Riis Settlement names gym in honor of former leader
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 05, 2017 | 298 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The gymnasium at Jacob A. Riis Settlement House at the Queensbridge Houses is now named in honor of former executive director Robert Miner.

Miner, 96, served as the center’s leader from 1960 to 1990. At a plaque unveiling ceremony with residents and board members last Thursday night, Riis Settlement’s current executive director heaped praise on his predecessor.

“He is an inspiration to me,” said Chris Hanway. “He is a kind, warm, nurturing wonderful man. Every time I have seen him, he has offered nothing but encouragement, advice, history and perspective.”

Founded in 1889 by social reformer and muckraking journalist Jacob Riis, the settlement house provides social, educational and health programs today. It mainly served the Lower East Side until 1952, when the social service organization moved all of its activities to Queensbridge Houses.

Miner joined the settlement house as a gym instructor and sports coach in the 1940s. He left briefly from 1943 to 1945 to enlist as a bomber pilot during WWII. When he returned, Miner took on the role of athletics director.

He recalled moving into Queensbridge Houses in 1939 with his mother and brother. Miner said he was among the first tenants to live in the newly constructed public housing development.

As executive director, Miner championed the youth. In the gymnasium, they played basketball, volleyball, dodgeball, badminton and even roller skating. The room also featured a stage, projection booth and two motion picture cameras.

“On the stage, there were plays, variety shows,” he said. “We had a boxing ring in the middle of it. We had quite a team at the time.”

The settlement house also used the gymnasium for dances, community meetings and senior activities.

“I could go on and on and on,” Miner said when reminiscing about his time as executive director.

Hanway said Miner had “an abiding love” for the community, especially young people. His focus on youth programs largely influenced the work of the settlement house today. According to Hanway, nearly 70 percent of their budget goes to youth activities.

“It is the largest bulk of the work that we do,” he said. “We have Bob Miner to thank for that. That history and trajectory is because of Bob.

“Everything that has happened in here is possible to some degree because of Mr. Miner,” Hanway added. “He ran a lot of the programs that to this day, perhaps in a different form or shape, are still continuing.”

Board member Gennaro Crisci recalled meeting Miner in Long Island City. As Italian immigrants, Crisci’s family settled in Queensbridge Houses in 1956.

In 1959, Miner went to an auto shop in Long Island City to have his car fixed. Crisci’s father worked there at the time, and they got into a conversation about World War II.

While Miner served as a bomber pilot, Crisci’s father was on the opposite side, fighting for the Italian army.

“My father was trying to shoot him down and Bob was dropping a bomb on Naples,” Crisci said. “They became good friends. Not only did Bob become good friends with my father, he became good friends with all our family.”

Crisci said he remembered playing basketball and going on trips with the settlement house. He eventually went to Long Island City High School and later college in Colorado, where he met his wife.

Crisci, who owns Armondo’s Restaurant in Jackson Heights, attributed part of his success to Miner’s mentorship.

“Bob told me if you work hard and study hard, you’ll be successful,” he said. “It’s all because of being influenced by a person like Bob, who always tells you to look at people in the right way and always be positive.”

Even today, Crisci said Miner, at 96 years old, still stops by his restaurant on Mondays to help out.

“It’s never too late and you’re never too old, and you can always help people,” he said.

Hanway said looking toward the future, Jacob Riis Settlement House is growing, with a budget of more than $5 million serving eight sites in northwest Queens. That outcome was made possible with the leadership of Miner for three decades, he said.

“Your legacy and service to this community will always be commemorated now,” Hanway said.
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