2012-04-13 / Community

Rockaway Community Remembers Mal Bodenlos

By Debbie Fleury

Mal “Mr. Baseball” Bodenlos pictured with his family. Mal “Mr. Baseball” Bodenlos pictured with his family. The Rockaway generation of the ’50s remembers Mal Bodenlos, a man who was well known for his devotion and dedication to the youth; as director of the Police Athletic League (PAL) center in Far Rockaway, and as coach in the Pop Warner Football League (1954- 1979).

Bodenlos was born in 1914. He attended Far Rockaway High School and later studied at Pace University for two years, where he even worked as a reporter for The Wave.

During the Great Depression in the 1930s, he worked in the Postal Service. Then in 1938, he married Marie Gunther, also from Rockaway. And he joined the Navy during World War II, and played an active role in the Normandy invasion.

With the incredible history of work that was to follow, Bodenlos was far from being done. From 1954 to 1979 he worked closely with his friend Frank Favilla, serving as coach in the Pop Warner League.

He ran many sports programs in basketball, baseball, boxing, football, as well as girls softball.

He broke gender boundaries by initiating “Girls’ Day,” in which the girls in the community could actively participate in sports.

When asked why he started the idea, Bodenlos explained that he had four daughters, so he needed to, “take care of the girls.” Bodenlos was progressive in his methods of teaching and leadership. And he continued to be so when he incorporated his philosophies in mentoring the boys under his tutelage. He set a precedent for having standards and meeting them with true dedication and hard work in carrying out his thoughts and ideas, called “Malisms.” “Any job worth doing is worth doing well,” Bodenlos believed.

He encouraged the efforts of others, while for him there was no such thing as cutting corners.

Expectations were not always about the outcome, but about performing to the best of one’s capabilities.

Another important value Bodenlos instilled in others was his belief in equality for all.

As said by many of his “boys,” one’s ethnicity or race, religion and nationality was never considered a disadvantage for anyone to play on his team. Everyone had a responsibility, and all players were expected to get along. “Never judge a person by what is on the outside,” he said – judge a person by what comes out of his or her heart.

After his passing, many of Bodenlos’ boys have expressed their memories of him over the years.

They remember Bodenlos as being a great man who simply cared, even for those who may not have received the care and commitment that should have come from their own parents.

When he showed up at the ballfield in his station wagon, filled to the brim with sports equipment, everyone crowded around him as if he were a rock star.

Les Koenig, one of his pupils, recalled Bodenlos as the man that “saved them” – and got them back to being productive. “His end was an end of an era,” one of his boys said. “Mal from PAL” dedicated 25 years to the youth of the Rockaway community.

It’s been 33 years since his retirement, and so many are still speaking about their best memories at PAL and their incredible experiences with Bodenlos.

But there is also much credit to be shared with Mrs. Bodenlos, because she was so involved with PAL as well. Whenever Bodenlos was running late from his postal job, she would open the PAL center in his place.

She chaperoned trips and helped her husband organize all the team uniforms.

And she even served as his secretary. After Bodenlos was laid to rest he had a plaque dedicated to him at a park on Seagirt Boulevard.

However, as a result of the reconstruction of the park, his memorial plaque had to be moved.

Tyler Mcleete, the resident engineer, led an effort to help preserve it – and the plaque has been relocated to a new place chosen by Bodenlos’ family – behind the basketball courts facing the ocean that he loved so much.

Others who helped make the movement of the memorial plaque possible were consultant site engineer Trevor Saksa and NYC Department of Parks Administrator Jill Weber.

All fundraising arrangements are credited to Alan Schneier, who organized the original dedication ceremony. Bodenlos was survived by his wife Marie and their five children.

In the months before his death, Bodenlos had expressed to his daughter, Joan, that he was too old and that no one would remember him. But everyone remembered him.

All of his boys had honored him through their email exchanges and their kind words and actions. And the Bodenlos family is continuously grateful about the response.

A rededication of the plaque honoring Bodenlos is being planned by his family on May 22 at 12:00 noon at the park on Seagirt Boulevard and Beach 11 Street. All who wish to come are welcome.

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