Olga Bloom — and Women’s Contributions to Brooklyn

By Dennis Holt

If one were fanciful enough and had a sense of the melodramatic and had been down around Bargemusic on Thanksgiving, one could have heard a violin playing somewhere. It would have been a joyful tune, played surely by Olga Bloom on her way to the Great Music Hall in the sky.

Olga’s passing was no surprise to people who knew her — her illness was known by friends — but her physical departure was as mournful as her physical arrival was joyful a long time ago.

Most people giggled at the thought of a floating music hall, but over time the giggling turned to applause and respect. And if there were a Brooklyn Hall of Fame, she would be there along with her winsome smile.

Her death got me to thinking of other women who made major contributions to Brooklyn at a time when there weren’t that many positive contributions. Before mostly good news started coming out of Brooklyn, these were women leaders who made a difference, and Brooklyn is a much better place because of them.

Tupper Thomas, longtime queen of Prospect Park, is obviously one of them. She came to run the park when most of the park was in disrepair and an embarrassment. She stepped down just a few months ago, having left Prospect Park as one of the most attractive and civil parks in the country.

She had to first stop the decay, then she had to clean it up and then she had to shame the city for underfunding and then she started passing the hat in Brooklyn and elsewhere.

For one who remembers what the place was like 30 years ago, the difference in today’s splendor is simply astonishing.

While Thomas was striving to right so many wrongs, Judith Zuk next door was trying to make a garden grow at the Botanic Garden. On a smaller scale, her task was just as arduous and full of doubts as Thomas’. The fact that the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is considered more of a gem than the one in the Bronx is largely Zuk’s achievement, and also benefits from a smaller scale. Her death has also been mourned by many.

Up in Crown Heights, Carol Enseki took over the nation’s first children’s museum and realized that much had to be done and much money raised. Those who have followed her work realize that much has been done and much has been money both raised and spent.

The museum’s current and added structures bear no resemblance to the ramshackle place she inherited. She retired recently because what she felt she had to do was done.

The then-borough president, Howard Golden, realized that the creation of a new Downtown Brooklyn would take a long time, and maybe there could be some pleasant diversions along the way. The Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn was set up, and Nanette Raionne was chosen to raise money from the private sector and to establish new entertainment and cultural venues.

That she did, making the Prospect Park Bandshell an entertainment site during the summer and the Rotunda Gallery a gallery year round. Brooklyn Cable Access TV started under her watch. The fund has become BRIC, which has launched its own crusades.

In the category of Hall of Famers, the late Eileen Dugan deserves a place. As assemblyperson, she started a new political process in many of the brownstone communities that made these neighborhoods among the most politically progressive in Brooklyn, if not the whole city.

She was a classic old-fashioned Irish pol, and they don’t make them like that anymore.

It is only fitting that I tell a story about Dugan and Bargemusic. As those who have been on the barge know, it rolls with the swell of the tides, sometimes dramatically so. Events of all kinds are held all the time on the barge, and Dugan was invited to many of them. She always got seasick whenever she was on the barge and always arranged to appear early.

One time the barge was really pitching and Dugan was in distress. She had no aide with her and passed a note to me imploring me to help get her off the boat and up the gangplank.

I, of course, obliged and as we got on to the landing, she turned and made sure I wouldn’t tell anyone. A demand by Dugan was always honored, but in honor of Olga, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind this time, and I’m sure her brother Brendan won’t mind.

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Filed under Brooklyn Broadside, Brooklyn People, Editorial

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