Known as the “Hospital of Kings and Queens,” Wyckoff Heights Medical Center is like a family to its longtime employees and a central pillar of the Bushwick and Ridgewood communities.
The hospital honored seven people who have worked there since before 1975 and will display photographs of them by Bushwick-based artist Daryl-Ann Saunders on the first floor “Hall of Fame.”
The city experienced a crippling blackout in July 1977, which plunged the Bushwick area into a downward spiral. Shortly after moving to the neighborhood in 2006, Saunders discovered a gunshot murder victim and began to think of Bushwick as the Wild West. She sought to photograph the “pioneers” who lived in the area.
Ramon Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Wyckoff Hospital, discovered her work at the Bushwick-Ridgewood Seniors Center and requested that she bring the project to the hospital.
“It was just an extraordinary thing, highlighting men and women who might be called common men and women, but who looked in an extraordinary fashion,” Rodriguez said. “The way she photographed them and she talked about their backgrounds and then did the same thing for the group that’s down on the first floor.”
The recent honorees were the second group Saunders found by searching through the hospital’s personnel files. She found that while the “pioneers” described the neighborhood as a small town, the veteran employees considered the hospital their family. Many have known each other for decades and even had their children born there or been in the hospital as patients.
“You don’t get that real cohesiveness anymore,” Saunders said.
Mary-Anne Colon was going to become a teacher until the summer of 1969, when she was a candy striper at the hospital and instead decided to pursue nursing.
“I was born, raised and still live in Ridgewood,” Colon wrote in a statement read by Rodriguez. “Wyckoff Hospital has always been our community hospital. My father, my grandparents died here and my children were born here. Through all its ups and downs there’s always been a sense of family at Wyckoff, a wonderful diverse family.”
Sharon Williams wrote about wanting to work at Wyckoff because her aunt talked about it so much. In 1975, she began as a staff nurse and then became assistant head nurse, discharge nurse, utilization review nurse, and is now in case management.
Another honoree, Noel DeLeon, was hired to work in housekeeping on Dec. 7, 1970. He decided to work at the hospital because he loved the care his mother received when he brought her there.
“I love to see the people smile when they walk into the hospital and see how clean it’s kept. I didn’t choose the medical field. God put me in the hospital so I could give back where my mother received good care and services,” DeLeon said.
Rodriguez spoke about the administrative challenges to having so many employees who are related, like making sure family members don’t supervise one another. However, he said, in John Leisen’s case, there is “true love that has expressed itself in ways that we all would love to have.”
Leisen met his wife Linda on the night of the blackout in July 1977. He wrote that his career “was greatly influenced by some gifted and dedicated healthcare professionals,” as he progressed from evening radiology technician, quality control, special procedures supervisor, assistant director at Jackson Heights Hospital, assistant director of Radiology and director of Radiology.
Ferdinand “Val” Heron began working in the hospital’s food service department in 1974 at age 24. He still works there and often sings at hospital functions.
“I love the look on the patients’ faces when they see you coming in with their food because it can be the best part of their day,” Heron said.
“Sometimes, I would be walking through the neighborhood and people would recognize me from when they were a patient in the hospital,” he said. “Some say ‘Hi Val.’ This makes me feel real good.”
Johnny Muncan began working in the hospital’s dietary department 40 years ago, two years after he emigrated from Yugoslavia. Since then, he has worked his way up through the emergency room, to orderly, working with the elderly, was the first male nurse at night and now is in the employee help department.
A nurse’s tech, Devere James started in the laundry 50 years ago, then became a nurse’s aide in the male ward, before the old hospital was demolished and the then-German and Italian community pitched in to save the facility.
“We are very grateful and very honored to have them,” Rodriguez said. “When you see the folks that we’re going to honor today in and around the hospital, they have an inner peace, they have a special sense of themselves.”
Rodriguez referenced “True Confessions,” a film starring Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall, in which DeNiro’s character gave a eulogy: “He was a good man, a good worker, he was a good shoveler; he wasn’t a great shoveler, but he was a good shoveler.”
“Today we raise our glasses, we talk about the people that are in this room that we want to congratulate, all of them are great shovelers,” Rodriguez said. “No matter what they do, they do it with their hearts and their souls, the work that was necessary and required of them, and that’s what we expected.”