And for over three decades, the driving force behind that greenkeeping effort was Frank Rizzo, who passed away on April 30 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
At a ceremony earlier this month, Rizzo was remembered for his dedication to the complex, as well as the Hollis-Bellaire-Queens Village-Bellerose (HBQVB) Athletic Association, whose teams call the complex home.
“Every spring, he was busy getting the fields ready for the summer,” Charlie Rizzo said of his brother. “It's just really emotional to hear all of these people talk about how Frank affected them. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him.”
George Mistsopoulos, who knew Rizzo from their childhood days in Astoria, and some of their old friends raised $725 for a plaque honoring Rizzo that was presented to league officials at the ceremony. It will hang in the clubhouse at Padavan-Preller.
Rizzo's name was also added to a memorial stone that sits near a flagpole at the center of the complex.
“Frank Rizzo was the voice of HBQVB since the mid-1980s,” said Frank Giannone, Jr., who served with Rizzo on the association's Board of Directors. “It was a neverending job that he saw to year after year to make HBQVB safe and fun for the children of our community.”
Rizzo first became involved with HBQVB when his two sons started playing baseball. Long after they had moved on from the sport, Rizzo continued to volunteer his time.
“It was great to see him honored at a place where he spent so much of his time, it was like a second home to him,” said son Timothy Rizzo. “It felt like a homecoming for me. It was great to share so many old memories.”
Padavan-Preller is also home to the G.O.A.L.S. Athletic League, a girls fast-pitch softball league. League President Ginny Peiser said Rizzo lobbied the HBQVB Board of Directors on behalf of the league, which started playing games there in 2015.
“He was determined to get girls back onto the softball fields,” Peiser said. “They used to have girls, but it went by the wayside in the late 90s. Frank always said it was exciting to see the girls play, and he wanted to help bring that excitement back.
“He is greatly missed at the fields,” she added. “Seeing his smiling face always brightened my day. He truly cared for all the kids.”
His other son, Matt Rizzo, said the ceremony at the ballfields was emotional for the family, especially for wife Theresa, who was with Frank for the last 14 years of his life.
“They were perfect together,” he said. “A great man and a great woman.”
Matt said his father taught him to be respectful, and that he could go to him with any problem.
“He never judged and he never picked sides,” he said. “He treated everyone the same.”
Rizzo also volunteered his time at Redeemer Lutheran Church on 216th Street.
“He was a great guy who loved to laugh and give his time to help other people,” Timothy said.
He was also remembered as the life of the party and a man who loved to sing, and was especially fond of Frank Sinatra's “My Way.” In fact, Charlie changed the lyrics of the song to memorialize his brother during the eulogy at his funeral.
Giannone said Rizzo was there for the league's Opening Day parade every April with his bullhorn in hand, leading 1,000 people down Hillside Avenue.
Charlie said when his brother decided to stop taking treatments for his cancer, one of his last wishes was to see one more opening day.
“He was in a wheelchair, but he made it,” Charlie said.