Some Nostalgia for Roosevelt Island Days Past


As RIOC fumbles closer to another shrunken community event, some residents recall the fun and engagement of Roosevelt Island Days in the past. In that spirit, let’s take a short walk down memory lane.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Roosevelt Island Days and Roosevelt Islanders

My oldest memory of Roosevelt Island Day is watching a happy bunch of kids riding up the West Promenade on a miniature train. It didn’t have a whole lot to do with Roosevelt Island except the fun, the community and the thrills no other place had.

That train is no more, but a special notice for those who made it happen then is in order.

“Roosevelt Island-driven folks made the day happen, including the late, great Fay and Ron Vass…” a longtime resident reminded me.

The late Fay Vass is permanently honored with a bench in Blackwell Plaza. In summers past, I stopped and visited with her husband and Roosevelt Island pioneer, Ron Vass, who relaxed there most days.

The Vasses weren’t just cheerleaders, both were activists and advocates. One of my favorite memories of Fay was on the day she caught me leaving RIOC’s old headquarters at 591 Main Street. She shook her finger at me and accused me of consorting with the enemy.

.”..and perennial total-RI-cheerleader, Eastwood manager Doryne Isley.” 

Isley organized and helped finance the event until RIOC finally took responsibility.

You Can’t Forget Matt and Sherie

A more engaged, community oriented RIRA Common Council, led by President Matthew Katz, set the tone, rounding up volunteers who started the day sprucing things up. Before visitors arrived, with Katz’s wife, activist Sherie Helstien, leading, the team beautified Main Street.

Afterward, they all got T-shirts.

Roosevelt Island Day 2018.

Matt and Sherie also got blood donation drives rolling and volunteered countless hours in Common Council work.


“The things I miss the most are the 5 pm concerts for folks of all ages, abilities & musical tastes,” a reader wrote.

A bandstand faced rows of folding chairs filled with music lovers who kept the energy of the day going. Some got up and danced. 

“And, yes, for me, remembering to thank all the unsung RIOC grounds & maintenance crews who set up & broke down everything.”

And I’ll add RIVAA artists offering free classes in the gallery and onsite portraits out front. Plus, an event so popular, none of the electeds dared miss it.

The miniature trains and petting zoos are gone, but the Roosevelt Island Day spirits live on.

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