John ‘Butch’ Purcell, mayor of Stuy Town, dies at 74

Residents left flowers at the entrance of Playground 9 in Stuyvesant Town this week following the news that John “Butch” Purcell, for whom the playground had recently been renamed, had died on Sunday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

John “Butch” Purcell, known to many in the community as the mayor of Stuyvesant Town, passed away on Sunday night at age 74. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and their son, John Purcell Jr.

Purcell earned his mayor nickname from being one of the first black families that moved into Stuyvesant Town in the 1960s, and he celebrated his 50th year in the community in 2018.

Purcell played basketball throughout his life and although he never went pro himself, he started coaching at 27. He coached athletes at Harlem’s Rucker Park tournaments from 1972 to 1992, as well as for the New York Pro Basketball League, and by his own estimate, coached more than 75 NBA players, including Julius Erving. He was honored by the Brooklyn USA Athletic Association for his coaching career in 2017.

In addition to coaching, Purcell also worked for more than 40 years in drug counseling at Beth Israel Medical Center, where he started working in 1967 for the hospital’s methadone treatment program. Purcell worked directly for the NBA during the 1980s as well, counseling players, and continued to counsel players and others until he retired in 2013.

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Flea market founder dies at age 86

Dolores Dolan

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Longtime Stuyvesant Town resident Dolores Dolan passed away at age 86 on Sunday, September 1.

A former news clerk at the New York Times as well as a model, Dolan was the Stuyvesant Town resident who originally pitched the idea of a flea market to management about 45 years ago, and also encouraged current management to bring the market back.

Town & Village spoke with Dolan when the flea market initially returned to Stuy Town. She was excited about the prospect and said that she was considering setting up a table herself.

“Maybe it’s time for me to get rid of some of my stuff,” she said when management announced the market would make a comeback in 2016. “That’s the idea and hopefully other people have an interest, but it’s also a social thing, particularly when the weather’s nice.”

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Longtime Stuyvesant Town resident dies at 97

Beatrice Nava

Beatrice Nava, a long-time Stuyvesant Town resident, passed away peacefully on Monday, July 29, at age 97 in her apartment. She is lovingly remembered and already missed by those and her grandchildren, extended family, neighbors, friends and even her doctors.

Born in Philadelphia, she lived in that area and taught for many years before relocating to Mexico for several years with an extended stay in Nicaragua, before returning to the US and settling in New York City in 1984.

She got her B.A. and M.A. from Bryn Mawr (in 1943 and 1964, respectively). She prided herself on her social awareness and activism, and was even arrested in Washington Square Park for protesting police brutality. On another occasion, she was protesting the Vietnam War in Washington, DC, and happened to run into her son, Ed.

She was an avid reader, never missing a day of the New York Times and other important publications like the New Yorker. She contributed her story to the book, Written Out of History: Memoirs of Ordinary Activists. She enjoyed the company of a wide range of friends, both in person and via computer, as she mastered the digital age of email.

She is survived by her four children (Ed, Joan, Jim, and Maggie) and her cat (Esperanza).

Longtime ST-PCV TA board member Soni Fink

Soni Fink (pictured at right) with the mayor and other Tenants Association members during a 2015 press conference to announce Blackstone’s purchase of Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Sunday, Soni Fink, a longtime board member of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association, died after a long illness. She had celebrated her 95th birthday a few days earlier on Wednesday, and when she died was home surrounded by family and friends.

When active in the Tenants Association, from 2000-2017, 15 of those years as a board member, Fink was responsible for the organization’s communications to neighbors. This meant she frequently and quickly churned out emails and press releases about the various efforts being made to fight rent increases and quality of life problems in Stuy Town as well as rent gouging legislation in Albany.

The work came naturally to Fink, who had a long career in journalism, working for a number of magazines as well as Women’s Wear Daily, where she was foundations editor. After time out for child-rearing, she worked in public relations for Macmillan, Inc., handling publicity for subsidiaries as G. Schirmer Music and Berlitz.  She also continued to write as a freelancer, creating newsletters for Volkswagen of America and other clients.

On her efforts for the Tenants Association, Fink’s son Arthur said, “She was a writer and editor, ensuring they had good copy, which meant they could project their ideas with power and force.”

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‘Landmarks Lion’ Jack Taylor dies

June21 SPNA Jack Taylor and Rosalee Isaly

Jack Taylor with Rosalee Isaly, then-president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, who presented him with an award for his preservation work in the neighborhood last year (also now deceased) (Photo by Andrew Garn)

By Sabina Mollot

Jack Taylor, a historic preservationist and resident of East 18th Street in Gramercy, died last Thursday, February 7, in his sleep. He was 94, and had suffered some health problems, including with his leg in recent months, making it hard for him to get around.
For decades Taylor was known for his efforts to save buildings slated for the wrecking ball in the Gramercy, Stuyvesant Square and Union Square neighborhoods and to get them landmarked.

He was involved in numerous civic groups, including the Gramercy Park Block Association, the Union Square Community Coalition, the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association and the Historic Districts Council.

He’d been retired since the 1980s, when he served as managing editor for Family Circle for several years. After retiring, he still did some freelance editing work.
His legacy of preservation began when he was inspired by the loss of Luchow’s restaurant, according to a transcript of a 2004 forum he participated in held by the New York Preservation Archive Project. The place was over a century old when Taylor learned it was at risk and got involved with an informal group aimed at saving it, headed by the USCC. The “born and bred” Manhattanite noted he had been born in Greenwich Village, not far from Luchow’s.

“Was it an architectural landmark? Was it a cultural landmark? Just what was it?” Taylor had mused at the forum. “It didn’t matter to me then, because I didn’t know the ropes very much. But it just seemed to be something that the city of New York would be the worse without. Regardless of the food, which had plummeted in the meantime. It was the philosophy of the thing.”

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Owner of Sal Anthony’s loses battle with cancer

Anthony Macagnone (center) reopened Sal Anthony’s in Gramercy in 2017. (Pictured) Macagnone with wife Cynthia Graham and son Anthony Jr. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Gramercy business owner Anthony Macagnone died on Wednesday, January 23, from esophageal cancer. He was 79.

Macagnone was most well-known throughout the Gramercy neighborhood as the owner of two very different businesses both operating under the name Sal Anthony’s: a restaurant and a fitness studio.

Although Macagnone’s career in the restaurant business started more than 50 years ago, his most constant presence in the neighborhood in the last 20 years has actually been through Sal Anthony’s Movement Salon, which he opened in 1999 after leasing an old beer hall and former restaurant on Third Avenue.

The original restaurant, which Macagnone opened when he bought a spot on Irving Place in 1966 after working at the nearby Pete’s Tavern, was open until about 10 years ago when he was forced to close over a dispute with the landlord about rent, but he was able to reopen the restaurant on Third Avenue and East 19th Street under the same name two years ago.

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Florence Friedman, T&V Synagogue’s first woman president, dies at age 101

Florence Friedman on her 100th birthday (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The first female president of Town & Village Synagogue died on Friday, September 28, about a month before her 102nd birthday. Florence Friedman, a Peter Cooper Village resident and previously an original tenant of Stuyvesant Town, was also one of the founding members of the local temple, attending services there before the congregation had an official physical presence in the neighborhood.

Around the time of her 100th birthday, Friedman told Town & Village about the early days of the synagogue, when services were held above a liquor store south of East 14th Street and meetings were held at a dairy on First Avenue.

Friedman was born on November 7, 1916 in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bronx. Democratic incumbent Woodrow Wilson was reelected on the day that Friedman was born and at the time, women still didn’t have the right to vote.

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Rosalee Isaly, president, SPNA, dies

Rosalee Isaly with a plaque from Dvorak’s former home

By Sabina Mollot

Rosalee Isaly, the longtime president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, died at the age of 81 on July 24.

Isaly, who’d been involved with the civic group for nearly as long as it’s been around, recently hosted a 50th anniversary gala for the SPNA at the historic church overlooking the park.

However, less than a month after the event, she learned she had pancreatic cancer, and according to her son Jason, Isaly died 16 days later. She died while staying with family members in Chicago, where she was born and lived before moving to New York City’s Stuyvesant Square neighborhood. Her family held a funeral service for Isaly at the St. Barnabas Church in Chicago and she was buried in Interment Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Under Isaly’s leadership, the SPNA worked to preserve local historic properties as well as revitalize Stuyvesant Square Park after a period of decline. This 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. When Isaly joined the group, it was to protest razing of neighborhood brownstones by Beth Israel, which was then scooping up properties to expand the hospital’s footprint. Continue reading

Tailor who owned shop for over 50 years dies

Gino DiGirolamo at his 14th Street shop in 2014 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

On Friday, March 30, the man known to many as “Gino the tailor,” Gino DiGirolamo, died at the age of 82. The owner of Royal Tailor, which was located in the East Village for 52 years, had suffered a heart attack a month ago that he never recovered from. His son Vito, 51, said his father, after having the heart attack on an L train platform, was taken to Beth Israel, where he stayed for ongoing treatment. He was visited regularly by friends and Vito, but the elder DiGirolamo never regained consciousness.

In an interview with Town & Village three years ago, DiGirolamo, then working out of an East 14th Street shop across from Stuyvesant Town, spoke of his intention to retire after getting socked with a hefty rent increase. He’d been in that space for a few years, after moving from the original shop on Avenue A. However, his livelihood was later saved when he found a nearby affordable space on East 11th Street.

As he had before, DiGirolamo worked long and hard, around 80 hours a week, commuting to the shop from his home in Ozone Park, Queens.

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Gramercy Park community activist Herbert Rosenfield dies


Herbert Rosenfield

By Sabina Mollot

On July 20, Herbert Rosenfield, a longtime Gramercy Park resident and community activist — also an original resident of Peter Cooper and World War II veteran — died at the age of 97.

His passing, which came just 16 days away from his next birthday, was due to diabetes as well as kidney disease, which he was diagnosed with in June. His funeral was held last Monday.

Rosenfield, who lived in Gramercy Park since 1950 (after a two-year stint in the newly opened Peter Cooper), was throughout his life involved in the community, focusing on quality of life issues through neighborhood organizations like the Block Association.

His daughter, Patricia Rosenfield, told Town & Village that when her father and mother, Audrey Priest Rosenfield, moved into the community, “They were the youngest residents at the time.” Feeling there was a serious problem in the neighborhood of people not cleaning up after their dogs, Rosenfield, along with the rector of Calvary Church at that time organized the first community park cleanup event. Patricia also said Rosenfield was active in pushing for what would become the Pooper Scooper Law.

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Gramercy Park community activist Audrey Sisson Kasha dies at 88

A public memorial service will be held for Audrey Sisson Kasha on Thursday, June 30.

A public memorial service will be held for Audrey Sisson Kasha on Thursday, June 30.

By Sabina Mollot

Gramercy Park resident Audrey Sisson Kasha, 88, died on June 12, a month after suffering a severe stroke.

Kasha was for many years involved in her community, having been the one to suggest the formation of the Gramercy Park Block Association in 1993.

This was after another resident, Tim Harrison, was beaten by a roving gang on the street. The association, run by Tim’s mother Arlene Harrison, was formed the next year and has remained devoted to local safety and quality of life ever since. Meanwhile, Kasha also served as one Gramercy Park’s trustees, including for some time as its counsel.

Arlene Harrison said she’ll remember Kasha for her dedication and her skills as a writer and editor for much of the trustees’ and block association’s literature.

“Just when we thought our writing was in perfect shape for Audrey to review, she would find at least 15 errors,” Harrison said.

She was also a founding member of the Tilden Democratic Club, which she was very active in, both in going to meetings and petitioning.

Until her retirement over 25 years ago, Kasha, a resident of 60 Gramercy Park North, served as chief of staff for the now-deceased Democratic Assemblyman William Passanante, who represented the Greenwich Village area.

Harrison noted that Kasha was often referred to as Passanante’s “brains” by the Assemblymember himself and that they remained good friends for decades.

Kasha was also known for throwing dinner parties, where guests raved over her cooking, and for being an avid church-goer at Calvary. She also met frequently with a group of people, who, like her, had involvement in politics, called The Schleppers.

Kasha had a grown son, Matthew, who worked in the music industry, and died in 2005. She is also predeceased by her sisters Gloria and Maxine. Kasha has one remaining sibling, her brother Peter Kasha, whose five-year-old son Ethan and wife Zena Kasha was very close with.

She was buried last week in Warwick, New Jersey with a small service for family members. On June 30 at 6 p.m., there will be a public memorial service held at Calvary Church, located at 277 Park Avenue South and 21st Street. Reverend Jacob Smith will be officiating.

Original ST resident and former cop with 13th Pct., dies at 100

LoMenzo (center) with his mother, his wife and his two sons after moving to Stuyvesant Town (Photos courtesy of Roger LoMenzo)

LoMenzo (center) with his mother, his wife and his two sons after moving to Stuyvesant Town (Photos courtesy of Roger LoMenzo)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Joseph LoMenzo, an original tenant of Stuyvesant Town and a longtime officer at the 13th Precinct, died in Fort Myers, Florida this past Tuesday. His death came on the heels of celebrating a huge milestone for LoMenzo: his 100th birthday.

“He had this adrenaline and at all the parties, he was really energetic,” his oldest son Roger told Town & Village. “He really stuck it out.”

Just last month, Roger had accepted a plaque on his father’s behalf from officers at the 13th Precinct at the March Community Council meeting honoring this milestone. Of his father’s many years of service with the NYPD, most were spent at the 13th Precinct.

Having lived through the last century, and in New York for more than half of his life, LoMenzo had a unique perspective on the city from that time. When he was growing up in the Bronx, he watched Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth play ball in Yankee Stadium, witnessed the Hindenburg fly over the city prior to its explosion in New Jersey and spotted President Franklin Roosevelt in a casually sitting in a town car.

LoMenzo, who originally joined the NYPD while living in the Bronx, served in the military during World War II and when he was discharged from the army in 1946, he rejoined the NYPD at the 13th precinct. He had heard that Stuyvesant Town was being built so he put an application in for an apartment, to move closer to the neighborhood than the Bronx.

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PCV resident Jacob Friedman, who fought in two wars, dies

By Sabina Mollot

On March 3, Peter Cooper Village lost a World War II hero when longtime resident Jacob Friedman died.

Friedman, who fought the Nazis with the partisans, groups of resistance fighters in Europe, died two weeks after collapsing from a stroke two weeks earlier. He had also been dealing with macular degeneration for several years. He was 95.

According to his daughter, Sheryl Safran, Friedman, who was Jewish and born in Czechoslovakia in 1921, was able to avoid being rounded up by the Nazis during the early 1940s by joining the partisans. He ended up fighting his way through Europe, Safran said, evading capture until shortly before the end of the war, in 1944. He ended up in Mauthausen, a concentration camp in Austria, but got out when the camp was liberated along with other death camps. Then came a stint in a displacement camp for former concentration camp prisoners.

Later, Friedman settled in Palestine, and after fighting in the Israeli War for Independence, remained in Israel. It was there when he’d meet the woman he would later marry, an American citizen named Bernice whose last name was also Friedman.

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Owner of The Frenchmen dies

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

William Koniuk at The Frenchmen store next to part of its Christmas display (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

William Koniuk, the founder of the The Frenchmen air conditioner shop on First Avenue, has died at 87.

His son Glenn said Koniuk, who’d battled cancer his whole life, became very ill in the past couple of months and died on Saturday, July 25.

He’d lived in Astoria, Queens, and until three years ago, worked 10-12 hours a day at his Manhattan store, which was well known for its annual Christmas storefront display. This was a tradition that continued for over 20 years.

Koniuk also held Christmas parties every year for the neighborhood at the store, complete with horse-drawn hayrides around the block and live music. He and his employees would dress up as elves.

But unlike most stores that use holiday events to try to get customers inside for sales, Koniuk knew not to bother. In fact, it was only because winter was so slow business-wise that he got the idea (and the time) to focus on putting together his Christmas display, which included dozens of moving Santa models and other holiday-themed characters.

“After Christmas, I’ll think about selling,” he once said.

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Dr. Phyllis Block, wife of Brotherhood’s founding rabbi

Rabbi Dr. Irving Block, founder of the Brotherhood Synagogue, with Dr. Phyllis Robinove Block

Rabbi Dr. Irving Block, founder of the Brotherhood Synagogue, with Dr. Phyllis Robinove Block

By Wally Dobelis

We have lost another cornerstone of the Gramercy Park neighborhood, Dr. Phyllis Robinove Block, wife of the late rabbi, Dr. Irving J. Block, who was the founder of the Brotherhood Synagogue. Phyllis, as she liked to be called, the mother of Herbert Block and grandmother of Joseph, Isaac and Tamar, peacefully passed away in the early morning of Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at Mt. Sinai Beth Israel hospital. The contribution of this this scholar of French literature was significant to the culture of our city life – she was the rabbi’s chief volunteer in publishing a bulletin, year after year, compiling memorial books and, particularly, helping  foster his mission of the brotherhood of religions. This was acknowledged by the presence of two mayors of NYC at the services, one in the sanctuary and the other at the first shiva – David Dinkins and Bill de Blasio, respectively.

The funeral was January 14, 11 a.m., at the synagogue, with Rabbi Daniel Alder officiating, with Cantor Michael Weis, Rabbi Samuel Greenberg of Young Israel of White Plains and Rabbi Michael Miller of Jewish Community Relations Council offering readings. Son Herbert and grandson Joseph reminisced about their mother. The interment was at the Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, N.J.

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