Everyone who took the podium at a tribute to Pat Dolan at the Kew Gardens Hills Library on Feb. 15 recalled her as a relentless civic advocate who kept her teeth firmly clenched on the ankles of politicians.
Then there was Norma Stegmaier, who also remembered Dolan as her neighbor, best friend and library buddy. The two would take weekly strolls down Main Street, where Dolan would note the graffiti and litter around the neighborhood. Afterward, they would head to the library to check out new books.
Even in her “non-civic” recreational time, Dolan absorbed as much practical information as she possibly could, in an effort to help improve her community.
“Her books would be ‘New York City and Zoning’ or ‘The Tenements of the 1830s,’” said Stegmaier, a member of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association. “And this was some of her lighter reading.”
Although Dolan frequented the Kew Garden Hills Library, as head of the KGHCA, she had argued for years that the facility was overcrowded and outdated. A month after her death in November, a $7.3 million expansion plan that will add 3,000 square feet to the library and include separate areas for adults, teens and children, was approved by city officials.
Befittingly, a memorial plaque, which was unveiled at the library last week, will forever showcase Dolan’s skeptical scowl and enlighten future library visitors about who is credited with moving the project. Area elected officials and civic leaders were on hand at the event to share their favorite stories about Dolan, who died at age 72 when she was struck by a car while on her way to a Community Board 8 meeting.
The elected officials, including Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilman JimGennaro(D-Fresh Meadows), all shared their personal tales of repeated phone calls from Dolan, meetings — and even threats. But, they all said, they had a profound respect for her passion about her community.
A longtime civic activist in her community and throughout Queens, Dolan moved to the borough with her parents as a toddler and lived in the family home in Kew Gardens Hills the rest of her life. She was president of the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella group of more than 100 community organizations, a founder and president of the Flushing Meadows Corona Park Conservancy, a founding member of the 1,000 Friends of NYC Parks and served on the Borough Traffic Safety Board. Dolan was also an active member of CB 8 for 20 years, serving on several of its committees.
Dolan had worked for the Queens Community House since 1991, serving as its director of Queens Connection, a transportation system for seniors. In recent years she focused on alleviating the hardships imposed on some seniors by the MTA’s Access-A-Ride service.
“Certainly the world is better because Pat Dolan was a part of it,” said CB 8 District Manager Marie Adam-Ovide. “As civic-minded individuals, we are better, because we had Pat as a role model to us, and we can only aspire to be like her.”
Marc Haken, chairman of CB 8’s library, youth and education committees, worked closely with Dolan over many years. Adjectives that he used to describe his late friend included: “witty, coy, manipulative, brash and abrasive.”
“She was the very epitome of a civic leader. Her goal was to get things accomplished,” Haken said.
To demonstrate her style, Haken recalled one time years ago when the city planned to construct a rail line that would connect Astoria to LaGuardia Airport and then run to John F. Kennedy International Airport. Dolan led a group of community leaders to see Councilman Morton Povman and asked Haken to join.
“Within about four minutes, Pat threatened him and said, ‘If this happens, you are not going to be councilman anymore,’” Haken recalled. “I couldn’t believe it. I had been working with elected officials for years and they don’t respond to threats. In Pat’s case there was a response. Notice, there is no AirTrain that connects Astoria to LaGuardia Airport then down to Kennedy.”
The library renovation, known as Dolan’s “baby,” is slated for completion by the end of 2014 and, Stegmaier said she would make sure her best friend’s project does not stall.
“It’s not like, when are we going to have this library?” she said. “I’m going to be like Pat. In two years we are going to be coming here to cut that ribbon.”
The city is also honoring Dolan with a street renaming in the future near the library.