2022 Person of the Year: Keith ‘Bugsy’ Goldberg
Time Magazine has their person of the year. Since 2021, The Rockaway Times has ours. In a community where so many people go above and beyond to make Rockaway a little better, the choice was not easy. But we decided to go with someone who could’ve been named ‘Person of the Year’ for at least three decades for all that he’s done for the community. And this year was no different, especially with this person taking the time out to acknowledge some other pretty special people and making sure they’re never forgotten. Over the past year (and beyond), Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg has proven to be beyond deserving of the title as The Rockaway Times’ 2022 Person of the Year.
Most may know Goldberg for his work with CYO sports. After all, he seems to live, breathe and even work CYO as Director of CYO for the Diocese of Brooklyn. But even when he’s not getting paid, Bugsy finds ways to go above and beyond to keep Rockaway’s youth, and adults, as busy as he is.
Outside of CYO, Goldberg has been helping to organize the St. Francis de Sales Summer Classic for the last 38 years. It all stemmed back to his CYO coaching days in the ‘80s and taking over as SFDS CYO Director, when Flip Mullen had the idea of starting a summer league. Mullen got Bugsy on board and he’s been the lifeblood of the summer tradition ever since. “That happened 38 years ago, and I still do it. It’s a wonderful thing and such an important thing for the community to have something to look forward to in the summer. I organize it with the help of a whole bunch of people but to be the person directing how things happen each year, it is enjoyable,” he said.
Goldberg calls his “ability to organize things and get people working together,” a God-given gift, and lucky for Rockaway, where he’s lived his whole life, Goldberg is more than generous in sharing his gift with the community.
In addition to getting all the teams together and making sure the Summer Classic is a smooth sailing ship each summer, Goldberg himself, is a team player. In response to 9/11, a group of guys in the 35 and older league in the Summer Classic wanted to do something beyond dribble and shoot, so in 2001, they formed a nonprofit and put it to good use, doing anything and everything for the community. Since its inception, Goldberg has been a Graybeard. “It’s the quintessential Rockaway organization. It’s in my blood. The Graybeards have just done so much good and focus primarily on serving the people here in Rockaway. I wish I had more time so I could do even more with them,” Goldberg said.
In a recent example of his work in conjunction with the Graybeards, when musician Gerald Bair wanted to bring back his Christmas Toy Drive show, he reached out to Goldberg for help, who turned to the Graybeards and connected Bair with an organization known as Little Angels, which distributed the collected toys from the recent event at Rogers, to kids in need. But Goldberg has a habit of going above and beyond with the organization. Along with Joe Featherston, Goldberg has helped organize one of the group’s main fundraisers—the Family Fun Run. This summer, Goldberg helped organize the 19th annual event.
And in addition to the Summer Classic and the Family Fun Run, Goldberg has picked up a few more activities along the way, despite going through his own troubles. In 2015, Goldberg was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. He underwent six months of chemo treatments and thankfully, since the end of 2015, Goldberg has been cancer free. But even treatments didn’t stop him from showing up at the schoolyard to keep the Summer Classic going, and coming up with other things to do, or rather, resurrecting things he had tried previously.
As a music lover and DJ, and even a former member of the band, The Grayriders for 20 years, Bugsy wanted to share his love of music with his hometown. He was always the guy that had organized bus trips to concerts with his friends and family, but in 1985, he wanted to bring that music closer to home. He launched an effort to bring some bigger name acts right to Rockaway. It didn’t last too long but after beating cancer, Goldberg wanted to take a shot at it again. In 2017, he launched the Bugalou Music Series, bringing artists like Max Weinberg of the E Street Band and others to local stages. Unfortunately, Covid put a wrench in those plans and Goldberg says he may be winding it down, but he still has plenty of other activities to keep him busy, like 3 on 3 by the Sea.
When his dear family friend Clare Droesch died in 2018 after a long battle with breast cancer, Goldberg kept her legacy going. While battling cancer, local basketball star, Droesch had started the “3 on 3 by the Sea,” an annual late summer basketball tournament to raise money for breast cancer awareness and to help Droesch with expensive medical bills. And even though Droesch died, the legacy she started continues thanks to family and friends with Goldberg at the helm, continuing to organize the annual event, now for the “Clare Droesch Scholarship Fund.”
As Goldberg explained, “I’ve known the Droesch family for 50 years. I had worked at the Belle Harbor Tavern when it was owned by them and when I got married, we moved four houses away from them. Clare was like a niece to me.
“When she started the 3 on 3 with my nephew, Brian Bagley, I was just giving them assistance. When Clare passed, her family wanted the event to continue and asked that I take on a leadership role. It was very hard to say no,” he said. Since 2018, Goldberg has kept the 3 on 3, and the spirit of Clare, alive through basketball. But that wasn’t all.
When city council approved the street co-naming of Beach 134th and Cronston Avenue for Clare, the Droesch family approached the man they knew could sum her up best, for help. When the street co-naming was held on June 4 this year, Goldberg hosted the ceremony. “Her family felt I could express what Clare was about to the people that were going to be there and give a sense of what was special about her,” Goldberg said. “So I tried to let what was going through my mind and in my heart come out of my mouth.”
But it wouldn’t be the last way Goldberg commemorated his late friend this year, and Clare wouldn’t be the only one. In 2022, Goldberg has made it a priority to keep Rockaway’s legends and heroes’ names alive. Like many in Rockaway, Goldberg was devastated to hear of the sudden passing of 31-year-old Firefighter Timmy Klein, who died fighting a fire in Brooklyn on April 24. So much so, that on the day of Klein’s funeral, Bugsy decided to postpone the Bugalou concert that was scheduled for that night, out of respect, and to mourn in his own rite. Goldberg had known Klein since he was a kid, playing for CYO and in Summer Classics, including the Men’s Open League for the last decade. So Goldberg felt it was only right to keep Klein’s memory going and honor him by renaming that very league for the late firefighter. On June 14, Goldberg opened the Men’s Open League season by announcing it would be called “The Timothy Klein Open League,” and revealing new jerseys with Timmy’s signature “TK” emblazoned on the arms.
“He had been such a key part of the league as a player and captain and the league really had a bond with him for his personality, and I felt what he had done in his life needed to be remembered, so for years to come, teams will remember Tim when they play in the league,” Goldberg said.
And after naming the Men’s Open League for someone for the first time ever, Goldberg felt it was only right to do the same for the Women’s League. On June 27, between games, Goldberg announced that the Women’s Open League would from then on be known as “The Clare Droesch Women’s Open League,” with each jersey showing Clare’s name. “With renaming the Men’s League for Tim, it felt appropriate to name the Women’s League. It made no sense doing one without the other, so we dedicated both teams,” Goldberg said.
For his efforts this year to recognize those who have done so much for their community by memorializing them in Rockaway’s history, it’s about time Keith “Bugsy” Goldberg gets some recognition of his own, not only for this year, but for his consistent work with the Summer Classic, The Graybeards, the Family Fun Run, Bugalou Music and beyond. But at the end of the day, Bugsy, who humbly tried to reject the honor, says everything he does is for the place he loves and the people who call it home. “It’s very rewarding to provide things for the community that everyone enjoys. It helps build our sense of community and it’s a large part of why everyone feels so strongly about where we live. There’s lots of things going on, and I’m happy to be a part of some of them, and they’re things that people embrace and feel is important to their life in Rockaway,” he said. “I love this place. I love the people and my thought is always, when God gives you a talent, you do your best to share those talents to the benefit of everyone.”
And fortunately for Rockaway, Bugsy’s in it for the long run. “I’ll do it as long as I can,” he said.