2017-12-06 / Features

Jacob Riis Settlement Gym Named After Riis Director, Robert Miner


Robert Miner stands among friends and admirers at the ceremony to name the Jacob Riis Settlement gymnasium after him. Miner was Riis Settlement’s executive director for 30 years, 1960-1990. Robert Miner stands among friends and admirers at the ceremony to name the Jacob Riis Settlement gymnasium after him. Miner was Riis Settlement’s executive director for 30 years, 1960-1990. The Jacob A. Riis Settlement’s gymnasium was named after former Riis Executive Director Robert Miner, and the current Director Chris Hanway said he couldn’t “think of anyone who deserves this more.”

Miner, who is 96, one of Queensbridge Houses’ original residents and Riis Settlement’s executive director for 30 years, was further praised by Hanway when he opened the dedication ceremony by calling Miner “an inspiration to me” and “beloved in this community.”

He entered the gym and sat down in a folding chair in the second row as Hanway was expressing his gratitude and affection. The director said that since the late 1930s there have been only four executive directors, and since Miner’s tenure ran from 1960 to 1990 he certainly ranks with the longest-serving. Hanway said there is a 70 percent emphasis on youth these days at Riis Settlement, and he thanked Miner for establishing that standard when he was executive director.

Miner said that Mayor Fiorello La Guardia spoke at the opening of Queensbridge Houses, where the Miner family lived, in the spring of 1939. Later Miner joined Riis Settlement as a gym instructor and coach of sports. At the time, Queensbridge was not the home base of Riis, which was still located where it began, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, at 48 Henry Street.

Miner left in 1943 to join the Army Air Corps, returning at the end of the war in 1945 to become director of athletics. In the postwar years, Riis expanded its services to the other boroughs, and to public housing, by going to the Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn, and Queensbridge, among other projects. By 1952 finances were tight, so the building at 48 Henry Street was sold and Riis Settlement moved to Queensbridge altogether. The new facilities were headed by Executive Director Helene Nelson.

Through the decade before he became executive director, Miner oversaw baseball, basketball and boxing teams that competed with the Police Athletic League, the Boys Athletic League and the Parks Department. The great boxing champion, Sugar Ray Robinson, made appearances and donated both time and equipment to Riis in those days. Another activity was wheelchair basketball, with many of the players being disabled war veterans. Aside from sports, there were dances held in the gym.

One of those introduced at the event was Jerry Crisci, owner of Armondo’s Italian Restaurant on Northern Boulevard and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights. He said he had come from Italy in his youth on the last successful voyage of the Andrea Doria in 1956. When his father met Miner at Riis some time later, they reflected that they must have been enemies during the war, since Italy was part of the Axis. Fortunately, those days were long over. Crisci marveled at Miner’s dedication to Riis and Queensbridge, calling him “a man who gives back.” He said that these days on Mondays, Miner drives in from his Long Island home to manage Armondo’s for him – at 96.

There were other tributes. Susan Boyce of Riis said the Miner years were great for her family, adding that he has meant much to a great many people. Another woman said she started work at the settlement when he was the director and has always been amazed at his energy, which he retains these days, and his memory, which she said is much better than hers. A man walked up to Miner, shook hands with him and thanked him for all he did for his son, whose name is Quinn Smith.

The plaque naming the gym the Robert Miner Gymnasium was unveiled with ceremony and the celebration continued with wine and cheese and more of Miner’s anecdotes.

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