By Carolina Salguero
I write to thank and honor Bette Stoltz for decades of work bettering Brooklyn. Bette passed away the Thursday before Thanksgiving, leaving many of us stunned and bereft. Some tributes from others, including her daughter Erica Stoltz, are below mine.
Bette created festivals, business organizations, collaborations, job training programs, school programs, businesses, and she founded SBLDC, the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation. Bette dealt with the macro via the micro. Her successful community development work demonstrated a granular knowledge of community players in their diverse and contentious glory. She worked her magic on several shopping corridors which were once moribund: Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope’s Seventh Avenue, Court Street in Carroll Gardens, and then her masterwork Smith Street which she dubbed “the little street that could.” Like Bastille Day and petanque on Smith Street? Thank Bette.
It was so Bette to address a problem by creating an opportunity, so when school dismissal was causing a disruptive flood of youth on revitalizing Smith Street, she created after-school programs for the students. Her next step was to recruit the chefs and business owners from the Smith Street restaurant row of her creation and get them involved in starting a culinary arts training program in a local school. Similarly, she created thrift shops to fill empty storefronts (Smith Street once had them aplenty) and simultaneously give retail training to women from NYCHA public housing developments. She was often a champion of the unsung and disconnected.
She worked for Brooklyn before Brooklyn was hip, and helped make Brooklyn hip in how she midwifed Smith Street into the mecca and brand it is today -- while also being an early advocate for manufacturing and industrial businesses. She helped create training programs for bus drivers such as Red Hook on the Road. She also helped start FROGG, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, which became a strong voice for getting the EPA to declare that canal a Superfund site. Civic and development work like Bette’s is often not easy but; “she employed her will of steel to bend the bureaucratic machine,” as her daughter Erica Stoltz says in the documentary she produced about Bette. I recommend the video as a great tribute to Bette and her style of community development. It is also a quick refresher course in how much parts of brownstone Brooklyn changed over 30 some years.
If you haven’t heard of Bette, maybe that’s because she did her work without a #LookAtMe buzz machine, even after that became so Brooklyn. She deftly deployed a know-your-neighbor, fact and relationship based ethos that fostered empathetic, site-specific, organic, evolution of place – and community.
I hope someone creates a Bette Stoltz award to honor and further the understanding of her work and to ensure that she continues to serve as an inspiration. We would be better for it.
A message from Erica Stoltz, daughter of Bette Stoltz
Thank you all for your condolences and comforting words during this difficult time. Your love has been received and has helped us as we try and pick up the pieces and heal our broken hearts.
Bette suffered a heart attack on Monday following ambulatory surgery and never recovered. Being the person that she was, death could not even stop Bette from her work. The first thing she did upon leaving us was give the gift of sight to another as an organ donor.
We have received an outpouring of calls and emails asking about plans and services to memorialize this amazing woman, mother, grandmother and community leader. In this regard, Bette chose to be cremated at a private ceremony with her immediate family. However, keeping with the Bette tradition, she also wants a memorial ceremony to be held in and around her beloved Smith Street where people who know Bette will have an opportunity to speak, and, which will be followed by drinking and a procession down Smith Street that she wants to be more like a parade than a funeral so that we may celebrate her life. We are in the process of finalizing dates and locations and will send that information along shortly. If you chose to memorialize her as well let us know and we will spread the word, join you in raising our glasses and keep her alive in our hearts forever.
In lieu of cards and flowers donations can be made to The Culinary Arts Program at the School for International Studies through SBLDC so that her work may continue. South Brooklyn LDC is a 501c3 Tax Exempt Corporation. Your donations are fully Tax Deductible. 100% of every donation made to support the Culinary Arts Program will go to buying food and equipment for this program. In addition we would like to support the cost of bus trips to nearby colleges that have culinary programs. Send your contribution payable to South Brooklyn LDC – 268 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 and just indicate that it is for the Culinary Program.
Michael, Erica, Patrick, Van and Shirley.
Tributes to Bette Stoltz
Craig Hammerman, CB6 District Manager in December 2015 CB6 monthly Newsletter
Katia Kelly of the blog " Pardon me for Asking" On The Passing Of Bette Stoltz, Who Helped Revitalize Smith Street, "The Little Street That Could"
Councilman Brad Lander, Remembering Bette Stoltz a Champion of South Brooklyn
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez "On the passing of Bette Stoltz"
“I’m profoundly saddened by the passing of Bette Stoltz. Our community has lost a dedicated activist, advocate and leader who will be deeply missed.
“Bette made so many contributions to South Brooklyn that one would be hard pressed to account for them all. She was instrumental to revitalizing Smith Street and helping it become a home to thriving businesses that add so much cultural life and vibrancy to our area. She organized the Smith Street Festivals in the fall and the Bastille Day Pétanque Tornament. She never stopped working to ensure Smith Street remained a thriving community anchor.
“Her efforts went well beyond Smith Street. By starting the South Brooklyn Local Development Corporation and the Red Hook Chamber of Commerce, she worked tirelessly to expand opportunity and commerce throughout Brooklyn. She helped organize Friends of Greater Gowanus and served on the EPA Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group, working on multiple fronts to push to remediate and restore the Gowanus Canal in a green, sustainable manner. She helped to institute a Culinary Arts Curriculum at the High School for International Studies on Baltic Street. For years, Bette served as a member of Community Board 6.
“The fact is, in so many ways, South Brooklyn would not be as vibrant, diverse and culturally rich without Bette’s many contributions. She leaves behind a proud legacy, one that we will honor by continuing to improve our community. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Michael, her children and her beloved grandchildren.”