Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Remembering Samuel J. Picker, A Local Renaissance Man

By Michael Perlman

Deputy Queens VP Robert Groh receives award for meritorious service from outgoing Commander Samuel Picker of Queens County American Legion as new commander Murray Adamo looks on in center, July 1971 Glendale Register
Samuel Picker Square stone dedication, Photo by Michael Perlman
Enter Samuel Picker Square, a small forested setting at 69th Avenue and Burns Street in Forest Hills, marked by a sign and a stone. It is a convenient rest stop around the corner from Forest Hills Stadium and Chatwick Gardens apartment complex. Situated alongside the fence in an obscure and often 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 then bears the names of elected officials Borough President Donald R. Manes and Councilman Arthur J. Katzman. 

Samuel Picker Square, Photo by Michael Perlman
Nearly 37 years after Forest Hills resident Samuel J. Picker, a Renaissance man, passed away, his memory is being resurrected, thanks to his family and friends. He wore several hats, mostly throughout the 1960s and 1970s, consistently fulfilling his humanitarian spirit. 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, surpassed expectations with 15,000 guests. He also served as President of the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which offered philanthropic gift guide dogs and rehab to qualified blind applicants, where masters and guide dogs were dually trained at the Foundation’s center in Smithtown.

Picker was the owner of the longtime Continental Hardware at 102-01 Metropolitan Avenue, as well as a consultant and buyer. As of 1976, he was a Queens County Grand Jurors Association member, and in 1977, he became Founder and first President of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce.

In a December 1968 edition of The Leader-Observer, as Lions Club President, he 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. 

Victory Reception of the 1973 Queens Cancer Crusade, Past Commanders Frank Coffey & James Reid  with Samuel Picker, Glendale Register
At 61, he passed away to prostate cancer. One friend that remembers him is Jimmy 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.” 

The Picker family once owned and lived above Continental Hardware including his son, 62-year-old Alvin Picker, who currently resides in Buchanan, New York with his wife Dorene and a daughter Helen, named after his mother. After his father passed away, he ran the shop with his brother and sister 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, but in the Bronx.

Picker remembers a more humble time. “Working in the store 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 and 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.”

“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 Picker. “He was Commander of the Queens County American Legion, which did a tremendous community service.”

Picker was 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 said, “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.”

He will always remember him 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 to an extent. His father was “more open,” whereas his son is “more closed.” “He 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.”

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 being strong.”

A similar version was published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column: www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27607023/article-Remembering-the-life---times-of-Samuel-Picker  

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