Ridgewood denizens who’ve lived in the iconic Queens neighborhood for decades remember when nothing but the residential buildings and local businesses were the only structures standing in the way of the sweltering summer sun. It wasn’t until the efforts of one local man, regarded by many as a prominent leader and voice in the community, that residents no longer had to scurry indoors to find any shade. Well over 20,000 trees adorn the sidewalks in western Queens and parts of Brooklyn now thanks to this man and his presence in the community.
At 72 years old, Paul Kerzner still continues to serve Ridgewood as a community leader and one of the longest-serving civic leaders known by residents and Queens legislators alike. On a night when board members are sworn in at the Ridgewood Property Owners And Civic Association, on Thursday, Oct. 5, Kerzner received special recognition for his many years of service as he was sworn into the civic group once again.
“He is such an inspiration to everyone, certainly me,” said Council Member Robert Holden.
Although whether or not Paul knew the grouping of esteemed colleagues and fellow civic leaders attended the meeting for his sake, the man nicknamed “Johnny Appleseed” was reminded of how his work has changed the lives of many long-serving Ridgewood residents.
“I had the pleasure of serving with him for 30 years on the community board, got to know how he does things, how he thinks, and it was always about neighborhood first. And that’s what he taught me,” said Holden, “… and in the council, I’m trying to do that. It’s my district that and my constituents that come first. But that was taught by the dedication of Paul Kerzner over 30 years of serving with him and then eight more of knowing him.”
Kerzner, a graduate of Christ the King Regional High School, still lives on the block both he and his mother were born. A magna cum laude graduate of Fordham University with a bachelor’s degree in American History, Kerzner went on to receive a Juris doctorate degree from the Brooklyn Law School and utilized his education as a practicing attorney for upwards of 45 years.
For 50 years, Kerzner served on Community Board 5, serving the neighborhoods of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood. His work on the community board dates back to it’s origins, as District Manager Gary Giordano accounted for that evening.
More notably, In 1994, Kerzener was dubbed “Johnny Appleseed” by former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, after obtaining $8.5 million in city funds through endless lobbying, negotiating and advocating enterprises.
Angela Mirabile, the executive director at Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation, spoke on Kerzner’s achievements and thanked him for his contribution to the corporation.
“Scientists have recently discovered apparently that trees communicate with each other. So there’s something that happens to my headphones. When I pass Paul’s block. I’m listening to music and when I turn my head to the right, my headphones go out. So I’m thinking that the trees are talking to each other about Paul,” said Mirabile. “And what they’re saying is, on their behalf, I want to thank you for the trees and the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation, which Paul founded and guided for the past 45 years.”
Kerzner was also responsible for developing an anti-graffiti cleaning program in conjunction with the New York State Corrections, utilizing parolees and neighborhood volunteers to rid the streets of graffiti with pressure washers. The Great Ridgewood Restoration Corporation now leads the efforts to carefully take graffiti off of old and brownstone buildings, in need of special care.
As the night continued, Ted Renz, the executive director of Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, spoke on his first encounter with the civic leader and how an anecdotal account from a neighbor helped to motivate Renz’s involvement.
“Paul, when he was in college, he put together a master plan for Ridgewood and it was categorized Commercial Revitalization for Myrtle Avenue, trees for the neighborhood, housing historic designation, the Onderdonk House — it’s all there,” Renz said. “And when I looked at this book I found it and maybe several years ago, I looked at it, and back then I said, ‘wow.’ Many things have been accomplished already.”
As an administrator in housing and economic development programs, Kerzner helped to establish the Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation and the Ridgewood Local Development Corporation. He even helped formulate a comprehensive housing rehabilitation program for ConEdison, which rehabilitated over 3,000 housing units in an effort to prevent residential neighborhood decline in the company’s electric services.
In the ongoing trip down memory lane for Kerzner, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who represented the 37th assembly district for 38 years, made a special appearance to express her personal gratitude.
She fondly remembered and acknowledged all the valuable contributions Kerzner made to the community over the years.
“You know, when you look at Ridgewood now and we talk about gentrification problems, and you know, the issues of property values, it was not a sure thing in 1975, that Ridgewood was going to be this, you know, making the list of top neighborhoods in the city of New York, and it’s really because of Paul’s effort more than anyone else,” said Nolan.“… It was a wonderful thing to see Paul push and push and push to get Ridgewood what it needed and I feel so proud of that I got to play a supporting role in it,” Nolan added.
Kerzner received a proclamation from the City Council and a congressional record embellished on a wooden frame from U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, who immortalized Kerzner’s life-long dedication.
Kerzner, partially choked-up from the warm remarks, took the time to read aloud the congresswoman’s gifted record, and saved the reading of the councilman’s proclamation for later, which he said will be heard by his wife, Maryellen, of 30 years strong.