The crowd came to their feet and applauded as this year’s honorees were brought into the room. Allan Smith, our Man of the Year; Margie Schmidt, our Woman of the Year; Paul Vasiliadis, owner of our Business of the Year, The Avenue Diner; and our Hall of Famers Jeff and Robert Lewis of the legendary Lewis’ of Woodhaven.
State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller and Councilman Eric Ulrich came to pay tribute to our honorees and to our community.
“I want to thank everyone for being here,” Addabbo said. “Showing support for the great community of Woodhaven is important. And thank you to the volunteers of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association for what they do.”
“If you take a look around the room, a lot of the people that you are sitting with are the volunteers who work to keep Woodhaven beautiful, to keep it safe,” Ulrich said.
“Your organization is one of the best organizations around,” Miller added. “Woodhaven is a great town.”
Before the celebration started, we took a moment to remember Roger Hennin, longtime board member of the WRBA who passed away last year. We were joined by his wife Josephine and daughter Joanne. He was a good man and Woodhaven is a better place because of him.
Upon receiving his award for Business of the Year from WRBA President Martin Colberg, Vasiliadis thanked everyone for their support, noted the hard work of the residents and said how happy he was in our community.
“I’m new to Woodhaven, hopefully I’ll grow old here,” he said.
“Thank you all for supporting our store and thank you for supporting Woodhaven,” said Schmidt, who brought a gigantic tray of Schmidt’s Candies delicious chocolates, which were enjoyed by everyone.
WRBA Vice President Giedra Kregzdys introduced her former boss, Jeff Lewis, who accepted the Hall of Fame award for Lewis’ of Woodhaven on behalf of his family.
“Besides being able to buy anything you needed, you left Lewis’ feeling happy and satisfied,” Giedra said. “If you were a customer, you were made to feel like the most important customer in the store. And if you were an employee, you were taught just how to make that happen.”
“We were 3 generations,” said Lewis while accepting the award. “My grandfather started Lewis’ back in the 1930’s, my father and my uncle took it from there, and my cousin Robby and I took it from there. We spent our lives taking care of everybody and they took care of us.”
The Man of the Year award was presented to historian Smith by three of the young people who have been working alongside him to restore and preserve the historic Colonial-era cemetery on 96th Street – Juliette Schmidt, Sean Eggers and Jaron Gallagher.
Smith spoke about his family’s deep roots in Woodhaven and his early days growing up in our community, practically around the corner from where he still resides today.
“What I learned from interacting with the volunteers at the Wyckoff-Snedicker family cemetery has been truly amazing,” he said. “It has allowed me to put my interest in local history to good effect.”
Each year, the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association produces a journal for its dinner dance. The journal looks back on the past 12 months, pays tribute to our honorees, and includes many ads from businesses and sponsors.
This journal is available online (see woodhaven-nyc.org or projectwoodhaven.com) and we encourage all residents of Woodhaven to look at it to see all of the businesses and sponsors that supported your community. And we ask that you return the favor and support them.
Near the end of the evening there was a special moment during the raffle. When the ticket for the birthday party package generously donated by the Forest Park Carousel was drawn, resident Tracey Gallagher and her nine-year old son Jaron thought they had the winning ticket, but they were off by a digit. The prize was actually handed to them, but had to be taken away and given to the real winner of the prize.
Later on, a beautiful guitar, kindly donated by Frank & Camille’s Piano Factory on Atlantic Avenue, was won by Loy and Aisha Gordon, proprietors of Neir’s Tavern & Steakhouse, which was selected by Borough President Melinda Katz to kick off Queens Restaurant Week.
The Gordon's turned around and handed the guitar over to Jaron Gallagher. It was a kind moment that summed up the evening pretty well – a community coming together and caring about each other. It was a terrific celebration of Woodhaven.