Back in 2004, students at Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates paid tribute to noteworthy individuals buried at Maple Grove. With the help of Linda Mayo Perez, former president of Maple Grove, “Celebrating the Living Spirit” was born. In 2005 the name was changed.
“I wanted the youth of today to meet the challenges of the future by remembering the roots of the past, and sought to bring it to the entire community,” said teacher Carl Ballenas.
Russell Pfalzer, who has 26 family members buried at Maple Grove, spoke in front of his family plot with his son Kyle alongside a large collection of photos of family members.
“My family’s history is rooted in Queens County, and only the last generation moved east on Long Island,” Pfalzer said. “They were three generations of farmers and German immigrants. My grandfather grew up on a farm in Woodhaven. My great-grandfather was the last to farm in Queens on a Forest Hills farm that bordered the LIRR. He was a tenant farmer who lost everything in The Great Depression.
“They are part of the history of Queens County,” Pfalzer added. “They weren’t famous like the Van Sicklen’s or the Wyckoff’s, but made a living, raised kids, and did their best during hard times, and that should be remembered.”
James Laws Hutton was born on a farm in 1847 in Ohio and came to New York City to earn his fortune. He died at age 38, but taught his sons about the stock market. In 1904, Edward, who was only 29 years old, and his younger brother Franklyn started the American Stock Brokerage firm called E. F. Hutton & Company in San Francisco.
William Yepsen is one of 27 servicemen on the Kew Gardens WWII Memorial plaque. Yepsen enlisted on October 24, 1942, and took part in the Battle of the Bulge.
“I became a casualty and was 32 years old,” said the actor portraying him. “I was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.”
Jane Heath is buried in the cemetery with her distinguished husband, Henry Roswell Heath. She was a direct descendant of Roger Williams, founder of the colony of Rhode Island in 1636.
Henry was born in 1845 in Massachusetts and served in the Civil War. He was wounded at Ball’s Bluff and taken prisoner. In 1862, he was paroled by the Confederacy.
“For the rest of his life, Henry would tell friends and family that upon returning to Washington he was the first prisoner to shake hands with President Lincoln,” said the actress portraying his wife.
Architect James E. Ware was famous for devising tenements for the poor, as well as the first luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan. He created New York’s first armory, the world’s first fireproof warehouse, and his Osborne Apartments were the forerunner of the modern skyscraper. Its lobby is said to be the finest in all of the City of New York.
“My own parish was the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, which I also designed,” said the actor portraying him. “In the 1870s and 1880s, my payment for designing the buildings here at Maple Grove was $100 for a plot of 12 for me and my family.”
Born in Newtown, Queens, Mary Ann Burkhardt’s ancestor Thomas Lawrence landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1635. Lawrence eventually moved to Long Island, and was one of the founding families of Hempstead and Flushing.
Private Richard Smith, who lived on Metropolitan Avenue and was a Richmond Hill High School graduate, joined the Naval Air Force in 1942, but was honorably discharged in 1943. He enlisted again and joined the U.S Army. In 1944, he fought in Europe.
“I gave the ultimate sacrifice and died in battle in Germany,” explained the actor playing Smith. “At the intersection of Kew Gardens, where Lefferts Boulevard, Grenfell Street, 83rd Avenue and Audley Street meet, a memorial plaque was erected by Kew Gardens Post 1374. It honors the 27 who gave their lives during WWII.”
Other notable figures who “came to life” during the event included Ralph Rawdon, Walter Roth, Emily Huber, Adam Dove, and Virginia Smith.,
“Spirits Alive has become a popular community event, and we are delighted to continue this annual tradition,” Ballenas said. “I have written hundreds of scripts over the years, and I am already working on scripts for next year.”