Ed Wendell and his wife Josephine are self-described lifers. They have lived in Woodhaven for almost their entire lives, and they have made the neighborhood and its rich history their life’s work.
The two of them are a familiar sight at monthly Woodhaven Residents Block Association meetings, and Wendell has held numerous top positions in the influential civic, including president.
But for much of his life, Wendell had no direct civic involvement.
At one point, he and his wife had become so distressed with what they saw as the lack of a Woodhaven community that they made preparations to leave for upstate New York.
Wendell, then a web developer, attended a WRBA meeting on a whim to get content for his site, and suddenly his life in Queens began to change.
He and his wife began meeting residents, running into them on the street, chatting in the supermarket, and they started to find the community they had been searching for.
“It took us just a few months, but we realized we had been living in that small town we had always wanted,” Wendell said.
The Wendells gave up on moving, but Ed kept a map of upstate New York. He hung it in his room for 10 years.
“I kept it there just to remind myself how close we came to making a mistake,” he said. “Sometimes happiness is right in front of you, you just have to open your eyes.”
Today, Wendell splits his time between the WRBA and the Woodhaven Historical Society, where he combs through historical documents, looking for interesting tidbits of long-forgotten history. Josephine is the group’s treasurer.
Growing up, Wendell, who has Scottish heritage, lived next door to Germans only a few decades after the end of the World War II. Now a wide range of Latin American countries are represented by Woodhaven’s population, while in past decades immigrants from across Europe lived side-by-side.
“Woodhaven has always been a working-class melting pot, and we have always pulled together in tough times,” he said.
When Hurricane Sandy hit, Woodhaven was virtually untouched, while only a few miles south the communities of southern Queens had been laid to waste.
The WRBA created a communication channel with struggling families in the Rockaways and delivered 1,400 bags of sorted clothing within the first 10 days of the disaster.
The effort reminded Wendell and his wife why they had chosen to stay in Woodhaven.
“We got down there the day after,” Wendell said. “I was incredibly proud of us, of my community.”