2010-10-15 / Community

Broad Channel Resident Channels Roosevelt

Dan Guarino as Teddy Roosevelt at Spirits Alive! event. Dan Guarino as Teddy Roosevelt at Spirits Alive! event. Broad Channel resident and Rockaway Artists Alliance vice president Dan Guarino “volunteered for the part of a lifetime” in bringing to life President Theodore Roosevelt at the Friends of Maple Grove Cemetery’s Spirits Alive! walking tour event.

On Saturday, October 9, he and some 20 other volunteer actors, spread throughout the tranquil, park-like grounds, to portray the notable individuals, both well-known and humble, who are buried in the historic Kew Gardens cemetery.

Guarino, who is also a photographer, writer and musician/singer, was thrilled to engage visitors as they wound their way through the oldest part of the grounds and stopped at the various designated gravesites. (Guarino and his wife Liz Guarino are also authors of Images of America: Broad Channel.)

As Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President, Rough Rider, naturalist, author, NYC Police Commissioner, former New York Governor, social reformer and political crusader, he spoke movingly about his dear longtime friends Jacob and Elizabeth Riis.

Elizabeth Riis is buried in Maple Grove. A small lamb marks her tombstone.

He spoke to as many as 20 to 30 visitors at a time and also answered their questions.

Jacob Riis, who emigrated from Denmark in 1872, became a news reporter, photographer and America’s first photojournalist.

He also became an ardent advocate for New York City’s poor. His first book, “How The Other Half Lives,” still available at the public library, stirred many to action in the cause of social justice.

Jacob Riis Park, on the far western end of the Rockaways, was named to honor him.

Bringing things full circle, Theodore Roosevelt is credited with establishing the National Park system, of which Fort Tilden, where the Rockaway Artists Alliance has its galleries, is now a part.

Notable also at the annual Spirits Alive! was Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who played Stephanie Grebe, wife of radio pioneer Alfred Grebe.

Carl Ballenas, along with Carol Lacks, Andrew Koslosky, Lucille Feder, Mandy Gor and Bonnie Dixon, organized the event and wrote many of the actors’ scripts.

Ballenas, a teacher, along with the students of the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School, was instrumental in raising funds to commission a new bust of Jacob Riis which was recently installed in the Rockaway park that bears his name.

The installation ceremony for the new bust was held at the park last summer.

“It was quite an experience,” Dan Guarino said. “It really does make history come alive.”

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