2014-06-06 / Community

Jacob Riis Remembered

By Dan Guarino


Immaculate Conception School‘s Aquinas Honor Society students came to Rockaway to honor Jacob Riis. Immaculate Conception School‘s Aquinas Honor Society students came to Rockaway to honor Jacob Riis. Aquinas Honor Society students from the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates came to Rockaway to pay tribute to a special person.

Jacob Riis, whom Riis Park is named after, was one of America’s most celebrated reformers. A journalist, author, public speaker and photographer, in the late 1800’s his body of work carved out a unique and lasting legacy in many fields. His lifelong friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, held Riis in very high esteem, once calling him “the most useful citizen of New York.”

“I have not only admired and respected him beyond measure,” Roosevelt once said, “but I have loved him dearly.”

The Aquinas Honor Society at Immaculate Conception is comprised of students who have garnered high academic achievements. While working on a project with the Richmond Hill Historical Society, they learned about the inspirational work of Jacob Riis. Riis and his family called Richmond Hill home for nearly three decades.


Students, along with Richmond Hill Historical Society members and National Park Rangers lay a wreath at the bust of Jacob Riis at Bay 9 in Riis Park. Students, along with Richmond Hill Historical Society members and National Park Rangers lay a wreath at the bust of Jacob Riis at Bay 9 in Riis Park. In the course of their research, the students came across century old newspaper articles detailing Riis’ hu- manitarian efforts on behalf of the poor and voiceless of New York.

Ten years ago, the group selected Riis as their Historic Patron.

In dedication to his memory, they also decided to replace a long lost bust of Riis that originally stood in the park that bears his name.

Along with teacher and advisor Carl Ballenas, they raised funds and engaged a sculptor, Brooklyn’s David Ostrow, to create a new bust. The statue was installed in a special ceremony at Bay 9 in Riis Park on April 17, 2010. Although the bust was hit by the full force of the storm, it survived Hurricane Sandy.

This year, 2014, marked the 100th anniversary of Jacob Riis’ death on May 26, 1914.

To commemorate this anniversary the Aquinas Society students came to Riis Park to see the bust and held a brief service of remembrance for their historical hero.

The Richmond Hill Historical Society joined them and together they placed a floral wreath at the base of the bust.

They also received the support of the Friends of Maple Grove Cemetery. Riis’ first wife Elizabeth and some of their children are buried at Maple Grove in Richmond Hill.

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Jacob Riis was also a man who

Jacob Riis was also a man who didn't like immigrants. He thought that the were dirty and contagious with disease. That is why there are bath houses


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