It seemed like every Bay Ridge elected official and community leader was at the Bay Ridge Manor on Sunday, March 10, to honor some of their own and help raise money for the Kassenbrock Brothers Memorial Scholarship Fund.
The money goes to help high school students preparing for college. The Kassenbrock Fund honors the memory of Walter and Vincent Kassenbrock, two community leaders who founded the Bay Ridge Community Council in 1951. The organization is composed of prominent civic, business and religious groups in the areas of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.
Last year, 16 deserving college-bound students from Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights or Fort Hamilton were awarded approximately $40,000 in grants ranging from $1,500 to $5,000. The award was based on their history of service to the community with each application having been reviewed and evaluated by the trustees of the fund.
Each year, individuals or organizations are honored at the luncheon for their commitment to voluntary service within the community. This year’s honorees were the Rotary Club of Verrazzano and Nick Nikolopoulos, owner and executive pastry chef at Bay Ridge Bakery.
Community Board 10 District Manager and Kassenbrock Scholarship Fund Assistant Administrator Josephine Beckmann introduced Nikolopoulos, who was born and raised in Bay Ridge where his parents opened Bay Ridge Bakery in 1972.
He learned to be a pastry chef from his father and after college he attended the French Culinary Institute in New York. In addition to working at the Bay Ridge Bakery, Nikolopoulos has also opened up a gluten free bakery in New Jersey.
Nikolopoulos recalled receiving the Kassenbrock Scholarship in 1993 when he was at Xaverian. “I will never forget receiving this award because it was unexpected and at 18 years old receiving something like this means so much,” he said. He encouraged all kids to pursue community service because “it’s so important to be involved.”
The Rotary Club of Verrazzano was chartered in 1978. There are more than 30,000 Rotary Clubs in 160 countries worldwide claiming 1.2 million members. They work to help feed the hungry, procure open heart surgeries for children overseas and support a variety of local projects.
The Verrazzano group supports many benevolent organizations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Gift of Life. The organization is also active within the Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights communities by supporting the Guild for Exceptional Children, sponsoring turkey drives at Thanksgiving for the hungry and homeless, and presenting gift cards to the children of service members at Fort Hamilton Army Base, among many other charitable endeavors.
“There are 35 professionals in this Rotary Club,” said Kassenbrock Scholarship Fund administrator Barbara Vellucci. “They are comprised of people from all walks of life and all professions who share their personal time and personal funds, and raise additional funds to help those who are in need. . . These men we honor today never ask for recognition. They never boast about what they do. But the results of what they do is life-changing.”
Rotary Club members accepting the award included President Enrico Ferrara, Dr. Joseph Caruana, Aldo Adamo, Patrick Colabella, Frank Di Marco, Joe Speziale and Ralph Succar.
State Sen. Andrew Gounardes presented the honorees with citations and said that he was also a recipient of the Kassenbrock Scholarship when he was in high school. “The money that I received from this program helped me go on to CUNY Hunter, so I want to thank you personally for all the work that you do to make sure that access to higher education is there for so many of the young people in our community, because it’s getting harder and harder for kids to afford college today,” said Gounardes.
U.S. Rep. Max Rose spoke about his work promoting education in Washington. “We’re doing our job on the government side, you’re doing your job on the community side and together we’re going to make sure that all of our kids graduate and have full careers without the burden of having student loans,” Rose added.
Other community leaders in attendance were Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, former State Sen. Marty Golden, former City Councilmember Vincent Gentile and current City Councilmember Justin Brannan.
“In addition to all the parades and festivals we have, the Kassenbrock Scholarship is probably one of the most special traditions we have in this neighborhood,” said Brannan. “It’s not only about academics, it’s about giving back and community service . . . It’s important to give back to the community that gave you so much and raised you up.”