Local octogenarian Edith Marks is an inspiration to her community
“I just found the West Side wonderful for walking,” she says of why she has never chosen to leave. “My husband and I used to walk in Central Park every single day along our special route, around the reservoir and up the hill.”
“It gave us a lift,” says Marks, to whom 90th Street has become more like a village than anything else. “It isn’t like living in a city, we all know each other.”
“New York City is just a series of villages together as a city,” she adds.
Marks, who grew up among large backyards in Maine and Massachusetts and quickly developed a love for the soil, is also a significant force behind the West Side Community Garden.
“One day I walked by and saw that people were gardening in an abandoned plot down the street,” she says. “So I got involved with the garden.”
Marks had high hopes for the garden, which was in shambles in its early stages. Then, in a turn of events all-too-common to city activists, developers came and tried to claim the plot.
“Once they locate, you can’t get them out,” says Marks. “We got a lot of politicians and community members and businesses behind us, so they gave us part of the plot.”
Marks describes how the city gave the garden a deed; it was the first garden to receive a deed from the city provided they continued to serve the public.
As the garden developed, so too did Marks in her involvement. Beginning on the board, she became chief fundraiser, running benefits and orchestrating concerts and plays for children in the garden.
“This November we are planting 15,000 tulips for a tulip show,” says Marks, excitedly. “It will be one whole sea of tulips.”
Marks’s participation in the community she loves doesn’t end there; she’s also a strong activist for disability rights, including one often overlooked by most people.
Marks was a teacher for the Board of Education when she was diagnosed with glaucoma. She says she didn’t pay attention to her condition because she was too busy with work at the time. When she retired from the board, she had ambitions to write, and wrote two books for glaucoma patients, in addition to two novels that highlighted the struggles of the handicapped and how they extended to society as a whole.
While Marks enjoyed the writing lifestyle, a love she shared with her husband, she knew she needed more in her life. She then became involved with the glaucoma support group, which was only a small organization at the time.
“The person who was coordinating [the organization] had to retire because of eye deterioration and I took over and the group, which grew to around 400 members,” says Marks, who began to write a newsletter for glaucoma patients base on doctors’ lectures.
Looking ahead, Marks believes other West Siders need to stay active and be involved in the community to the best of their abilities.
“They need to make their voices heard and then things happen,” she says.
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