“Local Boy Hit By Cab Today, Suffers Possible Concussion” read the headline that day. The nine-year old boy, Walter Steffens, Jr., was a carrier delivering the Leader to neighbors on his modest route. He had been on his way to the Leader office when he was struck down by a taxi cab.
“It was where Bohack used to be, where Dee & Dee is now,” Steffens explained to me last week. “In those days, you got a number from the Leader and that determined when you picked up your copies of the paper. I was going across the street to the Leader to get my number.
“When I was halfway across the street a car pulled out of a parking space and I jumped back to avoid it, right in front of a taxi!” he added.
After Steffens was hit, passersby stuffed him in a potato sack because he was frightened and trying to run away. That led witnesses to believe the injuries were far worse than they actually were.
The Leader identified the driver as George Bell of 177th Street in Jamaica, who Steffens describes as a really good guy.
“He came to the hospital,” he recalled. “He brought me candy and cookies.”
“Walter is a good boy,” his mom told the Leader in the original article. “He never runs across the street like that. That is, he never has before.”
Walter Steffens is a good boy who grew up to be a good man. Most Woodhaven residents know him through his association with Emanuel Church, where he manages the building.
But his involvement with the church goes much deeper. Not only has Steffens been a lifetime parishioner at Emanuel, he was the very first baby baptized in the church in 1939 after it was rebuilt. (The original church was torn down to accommodate the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard.)
Steffens was a student at P.S. 97, where his favorite subject was shop class.
“In the 7th and 8th grade, the boys had shop and the girls took homemaking classes,” he recalls. “On the third floor, they had a shop class with all the tools for cutting and carving wood. I still have a lamp that I made in P.S. 97.”
From there, Steffens went to Franklin K. Lane where he graduated in 1956. He doesn’t have too many fond memories of Lane.
“I wasn’t a good swimmer, and you had to go swimming in the nude in those days,” he said. “And the last one out always got hit in the behind with the towel by the swimming instructor.”
Steffens later joined the Army, where he served overseas and, according to a brief article in the Leader in 1960, he “qualified as an expert in firing the sub-machine gun.”
Shortly after leaving the Army, Steffens got engaged to his sweetheart, Pamela Washburn, who lived right around the corner. And 55 years later, these two sweethearts are still married.
Steffens worked in his father’s refrigeration business and took it over after he passed away. He worked in many of the butchers and delicatessens along Jamaica Avenue and can name almost all of them.
But his favorite was doing repairs in the ice cream shops “because you always got an ice cream soda when you were finished.”
Steffens has seen it all in Woodhaven, from the trolley cars and the movie theaters and the ice cream parlors to the world we live in today. And he’s witnessed all of these changes from the same vantage point, living today in the house right next door to the one he lived in as a boy.
In fact, almost his entire life has been spent on 78th Street.
“I’m going to be 78,” Steffens says. “My first year was spent on 76th Street, meaning that I’ve been living on this block for 77 years.”
Living on the same block for three-quarters of a century, baptized in the church he still volunteers for, worked in half the stores on Jamaica Avenue, married his sweetheart from around the corner, delivered the Leader-Observer, and he’s still giving back to the community.
Does anyone’s story get more “Woodhaven” than that?
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