PPA Profiles 150: Margaret Ring, Concessions Manager
February 17, 2017
This year, as Prospect Park Alliance celebrates the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park, we’re bringing you stories from members of the community about the role the Park has played in their lives. Interested in contributing your own? Submit your story and have a chance to become part of Brooklyn history. Portrait by Virginia Freire.
She's met John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, ice skated with Molly Shannon, and has given Rosie Perez a lift in her golf cart. One time Michael Bloomberg bought her a drink at Peter Luger Steakhouse. But Margaret Ring is a Brooklyn celebrity in her own right. “People say 'Marge is a legend.' I talk to everybody, I talk to every person who walks into this park.” And after just a few minutes of walking through Prospect Park with her, it’s clear she’s not joking.
A lifetime in Brooklyn and twenty years in the Park—working at various times at the Carousel, the former Wollman Rink and the Parade Ground—means Ring carries her own celebrity status. “You can’t go anywhere with her,” laughed friend and Prospect Park Turf Crew Supervisor Karen LeRiche. “Everywhere she goes, people know her and want to talk to her.”
“I’m that sixth-degree person,” agreed Ring, “you give me one person and I know somebody that knows somebody. No matter where I walk into, that happens.”
Perhaps unsurprising, since the Ring family have flourished in this corner of the world for many generations, “My parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, were all from Brooklyn. Before there was air conditioning, my grandfather slept out in Prospect Park in the summers.” Ring’s uncles worked for in Prospect Park, planting trees in the 1940’s, and her parents got engaged in Prospect Park, on the Long Meadow. Her father, who according to Margaret “people said was the most handsome man in Brooklyn,” was an umpire on weekends at the Parade Ground. “He introduced us to the Park. On Sundays after the baseball games we would go through the woods here, he would take us up and down the trails.”
Growing up around the Park—biking, playing softball and spending hours in the playgrounds—Margaret has witnessed firsthand the transformation of Prospect Park. “As a kid, I walked from Grand Army Plaza home alone through the Park maybe one or two times. I said, ‘wow, this is beautiful’ but I didn’t see a single person in the Park, it was kind of scary.” Brooklyn's flagship park, which opened to the public in 1867, has seen it ups and downs, but during a citywide fiscal crisis in the 1970s, it fell into serious disrepair. Dilapidated structures, untended greenery and unsafe conditions led to a precipitous drop in visitorship. The community outcry that followed was directly responsible for the founding of Prospect Park Alliance in 1987.
Ring began working for the Prospect Park Alliance in 1997, as the organization was growing and undertaking increasingly ambitious projects aimed at improving the Park and increasing visitorship. “I tell everybody, if it wasn’t for the Alliance, we wouldn’t have a Park as nice as this. Even in the 20 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen changes.” A project she particularly cherishes is the restoration of the Park woodlands, “even when it was bad, it was still beautiful, but when they finished the Ravine, I tell you, I cried. I took my father through, and he cried too. You couldn’t walk through it in the '70s.”
As much as any restoration project has improved the Park, so has the work of Margaret Ring and other Alliance and Parks staff who serve the public. They not only contribute to the positive change that has come to pass in the Park in recent decades, but also help sustain the Park’s authentic Brooklyn identity. “You treat people as if they’re your grandparents, your brothers and your sisters, that’s very important,” said Ring. “I had the good fortune to play in this park as a child, and I still do. It’s wonderful to work in a place this beautiful.”
c. Virginia Freire