Remembering an East Rockaway legend Mildred Roemer, 1906-2003
By: Karenlyn Barone
Mildred Allison Roemer was a devoted wife, the mother of three sons, a recognized artist and poet, a curator and a historian. Her death last Nov. 15, at age 97, won't erase her accomplishments, nor the spirit with which she lived her life, say her loved ones.
Born in Brooklyn in 1906, Roemer moved to East Rockaway in 1936 and immediately immersed herself in community affairs and the local arts. A graduate of Packer Collegiate Institute and Pratt Art School, she taught adult art classes at East Rockaway High School, served as president of the Rhame Avenue PTA and was Den Mother of Cub Scout packs 26 and 363.
In the first of many efforts on behalf of the village she so loved, Roemer co-produced a play, The History of East Rockaway, which was performed at the 1940 World-s Fair in Flushing, on East Rockaway Day. With a penchant for writing, she was a society reporter for the now defunct Nassau Daily Review-Star and a featured columnist for the old Tri-Town Leader.
You just couldn-t hold her down, said her husband, Art. She did so many things.
A charter member of the Grist Mill Historical Society, which founded the Grist Mill Historical Museum in East Rockaway, Roemer served as chairwoman and curator of the museum. Appointed by Mayor Arnold White in 1975, she was named village historian and served in that capacity until 1993.
Faced with failing eyesight, Roemer began to work with a seeing-eye dog in 1968, and Brandy served her mistress faithfully until 1982. During their time together, Roemer and her companion acted as a public relations team for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. They visited schools and had assemblies to teach children about the guide dogs, said Art. She traveled all over Nassau County to do that.
In 1975, Roemer wrote a book about her experiences with Brandy, and the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind published Brandy -- Diary of a Guide Dog.
Roemer-s first children-s book, The Snow White Dancing Horses was published in 1979, and in 1988 she wrote, East Rockaway-s Grist Mill Museum, a booklet celebrating the history of the 300-year-old Long Island landmark. East Rockaway -- It Happened Here, was a collection of early writings published in 1998, with illustrations by John Bishop, an East Rockaway art teacher and a former student of Roemer-s.
Roemer-s full life was anchored by perfect attendance at Bethany Congregational Church in East Rockaway, which she and her husband joined in 1955. She devoted countless hours to the children of the church, teaching Sunday School and, until 2001, playing the autoharp and teaching songs to the nursery and kindergarten-aged congregants.
She was an inspiration to this congregation, said the Rev. Mark Lukens. I have witnessed generations of people weeping over her loss. Everything she did was for her community, and she would do so joyfully.
Besides her husband, Roemer is survived by her sons, Lynn Wilke of Peru, N.Y., Douglas Wilke of Glen Head, N.Y., and Kenneth Roemer of Arlington, Texas.
She was a great gal, said Art. She was devoted to her family and we were so happy together.
Roemer is interred in Mill Rift, Pa. She spent time there as a teenager, and years ago, when we were there on vacation, she told me this was where she wanted us to be when we left this planet, said her husband. Her gravesite is in a hamlet on the banks of the Delaware. It-s a beautiful place.
Donations in Roemer-s memory can be made payable to "East Rockaway Public Schools - Mildred Roemer Pride Scholarship" and sent to the East Rockaway High School Business Office, 443 Ocean Ave., East Rockaway, NY 11518.