Friends reunite in Yellowstone Park
by Michael Perlman
Jun 20, 2012 | 9237 views | 2 2 comments | 65 65 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Multi-generational residents have long gathered in Yellowstone Park, a sloped green campus with flowering trees, basketball courts, and the Arthur Katzman Playground, situated between Yellowstone Boulevard, 68th Avenue, and 68th Road.

A few blocks from the park, which officially opened on May 27, 1968, is the stately Forest Hills High School, which has been an educational anchor since its April 29, 1941, dedication.

It counts among its alumni many notables, including Rick Allen, Jerry Springer, Bob Keeshan, The Ramones, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Leslie Urdang, and Burt Bacharach.

What do Forest Hills High School and Yellowstone Park have in common? On June 16 in the park’s 68th Avenue basketball court, nearly 100 Forest Hills High School graduates reunited where they practically grew up.

Many of them witnessed Yellowstone Park’s opening, and now the park plays a role in the rebirth of old friendships while sparking new bonds.

The reminiscing and memory-making continued, as graduates headed to Austin Street to witness its transformation, and then spending the bulk of the evening over drinks and dinner at Jade in Station Square and Oktoberfest on Yellowstone Boulevard.

Professional photographer and stay-at-home dad Joe Grimando (’76) of Avon, Ohio, was the visionary behind the first large-scale, unofficial Forest Hills High School reunion in the park they called home.

He began planning the reunion in October 2011, and created a Facebook page. He invited his friends, and friends invited friends.

“Many reunions are very formal, but this is very casual,” Grimando said. “We are in our own stomping grounds, instead of wearing a suit and tie at a formal dinner.”

Considering it has been 25 to 40 years since some graduates have seen each other, one of Grimando’s most intriguing questions was “Who will recognize who?” For some participants, their high school reunion represents a family reunion.

“My siblings, mother, son, and grandson are still in Forest Hills,” said Grimando.

Hairdresser Alain Sayegh (’72) of Astoria reminisced about special times at Hollywood Lanes Bowling Alley, The Stratton pickup joint, and the now demolished Empress Diner on Queens Boulevard. He saw the park being built in 1968.

“Before it was Yellowstone Park, it was Devil’s Hill, where we went sleigh-riding,” Sayegh said. “It was dangerous and wild.”

Artist Dayna Shrage of The Bronx (’84) fondly recalls “Burnout Corner.”

“Different groups of classmates hung out at different spots,” she said. “We were the rock n’ roll people who listened to Led Zeppelin.”

She said beside Yellowstone Park, her and her friends hung out by a candy shop on Continental Avenue called Admiration, the Grand Central Parkway overpass, and Flagpole Park.

“We befriended older guys who were like brothers to us,” she said. “They didn’t want us to do any drugs. They protected and taught us the ways of the world.”

Pamela Koenigsberg Share (’80) of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attended with her boyfriend Peter, who is also a FHHS graduate. She was always a social butterfly, and recalled the rock n’ roll people, the nerds, the jocks, the populars, and the disco people. In a chuckling tone, she stated,

“I cut school and had 30 friends at my apartment at 10:30 a.m. for I Love Lucy,” she said with a chuckle. “I have over 120 FHHS graduate friends on Facebook. We gather emotionally for each other, and it has to do with growing up in the seventies. Maybe it was because of some bad home lives, but we’d gather at the park and become family.

“Forest Hills is where I experienced my first love, first best friend, and first of everything,” she continued. “It really was a small town with diversity and camaraderie.”

Share and many friends recalled the Pizza Den on 108th Street, The Center on 108th Street for school supplies, and Bagel Stop on Yellowstone and Queens boulevards at “the circle.”

“It was an innocent time,” she said. “You played in the streets and you felt safe.”

Friends socialized at the “top of the hill” or at “the basketball courts” or on “the street.” The police would chase Yellowstone Park-goers out at dusk.

“We didn’t want to leave, so the police once called for a community meeting in the basketball courts for our friends and their parents,” share recalled. “We were too young to go to a bar, but too old to sit at home.”

Professional magician and mentalist Michael Chaut (’76) is a diehard Forest Hills resident. He emphasized how FHHS always tried to encourage students to be active.

“My entrepreneurial spirit began at FHHS,” he said. “I was the advertising sales editor for the yearbook, The Forester, and my friend Jared Zerman was also an advertising editor and is now is the vice president of sales at CBS.”

Chaut also had his heart in neighborhood cornerstones including Shalimar Diner, Bon Fire luncheonette on 108th Street, Sizzler, and Pinsky’s Stationery on Austin Street.

“My friends and I were members of the Forest Hills Swim Club, and then we’d walk to Carvel on Metropolitan Avenue,” he said.

FHHS graduates occasionally run in the family, and Chaut echoed the close-knit sentiments of many other participants.

“Forest Hills is a unique community,” he said. “This grassroots reunion is proof. Our groups of friends have stayed in touch, and it’s quite remarkable. My 6th grade girlfriend is attending the reunion. I’m still friends with guys I went to kindergarten with at the Little Red Schoolhouse.”

These are a few of many stories which bridge Forest Hills HS graduates of the sixties, seventies, and eighties to generations in Forest Hills today. Tradition lives on.

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Lauren Lawrence
August 25, 2012
I heard that the Empress Diner on Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills was not demolished. Supposedly, it was carted away by tractor trailer during the middle of the night in 1970. Does anyone know where it relocated?
Helen Fontak
June 20, 2012
Great article---in the quotes from the interviews for this article, you captured the quintessence of what made Forest Hills such a special place to grow up!