Rockaway’s Graybeards are known for giving back to the community. At the 17th Annual Graybeards Dinner Dance on Saturday, January 27, they’ll be honoring a man and an organization that have supported Rockaway in their own ways. John Edwards and the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League (RBVL) are this year’s much-deserving honorees.
Each year, the Graybeards hold a dinner dance to raise funds to keep the group doing the work that they’ve been doing for nearly two decades. With funds from last year’s event, the Graybeards had a successful 2017. Stocking the food pantry at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, helping the Rockaway Civic Association build fences for the gardens, and organizing another successful Family Fun Run are just some of the things the charitable group accomplished last year. They also assisted at the Rockaway Special Athletics’ block party, co-sponsored an alcohol and drug awareness program and held a big blood drive in the fall. Members of the Graybeards also went down to Houston to help those hit by Hurricane Harvey back on their feet, others served Thanksgiving dinner at St. Mary’s and some helped set up the Christmas trees in St. Francis de Sales’ Prayer Garden. As if that wasn’t enough, the Graybeards also provided scholarships to two high school students in memory of Chris Lawler and Richie Allen, and sent seven soldiers’ families to Disney World.
The Graybeards do amazing work for the Rockaway community and this year they’ll be honoring some who also share that mission of making Rockaway great. John Edwards, known for his Rockapulco Running series, and the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League, known for keeping locals busy on Wednesday nights with the sport all summer, are this year’s honorees.
Each year, one individual earns the Don “DH” Hart Memorial Award. Hart, a husband, father, USMC veteran, police officer and more, was also member of the Graybeards and exemplified what it meant to be a part of the charitable group. He was known for leading spring spruce ups, helping rebuild a school in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, assisting with putting up decorations at Joe Mure’s Little North Pole, supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, and overall, a man who was always asking, “How can I help?” The Don “DH” Hart Memorial Award goes to those who rise to meet the challenges that Hart answered through their efforts and accomplishments. Recipients are commended for their efforts in Service, Community and Friendship, without expecting anything in return. This year, that award goes to John Edwards.
Edwards long worked in the bakery business, with his own bakery out in Wyandanch, LI, but found himself gaining weight even before being surrounded by baked goods and pastries. “When I was about 25, a guy I used to play baseball with told me he was going to run a road race, and we’d lose weight doing it. So we went and ran this 5-miler and we threw up during the race, but then we decided to keep going. We ran our first Brooklyn half marathon in 1979. When we first started doing it, it was all about the parties afterwards, all about the beer, friends and fun, but running became an addiction. I eventually got into marathoning,” Edwards said about starting his running career. Edwards, who has run 31 marathons, including 24 of the New York City marathons, loved the activity so much that he wanted to share it with the community.
In 1996, he began the CYO track program at St. Francis de Sales and coached young kids. Then in 1999, he began the Thursday Night Rockapulco Summer Series Runs, also known as cookie races. Having the perk of working at a bakery, Edwards would entice youngsters into participating in the weekly runs, by having cookies and other baked goods as rewards. Now, Edwards hosts Rockapulco run events every month, many of which are designed to give runners an event to look forward to each month, provide a social aspect with after parties, and raise money for good causes. One of such runs is the Kevin Kearney Scholarship 5K, which Edwards started to honor his friend, the late Kevin Kearney, and to raise money for scholarships for local kids to attend Catholic schools.
Why did Edwards want to encourage running in the community? “It’s something to do and keep kids busy and it’s good for you. It’s a good habit and the basis of most other sports,” Edwards said.
Although not a member of the Graybeards, Edwards is honored to receive the award. “The Graybeards do good work for the community and this is a great honor,” Edwards said, adding that he’s looking forward to Saturday. “It’s a nice excuse to get my family together,” the father, husband, new grandfather and one of seven siblings, said.
This year’s Special Recognition Award, in honor of Tom Ryan, is going to the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League. Each Wednesday night, hundreds of Rockawayites and others can be found at Riis Park, working up a sweat and having some fun, thanks to the Rockaway Beach Volleyball League. The league started with just 30 players around the mid-1980s thanks to Nancy Gentile and Sue Brown, and Jimmy Mack’s truck. By 2000, the league grew to 19 teams and the torch was passed on to Patty Moule to keep the league going, with the help of Rocky Dorogoff and Joe McGivney. Soon Steve Gifford, Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg and John Sica joined the committee and together, they helped grow the league to more than a thousand players across 74 teams.
Rockaway Beach Volleyball has become the social event of the summer, but the League also helps the community by giving back through holding clinics for children, donating to local charities and providing employment for local teenagers. The League also helped restore the community’s spirit by continuing the league the summer after Hurricane Sandy. For these efforts, the Graybeards have decided to give the League special recognition.
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