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Retiree says his goodbye after 90 years in Queens

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One of Whitestone’s greatest historians is packing his bags.

Mettler Baran, 90, is moving to Yorktown, Va. at the end of April. Baran’s home on 12th Road is filling with boxes, and he is spending his final days in the neighborhood enjoying the porch view that has dramatically changed since he first saw it more than 80 years ago.

Baran’s 62-year-old daughter, Patricia Komornik, recently retired, deciding to leave her New Hyde Park home and move down South with her husband. The last of his children in the Northeast, she will be joined by Baran on her journey.

“The way I looked at it, I kept the house for the kids,” said Baran. “Now I’m the only one left up here.”

For Baran, the move will mark the end of 90 years in Whitestone.

Born in Whitestone, Baran moved to his current home in 1916 at the age of 5. Back then, the neighborhood was mostly farmland, and traveling by horse and buggy was easier than driving a car.

The son of Ukrainian immigrants, Baran remembers watching “Thurstom the Magician” perform tricks with lions and tigers in Whitestone’s Knab’s Park in the summer, and sledding down the hill on 12th Road in the winter.

“You could sleigh ride from here all the way to Beechhurst,” Baran recalled. “It was quite a ride.”

As he grew older, Baran became a sports fan. He joined the Whitestone Arrows, a club football team that competed against teams from other neighborhoods. The team won the borough championship for its weight class in 1932.

“You’d fight like hell, but at the end of the game you’d shake hands,” Baran recalled.

He described himself and his family as “party people.”

“We did a lot of carousing in those days,” he said.

During Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s, Whitestone was home to a couple of speakeasies. Inside, Baran and his friends would drink ether-laden “needle beers” that were very strong and a friend’s homemade whisky.

“If you could drink that, you were a good man,” he joked.

In 1929, Baran’s father, who worked as a gardener, pulled his son out of Flushing High School at the onset of the Depression and put him in business school. But Baran, disliking office work, soon quit, struggling to find odd jobs in the worst U.S. economy of the 20th century.

“There were a few factories here,” Baran said. “I finally got a $10-a-week job with some pull. You were happy to get anything.”

Finally, in 1935, Baran got work making deliveries of home-heating oil. On the job, he met Helen Nemecek, who two years later agreed to be his wife.

Baran switched companies a year later but stuck with the business, driving an oil truck until he retired in 1976.

“You get to know them after 40 years,” Baran said of his customers. “Customers were like family.”

In recent years, Baran’s large Whitestone family has shrunk gradually.

In 1989, Baran’s wife died.

In 1993 Baran’s brother, William, died, followed by Baran’s sister, Mary, in 1997. Both of them lived within blocks of Baran.

Moreover, Baran’s son, Thomas Barab, moved to Florida, while his daughter, Linda O’Dell, moved to Virginia, leaving Komornik as Baran’s only child in Queens.

After his wife’s death, Baran started a volunteer program at the neighborhood Knights of Columbus, just two blocks from his home. Baran and others pack lunches for the underprivileged and two days a week he travels to Jamaica to distribute the food.

Baran, who still plays golf, plans to volunteer until he leaves for Virginia.

“It’s a good feeling, you know,” he said.

Baran said he is looking forward to once again living with his daughter.

Still, with a grandchild and three great grandchildren living in Beechhurst, Baran said he will miss the community he has called home for the better part of a century.

“After 90 years, it’s a tough move.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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