Flower wall remembers locals who died from COVID
by Benjamin Fang
Oct 20, 2020 | 2462 views | 0 0 comments | 92 92 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gail Grabowski and Dorothy Stepnowska from the Glendale Chamber of Commerce stand by the memorial.
Gail Grabowski and Dorothy Stepnowska from the Glendale Chamber of Commerce stand by the memorial.
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Local elected officials and community leaders attended the unveiling of the flower wall memorial.
Local elected officials and community leaders attended the unveiling of the flower wall memorial.
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Brian Walter, right, spoke about his father’s connection to Middle Village during the ceremony.
Brian Walter, right, spoke about his father’s connection to Middle Village during the ceremony.
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Katerina Veleska puts up a picture of her father, Zlatko Veleski, in the COVID-19 memorial.
Katerina Veleska puts up a picture of her father, Zlatko Veleski, in the COVID-19 memorial.
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Hattress Barbour III points to the quote he created for the memorial.
Hattress Barbour III points to the quote he created for the memorial.
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Underneath the bridge overpass near Fresh Pond Road and Myrtle Avenue, residents and business owners have created a COVID-19 memorial made of paper flowers and lights in honor of locals who have died from the virus.

In addition to colorful paper flowers adorning the wall, the memorial features a quote from a Harlem-based poet that reads, “If the world is a stage, and we all wear masks, let love be the final act,” in gold lettering.

On Friday, community leaders, elected officials and the Glendale Chamber of Commerce unveiled the display and encouraged families who lost loved ones to pin their photos on the memorial.

Dorothy Stepnowska, president of the Glendale Chamber and owner of Secret Garden Flower Shop Arts & Crafts on Myrtle Avenue, said she created the memorial because she thought it would be good for the community. Though she did not personally lose a loved one to COVID-19, she said she wanted the memorial to bring people together.

“I want people to be able to have a place where they could come and let out their emotions,” she said. “I just feel like if it brings them some kind of closure, that’s the most important thing to me.”

Stepnowska, a florist by trade who recently sold a local coffee shop in December, said she still sees a lot of people not caring about the virus. Some don’t believe that people are actually dying from the pandemic, she said.

“We live in times right now when we all need love, kindness and compassion,” she said.

After coming up with the idea for this project, Stepnowska called up Hattress Barbour II, a Harlem-based poet who attended open mics that she used to host at her coffee shop. She asked him to come up with a quote for the flower memorial, which he agreed to do.

“He has a very amazing way of putting words in poems,” she said. “It just caught my eye.”

Barbour, who lost an uncle to COVID-19 and has several friends who were infected but survived, said he has written a few poems that indirectly referenced the times we are living in today. He just published a book of poems called “If Ever We Were.”

“I’m a kid from Harlem, I never thought that my words would be used as an agent of showing love or change,” he said. “I’m just humbled by this experience.”

Among the attendees at the unveiling ceremony on Friday were State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Councilman Robert Holden and members of Community Board 5.

Brian Walter from Middle Village pinned a photo of his later father, John Walter, to the memorial. His father passed away in May due to COVID-19. He was 80 years old.

Walter said his father was born in Middle Village in September 1939 and never left the neighborhood. Last year, Addabbo even gave him a proclamation for having lived in the same ZIP code his entire life.

One of his father’s earliest adventures, Walter said, was moving from one side of Metropolitan Avenue to the other.

“Middle Village was, in many ways, the perfect place for my dad,” he said. “It was close to his beloved Mets, but more importantly, it was where his family, his grandchildren and all of his memories were.”

Walter’s father still has the same ZIP code, as his final resting place is in Lutheran Cemetery.

Katerina Veleska put up a photo of her late father, Zlatko Veleski, who died in April at 53 years old.

Veleski was a cleaner and maintenance worker for the Cushman & Wakefield office in Manhattan. Before that, he worked at the Twin Towers and survived the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Veleska said her father was a hard worker, at one point working three jobs just to make sure his family had everything they needed.

“He would help anybody with anything,” she said. “He had that kind of heart and soul.”

His death was especially hard for Veleska’s mother because it happened just two days before their 32nd anniversary.

“My dad had so much life left,” she said. “He was just starting.”

Veleska said she felt like life picked up and went back to normal without memorializing the lives that were lost during the pandemic. She said she hopes other cities create a similar memorial for their local residents.

“It’s so beautiful to actually see something,” Veleska said, “especially in the neighborhood that I grew up in and that my dad spent most of his life in.”

Veleska noted that she walks by the bridge overpass everyday on her way to work. In fact, her dad used to take her to work every morning because he didn’t want her walking by herself.

Everytime she walks by the flower wall, she will get a chance to see his picture.

“I know he’s been there with me this whole time,” she said, “but now I’m really going to feel like he’s there with me.”
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