Forest Hills’ Renaissance Man Samuel Picker Remembered

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Samuel Picker Square Spruced Up by Volunteer Patricia Perle Malley

The Picker Humanitarian Spirit Going Strong For Generations

Step into Samuel Picker Square, a small forested setting at 69th Avenue and Burns Street in Forest Hills, which features a stone memorial, a plaque, and a sign. This convenient rest stop is around the corner from the iconic Forest Hills Stadium and the Tudor apartment assemblage, Chatwick Gardens, but what is most remarkable is the historic humanitarian spirit behind it.

 

Situated alongside the LIRR fence in an obscure and overlooked spot is a stone bearing an inscription: “This Sitting Area is Dedicated to the Memory of Samuel Picker; Outstanding American Community Leader and Dedicated Legionnaire; 1921 – 1981; Forest Hills Post 630 The American Legion.” It also features the names of past Borough President Donald R. Manes and past Councilman Arthur J. Katzman. A dedication ceremony was held in 1983. 

 

Samuel Picker wore several hats, mostly throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and always had the community and greater public at heart. They included Queens County American Legion Commander, Governor of District 20-K Lions International, Queens Cancer Crusade committee member, and president of the National American Legion Press Association. He served as Grand Marshal of the American Legion County Parade in Ridgewood in June 1971, which began with exercises at the War Memorial on Myrtle Avenue, and surpassed expectations with 15,000 guests. 

 

He also served as president of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and a member of the board of directors for thirteen years. This organization offered philanthropic gift guide dogs and rehab to qualified blind applicants, where masters and guide dogs were trained at the Foundation’s center in Smithtown. In June 1972, Brooklyn Borough President Sebastian Leone proclaimed the month as “Second Sight Month” on the foundation’s behalf, and a copy of the proclamation was presented to Picker. 

Victory Reception of the 1973 Queens Cancer Crusade, Past Commanders Frank Coffey & James Reid with Samuel Picker, Glendale Register

Picker owned one of the earliest extant Forest Hills shops, Continental Hardware at 102-01 Metropolitan Avenue, and was also a consultant and buyer. As of 1976, he was a Queens County Grand Jurors Association member. The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce has been going strong since 1977, and much gratitude is owed to its founder and first president, Picker. 

 

In a December 1968 edition of The Leader-Observer, as Lions Club President, Picker said, “The Club’s immediate project for the month of December is to collect funds for the Salvation Army Christmas Drive. Our anticipated goal for this year is $500.” For the 50th Annual Cancer Crusade, Picker was among the volunteers who mobilized an educational and business canvass program, and Ridgewood Savings Bank and Borough Hall were local sites that raised a crusade flag. In 1978, Lieutenant Governor-elect Mario Cuomo presented him with the Henry G. Wenzel Medal of the American Cancer Society at the Biltmore Hotel dinner dance. 

    

At 61, he passed away from prostate cancer. Nearly 43 years later, his memory is being resurrected, thanks to his family and friends. One friend that holds fond memories is James Civita, whose father Benny Civita was the founder and president of Friends of The Legion in the 1980s.  “Samuel Picker was a really nice man. He did a lot for Vietnam vets. When they came back, he helped them find jobs. Our families knew one another, and they came to many gatherings at our house years back.”  

 

Pat Conley, 1st Vice Commander of American Legion Continental Post 1424 said, “Monuments and plaques are always important, since sometimes people forget. It’s inspiring for other residents to step up and do some of the great things that Samuel Picker did for our community.”  

When longtime volunteer Patricia Perle Malley sees a challenge, she dedicates her heart to maintain and beautify Samuel Picker Square. She has called Forest Hills home since 1967 and has been an Auxiliary member of the American Legion since 2017.

 

Over a week ago, she not only took it upon herself to discard trash, but purchased colorful primroses and planted them around Picker’s stone memorial. This adds to her volunteer initiatives in the square since the late 1980s. “Volunteering is a community affair. What inspired me was the idea of how Samuel Picker was a dedicated leader in our community. I simply picked primroses, since they are hearty flowers,” said Malley, who believes it is also essential to recognize older individuals who once sat in the square, including many of her friends’ parents.

 

Malley is one of numerous residents who embraces the ambiance. “It’s a place to read and watch the lovely birds under the trees, especially in the summer when they are full and shady.” In the near future, she plans to polish the tarnished bronze plaque, which is obscurely installed in the pavement behind benches, perpendicular to the stone marker. It reads, “This park is dedicated to the people of Forest Hills; 1972. He plants trees to benefit another generation …Cicero…” 

 

Cicero was a famed Roman statesman, who quoted Celtic Roman poet Caecilius Statius (220 BC – 167 BC). The plaque also bears the names of past MTA Chairman William J. Ronan and past State of New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, alongside 10 other key individuals who made the park possible, including William A. Shea, the influential lawyer who brought National League baseball back to New York City with the New York Mets. “Samuel Picker Square was all dirt before the LIRR created a substation,” Malley reminisced.  

 

The Picker family once owned and lived above Continental Hardware, including his son, 68-year-old Alvin Picker, who resides in Buchanan, New York with his wife Dorene Picker and 12-year-old daughter Helen Samantha Picker. 

 

After his father passed away, he ran the shop with his brother Arthur and sister Anne, before his mother sold it. “It was well-known in the community, and we owned it for nearly 40 years,” said Picker. Today, he continues to work in sales and as a buyer, but in the Bronx at F&F Supply (est. 1941), which features warehouses and a showroom, and revolves around building maintenance supplies. “We take our client’s orders, and pack and deliver them daily on our seven trucks citywide and to Long Island,” he said. 

 

Picker remembers a humbler time. “Working at Continental Hardware as a young guy, we would go to Manhattan once a week, and load up our station wagon with supplies. Many hardware suppliers were on Delancey Street and Ludlow Street, before it got ritzy. Back then, we would be closed on Sundays, and always go out for a Sunday ride to eat. We could take a ride to Atlantic City before the casinos, and just walk the boardwalk.”   

 

“One memory that comes to mind instantly for Al was how his father collected thousands of glasses for those in need at his hardware store,” said Dorene Picker. 

 

“The Lions Club did lots of things for charity. I still remember him collecting glasses and having bags and boxes that were donated to people who couldn’t see. A big achievement in his life was also his involvement with the Guide Dog Foundation,” said Alvin Picker. “He was Commander of the Queens County American Legion, which did tremendous community service.”

Revolutionary War reenactment, Helen Samantha Picker alongside members of the 5th NY Regiment, October 2023, Courtesy of Dorene Picker

 

Alvin Picker is proud of his father as a veteran. “My father was in the Korean War and was a tech sergeant. I remember seeing his uniform in the closet. He was a great patriot!” Tradition was alive. “I always remember getting dressed up on Memorial Day, and my father would wear his triangular American Legion cap. We would line up in MacDonald Park, march, show our pride in America, and remember the fallen.” 

 

When asked what led up to his father’s achievements, he replied, “He was just so community-minded and wanted to do good things with his life besides having a business and a family. He wanted to give back. ‘If everyone gave a little bit, we’d all be stronger’ was his motivation. At the time, Forest Hills was affluent and people were educated, and everyone seemed to have prospered.” Furthermore, Picker recalled, “He was a very strong advocate in trying to get young people into the workforce to improve their lives.”   

 

Picker will always remember his father as very kind. “He taught me to be respectful to everyone, work hard, and have a nice family. I am most grateful for my two loving parents who brought me up the right way and got me an education through college.” Humanitarian values have been preserved. “My father could make a speech, fill a room, and bring people together. My wife does community service for the church and my daughter does afterschool activities,” he said.

Alvin Picker & his daughter Helen Samantha Picker, 2023 Harry Chapin Memorial Run Against Hunger, Courtesy of Dorene Picker

 

Picker attended the Samuel Picker Square dedication ceremony, which was held a couple of years after his father passed away. “I remember many dignitaries and friends. It was very emotional, and I am very proud to see that his name will be there forever.” He continued, “When you talk about so many years ago, most people don’t know what he did for the community. His name will always be remembered in Forest Hills, maybe not for a person in today’s world, but for seeing Forest Hills grow and be strong.”   

 

Alvin Picker and his wife expressed great pride in volunteerism, which keeps Samuel Picker’s memory alive. “It is a fantastic gesture for Patricia Perle Malley and others to volunteer at not only my father’s square, but any area that people may want to look at. It’s part of your community, and you should be proud,” he said. 

 

Their daughter Helen’s middle name, Samantha, honors her grandfather, and her first name retains the memory of his mother, Helen. She teams up with her father to participate in the Harry Chapin Memorial Run Against Hunger fundraiser in Croton-on-Hudson, as well as the annual Support-A-Walk for Breast and Ovarian Cancer, which took place last October in FDR State Park in Yorktown Heights. She also dressed up and participated in Revolutionary War reenactments. “The memories Al shares about his father revolve around similar pursuits, so it is nice to think that his spirit, sense of community, and altruism continue to live on in Samuel’s granddaughter, Helen,” said Dorene. 

 

Shortly, Alvin and Dorene are planning to visit Samuel Picker Square and Continental Hardware among nearby sites to share their family history with their daughter. “I feel it is important for her, even though she never met my father. She knows his accomplishments and that he’s part of me, but seeing the memorial stone, for example, will bring her closer to him. It’s nice to learn about people who were in your life and preserve a legacy.”

 

Since Picker has no photos of his father, he is hopeful that the public can help, in addition to providing photos of the Samuel Picker Square dedication ceremony by emailing mperlman@queensledger.com. “Maybe we can hit a home run with somebody who’s still around in Forest Hills,” he said. 

Samuel Picker Square sign alongside Chatwick Gardens, Photo by Michael Perlman

Samuel Picker Square sign alongside Chatwick Gardens, Photo by Michael Perlman




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