Volume 75, Number 8 | July 13- 20, 2005


Joseph Meek, 78, gentle father figure of E. 10th St.

By Bonnie Rosenstock

Joseph Meek died of cardiac arrest on April 21, four days short of his 79th birthday. At his wake on April 28 at R.G. Ortiz Funeral Home, 22 First Ave., and funeral the following day at the Church of St. Emeric, 185 Avenue D, there were no photo-ops for politicians, movie stars or other celebrities, and no write-ups in the dailies. Just his neighbors from E. 10th St. between Second and Third Aves., who turned out in large numbers, to pay their respects and mourn his passing.

Meek was a neighborhood fixture, part of the stoop streetscape, who was respected for his quiet demeanor, kind heart, playful spirit and decency. Little is known about his background, even by his closest friends, prior to his taking up residence more than 40 years ago in Apartment 4M at 106 E. 10th St., one of the two S.R.O.’s on this historic East Village brownstone block. He had lived on a farm somewhere in Maryland, said he had a twin brother who died some years before and served in the Navy at some point — when questioned, he joked it was the Civil War. He lived on a small veteran’s pension.

As for his time in the neighborhood, early on Meek had worked doing maintenance for Chris Montalvo, the building manager for 106 and 110 E. 10th Sts., and at several other buildings in the area until the onset of emphysema. However, through the years, “You always knew when it was spring, because like a sunflower, Joe sat on the sunny side of the street,” recalled Susana Sedgwick, of 118 E. 10th St.

At a memorial service held at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bouwerie on Sat., June 4, neighbors reminisced about the gentle man who embodied his surname. The Montalvo family, who used to reside in apartment 1A, consisting of Abelardo (Chris’s brother) and Esmeraldas, immigrants from Ecuador, and their two children, Jorge and Jennifer, had a particularly close relationship with Meek.

To Mr. and Mrs. Montalvo, he was a dear friend. But to Jennifer and Jorge, Meek was their “third parent,” who helped take care of them from birth. “When we were little, mom couldn’t juggle both of us at the same time” — the siblings are 13 months apart — “so Joe helped her,” recalled Jennifer, 23, who works for a headhunter group. “He would take us to the park. We played cards for hours on the stoop, following the sun. We would move to the other side when the sun moved. When it got cold, we’d go upstairs and rearrange his apartment and hide things because he had lots of toys. We were on an adventure with Joe, it didn’t matter where. He was very important in my life.”

For his college entrance essay to Dartmouth, Jorge wrote about Meek as the most influential person in his life. “The only person I thought of was Joe,” said Jorge, 24, coordinator of corporate partnerships and volunteerism for NYC 2012, the effort to bring the Olympic Games to the city. “I wrote about him at length,” Jorge recounted. “I have a lot of little memories of what I’m very happy to say was a great childhood, and a lot of that was made by him, with these little games and toys, the laughter and the fun and someone who could keep up with us. We miss him.”

Even though the Montalvos moved to a bigger apartment in Brooklyn in 1983 and to a house in the South Bronx in 1994, Meek was always part of family celebrations and holidays here and in Virginia. Mr. Montalvo’s parents moved into Apartment 1A in 1983, but the close-knit family visited several times a week and on Sundays. Meek was always prepared for the kids’ arrival with bags of potato chips, pretzels and toys.

Barbara Bova, from 107 E. 10th St., directly across from number 106, remembers seeing Meek on the stoop playing with the kids every Sunday or telling her about their progress in school over the years. After his grandfather died, Jorge, who went to the High School of Health Professions and Human Services on E. 15th St., would sleep over during the week to keep his grandmother company until he went to college, so he and Meek maintained close ties. (Grandmother Rosa Montalvo, in her 80s, but “universally young,” declares Jorge, still lives there.) However, Jorge adds, “Joe was always there even when we weren’t. He always remembered our birthdays. He was a throwback to the type of person you don’t often see these days. He really cared about everyone.”

Katherine Wolpe, also from 107 E. 10th St., noted that Meek used to watch William and Georgia Delano’s four small children when that family lived at 114 E. 10th St. “He was a bachelor, yet people felt comfortable leaving their kids with him. He inspired trust and responsibility,” she said.

Meek was also generous to grownups. Despite the fact that he didn’t have much money, many of his neighbors received candy at Easter. When Harriet Vidal, of 111 E. 10th St., who often went shopping with Meek, admired a doll, he later went back to the store and bought it for her.

For many, Meek’s passing also symbolizes a disappearing way of life and the upheaval in the neighborhood — evictions by profit-hungry landlords, spiraling rents, condo conversions, monied tenants who don’t share the same sense of community. “His timing was perfect, slipping out when he did,” said Michael Hydock of 107 E. 10th St.

Vidal remembers Meek joking that when he died, he wanted to be put in a large Glad bag and left at the side of the curb, as a fitting way to depart his beloved 10th St. That just didn’t happen. Mr. and Mrs. Montalvo, not rich by any standards, paid for the funeral and laid Meek to rest in their family plot at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx next to Mr. Montalvo’s father and brother Chris. The two remaining plots are reserved for Mr. and Mrs. Montalvo. Family stays together.

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