It’s nearly impossible to overstate the impact that Carol Waldman has had on the North Shore community since she became executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Center in 2001. For the past 18 years, she has made sure that the North Shore’s elder residents have as much fun as they did when they were children.
Waldman, 66, dedicated herself to making the seniors smile, laugh and dance their way through life, and when she announced her retirement late last month, many said the center would never be the same. Nearly everyone she knows or has worked with agrees that she has changed innumerable lives.
“She’s helped mold me into a better person,” said Laurie Huenteo, Waldman’s secretary for the past seven years. “I found depth of compassion I didn’t even know I had because of her.”
“She’s got an absolute heart of gold, and she is so giving and so thoughtful,” said the center’s program coordinator, Eric Shuman. “She goes above and beyond in everything she does, and everyone that knows her is better off because of her.”
Working with an older population was not always Waldman’s plan. Born Carol Horwitz in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on April 30, 1953, the younger of Sue and Ed Horwitz’s two daughters, she spent most of her childhood in the Bronx. After graduating from James Monroe High School, she studied English literature at CUNY Lehman College, then focused on psychology at the post-graduate level before deciding that it wasn’t for her and returning to her passion, literature. She married John Waldman in 1977 and went on to teach English at P.S. 61 in Corona, Queens.
While she enjoyed teaching children, Waldman said, she gained an entirely different perspective on education when she began teaching English classes to adults at night. Many of her students were senior citizens, who, she said, displayed not only gratitude, but also motivation and resilience, qualities that inspired her to focus on working with them.
After she, John and their two children, Laura and Steve, moved to Sea Cliff in 1991, she joined the Glen Cove Senior Center staff as program coordinator. A few years later, she began taking graduate classes in gerontology — the study of human aging — at Hofstra University, and eventually earned a master’s degree.
Waldman became the center’s executive director when her predecessor, Angela Purpura, left. Hers is a city-appointed position, and many of those who occupied it came and went at the pleasure of each new administration. Waldman broke that pattern, remaining in the job through Republican, Democratic and independent administrations.
She knew that fighting ageism would be a key part of her mission. She wanted to show the North Shore that just because people grow older doesn’t mean they don’t still have much to experience — and to give back.
“I wanted to have the community understand the real value of what it meant to get older,” she said. “That it didn’t mean that you were declining, that you weren’t necessarily able to take in the joys of life. Just the opposite — that because you had time now and the opportunity to experience new things, that there is vitality and an ability to thrive.”
Waldman wanted to make sure that seniors knew their value and the possibilities that were still ahead. “Even though they may have had to make some adjustments or faced some challenges or become a little more vulnerable,” she said, “they still have the ability to be creative in their thinking and their expression of themselves to others in the way they love and in the way they do things. What has excited me the most is when they find a new friend or a new interest or something inside themselves that they didn’t know was there . . . [My hope] was to try to help people find that magic in themselves and share it with the world.”
Her efforts have clearly paid off. The center, she recalled, was once a place where the area’s oldest would go for a hot meal and bingo. Since she took over, its membership has grown to encompass a wider range of age, religion, race and ethnicity. Its program catalog has also grown exponentially, and now includes everything from dances to bus trips to sporting events.
As well, the center now offers seniors a range of social services. Waldman and her team have brought in professionals to help seniors find affordable housing. They have worked with senior advocacy groups to help fight ageism in the community, and branched out into mental health services.
As much as she has accomplished over the years, it’s Waldman’s warmth and loving personality that set her apart, according to those who know her. “She was someone who never said no,” said Mimi Simonetti, who has been a member of the center for six years. “No matter what, she’d find a way to help you.”
Madeline Amato said that her three years with the center have been the best of her life thanks to Waldman, and fellow member John Prozalaski described her simply as a wonderful person.
Waldman plans to continue being an active member of the North Shore community. She will stay on for a time to help her replacement, Christine Rice, become acquainted with the executive director’s position. She is also thinking of teaching college courses in gerontology, hoping to spread her love of the subject to younger generations.
No matter what the future has in store, though, the senior center will always hold a special place in Waldman’s heart. “I hope that I’ve helped bring joy into people’s lives,” she said, “and also a support system, a feeling of being connected to people who care — bringing people together so that they’re not alone.”
Judging by the impression she has left on those around her, it’s safe to say that she has done exactly that.
Ronny Reyes contributed to this story.