The Broadsheet - Lower Manhattans Local Newspaper
Living Will
In Memoriam: Robert Schneck: Visionary, Versifier, Activist, and Advocate
Community leader Bob Schneck advocating before the board of the Battery Park City Authority about increasing affordability for condominium owners.
“as i die, do not
delay my departure to heaven
let my life
go quickly like a
gazelle transforming
herself into a tiger...”

These words, part of a poem called “Living Will,” were written by Bob Schneck, in whom Battery Park City and Lower Manhattan lost a pillar, a leader, and a community builder when he died on May 15. Mr. Schneck, who resided in Battery Park City since the late 1980s, died of multiple myeloma, a cancer caused by exposure to toxic debris in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, at age 75.

In lines that were likely written with Cora Fung, his wife of many years, in mind, Mr. Schneck continued:

“if you want a
soul to care for,
water the flowers that
blossomed into joy just for us”
Mr. Schneck, at right with Battery Park City Authority president B.J. Jones at left, bagging produce at Fresh Food for Seniors event.
Mr. Schneck served on Community Board 1 (CB1) since 2011, was a member of the World Trade Center Survivor Steering Committee, and was active in Downtown Independent Democrats, an influential local political organization. But while acting locally, he also thought globally. After serving in the Peace Corps (in Africa) and the Teacher Corps (in Washington, D.C.) in the 1970s, he went on to help build schools in Africa. In America, he pioneered the “passive house” concept, using his own funds to build (as a proof of concept) VOLKSsHouse, a residential development in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which uses 90 percent less energy than a traditional home, generates itself what little power it uses, and was constructed for less than the cost of similarly sized ordinary homes. He leveraged this into advocacy for adopting the passive house standard for new construction in New York, which was eventually incorporated into designs for the Bloomberg Center, the Cornell University outpost on Roosevelt Island.

More quixotic (and less successful) was his single-handed campaign to stop the demolition of the Rector Street pedestrian bridge, in which Mr. Schneck gathered thousands of signatures from Battery Park City residents. He was additionally deeply engaged on the issue of ground rent reform for condominium owners in the community.

Mr. Schneck was a renaissance man, not only a prolific poet (writing annual volumes that he shared with his wide circle of friends), but also a roving photographer whose discerning eye chronicled the community in both telling detail and visual narrative writ large.

In the last years of his life, Mr. Schneck spearheaded WestLight, a project that is bringing solar electricity to remote villages in rural western Kenya. The opportunity to draw water from wells with electric pumps, keep cellular telephones charged, and light schools and homes has proved transformative—increasing the academic performance of children in local schools, and preventing health problems associated with burning kerosene indoors for light, among many other benefits. The costs savings in not having to purchase fuel or pay charging shops to power telephones (services priced at roughly $1.20 per day) amounts to an exponential boost in quality of life and standards of living in a region where the vast majority of residents live on an income of less than $2 per day.
Mr. Schneck (at far left) in Kenya, where his project WestLight is bringing low-cost solar electric power to a rural area.
Mr. Schneck’s CB1 colleague and friend, Robin Forst, recalls, “it always felt that Bob Schneck was a man on a mission. Whether he was fighting to preserve the Rector Street Bridge or bringing the passive house standard to New York, he was a tireless advocate. He, along with his partner, Cora, was a regular at all things community. As we lose another neighbor to September 11-related cancer, we applaud his energy and dedication to making Battery Park City the wonderful place it is.”

Jeff Galloway, who also served with Mr. Schneck on CB1 for more than a decade, reflects, “Bob was a dedicated environmentalist and community leader, who devoted himself to making Lower Manhattan better for future generations. Bob was a dear friend, who always saw the good in others even in times of disagreement. He will be sorely missed.”

Battery Park City Authority president B.J. Jones notes that, “Bob loved this community and cared deeply about its future, especially when it came to addressing our most pressing issues like sustainability, resiliency, livability. Whether it was at public meetings or crossing paths around the neighborhood, he was always eager to offer insights, advice, and recommendations—and did so frankly and with a smile. And he was generous in his creativity as well, through photography and written word that captured the spirit of the neighborhood he called home.”

Richard Corman, president of Downtown Independent Democrats (and a member of CB1), says, “Bob Schneck was a good man—good in the deepest sense of the word. His time, his thought, his energy, even as his illness progressed, were focused on what good he could do for his neighbors, his neighborhood, his community, the world. It was an honor and a challenge to know him, both as a colleague on CB1 and as a member of Downtown Independent Democrats. It was a challenge as he set such an example of courage, selflessness, and care for others, the planet, and the future, all while struggling heroically against the ravages of another September 11 disease. Conversations with him always had surprises, from the work he did in Africa and lifelong friends he had from there, to his depth of knowledge about passive house and other desperately needed low-carbon initiatives. We will miss him and all the good he could still have done.”

Mariama James, who served with Mr. Schneck on both CB1 and the World Trade Center Survivor Steering Committee, says, “what I loved most and will remember most fondly about Bob is that as brilliant and worldly as he was, he always remained open to insight on what he didn’t know or understand. He had an incredible sense of mission and humanitarianism and so genuinely wanted to help everywhere he could that, if there was something he didn’t ‘get,’ he’d say, ‘let’s go to lunch so you can explain this to me, because it’s an outrage and we’ve gotta do something.’”

In further lines apparently inspired by the fate he knew he was facing, and his love for Ms. Fung, Mr. Schneck wrote:
“don't worry where I’ve gone
i’ll always love you
we'll talk soon.”

Ms. Fung, who says that details about a memorial service for Mr. Schneck will be announced shortly, remembers that “Bob always bounced back in the past, but not this round. He took such a joy in living, which only increased when the multiple myeloma came. Bob taught me the deep meaning of never squandering time. When I reflect on his life’s work and the people that he touched on this earth, I hope that Bob's spirit will make us all stronger.”

She also points to verse from a different poem, “The Eternal Riddle,” in which her departed husband offered advice to his broader circle of friends:

“Over a lifetime
Never let your heart
Go out of business.”

He never did.

Matthew Fenton
In Memoriam: Josephine Cuccia (1923 - 2023)
Trailblazing Female Attorney Founded a Firm and a Family
Longtime Battery Park City resident Josephine Cuccia, shown beside a portrait of her younger self at her 90th birthday party in 2013, died on May 16.
Josephine Ferro Cuccia died peacefully in her sleep in her longtime Battery Park City home on the morning of May 16. A few weeks earlier, she had celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

“MamaJo,” as she was known to everyone she loved, leaves behind four children, 14 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren, along with many nieces and nephews, and an extended family of hundreds of friends, neighbors, and clients with whom she was close.

Born in 1923 to parents Edward Ferro and Rosalia Tuzzolino, an immigration inspector and a public school teacher, Ms. Cuccia was exhorted by her mother’s father from a very young age: “you are going to law school!”

After a brief stop on Hunter College, she transferred to St. John’s University, where she earned an undergraduate degree, and then a law degree in 1946. Admitted to the bar in the same year, at a time when it was rare for women to become lawyers, she started her own firm shortly afterward. Joined by Joseph (“DaddyJo”) Cuccia immediately after he returned from service in World War Two, the two became partners in law as well as in life, marrying in the same year. Over the ensuing decades, from their office on Lower Broadway, the principals of Ferro & Cuccia helped thousands of clients find better lives, assisting them in coming to the United States, buying homes, building businesses, and planning for subsequent generations of their own families. She remained proud of her professional accomplishments as an attorney all the days of her life.

After suddenly and unexpectedly losing her husband to heart disease in 1983, Ms. Cuccia formed a decades-long domestic partnership with physician Rocco Bevilacqua (known to her family as “Dr. B.”). The couple alternated between their homes in Great Neck, Jamaica Estates, and Battery Park City. When Dr. Bevilacqua passed in 2007, Ms. Cuccia settled full-time in Battery Park City, surrounded by children and grandchildren who lived in the community and nearby.

A beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, Ms. Cuccia was granted the gift of her abiding wish—to depart this world at home, rather than at a hospital or nursing facility—through the sustained efforts of her adult children.

Ms. Cuccia's wake will be held at Perazzo’s Funeral Home (199 Bleecker Street) today, Monday, May 22, from 2pm to 5pm, and 6pm to 8pm. Her funeral will be held at Our Lady of Pompeii Church (25 Carmine Street) at 10:30am tomorrow, Tuesday, May 23. The mass will be followed by an interment at St. John’s Cemetery, in Queens. 

In lieu of flowers, the family are requesting that friends donate in her name to the Paul Magnus Foundation, in memory of her great grandson, Paulie, who passed away on January 7, 2023 at the age of 27 months, from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, to keep alive Ms. Cuccia’s commitment to helping others.

Matthew Fenton
Familiarity Breeds Verklempt
First-Day Shoppers Relieved to Find that Century 21’s Still Got a Lotta Schmattas

“I bought my prom dress from this place,” said a woman in her late twenties as she prowled the aisles in search of bargains and her vanished youth at the Tuesday opening of legendary retailer Century 21, in the Financial District. Read more...
Monday, May 22
BPC Library, 175 North End Avenue
Weekly writing session. Free, space is limited, registration required.

Tuesday, May 23
200 Rector Place
Conversation, local news, and informal card and board games. Free.

Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place
Twenty-three-year-old Bep Voskuijl helped hide Anne Frank and her family when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam. Bep’s sister Nelly was collaborating with the Nazis, however, and may have been the one to betray those hiding in the Annex. Learn more in this presentation of a new book about the Secret Annex. $10 suggested donation.

Rockefeller Park
Play the popular strategy game while getting pointers and advice from an expert. For ages 5 and up (adults welcome). Free.

Pier 17

Public session, public hearing, committee reports, resolutions discussed and voted on. Open to all.

Pier 17
High-intensity boxing-inspired workout. Free.
This Day in History
May 22
The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt, painted in 1893–94.
334 BC - The Macedonian army of Alexander the Great defeats Darius III of Persia in the Battle of the Granicus
1761 - First life insurance policy in North America issued in Philadelphia
1807 - Former Vice President Aaron Burr is tried for treason in Richmond, Va and acquitted.
1892 - Dr Washington Sheffield invents toothpaste tube
1906 - Wright Brothers patent an aeroplane
1967 - Mister Rogers' Neighborhood debuts on NET (now PBS)
1992 - Johnny Carson's final appearance as host of Tonight Show
2002 - A jury in Birmingham, Alabama, convicts former Ku Klux Klan member Bobby Frank Cherry of the 1963 murders of four girls in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
2010 - Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus' remains are reburied in Frombork Cathedral, Poland.

1813 - Richard Wagner, composer
1844 - Mary Cassatt, Impressionist painter
1859 - Arthur Conan Doyle, author
1907 - Laurence Olivier, actor
1928 - T Boone Pickens, CEO
1950 - Bernie Taupin, lyricist

337 - Constantine the Great, Emperor of Rome (306-37) dies at 47
1885 - Victor Hugo, writer, dies at 83
1967 - Langston Hughes, poet and playwright, dies at 65
1990 - Rocky Graziano, boxer/writer/actor, dies at 71 of heart failure
Photograph by Robert Simko
Photograph © Robert Simko
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