The Tireless Eileen Larkin

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Margaret Mead

You’d think writing about a person like Eileen Larkin would be easy. It’s not. Eileen is a woman of enormous talent and drive. As her friend Susan Nemesdy says, she is “a force.”

On the day I dropped by her home on Horne Tooke Road the air was enveloped with the smell of warm vanilla and sugar. Eileen was making cupcakes, from scratch, for her grandchildren. Three-year-old Maude was waking from a nap, and five-year-old Will was coming off the bus. On the table in her kitchen sat a box of documents; a record of some of the issues that have galvanized our community over the years, and effectively, a history of the Palisades we know today.

Eileen spoke passionately to me about preserving the quality of life here in Palisades as she shooed her dog Minnie, a rescue (of course) into the living room with treats. A person of commitment, she’s not inclined to back down from a fight (I know. I’ve disagreed with her), and the dog wasn’t going to win.

Eileen’s story started simply enough. A Washington Heights born child of Irish parents, she met and married Bill Larkin in 1965, and with children Billy, Stephen, and Aimee, moved to Palisades in 1973. Her fourth child Brian was born here in 1974. At that time, the children of Palisades attended the Palisades School on Oak Tree Road in the building that is now the Children’s Corner Learning Center. Eileen, with other parents, formed the Palisades School Council. When the school was slated to close, and to be sold off by the district, Eileen and others understood the value of the building and its adjoining ten acres. They knew it would be snapped up - most likely by a developer - and an arrangement was instituted between the Palisades School Council and the School Board to utilize the building. The Palisades School Council coordinated use; boy scouts, yoga, art classes, and other programs filled the halls and generated revenue. The council also did routine maintenance including cleaning bathrooms!

Along with the late Andy Norman, Reg Thayer and others, Eileen also co-founded the Palisades Civic Association. Here’s how our hamlet would look without the skill and persistence of these activists: there would be 118 townhouses on Lauren Drive; a company dispatching double tandem trailers onto Oak Tree Road would be where 5 Star Granite and Marble is; the former Palisades School and its ten acres would most likely be built up with homes, and the IBM property now owned by HNA would also be developed. (It’s critical to note that both these prime parcels of land are of concern today.)

How is it that none of this happened in an area 30 minutes from New York City? You can thank Eileen, and people like her. She served as a member of the Orangetown Town Board from 1992 to 1997, and “loved every minute of it!” she says, “All the work, and every challenge.”

These days, she attends the town board meetings on Tuesdays, and she’s concerned, as all of us should be, that Palisades is unrepresented on three of the four land use boards. Eileen also coordinates the rental of the Palisades Community Center, consults with clients for her window treatment business, works at Dowling Gardens, and takes care of her grandchildren four days a week. Whew!

Last week, when I was walking along the road, she stopped her car and gave me some homemade Irish soda bread. My friend Eileen; fierce, generous, and a pretty good baker.