I returned once again to New Rochelle in the late 1980’s after a long assignment in Greece and the Mideast. It was anything but a comfortable return; I had a cast on my leg, an issue with my head, as well as some issues in my liver area. I would see to the latter in Washington before returning to Athens.
My prior visit of any length was 20 years or so earlier in the late 1960s. Strangely perhaps I remembered that with much more joy than the one I experienced 20 or so years later. I had a number of shorter visits between the two, but they were essentially for family reunification or just plain respite. I was younger and didn’t pay much attention to community affairs. However, the visit in the 1980’s was something else; I had matured, paid much more attention to what was going on around me and remembered how pleased I was to be home in the late 1960’s for an extended visit.
I decided to take a walk, cast non-withstanding during my return. I was anxious to see what I remembered and what had changed. I really would have to stretch my imagination because I was not committing the earlier visit or even earlier experiences than that to this planned walk about. But, something urged me to do it; likely my experiences overseas, my subsequent training and assignments since the late 1960’s, I don’t know what. What I do know it has contributed greatly to who I am in 2015 and why I am this way.
I should begin with the late 1960’s; I would say 1967 or so. We had Bloomingdales, Woolworths, the new Mall, the venerable Cohen’s, I believe an austere bank, something called I believe, the National Bank of Westchester, small shops such as French Boot, and others. We had 4 Cinemas if I recall correctly, Macys anchored the Mall. Times were bustling and it was readily seen in the eyes, voices, and yes, commitment on the part of the community. Why?
Largely I think due to a great man and mayor, Alvin Ruskin. Mayor Ruskin was knee deep into the community at all times. He was a leader who “walked the talk.” Often I was told, he walked in a particular part of the City often accompanied by his daughter. There were crowds of people who knew he was both coming and that he would be accessible.
New Rochelle had many of the same issues faced today. There were complaints about potholes, cluttered sidewalks, litter, dirt filled streets and walkways. People voiced their complaints but with a sense of good nature. Mayor Ruskin, his daughter, perhaps an occasional aide, took notes and he did what he could to solve these sorts of problems.
There was something else; something more important. I once asked an elderly lady I knew why everyone including His Honor was so pleasant, so sharing and she said, we trust each other and we love Alvin. This came out also during his walkabouts. People thanked him for bringing them the somewhat recent Mall to add to the wealth of shopping opportunities in New Rochelle. The Mayor was also known for home visits, for paying his respects to constituents and it was not unusual for him to have lunch or at least coffee with a homeowner or merchant.
I remember seeing him in the West End going into the Calabria Mutual Aid Society on the corner of Union and Warren. That fine community based organization stands yet and while the neighborhood has become more multi-cultural, this bedrock of New Rochelle today still stands proudly.
Name: NR Future