River Edge’s Overlooked Big Hero on that Small Block
Journeys into River Edge
A big thank you to Bill Jentz. In a recent comment to our piece about unfamiliar (and less recognized) streets in River Edge, Bill mentioned a very small piece of Grand Avenue just south of Route 4 – a half block separated from the rest of town when the state road was built (Actually there was a time when one could cross Route 4 on Grand Avenue but that is a long time ago).
As significantly was Mr. Jentz’s mention of a former resident of that block, Al Youakim.
If you look at the Wikipedia entry for River Edge included is a directory of notable folks who were born here or called our community home. Al’s name is not to be found there – but it should be. He is one of our local heroes.
As Bill mentioned, Al was known by us old timers from his presence at the local post office. I remember him from his days behind the counter at the North Hackensack branch of the River Edge post office. He was of a generation that did his job, did it well and without a lot of fanfare.
It was only through my Mom’s stories and later in newspaper clippings that the depth and scope of Al’s commitment and decency became known to me.
Bill Jentz was correct in description of Al Youakim as “one who started and/or was main honcho” for National Wheel Chair Basketball”.
In fact, at the website for the National Wheel Chair Basketball Association, along with the picture to be found here (Credit to the Association) is this description for Al Youakim:
Early pioneer, coach, organizer of wheelchair basketball in the East. Helped develop one of New York City’s first team’s at the St. Albans Navy Hospital in 1946. Organized the NJ Wheelers of the Eastern Conference in 1947. The Wheelers were one of the first teams organized outside the PVA League. Manager of the 1954 Wheelers NWBA Championship Team. Assisted in the development of one of the first junior programs in the U.S. with the start of the Jr. Jersey Wheelers. Selected as coach to 18 Stoke Mandeville & Paralympic teams. Coached the NJ Wheelers for 30 years. Member of the NWAA Hall of Fame.
According to a 1990 newsletter from the Wheel Chair Basketball Association Al was there on October 19, 1990 when the NWBA Hall of Fame was formally integrated into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachussets in a ceremony attended by 22 of the 44 living members including Al.
Al Youakim passed away in 2007 at the age of 82. His obituary was fact based – listing family funeral and interment info. There was a passing reference to the Wheel Chair Basketball Association as a place to send a donation, if one wanted to, in Al’s memory. So much info but so little about his life.
Words alone cannot communicate the passion, grit and heart. Clearly, there is much more to the story about how Al became involved in Wheel Chair Basketball, but I did not know Al well enough nor the details of the circumstances to feel qualified to share it. Nonetheless, we hope that you get the idea about. Al Youakim was a person who made a real impact.
As it is, today all we have are this summary of Al, his picture and our efforts (Bill Jentz and me) to make sure Al is remembered.
Heroes come in all sizes and shapes. They may be created out of a solitary big action or an accumulation of small acts. It is about being there at an important moment, or about making everyday moments important.
Al Youakim was a hero. We thank him.
And, again thanks to Bill Jentz for helping us remember.
Photo Credit: NWBA