Every other day, Bob Holden is out at Juniper Valley Park, cutting the grass on the baseball fields where the area’s Little Leaguers play.
It’s labor, but for Holden it’s a labor of love.
“I’m a slave to it,” he said. “I’m a man of my word. I said I would do it, and I do it. People can’t believe there are fields of that quality in Queens, in New York City — teams from Long Island say so.”
The lawnmowing is just one small part of the volunteer work that Holden, the dedicated, often fiery president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, does for Middle Village and the surrounding area.
It’s for that work, for his many contributions to the community over the decades, that Holden was honored on June 15 by the operators of All Faiths Cemetery with the General Slocum Hero and Community Service Award. He received the honor at the cemetery’s annual remembrance of the General Slocum disaster. The General Slocum was the steamship that burned and sank in the East River on June 15, 1904, killing an estimated 1,021 of the 1,342 people who were on board. It was the single greatest loss of life in New York City until the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
And each year All Faiths Cemetery, headed by Dan Austin and his son Dan Austin Jr., remembers.
Part of the remembrance is the bestowing of the award.
“It’s a great honor,” Holden said. “When I spoke, I spoke about heroes, about many of the people who really saved lives that day in 1904. I said, ‘I’m not a hero.’ I’ve done some community service. There are a lot of people they could have given it to.”
There are few champions of their community like Holden, however. Among his civic accomplishments are pressing for the cleanup of Juniper Valley Park in the 1990s, preventing what is now Elmhurst Park from becoming the site of a Home Depot, preserving the dismantled St. Saviour’s Church and blocking the intermodal transportation plan that would have turned Maspeth, in his words, into “Truck Town.”
But Holden is quick to credit others, especially but not only former City Councilman Tom Ognibene, with helping get the work done.
And he credits the Austins with keeping the cemetery in top shape and aiding the community in multiple ways. “It’s amazing that in Middle Village the No. 1 preservationists are the caretakers of a cemetery,” he said.
A professor of advertising, design and graphic arts by trade, Holden says he lives a charmed life, blessed with the perfect wife, Amy, and three grown children, Robert Jr., Jane and Brian, who never gave them a bit of trouble. His family has been in the area for generations, and he isn’t going anywhere.