“Everything is mental. If you feel good in your head, you feel good,” Ronnie McCarthy said in the kitchen of her Breezy Point home. With a mind as sharp as her sewing needles, you’d never guess the woman who leads Breezy’s weekly arts and crafts program is turning 96 in February.
Many may know McCarthy from her involvement in the weekly Breezy Point Arts and Crafts group at St. Thomas More Hall. And many more know her as a longtime familiar face in the Point. She moved to Breezy Point with her late husband, John, in 1957, at a time where milk, eggs and butter were still delivered by the milkman. “We first lived here during the summers on Gotham Walk. My husband loved the beach and saw an opportunity to build a home from scratch. The great thing was that they broke ground on August 1 and we were here by All Saints Day, November 1,” she recalled. Coming from the Laurelton area of Queens, she suddenly found herself in a beach community, despite not being a fan of the beach. “My husband was a beach fan, but I like the country. I had to get used to the sand,” she said, but she chose to make her family happy. “We had come down to visit another couple in Rockaway and we spent a summer there, but never knew about Breezy being just down the road. He met a friend there and we went to visit for a day and the kids went crazy over the beach. I had to take care of my children.” McCarthy and her husband, an NYPD Inspector, raised eight kids in Breezy Point, four of which still live there. She also says she has 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. To them, she’s “Nana.”
A woman of strong faith, it wasn’t long before McCarthy found the church. “The first place I went to when I moved down here was church,” she said. As one of the only groups in the church, McCarthy joined the Rosary Society. “They have meetings and fundraisers to supply the altar with things that they might need,” she explained. “It was the only activity around and the only place I knew was the church. We had Rosary Society on Thursday nights. I think most of the women were glad to get out instead of talking baby talk. It was very active and as soon as you joined you became a chairlady. They were so anxious to have new blood.” In 1974, McCarthy started a new project within the church. “A new girl came in and asked if we knew how to knit and crochet and she said she didn’t, so we said we’ll gladly teach you,” and with that, and the permission of the priest at the time, Father Sexton, the Arts and Crafts program began.
A notice about the new group was put in the local church bulletin. “We started with 10 people who were interested in sewing, knitting and crocheting and it grew from there. It’s the best bunch of women,” she said. “We started teaching basic crochet and knitting and started the famous hangar that would bend up and we put tassles on it. One of the women said to a boy that it would be a good gift for his mother and he said, ‘What is it?’ She said, ‘A duster.’ He looked at her and said ‘My mother doesn’t dust,’” McCarthy recalled with a chuckle. The group also started making baby blankets, afghans and “one of our favorites is the clothespin bag, or a bag to keep plastic bags in. It keeps the house tidier,” she said. “Now we make draft stoppers, socks, pet beds and more.”
The tightknit group currently stands at about 15 members, give or take. “Some go to Florida and leave,” McCarthy said. She sang praises of many of her students. “One of my star pupils is Mary Bosch from Roxbury. She wanted to learn to crochet and she picked up on it very quickly. She’s progressed so much and she goes to the Internet to get patterns. She follows instructions very well and now she’s our pom pom maker,” she said. She also noted some Rockaway members, Helen Boyle and Jane McDade, who are “very faithful and good workers.” Then there’s Joyce Lee. “She’s so clever. We call her the lady with the golden hands. She can crochet animals,” she said. And they even have some spring chickens in the group. “We have two new members, who are between 65 and 70. They’re our youngsters. They have so much energy, it’s wonderful,” McCarthy said. “We’re all different, but we all have the same desire to make something.”
The group gets together on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the St. Thomas More Hall. Twice a year, usually around Christmas and sometime in the summer when more residents are around, the group shows off their hard work at a sale. All of the proceeds go back to the church.
Bringing arts and crafts to Breezy isn’t McCarthy’s only contribution to the community. Prior to taking on the important role of a mother, McCarthy had worked a short time as a nurse. Raising eight kids took priority and she became a stay at home mom, but in the ‘70s, McCarthy was given an opportunity to pursue a Bachelors of Science. A class assignment would later lead to the development of Breezy Point’s Medical Center. “We had an assignment to develop a community health center because the teacher couldn’t believe that we didn’t have one in Breezy. It started as a class project, but along the way, we decided that we should try to get it really going. I was given a lot of responsibility because I was the only one that didn’t work. It was a big undertaking,” she said. But the women were able to get the building built and the doctors to fill the space. The medical center opened in the early 80s. “There’s a small plaque in a dark hallway with our names on it. I think we should have a lighted sign outside,” McCarthy joked.
Also in the ‘70s, McCarthy helped to start social gatherings to bring together the communities of Rockaway Point and Breezy Point. “There was no cohesion,” she said. So she helped start International Night, a party in which everyone was assigned a country and represented each country with decorations, costumes and cuisine. “International night is the thing that brought everyone together. It took a lot of work and planning, but it worked,” she said.
At 95, McCarthy says crocheting keeps her busy. She also has a mahjong group that she meets with weekly. McCarthy says the secret to living long is eating well. “Don’t skip meals,” she said. She also says, “Don't lose you faith and don't lose your hope. Keep Happy.”
Living in Breezy also helps. “I’m very happy living here. I have great neighbors and a great pastor. It’s easy living.”
For more information about the weekly Arts and Crafts program, contact Ronnie at 718 474 5365. All are welcome.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS