FORT GREENE — During Rocco Vanasco’s long tenure on Brooklyn’s Community Board 2, he helped get the elevated train tracks on Myrtle Avenue removed, needed police protection after speaking out against injustices at a drug program on Fulton Street, and fought tirelessly for the reopening of the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza Park, where 25 World War II veterans, many of them his friends, are honored.
Last week, after 45 years on Community Board 2, Vanasco was formally honored as its longest serving member.
"Rocco 'Roy' Vanasco is truly a local hero who served and represented his community proudly in various capacities; his contributions are endless,” said Councilmember Letitia James in a statement. "Roy will be missed and hard to replace. Thank you, Roy, for giving so much to a community you love."
Born and raised in Fort Greene, Vanasco has not only watched his neighborhood transform over the last 86 years, he has played an active role in its history.
“I have enjoyed Fort Greene/Clinton Hill my entire life,” he said. “There are so many stories here.”
But the neighborhood was a different place in 1968, when Brooklyn Borough President Abe Stark first appointed Vanasco to a community planning committee that later morphed into Community Board 2.
“I don’t even recognize the block I grew up on where we used to play punchball and all kinds of games as children,” said Vanasco.
He has rolled with, and been involved in, many of the changes. He was reappointed by four successive borough presidents to the board after serving as chairman for its first six years. He later spent 30 years as chair of the transportation committee and he is the last founding member still serving on the board.
Vanasco left his home neighborhood only to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After three years in the Pacific, he was honorably discharged in 1946. His ship, on its return home, docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs. He was two blocks away from his home.
“Being from Fort Greene I had the luck to walk from my Navy ship to my front door,” he said.
He later opened an appliance parts and repairs store on Myrtle Avenue with his brother, Jack. Their shop has been in business for 60 years.
Soon after opening his business, Vanasco became a member of the Myrtle Avenue Merchants Association and discovered an affinity for local politics.
When he found himself unhappy as part of the Williamsburg Democrats, he created his own Republican club on Myrtle Avenue, but his political affiliations haven’t lost him any respect among the heavily Democratic local elected officials.
“I call him my favorite Republican,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “He has always been a big strong voice for his community — that I respect.”
Vanasco has said that he will retire by the end of his term in 2014, though he has yet to formally submit a letter of resignation. He said she plans to spend more time with his “pretty wife” of forty years and his sons and grandchildren when he leaves the board.
“I will miss the community board when my term is up,” he said. “For 45 years I have always known where I was going three times a month — and that meant something to me.”