How an Adelphi Alumna is Preserving the History of Queens
By Lizz Panchyk
As editor-in-chief at The Delphian, Adelphi’s student newspaper 30 years ago, Lori DiBella Wallach got practice interviewing people and telling their stories. Now, the 1989 aluma uses those skills to document Queens’ history.
Lori Wallach, outreach coordinator and archivist at Queens College, has been part of a project called Queens Memory for about six years. Queens Memory is a joint-program between Queens College and Queens Public Library. Its mission is to collectively gather information to raise awareness of the history of Queens while also creating community-based projects to preserve it. Both professors and students of Queens College are a huge benefit to the successes that this project brings.
Wallach has always had an interest in history, beginning with her family. Although she didn’t major in history at Adelphi, opting to study English and music, instead. She said she’s long been a history buff.
“I love the idea of preserving not only the local history, but contemporary history,” said Wallach, who met her husband Patrick Wallach while reporting for The Delphian.
The two each served as editor-in-chief in their respective years, and they built lasting bonds with the writers and staff.
“I remember how much care she [Wallach] put into her time at The Delphian,” said Gary Jansen, AU ‘92, who also wrote for the newspaper. “She was someone to look up to, as a person and as a writer.”
Working on the school newspaper proved to be beneficial towards Wallach’s career path. Her multiple roles of writer, editor and manager gave her much-needed experience.
“The skills I learned in coordinating a weekly publication with lots of contributors and a strict deadline have helped me in my current tasks of organizing events, keeping volunteers on task and juggling multiple concurrent projects,” she said.
After graduating from Adelphi in 1989 and receiving her master’s, also from Adelphi, in 1996, she decided to go for her Master’s in Library Science at Queens College. After receiving her MLS in 2014, she landed in the archives there and started her journey to help preserve Queens’ history by joining the Queens Memory Project.
Although currently residing in Wantagh, learning more about Queens has been enlightening for Wallach. Not only has she learned about the history of the borough, but about her family as well. Her mother grew up in Bayside, Queens and her father worked on the construction of the 1964 World's Fair, which took place in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Given this familial connection, Wallach was eager to learn more about Queens and its residents.
“My favorite part of this job is experiencing past events through people’s first-hand accounts and getting a little window into other people’s lives from their interviews and photos,” said Wallach. “Personally, I find one of the most gratifying experiences is when a family member of someone we’ve interviewed contacts us to say our recording is the only one they have of a person who’s since passed—this happens every so often, and I know how precious those
recordings can be.”
Being able to learn not only about her own family history, but also the history of thousands of residents, is what makes this job so exciting for Wallach.
“Lori has a genuine personal interest in history and people’s lived experiences,” said Natalie Milbrodt, director of Queens Memory. “She knows her stuff and approaches new topics with curiosity and intellectual rigor.”
All these different accounts make up the bulk of what Queens Memory is all about, so being a part of this project is particularly rewarding not only for her personally, but also for everyone who participates in the preservation of Queens history as well.
While this project is mainly focused on the community of Queens residents, the project has opened up to more people since the Covid-19 pandemic hit since all activities had to be done virtually. Queens Memory has found a way to continue launching community-based events, relevant to the pandemic, through their website, https://queensmemory.org/, available for people to contribute their stories and experiences in Queens.
“Communities like ours are lucky to have people who grow up here and stick around to give back and contribute to the collective memory of who we are and how we came to be,” said Milbrodt.
Moving forward, Wallach hopes to be able to extend this history-preserving project to not only more of Queens, but even Long Island.
“I would see that as a sort of natural progression,” she explained, “taking what I’ve learned from Queens Memory and translating it somewhere else.”
What started out as simply a passion for recording campus events and stories in a college setting has clearly blossomed into something much bigger to the benefit of future generations.