I didn’t know Lou Powsner, but in the six years of reporting local news around Southern Brooklyn, his name has rolled off source’s tongues and echoed in public meetings more times than I can recall. As a longtime community activist, he made his mark, and it was hard to find a story that he didn’t have some degree of entanglement in over the years. It was always kind of strange that we never met, and always on my to-do list.
Unfortunately, I’ll never have the opportunity. Powsner, a Coney Island native who later moved to Avenue P, passed away on April 6 at the age of 93.
Carmine Santa Maria, head of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council and Courier Life columnist, penned a tribute to Powsner, with whom he worked with both on community issues and at the newspaper.
A haberdasher whose storefront on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island lived through the tumultuous decades of the ’60s through the ’80s, Powsner fought successfully for brighter street lights to help halt nighttime crime, and battled the city over parking meters he said gave suburban shopping malls an unfair advantage over his beloved mom-and-pop and all those that peppered what was then Brooklyn’s dying commercial streets.
His fights for the working man led him to become a member of Community Board 13 in Coney Island, a president of the Coney Island Board of Trade, a member of the Bensonhurst West End Community Council, and a president of the Joint Council of Kings Board of Trade.
… Louis W. Powsner was born on June 14, 1920 in Crandon, South Dakota. He was brought to Coney Island as a toddler, and grew up above his father’s storefront on Mermaid Avenue, his bedroom facing Our Lady of Solace’s — then a large wooden church at the corner of West 17th Street.
He attended Lincoln High School, and was a staff sergeant and member of “Kelly’s Kobras,” the 64th Bomb Squad Army Air Force during World War II from June 1942 to 1945.
He married the former Irene Hallote in April of 1946, and the two stayed together until her death in 2008.
He attended reunions with his Army pals yearly until two years ago, when the gatherings were canceled because, as Lou said, “there was no one else left.”
And while I never got to know Powsner, Sheepshead Bites’ transit columnist Allan Rosen did. He shared the following fond memories:
This is what I remember about Lou. When [I worked at the Department of City Planning] we had to make a visit to Community Board 13 in 1974, City Planning’s Brooklyn office liaison instructed me to show the Mermaid Avenue commercial district prominently on our wall map, although the entire street was pretty much burnt out at the time and Lou’s store was one of the few still remaining standing. If we didn’t show Mermaid Avenue we would hear it from Lou, because in his mind Mermaid Avenue was just as vibrant as ever. I complied and Lou was satisfied.
The next time I saw Lou was several years later when it was time to present our proposals. Again I was warned. “There is this man in Coney Island who hates every proposal we make. When he rips your proposals apart, I don’t want you to feel bad.” Well guess what happened? Not only did Lou not rip apart the proposals, he stood up to commend them. He said, “I’ve been hearing proposals from the City for twenty years now, and everything I have heard…has been ridiculous. This is the first proposal that makes perfect sense to me and I wholeheartedly endorse it.” I thought the gentleman who warned me would pass out. About 25 percent of those proposals became the Southwest Brooklyn bus route changes of 1978, but Lou liked them all.
This time I remembered the name Lou Powsner. Fast forward thirty years. I see Lou at one of the early Select Bus Service meetings for the B44 SBS, and make a mental note to reintroduce myself, although I doubted if he had any inclination we had met before. But Lou leaves early and I miss the opportunity. Wondering if our paths would ever cross again and not sure how to contact him, I feel sorry that I just didn’t stop what I was doing and go over to him when I had the opportunity.
But fate is a strange thing. I did not have to wait another thirty years. About three days later, I am near Sheepshead Bay Road and for some reason look to my left and notice a parked car and inside is Lou Powsner. I politely knock on his window calling out his first name, naturally being a little nervous. Would he even acknowledge me not having the slightest idea who I was? He immediately reaches over to open his door and invites me inside his car to join him.
We talk for a while and of course he does not remember me but is willing to listen to my stories. He tells me that he is driving everyday to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in upper Manhattan to visit his terminally ill wife. Realizing that he is now in his upper 80s, his story makes me realize how unfair tolling the East River bridges would be, which was all the rage in 2008. I ask myself why should someone like him who has paid his dues be forced to make that trip by subway each day or pay $13 a day extra to visit a sick wife?
Then last year while speaking to Todd Dobrin who unsuccessfully challenged Mark Treyger for City Council in Coney Island/Bensonhurst, Lou’s name came up in conversation. I ask Todd for Lou’s phone number. I was anxious to find out how he was doing. He answered the phone as he always did, “Lou Powsner here.” I told him who I was and asked him how he was doing. He responded by saying, “How would you like me to help you?” I told him that I was not calling for any advice or favors, but just wanted to know how he was. He said he was doing fine but repeated, “What do you want me to do for you?” That’s just the type of person Lou was. Someone who would welcome a stranger who knew his name into his car, and who was always willing to help others.
Rest in peace, Lou. I wish I had the chance to meet you.
A sincere “thank you” to Community Newspaper Group for granting permission to use the above photo.