Paying Tribute To Rego Park Descendant Marion Legler

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The Voice of Marion Legler Comes Alive at the Centennial

Marion Legler on right with daughter Karen Schoenfeld & a sample of Marion’s uncirculated 1920s Rego Park collection, Photo by Michael Perlman

This year marks the centennial of Rego Park, founded in 1923 by the Rego (Real Good) Construction Company. Marion Thone Legler, one of Rego Park’s earliest residents and a direct descendant of a co-founder, passed away on July 3 at age 90. Legler, born on July 16, 1932, was the granddaughter of Joseph F. Thone (1870 – 1955), a builder and founding member.

This columnist felt honored to have a Rego Park tour and video interview in May 2016 with Legler, as well as meet in September 2022 at the New Hyde Park Library to digitize part of her collection (over 70) of Rego Park’s earliest photos in existence, commissioned by the firm’s founders. At both meetings, she reflected upon her early life, and why it is a “REal GOod” community. She was the kindest and friendliest, and always had a story to share. 

“She was proud that she inherited the photos of the construction of the town, and that she could contribute to help preserve its history,” said daughter Karen Schoenfeld, who referred to her mother as “a strong woman of faith.” 

A letter was written by Legler to her daughters, and requested to be opened upon her death. She wrote: “My life on this earth has been so fulfilling… I was born to do the will of our Lord, I realized that when I was blessed with four wonderful daughters. This was my mission and I must have done it well. Thank you, God. Now your mission is to continue to spread that Word and love to your children, which I confidently leave this world knowing you will all succeed and the Good News will live on forever. You will all realize someday, if you have not already, that life here is short and really has only one purpose, to do the Will of God, and someday we will all be reunited in God’s Kingdom.”  

Legler was honored with a “Celebration of Life” service on July 21. “The church was packed with her loved ones, including her 4 daughters, their husbands, her 11 grandchildren and 2 of her great-grandchildren. It was so comforting to see how many people joined us to celebrate her, and to know how many lives were touched by mom’s loving and caring heart,” said Schoenfeld.   

Back in 1923, Rego Construction Company acquired farmland in Forest Hills West and named “Rego Park” after their advertising slogan, “REal GOod Homes.” The typical story encompasses founders who immigrated from Germany; president Henry L. Schloh and secretary and treasurer Charles I. Hausmann, but Thone’s influence is a largely untold piece of the puzzle.   

In December 2021, Legler began writing a memoir, which was completed months prior to passing away. At the library meeting, she said, “All chapters are about my life and my friends and family. I am writing it for my four daughters and their children. It will contain pictures and life stories. I want them to have it in print for future references.” 

An excerpt reads, “Where I grew up was mostly private homes. In fact, my grandfather with Rego Construction Co. built the house. All the houses from my house all the way to 63rd Drive were built at the same time. Many young families bought these homes. Therefore, there were a lot of young kids. We never lacked someone to play with.” 

Legler’s rare photo collection, which has been passed onto her daughters, features a transition from farmland to a residential community in its first decade, the faces behind Rego Park and its earliest residents, the paving of roads, a trolley line along Queens Boulevard, the first shops, the Rego Park Community Club, P.S. 139, the ribbon-cutting of the 63rd Drive railroad station, and a unique look inside an elegantly appointed house. “I am very honored that my father passed my grandfather’s precious photos on to me,” said Legler. “They have many memories of wonderful years of the early history of Rego Park. A museum containing information regarding Rego Park and Forest Hills would be invaluable to so many families.” 

Many panoramic photos document the development of 525 eight-room single-family “Rego Homes,” railroad style Colonial frame houses with enclosed porches between 63rd Drive and Eliot Avenue along Saunders, Booth, Wetherole, and Austin Streets, which sold for an approximate $7,500. The collection follows with the development of the firm’s earliest (and largely intact) apartment houses along Saunders Street, which 70 families each called home; the Tudor-style Remo Hall (1927), and the Spanish Mission-style Jupiter Court (1927) and Marion Court (1929), designed by Constantinople native Benjamin Braunstein. Legler believes that she was named after the latter building situated on Marion Avenue (now 63rd Avenue), stemming from her grandfather’s interest in the name.   

Family members pay tribute to Marion Legler

Legler has a rich family timeline in Rego Park. At a past interview, she reminisced, “It began with my grandfather and grandmother, Joseph F. Thone and Dorothea Thone. Their home was on 63-35 Bourton Street. Then my parents, William (America native) and Anne Thone (Norway native), my sister Dorothy, my brother Donald and myself. We lived at 61-30 Booth Street. Also, my uncle Joseph H. Thone, his wife Peggy and their children Russell and Carol lived at 62-87 Booth Street. My uncle Walter Thone lived on Bourton Street.”  

Legler was grateful for fond memories with her grandparents. “I spent many days at their home. It was so beautiful. My grandmother always made me feel loved. She had two cats and a parrot that spoke English and German. I actually lived with them for nine months when my grandmother was very sick and my mother took care of her. I loved her dearly. After she died, we moved back into our home on Booth Street.”  

Original Rego Park houses were known as railroad room homes; straight through from the front porch to the living room, dining room and kitchen. She said, “The kitchen was quite large. Off the kitchen was the pantry with the ice box, pantry closet and back door. The ice man would deliver ice and put it in the top compartment. Thank goodness that kept everything cold. Dugan’s and Krug’s were the bread people. In the beginning, they came on a horse and buggy. Upstairs was three bedrooms and a bathroom. Another essential was a coal chute in the basement, since there was no gas heat.”  

She continued, “We were lucky, as my grandfather built a staircase to the attic where there was usually a closet. My sister and brother and I slept up there during the 1939 World’s Fair, so my parents could take in tourists for extra money. Things were tough in those days.”  

Legler embraced solid family values. “Everybody had to be at the table. If you were late for dinner, you were in big trouble. Before we would leave the table, we would say, ‘takk for maten’ (thank you for the food).” Sunday dinner was after church at 1 PM and consisted of mostly roast beef and sometimes turkey. She said, “The vegetables… you ate them.  Most were creamed and were German or Norwegian style. Mom always made dessert; custard bread pudding, homemade pie, pineapple rice pudding from Norway, and Brown Betty.”   

Rego Park’s heyday featured diverse clubs. “Rego Park Community Club was on Jupiter Avenue (62nd Road) and Wetherole Street, where I had my wedding reception,” said Legler. In 1928, her uncle Joseph H. Thone became president of the newly founded Rego Park Tennis Club which operated on Saunders Street and 62nd Road, and around 1929, became secretary of the new Men’s Club of Lutheran Church of Our Saviour. 

Legler recalls traveling mostly by bus or trolley, and then came the railroad and eventually the subway in 1936. “I don’t know what my mom paid when we rode the trolley, but when I was old enough to ride the bus and subway, it was 5 cents.”   

Rego Park was a neighborly small town. “We kind of chased Good Humor off the block,” said Legler, since a community fixture was “Buddy, the Bungalow Bar man.” She reminisced, “If you had a party, everybody was there. We would get home from school and drop our books, go outside, and play. We had great times playing handball, stickball, diamond ball, running bases, Ringolevio, tag football, and stoop ball. Our parents all sat on the stoop until the street lights went on. At night, always hide and seek. We used to sleigh ride down 63rd Avenue and never had to worry about cars because there were very few. On Queens Boulevard, there were outdoor barbecue places, and we would be entertained for free.” Off the north side of Queens Boulevard were swamps (now apartment buildings), Lost Battalion Hall, Boulevard Tavern entertainment venue, Fairyland amusement park, Howard Johnson’s, White Castle. Queens Roller Rink was another draw.  

The Trylon Theatre, Drake Theatre, and the Elmwood were quite an attraction for five cents on a typical weekend. She said, “We always saw two movies, newsreels, and cartoons. You had to sit in the children’s section and a matron would walk back and forth with her flashlight to make sure you behaved.” She saw mostly war films, but remembers many “Lassie” movies. She found “The Purple Heart” (1944) to be very moving. “Occasionally, there was a contest between the films, such as a Duncan yo-yo contest,” she continued. 

She recalled her favorite shops. “On 63rd Drive, I loved Woolworth and across was McCrory’s. On Queens Boulevard between Eliot Avenue and 62nd, my dad owned a hardware store, which operated until ca.1939. I loved going there, since there were always fun things to see. He gave me my first roller skates; Kingston skates that came in a can.” Employment was sometimes a challenge, such as when her father gave up his hardware store during the Great Depression.

Legler was a graduate of P.S. 139, erected in 1929. She recalled, “We went from Kindergarten through 8th grade. They taught arithmetic, the sciences, English… grammar, and penmanship. In the upper grades, the boys took shop and the girls took home ed, which was learning how to cook, making beds; how to be a housewife and a mother. Children went home for lunch.” 

Victory gardening was prevalent during WWII and P.S. 139 participated. “We grew carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, and celery. We would bring money and buy what was called stamps, which was like a savings account. You learned how to cook in school, how to grow food outside, and how to save your money at the same time.”

Legler operated a key punch machine for General Motors. She said, “In 1950, my salary was $33 a week, and that was before they took everything out. We had food stamps, but they were good years, where families worked together.” That same year, she graduated from Forest Hills High School and remained in Rego Park until her marriage in 1956 at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, which was followed by a reception at the Rego Park Community Club.   

Legler was a computer programmer. In June 2022, she said, “I am retired and spend as much time as I can with my children and grandchildren. Time is precious. Camping has always been a large part of our family’s time. I have done it with my girls since they were little, so today we have a trailer in the Poconos. This is my haven.”

When Legler turned 90 on July 16, 2022, her family threw her a party at her granddaughter Courtney’s home. She said, “They did not surprise me this time about the party, but surprised me with who was invited. There were many good old friends and family members. Also, they hired a Mister Softee ice cream truck, my favorite.” Her neighbor, who lived next door on Booth St, turned 90 in August 2021. Legler said,” I attended her celebration and she was at mine this year. I don’t know what they plan for my 100th, so I’ll try to stick around.” She will indeed live on in spirit. 

Embracing preservation, Legler said, “I am so proud to know that my grandfather played an important part in the development of Rego Park. Try your best to keep it preserved for future generations. Many good people gave much time and thought into what they prayed would be a ‘Real Good’ place for families to live for generations to come. Only those who are here now can be a part of that prayer. It is in your hands. Don’t let those good people down.” 

Marion Legler at the 1929 Marion Court with this columnist, May 2016 photo courtesy of Linda & Sol Perlman

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