The Beginning and the End 3-4-13

I was one of the few, if any one, to be at that strange final game (Section I Basketball game, where MV lost at the buzzer) in 1961 and the one yesterday. I am sure there were some other Mount Vernon people who may have seen both, but I know of no one. Other then Mike Ansbro, Alan Rosenberg and Jim Finch, who I have seen at some of the games a few years ago, my generation has been long missing from not only Mount Vernon basketball, but Mount Vernon in general. It is no one’s fault, just a symptom of our time, the end of formerly enduring communities and the restless nature of Americans. Even twenty years ago, no one from our time was ever around.

Mount Vernon, like many other “bagel” suburbs, has gone through many “ups and downs” over the years. In 1945, my mother, who was a very sophisticated New Yorker, was born and bred in Manhattan, and wanted to move to Westchester. Her great friend, from their Bohemian days in Greenwich Village and who had subsequently moved to Scarsdale, advised her not to move to Mount Vernon, because it was on the decline. My parents had actually put a down payment on a very nice house off Fenimore Road in Scarsdale.

But, as things happen, my father was advised by his lawyer, Sam Miller, a partner of Scribner, Miller, where Tom Dewy had worked as a newly minted lawyer, that there was a wonderful house at the end of Prospect Avenue. It was a stone’s throw from his beautiful Tudor, “Fair Oaks,” which was located on Lorraine Avenue, right near the New Haven RR Station. (A few years late in 1948, Sam Miller wanted to sell that terrific house to my father. He told my father he was promised a job as an Assistant AG in the Justice Department when Tom Dewey was elected. My father warned him to keep his day job!)

So my father paid $41,000 for a big, old, red brick house, with six bedrooms, an outdoor porch and an upstairs billiard room. There was plenty of room for a live-in cook and housekeeper. Unfortunately, he made that decision without my mother, who from that time onward, regretted living in Mount Vernon. Personally, I loved Mount Vernon, my father could have cared less and my sister despised the city, had no real friends after Junior High School, and ran away forever. (She lives with her very rich husband in a townhouse in Belgravia, London, a large home on Nantucket Island, and has never looked back. She even went from adoring FDR to becoming a Republican!) My mother resigned herself to her fate, made many friends, was involved in UJA and AJ Congress politics, worked, on and off, in Manhattan and Westchester, painted and played world level bridge.

As it happened, I was one of the last of my “class” and background to hang around Mount Vernon. Even though we moved in 1965, I was still anchored to the area because of the “Draft,” and my decision to apply for the US Air Force’s Officer Candidate School. Because of my draft status, I couldn’t get a real job and I therefore worked as a permanent substitute at MVHS until my Air Force OCS class opened. During that period of time, I met my future wife, Linda Rosen, who was student teaching at MVHS. She had graduated Barnard College, and was finishing her Masters in Education at Columbia Teacher’s College.

To make a long story shorter, after I was married, I still kept my “hand-in” with regards to Mount Vernon sports. Even though I was running a business in Manhattan, keeping active in local White Plains politics, taking care of a house and home, by the time my second child came along, my activities, regarding Mount Vernon had peaked and started to decline severely.

By the late 1970s, most of what we knew about Mount Vernon had changed. The fight over integration in the schools, busing, the draft problems emanating from the demands of the Vietnam War, the resulting drug trafficking, the constant bomb scares at the high school and the “white flight” started to take its toll. Most of the teachers left the school system and many of the families, who could afford to move, got out.

As the years went on, I still paid attention to my home town. Some of the parents of my friends still lived there and I followed the teams and their progress. In 1993, with the death of my classmate and friend Jon Breen, I started the Jon Breen Fund and began a long relationship with MVHS. Recently, I also spent more than a year advising the City on issues regarding zoning, alternate energy, jobs and industrial development. All that effort came to naught. The leadership in Mount Vernon is, and has been, a total disaster for decades. Aside from the long decline of 4th Avenue as a shopping area, the failure of its schools, the crime, the mess at Memorial Field, the deterioration of the library and the complete erosion of its infrastructure, the worst aspect of the city is the incompetent, narrow and criminal nature of its government. The conflicts of interest, the payoffs, the investigations, the decline in its police force and the poor services are rife. It seems to have no end. Every decade or so, the City finds a new level to descend to.

Mount Vernon’s last gasp seems to have been its basketball program. Was this excruciating loss just a “bump” in the road, or a foreshadowing of the future? Bob Cimmino has been the heart and soul of this program and he has overcome an unlimited amount of obstacles. It will be interesting to see if their futures continue to be intertwined. I wouldn’t be shocked, if an opportunity came along that looked appealing, he would take it.

My guess is that when our generation disappears, the nostalgia about Mount Vernon as a wonderful place to grow up will fade quickly and the reality of the mean streets will take over completely. The new memories will be much different then ours, and as the poet has said, “Nothing lasts forever.”

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About admin

A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

3 thoughts on “The Beginning and the End 3-4-13

  1. I was drawn to your article by an internet search for “Fair Oaks”. I wanted to know more about the history of the property. I came across it in a real estate listing, as the house is in serious disrepair and is currently for sale.
    Although it is too big for a family of 2 plus a couple of dogs and possibly in-laws, the pictures I’ve seen online show architectural detail one seldom see these days. I am at once excited, intrigued and experiencing a fair amount of trepidation.

    I’ve read about the integration issue, “white flight” and “bright flight” issue. We have driven through several neighborhoods in the city where blight is seemingly a continuing facade. Mount Vernon now has one of the highest tax rates of municipalities in county.

    Weighing all, my wife and I continue to look at this community as a potential place to call home. Of course, we hope that Mount Vernon has sunk to its depths and is poised for a rebound.

    I suppose this parallels our draw to Fair Oaks. We walked the property last week, peeked in windows, talked to neighbors. It would be a pity to see such a grand home fall victim to squatters, become a drug den or worse, befall the [wrecking] ball.

    If we choose Mount Vernon over neighboring New Rochelle or other communities we will bring a spirit of community renewal – let’s just say “it’s how we roll”. We may be only two voices and two voices, but change has to start somewhere.

    • i answered on my site- I can talk to you chapter and verse about MV and I know and incredible amount about that city. It is not due for a rebound in the foreseeable future. As for the property, the O’Hara’s who lived up the block on Lorraine, bought the house about 1955 when their 2nd son, JP was born. Bill O’Hara Sr, was a great guy and I wrote a bio of him on this site. You can check it at Memories of an Unusual Man or O’Hara. I knew him until his death in 2002 and was friendly with his son Billy Jr until a few years ago. I went to the funerals of both of his parents. The home was a great house and I was in it countless times. I met many of the NY Football Giants there. he was the lawyer for the Giants and a close friend of their owner Wellington Mara. The best buy is White Plains. RJG

  2. The house was bought in 1955 or 56 by William J. O’Hara, who was on the old Westchester County Board of Supervisors. There is a bio of him on my blog, just look for Memories of an Unusual Man, or O’Hara. He had four children, and the Oldest Bill Jr, was my buddy for many, many years. It was a great house, and they moved in the late 60s I believe. I have zero clue who owned it after that time- rjg

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