Jul. 13, 2023 By John Schilling
Elected officials, community leaders and Far Rockaway locals gathered in front of The Child Center of NY’s Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone at 57-10 Beach Channel Drive in Arverne on Wednesday, July 12, for a street co-naming ceremony to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Deborah L. Hoyle.
Remembered as a “tenacious” advocate for the Rockaway community and the director of the Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone, Hoyle died on June 20, 2021 at the age of 60 after a nine-month battle with stage 3C ovarian and uterine carcinosarcoma cancer.
“My mother always felt the need to help out,” said Hoyle’s eldest daughter Nkengé DeJesús, alongside her sister Ashley O’Neill. “She was always a voice to speak up for everyone else that didn’t have a voice to speak up for … she worked tirelessly for years.”
Hoyle first came to Arverne in 1984 and lived in the Ocean Village housing complex. In the early 1990s, she began her public service journey by starting a tenants’ association at Ocean Village and attending various meetings to call for more resources for the community and bring about positive change.
After some time away, Hoyle returned to the Rockaways in 2003, something her daughter initially wasn’t happy about but now says she believes was a part of her life’s “calling” to improve the community with the Ocean Bay Cornerstone Child Center.
An educator, Hoyle taught in three different elementary schools across the peninsula and made the Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone “a second home for kids” by providing them with a safe space and fun activities from STEM programs and photography to music and arts and crafts.
During the ceremony, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards recalled how Hoyle opened the center up during the height of the pandemic and worked with the Campaign Against Hunger to distribute thousands of pounds of food to people in need.
“She was a front-line worker every day before the word even became popular,” Richards said. “That says a lot about somebody’s personality, about their leadership.”
Putting her health at risk, Hoyle remained a constant presence in the community during the pandemic and up until her death, constantly telling those around her that she needed to keep working.
“I could not get her to leave this center,” The Child Center of NY Senior Program Director Rob Closs said. “She was a very intense personality.”
For District 10 NYS Senator James Sanders Jr., one of his most vivid memories of Hoyle’s activism was when she led a demonstration outside a grocery store near Ocean Village that was deliberately turning off their freezers to cut costs and selling spoiling food as a result. Sanders praised Hoyle’s leadership and willingness to make change happen instead of just complaining about how things were.
“She was a public servant who tried and gave everything she had,” Sanders said. “Deborah absolutely should have several streets named after.”
Brian Davis, the director of the nearby Cornerstone Community Center on Beach 41st Street, added that aside from Hoyle’s work, she was a fun person to be around and could often be found dancing to music in her office.
“If she was having a bad day and didn’t feel too good or whether she was on top of the world, she brought a smile and an energy to every room that she walked in,” Davis said. “I was privileged, and all of my coworkers, just to be in her presence and to learn from her.”
Aside from permanently ingraining her name on the street sign outside the center’s entrance, Hoyle’s street co-naming ceremony was of extra special significance. The family shared that it was Hoyle’s 63rd birthday and Richards had officially declared July 12 as “Deborah Hoyle Day” throughout Queens.
The ceremony, however, went beyond memories of Hoyle and also pointed to the legacy she leaves behind.
The Child Center of NY Program Director Vince Coleman focused on the Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone and how it aims to do things the “Deborah Hoyle way.”
“She was a visionary, someone who inspired other people not just to be good but to be great,” Coleman said. “We want to make sure that anybody who comes through our door, whether it’s a child, participant, or an adult … we want everybody to be great, to be elite.”
Richards encouraged the crowd to keep Hoyle’s work alive by building on the foundation that she started and continuing to fight on the community’s behalf.
“If there’s anything Dr. Hoyle did not do, [it] is take no for an answer,” Richards said. “That’s her legacy … we have to continue to build on it as a community.”
DeJesús echoed this sentiment, adding that her mother’s work did not die with her and that the Rockaways need new leaders to follow in her footsteps.
“We all can take part in the community and do things to help our community,” DeJesús said. “We need to help each other and make sure the youth that comes up, they have a chance to progress and always come back to [the] neighborhood…and help the next generation come up.”
NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers pointed to the ceremony as a whole, calling it “one of the most beautiful street co-namings” for embodying Hoyle’s spirit.
“It doesn’t bring her back, but at least when we drive down this street, we’ll be able to remember a life well lived,” Brooks-Powers said. “I know she would be very proud.”
District 31 Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson mentioned Hoyle’s most significant legacy, which was her devotion to the children of the community. To illustrate this, Anderson brought up a young girl in the crowd named Addison to stand beside him.
“This is for you, Addison. This is so that Addison can remember who Dr. Hoyle is,” Anderson said. “We have the duty and the responsibility … to make sure that the Addisons of the world and the future generations remember the legacy that Dr. Deborah Hoyle left for our community.”
To express their appreciation for Hoyle, a group of children from the Ocean Bay Community Cornerstone helped open the ceremony with a call-and-response-style clap and dance performance that highlighted her lasting impact on them.
“Ocean Bay, Ocean Bay. We will always find a way,” the kids chanted. “That is the Deborah way.”