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Woodside breaks ground on doughboy renovations

On a pedestal in Doughboy Park stands a World War I soldier cast in bronze, his rifle butt resting on the floor in front of him, its upwardly pointed shaft obscured by the helmet dangling in his hands.

Should anyone question the soldier’s purpose, his presence is justified in three words etched onto the pedestal below: “Lest we forget.”

The people of Woodside have not forgotten. Every Memorial Day since the statue was dedicated in 1923, they have gathered beneath the doughboy’s solemn gaze to commemorate the sacrifice of local veterans, 10 of whom were killed in the first world war.

This year’s annual memorial service was followed by a second service, more celebratory in tone, as community leaders broke ground for a $200,000 renovation of the stone square in Doughboy Park.

“We want people to remember, we want people to be aware of their history and culture,” said Henry Stern, the city parks commissioner. “There’s more to life than television.”

Doughboy Park covers a 1.7-acre slope that rises steeply from Woodside Boulevard to the fenced-in playground of PS 11. A thick grove of overgrown shrubbery separates Doughboy from the adjacent Windmuller Park, a more festive play area whose modern play equipment and handball court attract a steady crowd of neighborhood children.

Doughboy is the reflective counterpart to Windmuller, the statue setting a solemn tone on a hill where the only distractions come from children gleefully coasting on their scooters along the steep macadam pathways.

The renovations will be concentrated on the stone plaza surrounding the statue. The Parks Department plans to rebuild the aging green benches set alongside the plaza, add fences to the memorial area and beautify the space by planting shrubs and trees. The plaza pavement will be engraved with a list of major battles and campaigns from World War I, along with a compass symbolizing the four winds.

The project has been financed by City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), who recalled his long history of collaborating with Stern to build and renovate the neighborhood parks.

“He has been a marvelous builder, and I have been a fairly generous financier,” McCaffrey said of Stern.

In his prayer at the end of the veterans’ ceremony, Monsignor D. Joseph Finnerty described the renovated park as “an oasis and haven for people, a place of peace and reflection.”

American soldiers of the World War I were originally dubbed doughboys by their British counterparts, who found the Americans’ large round buttons to be reminiscent of a biscuit of the same name.

Known as the Woodside Doughboy, the statue is one of five bronze doughboys standing in each of the boroughs to commemorate the veterans of World War I.

The renovations were scheduled to begin in early summer and should last about four months, according to Parks Chief of Staff JoAnne Amagrande-Savarese.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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