By Sabina Mollot
Last July, Stuyvesant Square Park lost its top overseer for half a century with the death of Rosalee Islay, the longtime president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, from pancreatic cancer at age 81. This year, the organization for which she volunteered will honor her posthumously at its annual benefit gala. The theme will be “Sowing the Seeds for the next 50 Years.”
“We’re honoring Rosalee for all she achieved over the decades,” said Phyllis Mangels, a board member of the SPNA. Additionally, going forward each year’s event will be named for Isaly though the name hasn’t yet been established. Miriam Dasic, the organization’s vice president, joked to Town & Village that with a name like Rosalee, the potential for flower puns are endless, though she promised “nothing too corny” after this reporter suggested “Everything’s coming up Rosalee.”
Meanwhile, the flowers that bloom consistently in the park today are there in large part due to Isaly’s efforts, which involved starting — and later expanding — volunteer gardening events. They’re now held around the year at least twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Work ranges from cleanup to planting to making sure bushes are kept at safe heights for visibility purposes.
The gardening program was part of a larger effort spearheaded by Isaly to revitalize the park after a long period of decline. This also included implementing free summer programming like tango classes and jazz concerts and pushing for years to see a multi-million project to restore the park’s historic wrought-iron fence restored.
“That was something she never took her eyes off of, even though it took 30 years because the city ended up with financial issues,” said Mangels.
Isaly, a resident of the neighborhood who later managed and owned a couple of properties, first got involved with the SPNA in 1969 to help resolve quality of life issues and later to preserve the neighborhood when old properties were getting razed and redeveloped by Beth Israel.
Along with Isaly, the SPNA will also honor two other local activists at the upcoming gala, which is scheduled for May 18 at 6 p.m. at St. George’s Chapel. Helene Spring, a longtime board member and founder of East End Temple in 1948, will be recognized as well as Claire Brennan, community service coordinator at Friends Seminary who has supported SPNA’s park beautification efforts.
The SPNA also plans to branch out its efforts this year, with beautification projects around the park. The group has already begun planting daffodils in tree pits in front of properties where landlords have given their permission, Apparently, there are some who’ve refused because they don’t want to be responsible for the flowers’ maintenance, but the swaths of yellow have been popping up around the neighborhood, nonetheless. Daffodils were specifically chosen in order to participate in the The Daffodil Project, a 9/11 remembrance program organized by New Yorkers for Parks. Over 7.5 million bulbs have been planted citywide since the effort began in 2001. The SPNA also has its eye on green spaces that are neglected like a small garden outside the Peter’s Field basketball playground on Second Avenue that’s mostly used for the storage of NYPD parade barriers.
“We want to make it look nice,” said Mangels. “So we’ve taken that on as a side project.”
The SPNA also plans to continue its free summer events, jazz, bossa nova and tango nights, movies, star gazing through a telescope and a couple of puppet shows. The first puppet show, “The Ant and the Grasshopper” with Wondersparks Puppets has already been scheduled for April 27. An unrelated Earth Day event will take place on April 20. Times have yet to be determined but will be announced online at spna.org. The SPNA’s annual Christmas caroling will also continue, as it has consistently drawn a crowd of 100-150 revelers.
Tickets for the May 18 gala will be $75 through April 20, $100 after that. To purchase, visit spnanyc.org.