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Peter Cardella, the founder of a senior center on Fresh Pond Road named in his honor and a mainstay of many other local organizations in and around Ridgewood, died last week. He was 97.

Funeral services were held at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills.
In her eulogy, Cardella’s granddaughter, ToniAnn Grande, remembered her “Poppy” as a giant of a man even though he stood barely over 5 feet tall.

“My grandfather was a dynamo: an energetic visionary of a man who devoted his 97 years on this earth to the service of others — his country, his community, his family. He was the fifth of six children born in Brooklyn of immigrant parents,” Grande recalled during her eulogy.

“Poppy had a huge heart and a can-do spirit. When he saw a need, he worked to fill it, asking nothing for himself in return. He knew how to get things done. Projects that would seem insurmountable to most of us were all in a day’s work for my grandfather,” Grande said.

“The Italian Cultural Center at St. John’s University? He created it. The Santa Maria del Soccorso annual street fair on Fresh Pond Road? He organized it and kept it going for 18 years. The excavation of ancient Greek ruins in Sicily? He spearheaded the project. Raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to assist victims of the South Asian tsunami, to rebuild a kindergarten following an earthquake in Sicily, and to support the families of uniformed officers following September 11? All in a day’s work.”

Cardella was a successful businessman, having started a clothing manufacturing company that employed more than 200 workers in Bushwick at its height in the 1960s. He retired in the 1980s, but kept up his whirlwind of community activities for another three decades.

Cardella’s love for his community was often expressed in his willingness to start and nurture civic and social organizations. Among his many efforts were the Italian American Professional Businessmen’s Association and the Italian Cultural Center at St. John’s University, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall honored Cardella with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Even into his mid-90s, Cardella continued to remain actively involved in running the Peter Cardella Senior Center that he founded in 1974. The center served roughly 60,000 senior citizens each year.

“My grandfather was actively involved in the day-to-day operation of the center right up to his death, working there at least three days a week for as long as he was physically able, without ever taking a penny for his efforts. At the age of 94, he planned and oversaw a million dollar renovation of the facility,” Grande said.

In closing, Grande said her grandfather’s legacy would go on. “For those of us left here on earth, we owe it to Poppy to carry on his legacy of doing good works for others — to think big and to make the world a better place. And while we are doing that, we will always remember the small giant of a man wearing his bow tie and beret.”

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