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The fairer sex has its day in Bayside

Queens residents packed the Officers’ Club at Fort Totten last weekend for the unveiling of the Bayside Historical Society’s new exhibit honoring 21 women who have made invaluable contributions to the community.

The society, which operates its museum in Fort Totten, introduced “The Women of Bayside” during a Sunday ceremony that included a cappella performances from Bayside High School students. The exhibit, which will be open for about one year, recognizes 13 contemporary and eight past women residents of Bayside for their business ventures, volunteerism or professional accomplishments.

“These are inspirational women who deserve recognition,” said Alison McKay, the exhibit coordinator and Bayside resident.

The display, which features a narrative about each woman as well as photographs, honors Joan Brown Wettingfeld, known as the “First Lady of Bayside” whose father, Joseph H. Brown, founded the society.

“It was done to perfection,” Wettingfeld said of the event. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful display.”

Alongside Wettingfeld, a member of the society’s board of trustees who has lived in the area since she was 9, the exhibit also honors Maria Calegari, who joined the New York City Ballet in 1974 and became its principal dancer in 1983. She retired in 1994 to teach.

Geraldine Spinella, a lifelong Bayside resident who fought to preserve Fort Totten and was the society’s executive director until 2008, was also chosen to be in the exhibit.

Other honorees include state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) and Lois Christie, who owns the successful Christie & Co. Salon Spa at the Bay Terrace Shopping Center.

“Lois went from having a small shop on Bell Boulevard to Bay Terrace, where they see more than 250 clients a day,” McKay said. “It’s really amazing.”

Judith Limpert, vice president and branch manager of Alma Bank in Bayside, is part of the display, as is Loretta Young Napier, a fifth-generation Baysider who was an executive member of Community Board 11.

Ellen Louise Shulman Baker is another woman featured in the exhibit. The daughter of former Borough President Claire Shulman, also an honoree, Baker is a physician and NASA astronaut who has logged over 686 hours in space.

Bayside Historical Society President Carol Marian is featured, as is Betsy Pilling, owner of Pilling Real Estate on Bell Boulevard.

Honoree May Robson, who died in 1942, was known as the “Dowager Queen of American Stage and Screen” for her acting work in dozens of films in the 1930s and as a playwright. Mae Faggs Starr, who died in 2000, won the gold medal in the 4x100-meter relay during the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki and is another woman from the community singled out in the exhibit.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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