The late Sheldon Wagner, who was described as a “legend” in Malverne, was recently honored with the creation of a memorial bench outside the local train station.
Wagner, who died in 2018, defined a sense of community and was the type of person everyone knew and liked, Malverne village officials said.
As the popular unofficial mayor of Malverne, Wagner greeted everyone at the Long Island Rail Road train station, at Hempstead Avenue and Utterby Road, with a characteristic cheerful wave and was a fixture at parades and events. After his death at the age of 89, family and friends packed the Malverne Funeral Home to say one final goodbye and share memories of the man who helped define this era of Malverne.
After Wagner’s passing, many in the community felt a need to honor him, which is how the Sheldon Wagner Memorial Bench became an idea and eventually a reality. Recently installed just outside of the Malverne train station, the bench bears his name and is a way for those who knew him to remember him with a smile.
“He was a legend,” said Don Pupke, a former Village of Malverne trustee and organizer of the bench project. “People loved Sheldon. He was a very special guy in the village for a very long time.”
Friends, family and Malverne residents ultimately raised $4,500 through a GoFundMe account for a memorial in Wagner’s honor. The question was determining just how to honor him, and Pupke said dozens of folks offered ideas, including a sculpture, but the cost became prohibitive.
After visiting more than 50 memorials in the area and speaking with as many as 20 sculptors nationwide, Pupke discovered Eliot Mazzocca of Lido Stone Works in Calverton. Pupke had learned of Mazzocca’s work, especially with projects of community pride. Mazzocca, who has repaired and replaced damaged memorials for U.S. Navy SEAL Michael Murphy of Patchogue, said once he learned about Wagner’s impact on an entire community, he was eager to construct a memorial.
“The story about Sheldon and who he was in the community touched me,” Mazzocca said. “I always believe that when you put good things in the world, they come back to you. I wanted to be part of the memorial.”
Mazzocca said he created the bench using Virginia jet mist granite, the same stone used at the 9/11 Memorial’s twin reflecting pools. Just recently installed, the bench will be officially dedicated in the near future.
“It’s a very fitting memorial to Sheldon,” Pupke said. “It’s right by the train station where he used to greet everybody in the morning, and it’s near where he lived. People will be able to remember him for years to come when they see the beautiful bench.”
Kristen Smith, a member of the local civic association, was also instrumental in organizing and assisting with the memorial. She said Covid-19 interrupted the plans a bit, but neighbors were determined to create a memorial for a man who meant so much to so many people.
“Everyone remembered Sheldon as a presence in Malverne, so Don (Pupke) wanted a presence that reminded people of Sheldon,” Smith said. “Sheldon was always there, and the bench will always be there.”
As for the community going above and beyond to honor one of its own, Pupke and Smith weren’t surprised. They both said Malverne once again displayed its sense of community by working to honor such an integral person that meant so much to the community.
“It was overwhelming, the number of people who donated and asked about the memorial,” Smith said. “That’s the spirit of Malverne.”
Pupke agreed, saying, “In true Malverne form, this was the effort of a lot of people who were all grabbing an oar and rowing to get it done.”