Farewell for now, Celia

January 15, 2013 Heather Chin
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Life-long Brooklyn resident and community leader Celia Cacace had to leave her home borough for the cheesier, and possibly grassier, knolls of Wisconsin, on Tuesday, January 15, after her apartment building on 1st Place was sold and even the combined efforts of her friends and fellow community activists in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook could not find her an affordable replacement.

Celia Cacace greets well-wishers.

Before she left, though, Brooklyn came out for a farewell party/future-apartment-fundraiser at popular Court Street eatery, Mama Maria’s. Between all the gasps of recognition, squeals of surprise, hugs, and steady stream of conversation, it was a good thing, said Cacace, that she hadn’t put on mascara that evening. “I didn’t put [it] on because I promised not to cry,” she joked.

“It’s overwhelming,” the 76-year-old exclaimed between laughs. “Even the kids [are here]. I’m seeing people I know and not saying goodbye [because] I’m like General MacArthur: “I shall return.”

That was the hope among everyone at the party. “I’ve known her for almost 25 years [when] I got involved with the community,” said fellow neighborhood activist Glenn Kelly. “Only then did this become not just the place I lived, but my neighborhood. Everyone knows her and she knows everyone.”

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“Celia really cares about the community and is always looking out for everybody,” added Maryann Y. “[We] need her because she is active and speaks for everyone from the bottom up with passion, truth and honesty… she is an advocate for us all. This is her home, no matter where she lives.”

Democratic District Leader Jo Ann Simon, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, and Chris Owens said farewell to Celia Cacce.

Those who traveled from far and wide to see Cacace before her big move ranged from her son’s former teacher from P.S. 58, Fran Briola-Coglitore and Community Education Council President Jim Devor, to mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, District Leader Jo Ann Simon, and congressional candidate and lawyer Chris Owens.

To Cacace, though, they’re all simply friends and extended family – all of whom she’ll miss seeing every day.

“We used to congregate at Joe’s Restaurant [on Court Street near Union Street],” she said. “Now it’s a yogurt store, so now we go to Happy Pants [Café]. It’s hard to describe here. I could walk to everything. They make much about stores [coming] and we’ve always had stores.”

As for what the future will bring, Cacace said she’ll just “have to learn about what makes Wisconsin tick. I’ll get involved. I’ve still got energy in my body.”

Cacace and Judge Alex Calabrese of the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

What’s Cacace’s message to the next generation of community advocates? “Humility. Love Brooklyn for what it is. Don’t be pompous about it. Work together in the community. Don’t take it personal if a Brooklynite disagrees with you. Take it for what it is and if you change it, change together. Don’t say it’s going to be better.”

And she says she hopes to be back to see how we’re all doing. “This is not goodbye,” she said. “So long. I’ll be seeing you.”

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