of his impressive appetite.
The event concluded with applause as the councilmen, veterans and Ognibene’s family and friends unveiled a plaque naming his favorite area of Juniper Valley Park the “Thomas V. Ognibene Garden.”