Dozens of people attended a goodbye party for outgoing Great Neck Historical Society President Alice Kasten at Mediterranean Seafood and Grill on Middle Neck Road last Thursday night, praising her more than decade of leadership and efforts to preserve Great Neck history.
Friends and colleagues described Kasten, the group’s president since 2009 and a key figure since 2005, as someone with determination, strength and commitment, who has always stepped up to get something done.
“Alice is a take-charge individual,” Bob Lincoln, who leads the group’s lighthouse restoration committee, told attendees. “And that’s a compliment.”
Kasten’s journey with the historical society began with a collection of postcards and a suggestion from former Great Neck Park Commissioner Evar Segalowitz, Kasten previously recalled. At the time, Kasten said Segalowitz told her she should attend a historical society meeting because she probably knew more about Great Neck because of her postcard collection than most people.
She has been with the society ever since, forging closer connections with local schools, educational programs and preservation campaigns.
Kasten said she was retiring so she and her husband, Larry, could move to Orange, Conn., to be closer to their only daughter, Meredith Zolty, who attended the event. The commute from Great Neck, where they have lived for 40 years, is normally about an hour and a half.
“It was a really tough decision,” Kasten said.
Great Neck Historical Society members also presented her with a plaque, which the group normally gives only to recognize historical landmarks and buildings in Great Neck, outlining her accomplishments.
“I’m a landmark,” Kasten joked, to which another member replied, “She’s a monument!”
In addition to the plaque, Kasten also received commendations from Nassau County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender and state Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso, who could not attend.
The Great Neck Historical Society raised $3,083 in the days leading up to the event to go toward the Saddle Rock Grist Mill, with email blasts saying an anonymous donor planned to match the donations up to $5,000. Kasten was the matcher.
Kasten also used the event as a sort of rallying cry, highlighting a rampant “proliferation” of out-of-place homes, the importance of preserving the “wedding cake building” on Middle Neck Road, and stepping up to help the group grow.
“They keep saying, ‘It takes a village.’ Well, this organization takes more than a village, it takes nine villages and several unincorporated areas,” Kasten said to laughter. “We really do encompass the whole peninsula, and we need to pull everyone together to preserve our past.”
Valerie Feinman, a historical society board member who first met Kasten through an after- school program known as CLASP, said Kasten showed “strength, vision, endurance and perseverance” in her time there.
This extended to the historical society, Feinman said, as Kasten has been able to get teens to care about the Saddle Rock Grist Mill.
“Quite simply, Alice knew how to get things done,” Feinman said. “She has remained true to the needs of the historical society, developed many programs, attended related meetings and hustled many local people into important committees.”
Leila Mattson, a Great Neck Historical Society historian and board member who worked with Kasten to author “Images of America: Great Neck,” said that Kasten quickly showed herself to be a hardworking person of many talents.
Now, she said, the best thing others can do is help keep the group strong.
“There have been at least two historical societies that have preceded this one — I think the second one ended around 1995,” Mattson said. “And so I would like to say that I think the best way that we can say ‘thank you’ to Alice is to really keep working for this society and let our community know that it has a really fascinating history, and not just several nail salons.”
Jay Mancus, a longtime resident who is succeeding Kasten as president, said that not long after retiring, he discovered the historical society.
“I remember taking my kids to the Saddle Rock Grist Mill – we actually had grist, it was great – and I’ve always enjoyed history,” Mancus said. “And then I watched Alice in action and I said, ‘Wow, this is someone who I’d love to help, if I could be useful.’”
Mancus said that a definite “hallmark” of Kasten’s leadership style has been “if you don’t do it, I’ll do it.”
Going forward, though, Mancus said people may have to step up and that he hopes to see productive committees and increased membership.
Meredith Zolty, Kasten’s daughter and a non-profit grant writer, said she believes her mother is relieved people plan to do their part.
“This was really great,” Zolty said. “I’m glad she’s getting recognized for all the stuff that she does.”