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Section of Riverhead garden honors former resident

A section of the River and Roots Community

A section of the River and Roots Community Garden in Riverhead, is dedicated to longtime Riverhead resident John Goldman. (June 16, 2011) Credit: Erin Geismar

A grassy open space in downtown Riverhead was proving to be the perfect spot for a community garden. The large gap between two buildings faced West Main Street and was bordered on the other side by the river.

The one thing that gave the garden’s organizers pause was a large oak tree that stood in the space, said Laurie Nigro, who has spearheaded the River and Roots Community Garden with Amy Davidson.

Tearing the tree down was not an option -- it had been planted years ago in memory of a man named John Goldman, an active member of the Riverhead community who died in 2005. The tree bore a plaque with his name, but the Goldmans had moved from the area in 2003.

“It was a dedicated tree,” Nigro said. “If someone had done that for a family member of mine, I would be devastated if someone didn’t go through the proper channels to find me.”

They contacted Robert Goldman, John Goldman’s oldest son, who lives in Rhode Island, and he was thrilled when the women suggested dedicating a section of the garden to his father.

“I was touched that they would reach out to me,” he said, adding that he was involved in the initial planting of the oak tree, which Nigro said was dying and not worth replanting.

John Goldman moved his family from New York City to Riverhead in 1958 when he was offered a job as a psychologist for the newly created Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“It was a relatively new concept to have someone see the kids at school,” said Dave Goldman, John’s other son. “He thought it sounded interesting and it was close to New York City. Well, he thought it was close.”

Dave Goldman, who now lives in Easton, Pa., described Riverhead in the 1950s and '60s as “an even smaller community than it is now” and said his parents were very involved. In addition to working with many of the school districts on the East End, John Goldman worked part-time at the county’s free mental health clinic in Riverhead.

His mother taught nursery school in the area and anthropology classes at Suffolk County Community College. They were also involved in the Jewish community and belonged to a local temple.

“They always liked it there,” he said. “They thought they had made a pretty good choice about where to raise children.”

On Friday, the River and Roots garden will officially open with a 3 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony. The plaque with John Goldman’s name that was placed under the oak tree will now sit under a fig tree, planted in the children’s portion of the garden, to be called “Dr. John Goldman’s Children Garden.”

Robert Goldman plans to attend the ceremony. He said his father would be happy with the new dedication.

“He was always messing around in the kitchen,” he said. “He would love to do something with that fig tree.”

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