Western Queens leaders said they remembered Julian Wager, “Mr. Steinway,”as a tireless community activist after the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition’s founder died last week at age 80.
Wager, who was born in 1929, had long been involved in civic activity, spending more than 30 years on Astoria’s Community Board 1 and acting as the president for the Steinway Street Merchants Association. He founded the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition and served as its president for more than three decades.
“He was a champion of Steinway Street,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “The economic success on the strip is due in a large part to his efforts. He was the most activity person in the community for decades. He will be missed.”
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said Wager, who went by the name “Julie,” was responsible for ensuring that Astoria Park had concert series and fireworks each year and that he was known for his forceful personality.
“He was a humble guy with a gruff exterior, which only came out when he fought for the neighborhood,” Vallone said. “No one worked harder for Astoria and took less credit for it.”
Vallone also said Wager’s work with the Central Astoria Local Development Association was “instrumental” to the community’s survival during the economic downturn.
“His work there was one of the reasons Astoria was able to come through the recent recession better than other neighborhoods,” he said.
In 2000, a spinal cord injury left Wager a paraplegic and forced him to use a wheelchair to get around. His friends and fellow community activists did not disclose the cause of his death at age 80 on Jan. 6.
The Astoria Center of Israel held a service for him on Friday that was attended by numerous community leaders.
“The community will miss his passionate spirit,” Democratic district leader Costa Constantinides said.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said Wager was helpful when he and several other borough activists founded the Jackson Heights-based Queens Pride Parade in 1993.
“He was supportive at a time when few other people were,” Dromm said. “That’s how I remember him. He was involved in many progressive issues.”
Wager also served on the board of directors at Astoria’s Variety Boys and Girls Club, acted as the advertising director for the Queens Gazette and participated in the Astoria/Long Island City Kiwanis Club.
“He never took ‘no’ for an answer,” said Peter Vallone Sr., former speaker of the City Council, of Wager’s community activism. “He was Mr. Steinway and Mr. Astoria, a tremendous guy and a close personal friend. A guy like that comes along once in a lifetime.”
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2010 Community News Group
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