2001-02-03 / Columnists

On The Beach...with Beverly Baxter

On The Beach...with Beverly Baxter

Whenever I sit down to do an interview, I try to attempt to do with words what a photographer depicts with a photograph: to capture the essence of a person. When I decided to do a piece on Liz Sulik, who has been selected by the Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee as a deputy grand marshal, I knew that the interview would not be that simple. When we sat down recently at The Beach Club, she got right to the point with her very direct and down to earth manner. "So, what do you want to ask me?", she said, as if she felt rather uneasy with the frivolous and self-indulgent task of talking about herself. I told her I hadn't a specific thing to ask her...that she should just keep talking!

  Talk to Liz Sulik about Rockaway and she will talk incessantly and fervently. Her passion for the endless and untapped potential is almost evangelical. Her enthusiasm is utterly contagious. Is Liz simply a blind optimist? She'd say not! She rather sees herself as a realist. "It's a matter of seeing the reality of the situation here and bridging that gap with hard and steadfast work toward what we could become."

  "All or nothing at all" could be the very phrase to describe her. For this sturdy and straightforward woman from the Midwest (who always drank her coffee strong and black), nothing less than that extra mile will do. She now takes her coffee decaffeinated--she's simply and naturally high-octane enough!

  Elizabeth Logan Sulik was raised the adopted and only child of her parents. While some may feel uncomfortable discussing such a private matter, Liz doesn't flinch. She very openly discusses it head on. "I could be a poster-child for adoption," she states. "I could not comprehend having had more loving parents. I had a wonderful and advantaged childhood." She grew up in St. Peter, Minnesota. Population: 5,000. Both her parents had been raised there. It was the kind of place where everybody knew your name. 

  Having been raised in a scholarly family, her parents instilled in her cultural appreciation and the value of education. From the time she was four years old she took piano lessons and there were hopes of becoming a concert pianist. However, the solitary life of hours spent doing scales on the piano was perhaps too isolating for a woman who needs to reach out and explore her talent with people. In fact, when she told me she was an accomplished pianist, it rather surprised me. Any other kind of performer where there is an interaction with an audience, yes. But a concert pianist? I was eager to learn more!       

  Liz attended Gustavus Adolphus College where her father was an economics professor and her grandfather had been a professor of Greek and Latin. The Logans traveled extensively around the United States and abroad; and through her father's work they lived for two years in Indonesia when Liz was 11 years old. Upon her graduation from college, Liz set her sights on New York. She had been there as young girl with her parents and vowed to someday return. She initially thought it would merely be an exciting year and then she would go back home to Minnesota; but having tasted a bite of the Big Apple, St. Peter seemed a world away. And so, that one carefree year turned into 33, and 31 of those years she has resided in Rockaway! 

  During her early years in New York, Liz worked in the wholesale travel industry. To supplement her income, she taught piano lessons, did accompanying work for professional singers, and she was also a church organist.

  It was while visiting friends in a place called Rockaway, that she discovered the beauty of this beachfront community and vowed, "Oh my god! I have to live here!"

  Not only has she lived here with her husband Joe and three boys, Chris, and twins, Bobby and Greg, she has been an active participant for many years. When her eldest son Chris began to attend P.S. 114, she decided that she would get involved in the Parents Association. It was her entree into civic activism and she hasn't stopped since! She was president of the P.T.A at P.S. 114, P.S. 180, and co-president at Beach Channel High School. During the time that she had her store, The Classy Closet, Liz decided to form the Beach 129 Street Merchant's Association. She created and organized the summer street fairs.

The thread of activism doesn't stop there. She became involved with the 100 Precinct Community Council, the Belle Harbor Property Owner's Association, and she worked on the Neponsit Health Care Center Community Advisory Board. It was not until she befriended Marina Callaghan and worked with her on the American Cancer Society Walk-A-Thon that she became acquainted with bigger fundraising projects. "Marina really took me along and introduced me to special events. Her enthusiasm and dedication was extremely inspiring to me. She introduced me to other ways that I could personally apply the talents that I have and put them to good use." 

Being an extremely creative person, Liz took the experience to the higher power! Each project is a challenge to do better than the last. She created and co-chaired, along with Harold Rochelle, the 100 Precinct Community Council's National Night Out Against Crime firework's display on the boardwalk. She created one of Rockaway's most popular events, the Community Cruise, which has been a successful fundraising event for five years. "There are always people who take you along and provide an entree into different ways we can use our own individual talents. I've been very fortunate enough to have worked with really great people who share a common goal, and that being the betterment of our community," states Liz.

Although she is very straightforward, Liz is also very humble. She finds needless attention on her personally rather uncomfortable. She is a "giver" and one senses uneasiness, even an embarrassment, with self-indulgent accolades. Perhaps it's that mid-western no-nonsense spirit of hers or perhaps there's simple too much work to do. She states, "The satisfaction is in the doing. It has little to do with receiving credit or recognition. For me, it's about setting goals, working with really dedicated people, and seeing a project through to its, hopefully, successful completion. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the inordinate amount of people resources we have here. We have people from all over our community with such rich and varied professional and personal resources!"  

  As the first woman to be elected President of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce since its inception 75 years ago, Liz Sulik is poised and ready to take on the future. With her, she brings a wealth of civic experience and a fresh face to the chamber. "For a long time the chamber had been perceived as being a "do nothing" entity." She ponders the various reasons. "Former Presidents who have served  have always done so in a part time capacity. I suppose I have the luxury of being semi-retired and therefore, I have more personal time to give."

  She is excited about the chamber's presence in the community." We have an inordinate amount of resources right here on the peninsula. We have members and committee chairs who bring to the chamber their varied fields of interests and expertise. One need not be a member of the chamber to get involved and take part in the work of the various committees. I have found that people want to belong to an organization that they see gets results. It's not a "one man" show; but rather a compilation of many people working together toward common goals."

  What's on the horizon? She pauses as if gathering a second wind...and
then, " Do you know, Rockaway isn't even correctly listed on any map published by the city or the state?! This is absurd!" She seems visibly baffled by the notion that we are only shown as a peninsula with absolutely no mention of our beaches, ocean, or boardwalk. "You know where they have us
listed as being located? In Flushing!" So her first order of business is to
change the maps. She states, "how can we effectively attempt to market
Rockaway and attract new business and development and promote our assets as being a waterfront area if we're not even geographically correctly listed on a map?!" She states that we also need more facilities to accommodate visitors. "If a convention comes here or a tour group, I have to send them up to Riis Park. We can't even offer the most simplest of beach amenities like beach chair rentals and concessions."

  Of all her many talents, it is perhaps her work on Special Events that
highlight Rockaway that render her the most personal joy. Whether it be a Night of Dancing on the boards, an Art Show on the boards, the Summer Fun 2001 which will feature activities from the east end to the west, or a series of three Rockaway Fun Books, or three planned Grucci Fireworks displays scheduled for July 4th, National Night Out Against Crime, and then to end the season on Labor Day. All these projects will focus on and promote Rockaway."

  Liz is now in fifth gear as she ecstatically speaks about three new projects which are well underway. "When the chamber sponsored the Viking event at Beach 116 Street on the bay, a light went off in our heads. We took a look around and saw such potential for a park on the bayfront. Right now, when you sail up and down Jamaica Bay, it's not beautiful. We need recreational development. We've been approved for a $200,000 grant from Audrey Pheffer and Serf Maltese through a new program called the Strategic Investment Program. This money will enable us to start to build a park and gazebo on the bay. It will be lit, landscaped, with walkways, benches, and ship's railings. We hope to have a learning center that will have information highlighting our local nature, birds,....and it will be an ideal place for classes of children to visit and it will also be handicapped accessible."
There are even plans to include our local artists who will paint the backs of benches and an area for sculptures and a place for artists to paint our beautiful seascape.

  Through her work on the boards of both the Queens Tourism Board and the Queens Council on the Arts, she has developed two new projects that will surely market Rockaway. She states, "the chamber would like to revive an old magazine from 1938 called, "The Rockaway Revue". She is amazed that with a history as rich and as varied as ours, we don't have an archive. She hopes the magazine will compile the history over the last 75 years. Another book soon to be published and due out in May is "The Best of New York". It's a coffee table book  that will be published through the Queens Council on the Arts. After bringing the publisher down to Rockaway several times, the publisher decided to give about twenty pages that will be entirely devoted to Rockaway. Artist Kate Judge took many of the photographs and it will be a complete pictorial of Rockaway.

  I have often marveled at this woman's energy and enthusiasm; but it's Liz's organizational skills that allow her to reach her goals. She is a natural leader. "My mother was an organizer. I saw how she could put things together. It was very natural for her." About three years ago, while obtaining medical information, Liz found out something about her ancestry and her natural parents. "I knew I was adopted", she states. "I knew I wasn't Swedish or Norwegian like my parents. My friends used to joke that because my skin would tan so dark in the summer, that I might even be American Indian! But I really didn’t know." What Liz did come to know and find out through medical records is that her natural father was Irish and her natural mother was Polish and German! Some gaps were filled and certain things now made sense; like her affinity with the Irish people. "When I first came to New York in 1968, I worked in the wholesale travel business. One of the quirks was, of course, discounted airline tickets. I’d been all over the world as a child with my parents, and then later as an adult; but for some reason, I always longed to return again and again to Ireland." Her selection by the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Committee as its Hon. Deputy Grand Marshal has a deep meaning for her. She is thrilled!

Our meeting at the Beach Club is about to come to an end. Janet Brady is waiting for her and then there is a woman, Victoria Mascetta, who is the publisher of "The Best of New York". Steven Good tells her that she, too, is waiting to talk to her. "Maybe we can have a local book launching here in the spring" she ponders yet another project. "But right now, the next immediate project is the New York’s Bravest and Finest Luncheon." How does she do it, and do it all so well?!

With Liz Sulik at the helm, the possibilities are endless.

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