Maureen Powell, a longtime activist for the Roosevelt school district,...

Maureen Powell, a longtime activist for the Roosevelt school district, died Nov. 28. Credit: Gigi Powell

A funeral Mass was offered Monday for Maureen Powell, a longtime civic activist in Roosevelt, whose inspiring life and fundraising efforts were recognized in a proclamation issued by the Roosevelt school district's board. 

Powell, the widow of a former Roosevelt school board vice president, Wilbert Powell, died Nov. 28 at age 90. The Mass was celebrated at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.

In the early 2000s, both Powells were heavily involved in Roosevelt, at a time when the 3,300-student system was the site of the first — and only — state takeover of a school district in New York history. The intent behind the state's action was largely to help the district, which is one of Long Island's least wealthy in terms of taxable property, to strengthen its finances and replace aging school buildings. 

In 2006, four years after the takeover began, state education officials discovered that their appointed superintendent in Roosevelt had run up an $8 million deficit, in a development that threatened a major boost in property taxes. Maureen Powell led an ultimately successful letter-writing campaign to win additional state funding for the district. 

The Roosevelt district, on Monday, issued a proclamation, signed by board president Rose Gietschier, honoring Powell as a "caring advocate" and "liberal humanitarian."

"As a prolific writer and community historian, Mrs. Powell ensured that the voice of the Roosevelt community was heard at all levels of government," the proclamation stated. 

Maureen Agnes McAllister Powell was born in Queens on Oct. 2, 1932. As a child, she and a brother, William, were raised by foster parents and a surrogate aunt. Later, she and her brother were sent to a Catholic-run home in Peekskill in Westchester County, and then she was transferred to a missionary center on the Lower East Side. 

Monday's proclamation by the district noted that Maureen Powell "shared her life experiences as a ward of the state and life without her brother" — experiences that, it said, helped her understand "the importance of love and family."

At age 17, Powell met her future husband, Wilbert, a New York City mechanic, at a dance in Brooklyn. The couple wed in 1952, and remained married until Wilbert's death 52 years later.

Suzette Gigi Powell, a daughter and radiologist who now lives in Long Beach, recalled the family's strong belief in work and education, and its pride in the fact that she and a brother, William, went on to graduate from Ivy League universities. William died in 2020.

"My mother was so devoted to the betterment of the school district that my kindergarten teacher had to reprimand her because, when budget meetings occurred, she would take me up to the high school with her for the entire meeting," the daughter said. 

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