Written by Dave Gil de Rubio Friday, 03 May 2013 00:00
Public service has always been high on the list of priorities for sisters Marianna Wohlgemuth and Marietta DiCamillo. Over the past two decades, the two women, who are informally known as the M&M Sisters, have made a point of ensuring that the people of New Hyde Park have been getting the most bang for their tax dollars. The creation of the Water Authority of Nassau County and the restoration of the Parkville Library are just two of the many feats the two siblings have accomplished since they started taking on taxpayer-related economic malfeasance since 1990. Their activism found them being recently honored by Legislator Judi Bosworth at the 15th Annual Trailblazers Awards Ceremony that was held at the chambers of the Nassau County Legislature.
This dedication to public service not only extends to Wohlgemuth’s children, one of whom is a litigator over in Mineola and the other serving in the Navy, but is a legacy of her mother, who died of cancer at the age of 51.
“My mother always believed in the power of the people. I remember one time, the bus stop was moved way up [from where we lived],” Wohlgemuth recalled over coffee at her home. “My mother didn’t drive and we were little kids and she used to drag us on to the bus even though there were three of us and it was difficult to do. After they moved the bus stop, she had a hissy fit. I remember her knocking on all the neighbors’ doors because she dragged us with her to alert all of them about what happened. All the neighbors made complaints and they changed it back to the way it was.”
For the Jackson Heights native, a pair of issues—an excessively high water bill and the decrepit conditions of the local library, were what got Wohlgemuth and her sister on the road to fighting for taxpayer rights. It was also when they discovered how effective petitioning could be, particularly after creating an advocacy group called the Water Bill Watchdogs following the reception of some excessively high water bills.
“When the Water Bill Watchdogs was created, we got together with Floral Park and met every week. The momentum grew and we got Senator [Michael] Tully involved. I was in charge of the petitions,” She explained. “We went out and I got 10,000 signatures—I didn’t personally do it all but I counted (laughs). That was a lot of counting. We brought it to Senator Tully in a red wagon. It was so much paper. It was unbelievable. Senator Tully, God bless him, was really instrumental in developing the legislation that created the water authority to take it municipal. A lot of people in Floral Park and the mayors in all of the different municipalities got involved.”
A similar situation occurred when the Queens-born siblings experienced first-hand the deplorable conditions of the Parkville Library, a branch of the Great Neck Public School System. Created out of an old Quonset hut, Parkville was in dire need of a paint job and there were holes in the wall and in the floor that allowed you to see outside. Before long, Wohlgemuth and DiCamillo became regular attendees at meetings for the Great Neck Public Library board of trustees (a tactic they regularly employ no matter the cause). It became clear that change was only going to be effected from the inside, so Wohlgemuth decided to run for a position on the Great Neck Public Library. She lost, but in the process a valuable lesson was learned.
“I lost because I was very naïve. I thought it was going to be fair but evidently, not necessarily so, because I was ‘New Hyde Park.’ But what did I know? What we learned coming out of this election is that we had to rally our troops and we knocked on doors—every single door of about 1,100 homes in New Hyde Park that are zoned for the Great Neck School District,” she said. “Once we got the people educated, then we went after [the board] again. This time, we were a lot smarter and I won in a landslide. And all I had was my little New Hyde Park. People were disgusted with the board at the time. They were ancient and arrogant because when you’re in power too long, you get to be arrogant, which is happening at the town right now.”
Nowadays, Marianna Wohlgemuth hasn’t slowed down a scintilla. In addition to being president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association and regular blogger on its site (lakevillecivic.org), Wohlgemuth is a water authority board member, participates in the advisory board of the building committee for the Great Neck Public Library, can be regularly seen at Town of North Hempstead meetings and continues to fight for the preservation of the Schumacher House. All of this on top of running her own business, Early Beginnings Daycare, of which she’s required to take 30 hours a year in courses/credits. But what serves as her greatest source of pride is the independence both she and her sister have managed to retain throughout all the political clashes they’ve fought together.
“If you mention the sisters, you’re going to hear not to get on our bad side. But that’s because we don’t owe anybody anything,” she said. “ That’s been our secret. We are pure of heart. There are no ties to us. You don’t pay my salary, you don’t put food on my table or a roof over my head. My husband and I do that. So there is nothing you can do to harm me if I really believe in what I’m doing. It comes from sincerity and a good place.”