Editor’s note: John “Butch” Purcell’s wife Mary and son John wanted to thank the community for their outpouring of support following Butch’s death earlier this year and passed along this note for us to publish.
“It’s hard to forget someone who gave you so much to remember.”
Thank you for helping to celebrate and remember the beautiful life of Butch. Your love and support during this difficult time has given us great comfort and strength.
Amidst the excitement over the new Trader Joe’s, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind ST-PCV residents that there’s a terrific and convenient D’Agostino at 355 First Ave., between East 20th and 21st Streets, where the old Gristedes used to be. The store has been completely renovated, and now sports clean, bright, wide aisles, a salad and readymade food bar and a pleasant seating area with chairs and tables, where a weary shopper can also comfortably perch while reviewing a shopping list.
Best of all are Larry the manager, and his always helpful, friendly, and kind staff (thank you, Jose, Theresa, Zenia, Rose, Brandon, and anyone whose name I may have misspelled or inadvertently omitted), who always give customers the kind of personal service so very rare and sadly lacking in the impersonal online or chain big box experience. Whether helping you locate the products you want, or checking you out and bagging or delivering your groceries, the staff always offers help with genuine warmth and smiles.
For many years the The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the first owner of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, advertised our environs as a “park-like residential community.”
A community of 110 buildings housing 25,000 persons situated amongst acres of green grass, trees, plantings and shrubbery removed from the teeming streets of Manhattan. Met Life was pretty much on point.
But the current ownership has taken this now-quaint community to greater heights of amiability and helpful amenities. So last week while visiting my mom, I decided to do something I have not done in years… to walk the length and breadth of our unique neighborhood.
I crossed over 20th Street from the redesigned playgrounds and basketball courts of Peter Cooper Village over to Stuyvesant Town. I walked passed Lenz’s, the venerable local deli/grocery store owned by the equally venerable Naz who has been a friend and merchant to our community for decades.
The new Target on East 14th Street (Photo by Sabina Mollot)
By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Popular chain store Target caused controversy at the opening of the new East Village store at the end of last month because of their homage to former dive bar and music club CBGB and ultimately apologized for the marketing stunt, the New York Times reported at the end of last week.
The new store opened on East 14th Street between Avenues A and B with grand opening festivities on the weekend of July 21 with a vinyl facade depicting tenements and old storefronts, including CBGB, with “TRGT” in the bar’s classic font on the temporary overhang.
Jeremiah Moss, whose blog Vanishing New York and book of the same name document gentrification in the city, called the display a “deplorable commodification of local neighborhood culture” and expressed disgust over the fake storefronts.
“The façade is draped in vinyl sheets printed with images of tenements, the same sort of buildings that get demolished to make room for such developments,” Moss wrote. “Here they sit, hollow movie-set shells, below the shiny windows of the high-end rentals. They are the dead risen from the grave, zombies enlisted to work for the corporation.”
John “Butch” Purcell, also known as the mayor of Stuyvesant Town, pictured with his pooch Ginger (Photo by Kelly Vohs)
By Sabina Mollot
Longtime Stuyvesant Town resident John “Butch” Purcell, known to many of his neighbors as the mayor of Stuyvesant Town, was honored last weekend by the Brooklyn USA Athletic Association for his career coaching basketball players.
On Sunday, he was inducted into the group’s now 37-year-old Basketball Hall of Fame at a ceremony held in Brooklyn’s El Caribe Country Club.
A number of National Basketball Association players have also been honored, which, said Purcell, is “why it’s a great honor to be inducted.”
Purcell, now 72 and retired, coached athletes from 1972-1992 at Harlem’s Rucker Park tournaments as well as for the New York Pro Basketball League. During those 20 years, he estimated he’s coached over 75 NBA players, including Julius “Dr. J” Erving. A big part of his job involved training the summer league, “keeping players in shape, keeping them in tournaments, keeping them ready for fall,” Purcell said.
Other players he coached included Charlie Scott, Billy Paultz and Kenny Charles.
When I moved to ST in the 70s, our council district then was more economically homogeneous. It included parts of the East Village, Chinatown, Lower East Side and Soho. Within this district STPCV was a Democratic powerhouse. Not so today.
As incorporated in District 4, STPCV is still a substantial political prize but much diminished. As District 4 cuts from 14th St. to 97th, most of its votes are outside of STPCV. And north of 34th St, most people are co-op or condo owners.
While we in STPCV are still greatly concerned about protections for rent stabilization, north of 34th most folks are concerned about quality of life issues, property taxes and the affordability of maintenance.
It appears that all we ever hear about these days are politicians named Trump, Clinton and occasionally some of the other contenders. More locally it seems that the media is preoccupied with the ongoing (and really silly) political feud and attention grabbing between Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. They all seem so preoccupied with themselves and their own ambitions. Fame breeds self-absorption and the notion that the world truly revolves around your every move and remark.
This week I prefer to call attention to a few local unsung heroes whose names are not so well known but whose actions over the years have had a real impact on our community. These people have lived here and have worked here and have made our local world a better place without fanfare.
Substance abuse counselor John “Butch” Purcell outside Beth Israel Medical Center by Stuyvesant Square Park Photo by Sabina Mollot
By Sabina Mollot
John “Butch” Purcell, a longtime resident of Stuyvesant Town affectionately known to some as the “mayor of Stuyvesant Town,” is getting ready to retire from a career in drug abuse counseling.
In May, Purcell, was one of several dozen employees of Beth Israel to be honored in a low-key, midday ceremony for those who’d worked at the hospital for 20 years, 25 years, 30 years or even longer. In the case of Purcell and just two others at the ceremony, it was actually a recognition of 45 years of service in the methadone treatment program. The other two being honored were Martin Berger, MD, and Marie Marciano, an administrator of the methadone program.
Purcell, who earned his “mayor” nickname over the years for somehow managing to get to know countless neighbors in Stuy Town, where his was only the fifth black family to move in during the 1960s, as well as becoming just as well-recognized in the Beth Israel community and through his work counseling NBA players, said he wasn’t sure what he’s going to do with his free time yet. He plans to retire this month.
Meanwhile, during the May 3 ceremony celebrating Purcell’s day job, fellow honoree Marciano had some kind words for her coworker. “If you want the official word on local politics, sports, music or the best dog park on the Lower East Side, then you’ve got to hang with John Butch the Mayor of Stuyvesant Town Purcell,” she said.
She went on to say he always knew how to promote a positive image of the methadone treatment program and deal with patients “with the style of a seasoned politician.”
Following the ceremony, Purcell received a bouquet and a few gifts from the hospital and coworkers (including a framed photo of him with his prized yorkie mastiff mix pooch, Ginger).
He also spoke with T&V about the steps that led to his career in drug counseling and his unofficial mayoral status.
Purcell, the first person in his family to graduate from college, began counseling at Beth Israel’s then-new methadone program in 1967, shortly after graduating. He had considered becoming a pro basketball player, but ended up taking a very different path. Before moving on to counseling, Purcell also worked briefly for Stuyvesant Town’s recreation department in 1965. As for being one of the first black residents in the complex, Purcell said it wasn’t weird. Because, he explained, “I knew everybody.”
He soon moved on though to Beth Israel, noting how his family had a history of social service work. His mother worked for the V.A., and his father, a veteran who died when Purcell was 10, had worked as a custodial engineer for the Pentagon. His aunt was a social worker and his uncle worked for the Parks Department. Another uncle was a housing cop.
It was through Beth Israel that Purcell met his wife Mary who’s been married to him for 45 years. The couple has one grown son, John Purcell IV.
It’s difficult to say how the “mayor” nickname originated, though it seemed to stick after coworker Patty Juliana, PhD, started calling him that after noticing that everyone on the street seemed to know Purcell when they walked around Harlem, between two of Beth Israel’s facilities.
“What should have been a short walk took a half an hour because he knew everyone,” she said. The same is true when he walks his dog on First Avenue. “And it’s not because the dog’s legs are only four inches long.”
Late Stuyvesant Town community activist Granville Leo Stevens also used to refer to Purcell as the mayor, cementing that as his nickname at home too.
Purcell also made a name for himself in the NBA, when he counseled between 20 and 30 players from 1981 to 1983. He also continued counseling pro basketball players on and off over the years as well as those in many other professions at Beth Israel.
There have also been a number of neighbors in Stuy Town he’s counseled, both kids and adults, over the years. The drug problems in the complex, he noted, are more prevalent than most people would like to believe.
However, things were especially bad in Harlem and the South Bronx when he first got into the field and at that time, methadone treatment wasn’t seen as the solution for the heroin epidemic.
“It was looked at as black genocide,” recalled Purcell, “switching one drug for another.”
Still, over the decades, Purcell said there have been many success stories.
“I’ve seen grandchildren of my patients finish college and doing really well,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of addicts really turn their lives around.”
But, he added, “Mostly it’s up to them. I’m like hamburger helper. The best success stories are the patients who graduate to a point where we hire them to be counselors. That touches my heart.”
Additionally, about three years ago, Purcell also started representing athletes as a sports agent in the firm Waldon & Associates, and said he may start to focus more on that.
Another plan is to try to get more acting work, something he got into several years ago through a neighbor, assistant director Sean Furguson, who got him his first job as an extra. Since then, Purcell has had multiple TV appearances on shows like “Third Watch” and “Law & Order.” This led to an extra role in the film, “Something’s Gotta Give.” On “Third Watch,” he had larger roles playing characters like a bodega owner and a Santeria dancer. In another, particularly challenging episode, a 70-yard sprint he had to run was filmed in 17 different takes, which he definitely felt in his knees later.
Therefore, yet another retirement plan is just to relax, with Purcell saying he’d give a report on how that’s going “when I don’t have to get up.”