Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

Young students wore flowers in their hair at the dedication of the new F.D.R. Children’s Garden.

A tree grows on Avenue D, thanks to Eleanor and P.S. 34 pre-K class

By Cathy Jedruczek

Students in pre-K 105 at P.S. 34, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt School, hosted a garden party last Friday to rededicate a tree that Eleanor Roosevelt planted in 1956. Wendy Roosevelt, the great-great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, attended the ceremony. She had not previously known of the tree and why her great-great-grandmother, who lived in Manhattan after her husband died, planted it, but she was “thrilled and honored” to be part of the celebration.

“It is important to look around in your community and see that something has a need,” Roosevelt said at the event. “For you to have done that and the fact that you really made a difference here is impressive and so amazing. Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt both lived their lives trying to do that very thing, and I think that by supporting the tree and rejuvenating the garden you’ve helped to support their legacy and their work.”

The lot, now a mini-garden in the school’s backyard, bears no resemblance of its former self. As recently as March, it was filled with construction equipment and all sorts of junk surrounding the tree. Dory Bergman, a pre-K teacher at the school, at E. 12th St. and Avenue D, decided to use the lot for her project. But she knew she would need help to turn it around.

“I wanted to do the project, but I also didn’t know if we could do it alone,” explained Bergman. “At about the same time, Ellen LeCompte came from the East Village Conservancy. She had a grant and wanted to put together a Trees and Me project and she needed the first project.”

So in the beginning of May, construction workers who were fixing the school’s roof removed their equipment and Trees and Me brought students from the private Dalton school on the Upper East Side to turn the soil as part of their community service project. The project was underway with pre-K students cleaning, digging in the dirt, laying down the path and planting flowers. Bergman thought her students needed to participate in such a project because they had “a nature deficit.” They were afraid of touching dirt and trees and they didn’t have experience with planting something and then caring for it, she said.

“They saw the time it took for the plants to grow; they held worms in their hands and we let butterflies go in the garden — we raised them in our classroom,” said Bergman. “They learned a lot about nature.”

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt planted the tree before she became involved in the Democratic reform movement in the late 1950s and early ’60s in Greenwich Village. Roosevelt supported the Village Independent Democrats who challenged Carmine De Sapio for the district leadership. De Sapio, a Democratic district leader in Greenwich Village for 22 years, was the head of Tammany Hall and a leader of the Democratic Party in New York. V.I.D. accused De Sapio of running an undemocratic operation and went on to win the 1961 election. Ed Gold, who was the president of V.I.D. that year, said that the election made national news partly because Eleanor Roosevelt was involved and because “she was such a powerful figure in the party.”

“Eleanor Rooselvelt was a strong supporter of our efforts to defeat [De Sapio],” Gold said. “She campaigned and organized fundraisers. V.I.D. beat De Sapio three more times before he was out of the picture.”

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