"Madge Kaplan was one of the most extraordinary people I ever had the privilege to call a friend," said New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, reflecting on the death of his good friend Madge Kaplan, who died on Oct. 31, following a long illness. Most recently, Ms. Kaplan served as commissioner of community services for the Town of North Hempstead.
Ms. Kaplan, a dedicated community activist who lived in Great Neck for over 50 years, was further remembered by Comptroller DiNapoli: "She was incredibly dedicated to her friends, to her family, and to this community. Madge was really devoted to making our world a better place. Through working in the background, in her quiet way, she had a tremendous impact on me, on the Democratic Party, on many other officials. Her community services work in the town was truly meaningful, helping improve the lives around her."
Serving as commissioner of community services for the town since September 2004, Ms. Kaplan spearheaded an effort to revitalize the department, developing a number of new programs and initiatives and addressing a wide range of social issues from gang violence and the environment, to senior care.
Among the most recognized of these programs is Project Independence, a revolutionary empowerment program that allows seniors to remain in the communities they helped build by accessing a variety of assistance programs. Implemented through a partnership with FEGS and North Shore/LIJ Hospital, Project Independence serves over 2000 seniors in North Hempstead and is recognized as being the first of its kind in the nation.
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman spoke of his long friendship and many years of working with Madge Kaplan: "I've worked with Madge for 25 years in politics and government. She means so much to me, she will be with me forever. She had an extraordinary way about her. She never lost her depth, she never sacrificed substance and she always stood for her principles. She was a mentor of mine and I am proud to have been able to work with her these last few years in town government. She has already created a legacy through our Project Independence and our hybrid bus programs. She was a very special person."
Many remembered Ms. Kaplan's years and years of dedication and hard work, "a staunch community activist," according to a release from the town. Her daughter, Nancy Kaplan, said, "My mother's life was about changing the world. She was a political activist since she was a teen ... civil rights, all causes. Every moment counted for my mother; it was very important for her to create change and leave something."
Nancy Kaplan said that even towards the end, when her mother was so very ill, she continued to go to work. "It was what it was all about to her; to be sure her work continued," Nancy Kaplan explained.
Nancy Kaplan also told about her own "unbelievably unique" childhood. Going into New York City was more of an adventure than to most youngsters. Nancy's mom was always looking to help others, even stopping to see what she could do for a homeless person alone on the city streets. Nancy remembers her old home in Great Neck always filled with people, "filled with all kinds of people." Her mother turned no one away, helped everyone.
Over the years Madge Kaplan served as president of the Nassau Library System and was currently a director and fundraising chairperson for the Great Neck Student Aid Fund. She was a founder and board member of the Working Families Party and was instrumental in passing living wage legislation in Nassau County and in increasing the minimum wage in New York State. Additionally, she founded a National Institute for Voter Registration and sat on the Judicial Screening Committee of the Nassau Democratic Party. She was the chairperson of the Judicial Screening Committee of the Working Families Party as well.
And there's more. Madge Kaplan was a member of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, NARAL and other organizations fighting for the preservation of civil liberties and the separation of church and state. She was a past recipient of the Martin Luther King Political Empowerment Award by the Economic Opportunity Council of Nassau County and a recipient of the Allard Lowenstein Award from the American Jewish Congress.
Madge Kaplan is survived by her daughter, Nancy, as well as two sons, Kenneth and Steven, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A service celebrating Madge Kaplan's life will be held on Saturday, Nov. 17, 10 a.m., at Clinton G. Martin Park at 1601 Marcus Avenue in New Hyde Park.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be sent to: The Great Neck Student Aid Fund, P.O. Box 1067, Great Neck, N.Y. 11023-1067.