LIIVIA WESTERVELT

“I think they chose it by accident. It must have sounded like a lovely name.”


Social worker Liivia has lived in Sunnyside for 61 years


Liivia (bottom left) and her parents on the ship to America in 1949


Liivia practicing ballet behind her home in Sunnyside Gardens


Liivia and “the boys” in front of the former candy store on Skillman Avenue and 46th St.

After Liivia married, she and her husband found a house coincidentally also on 45th Street. Liivia had two children in Sunnyside. This was also where she had her first Chinese food, her first Pizza and her first kiss. In Sunnyside she organized neighborhood protests against the Vietnam War and fought for women’s and civil rights and for the landmarking of Sunnyside Gardens. Not surprisingly, it was a neighbor who suggested she pursue a master’s degree in social work, steering her toward what she calls “the passion in my life.”


Liivia showing off her junior prom dress (and her Sunnyside Gardens home)


With friends on a night out

Even after Liivia divorced and moved to Bayside, she continued to come to 45th Street several times a week to take care of her aging mother and to spend time with her friends, some of whom she knew since childhood. When her mother died in 2003, Liivia moved back into the house where she had spent her teenage years. “I meet some of the older people here that remember me since I was 10 or 15,” she says. “It’s great to have this continuity.”

Liivia now tries to pass on this sense of continuity and community to her grandchildren, who often come to visit from Ohio and Florida. The kids quickly connected with other kids on the block who now visit them in Florida in the summer. Liivia enjoys introducing her grandchildren to the ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood and watching them play in her spacious courtyard. “Sunnyside,” she says, “has been a very big part of my life.”

Listen to Liivia’s interview