For decades, Betty Pegen dedicated her life to making sure the people of College Point remembered what Conrad Poppenhusen did for their community.
On Saturday, the neighborhood came out to make sure the legacy of the “Gardening Angel of Poppenhusen Monument Park” would be noticed by every person who visited the block. The corner of College Place and 12th Avenue was officially renamed in honor of the German immigrant who died two years ago at the age of 95 and dozens of her fellow gardeners and community activists turned out to mark the dedication.
Susan Brustmann, director of the Poppenhusen Institute, the 140-year-old College Point cultural institute, said Pegen’s volunteerism helped to brighten the community and implore others to be active as well.
“I was immediately impressed with her dedication to this memorial of Conrad Poppenhusen,” she said.
Born in 1912 in Lohram Main, Germany, Pegen moved to College Point at the age of 22 after she married her husband, Franc. She was taken in by the granite bust of Poppenhusen, the benefactor of College Point, a block from her house on College Point Boulevard and when she saw the garden surrounding the memorial was becoming neglected, she took action.
In the early 1960s she gathered neighbors and formed a special gardening group that removed weeds, planted new flowers and removed trash.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he remembered how Pegen would always lend her green thumb to other areas in the neighborhood, including Municipal Park, the Poppenhusen Library and the garden at the First Presbyterian Church.
“Wherever there was a green spot on the face of the earth that could be beautified, she was there,” he said.
Even in her senior years, community leaders said, Pegen did not let up in her care for the Poppenhusen memorial. Brustmann recalled an instance when the caretaker took a garden hose from her house, went down the block and watered the flowers and plants.
Former City Councilman Tony Avella, who introduced the bill last year to officially rename the street, said the street sign above would continue to inspire future neighborhood custodians of all ages.
“The name will be up there and kids will be able to go there and remember what she did,” he said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2010 Community News Group
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