Rita Feldman, Chelsea community leader, dies at 74


By Albert Amateau

Rita Feldman, a lifelong Chelsea resident whose devoted service to her neighborhood made her beloved by an entire community, died Feb. 1 in New York University Medical Center at 74.

President of the 10th Precinct Community Council until her death, she also had been a member of Community Board 4 for 12 years, active in the Hudson Guild and on the St. Columba Parish Council and was a founder of the W. 25th St. Block Association.

At her funeral on Feb. 5 at St. Columba’s Church on W. 25th St., the 10th Precinct Auxiliary provided the color guard and Deputy Inspector Stephen Hughes, precinct commander, delivered a eulogy.

In 2002, Hudson Guild gave her the John Lovejoy Elliott Award for service to the Guild and the community.

“Rita was a den mother for so many of us,” said Tim Gay, a former C.B. 4 member and a community activist. “She took me under her wing when I was working on tenant issues. She knew the history of every building and their landlords.”

“My mother was a friend to everyone,” said her daughter, Gay Feldman Goupil. “She could hobnob with the elite and with the poorest of the poor. She never turned her back on anyone.”

She was born Oct. 22, 1932, in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, the daughter of Salvador Vega and Julia Sanchez Vega, who came to New York in 1917 but returned to Puerto Rico in 1932 to care for Rita’s grandfather.

Salvador Vega died in Puerto Rico and Julia moved the family back to New York in 1938. After a short stay on 36th St., the family moved to 28th St. near Eighth Ave. in a tenement that was demolished later to make way for Penn South.

In a statement Rita Feldman delivered on the occasion of her 2002 Elliott Award, she recalled her first visits to the Guild: “I couldn’t speak English and I was very lonely. The Guild was the safest place to be. I went to cooking class and etiquette class and I spent two weeks every summer at Camp Felicia.” She recalled meeting Dan Carpenter, the revered director of the Guild for many years, who read to her from a book in the Guild Library. “The first words that he read were, ‘May I please.…’ I’ll never forget it,” she recalled.

She attended P.S. 33 and P.S. 11, graduated from Charles Evans Hughes High School on W. 18th St. and then went to Fashion Institute of Technology when it was on W. 25th St., studying design. She worked in the garment industry and got a job as a model. According to Gay, in her model photos, “Rita looked like an exotic Spanish version of Elizabeth Taylor.”

She married Theodore Feldman, a garment industry businessman, and the family lived on W. 25th St. Her husband died in 1983.

“My mother became the voice of the tenants in the building,” Goupil said. “She knew everyone and she had a great relationship with the landlord. She started the 25th St. Block Association in 1972, got trees planted on the street and organized a crime watch.”

In addition to Goupil, another daughter, Candice Feldman Zarr, survives. Her grandchildren, Theodore and Colette Goupil, a brother, Ernest Roesch, and her godson, Stephen Roesch, also survive.

Horne-Dannecker-O’Connor Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.