Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert
Local American Legion members Tony Mero, left, and Danny Vitanza spoke at the Caring Community last Friday.
Center honors its vets, but must surrender its home
By Albert Amateau
“We may not look young, but we’re still young at heart,” said the woman serving lunch at The Caring Community’s senior center at First Presbyterian Church last Friday at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.
More than 50 men and women raised their voices to sing “God Bless America” at the start of a special Memorial Day program honoring senior center members who served in the armed forces going back as far as the Korean War and World War II.
Tony Mero, adjutant, and Danny Vitanza, first vice commander of the American Legion Washington Square Post No. 1222, dropped by the center at First Presbyterian to read the honor roll of 19 veterans, including two women.
“Hey, you went to P.S. 3,” Mero said with surprise after he read the name of Anthony Ruggiero.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Ruggiero, 79, replied. “I’ve lived in the Village all my life.” Ruggiero said later, “I was born on Thompson and Spring.”
Regarding his Army service during 1951 and 1952, Ruggiero recalled he was about to ship out with the guys he trained with in Camp Polk, La., when his arm swelled up from the shots he had taken for overseas service. By the time Ruggiero recovered and had a new course of inoculations, his unit had gone to Korea.
“Around 45 percent of them were wounded or killed. I ended up in England,” he recalled. “I guess I was lucky.”
Judy Faust became an Army nurse in 1952 during the Korean War.
“I had two brothers there already, so they sent me to Germany,” she said. “An infection broke out in France among children in 1954 and they asked for volunteers so I went,” she recalled. Faust served until 1966 and retired with the rank of captain.
Mel Posin was an infantry private in the Third Army under General George Patton from 1944 to 1946.
“We went all the way to the Elbe River and met the Russians… . I was 18, a kid,” he recalled. Still vivid is his memory is the sight of crowds of emaciated survivors of the concentration camps. Posin, a retired toy wholesaler whose office was at 200 Fifth Ave., was most proud of his three grandchildren, who all graduated from college.
Edward Nunez was born in the Village and went to P.S. 3. He served in the Army during 1947 and 1948.
“We were occupation constabulary,” he said, recalling his service in Vienna and Salzburg, Austria.
There was an underlying air of anxiety at the center on Friday; everyone was conscious that the center in the spacious quarters at First Presbyterian Church, on Fifth Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts., is scheduled to close at the end of June, partly because of city Department for the Aging funding cuts.
Members of the center have been told they would be able to go to the senior center at 20 Washington Square North, where The Caring Community also has its executive office.
“We’re not happy about it,” said Bill Barnes, who served in the Marines in the mid-1950s. “I guess some of us will go to the center at Our Lady of Pompei. But both those Caring Community senior centers are full. There will probably be two or three seatings for lunch at Washington Square North,” Barnes anticipated.
“It’s a damn shame,” said Rita Posin, Mel Posin’s wife. “You can see how close we are. This is like breaking up a family,” she said of the First Presbyterian center.
Penny Johnson, a member of the center for 10 years, said she thought the closing was partly attributable to The Caring Community’s own funding problems. Johnson said she was trying to organize a separate nonprofit senior center that would find a home in First Presbyterian Church.
Victoria Stewart, a member of the center’s board of directors, said she wished the center at First Presbyterian could remain open beyond the June 30 closing date, “but it doesn’t seem likely.”