Neighborhood Dynamo

| 13 Aug 2014 | 03:15

    Standing 5-feet tall and sporting bright lipstick, Loretta V. Ponticello may not seem like much of a threat. But she has become a force to be reckoned with in Yorkville, and was a key activist credited with sparing Cherokee Post Office from a proposed closure. A New Jersey native, Ponticello, 87, moved to the neighborhood in the 1950s, not long after she came to New York City to take a job at Chemical Bank, now part of J.P. Morgan Chase. She has always been an active member of the community, but since her retirement in 1995, she has become even more involved. Last summer, the United States Postal Service threatened to shutter many post offices across the country in order to ease budget problems. One of the possible branches was Cherokee Post Office, on York Avenue and East 78th Street. As executive secretary of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, Ponticello became directly involved with trying to stop the closure, and went to work putting up flyers, collecting signatures, sitting in the post office and spreading word to customers. She was particularly worried about this particular branch because of the large elderly population in the neighborhood. â??The next closest post offices are on 85th Street or 70th Street, and the seniors in the neighborhood just can"t walk that far, she said. The association"s hard work paid off. Last November, the United States Postal Service announced that the Cherokee Post Office would remain open. Ponticello, a devout Catholic, wakes up every morning at 4:30 a.m. and says her prayers before getting dressed and playing a few games of solitaire. At 7 a.m., she goes out to pick up the Daily News and greet the neighbors. â??I know all of the neighborhood dogs by name, she said, smiling. She comes back to her fifth floor walk-up apartment on East 78th Street, across from John Jay Park, to do the daily puzzle, and then gets started on her work for the association. She creates flyers to pass out in the neighborhood and makes phone calls to potential speakers for the monthly meetings. She also likes to stay up-to-date on local politics and issues that affect her neighborhood. Ponticello was also active in obtaining Landmark protection for her apartment complex, City and Suburban Homes, in 1993. Betty Cooper Wallerstein, the association"s president, has known Ponticello ever since she came to the group to ask for help in saving the complex from being torn down by the landlord. â??Loretta is the kind of New Yorker that makes people love New York City, Wallerstein said. Ponticello is modest about all of the work she has done in the neighborhood. She says she just loves to be involved. â??It just makes me feel good! she said.