Ben Fried’s legacy reflected on Bell

Ben Fried sits in the company of his youngest family members, who he would often urge to fight for what they believed in just as he did. Photo courtesy Amy Schombs
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When asked how they would remember the late Ben Fried, several of Bayside’s loudest and most influential voices used some hefty words: legendary, iconic, outspoken, curmudgeon.

Fried, 98, died over the weekend and left behind a long legacy on Bell Boulevard as an activist, volunteer, and businessman in Bayside. And though he may be gone, his son Jack Fried said there are now younger generations of “Ben Fried clones” living up to the big guy’s mission to fight for what they believe in.

Even Jack himself went on to become an active member of his community, serving as a member of Community Board 11 and currently as president of the 111th Precinct’s Community Council.

“There are too many people who sit back when there is a problem and don’t say anything because they think they can’t fight City Hall,” Jack Fried said. “My father used to always say, ‘You can always fight City Hall as long as you have the numbers.”

Ben Fried had two children, Jack and Eileen. His wife Beatrice died three years ago.

Jack Fried said he grew up watching his father run a flourishing business in Bayside, Benn’s Hardware, where neighbors would often drop in to voice their grievances with Ben because they knew he was not afraid to speak up. Benn’s Hardware remained a staple on Bell Boulevard for nearly 70 years, but closed up shop in 2001 so the Flushing native could retire, his son said.

Past and present community leaders of Bayside described Ben Fried as an avid activist for the issues closest to him. Throughout his lifetime, he put his name on different controversial issues such as the fight to keep FDNY Engine Co. 306 open in Bayside in the 1970s.

Former state Sen. Frank Padavan said he remembered the late Fried as an “iconic” guy who would always put his neighborhood’s interests first.

“He was very sincere and very community-minded,” Padavan said. “He loved the community and was very much wrapped up in Bayside.”

Frank Skala, who sits on CB 11 and serves as president of the East Bayside Homeowners Association, has had his hand in Bayside affairs for decades and said he would remember Ben Fried as a good businessman, friend and advocate.

“He was a legend in Bayside and a known curmudgeon,” Skala said. “He would tell you what he thought and didn’t care if you liked it or not. He was a self-made success in the business world and he knew what he was talking about.”

Another Bayside activist, Mandingo Tshaka, described Fried as an icon of northeast Queens and said he had made Bell Boulevard his sanctuary.

“He had himself a good business that had been on Bell since I was a child,” Tshaka said. “He was one of the foundations for activity along the boulevard.”

Just days before he died, Jack Fried said his dad still made sure to pass his message along to his four great-grandchildren, telling them to be leaders in all they did and to never fear to be bashful.

Ian Schombs, one of Ben Fried’s great-grandchildren, has been carrying on the same legacy at the grade school level. When his Long Island elementary school had changed to a different lunch plan, Ian went as far as collecting more than 100 signatures from his classmates to fight for food freedom for him and his friends, his mother Amy Schombs said.

Lessons like that, she said, have made an everlasting impact on generations to come.

“People have a lot to say about what’s going on in the world, but I think my grandpa knew he could not just say it, but do it,” Amy Schombs said. “He was always ready to fight for whatever the latest cause was and he always got it done.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 8:53 pm, March 7, 2013
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