Track Dedicated To Mayor Of Central Park

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Anyone who walked or ran on the famous Central Park Reservoir running track in New York would see him. They called him the Mayor of Central Park, and he claimed to be the first person to jog around the reservoir when there was just a little path. Since 1937, Alberto Arroyo was there every day, and when he retired he was often there the entire day, waving and saying hello to everyone. When he couldn't run, he walked. Then he used a cane, then a walker, and finally, after a stroke, a wheelchair. Arroyo died last month at 94.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For some 75 years, Alberto Arroyo ran in Central Park. He claimed to be the first runner there, the first to run around the Central Park Reservoir, long before there was a running track. Later, with his weather-beaten face and white hair, he was still there, no matter the season, waving, talking and encouraging people.

Yesterday, the running track was dedicated to Arroyo, and NPR's Margot Adler was there.

MARGOT ADLER: As some 150 people lined both sides of the reservoir track near the bench where Arroyo often sat, they left a wide space so that runners could pass by throughout the service. He would've insisted, they said. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said Arroyo was like the mail carrier neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night kept him from his rounds.

Wendy Mondreresena(ph), a mother of three, said she would return to the reservoir after each child was born and Alberto was always there.

Ms. WENDY MONDRERESENA: I was always so out of shape and I felt so crappy, and you know, he always really brought me up and made me feel good and said I could do it and I could get back in shape. He was such a positive thing in my life. I wonder if he knows that.

ADLER: Everyone had a story. Here are Lori Braun(ph), Ruth Pagon(ph), Connie Rosegarten(ph) and Raul Garcia(ph).

Ms. LORI BRAUN: Always gave you time, always. The smile, just a genuine person.

Ms. RUTH PAGON: I did the power walking. I didn't do the jogging like he did. But he got me hooked and I looked forward to coming here every single day just to see Alberto. He was just a wonderful soul.

Ms. CONNIE ROSEGARTEN: I didn't know about this. I didn't know he had passed till I happened to be walking home. And I was, like, oh no, he's gone, no.

Mr. RAUL GARCIA: We used to sit here till 11, 12:00 midnight, just talking, running around. And I used to train here with him. He used to tell me what sneakers to buy and all that, you know.

ADLER: Arroyo, who died last month at 94, was a very private person. At the memorial service, a longtime friend, Edmund Maring(ph), said he only learned late in his friendship that Arroyo had taken a vow of poverty at an early age and had given all his money away. He lived in a single-room occupancy hotel on the Upper West Side.

Mr. ADRIAN BENEPE (Parks Commissioner): With just a hot plate and a phone that only dialed 911. Alberto said that you have to be able to be happy with nothing. He had cereal in the morning. He said that he had fresh air in the afternoon. And then he'd have Chinese takeout for dinner. What's more New York than that?

ADLER: Then parks commissioner Benepe unveiled a plaque dedicating the famed 1.6-mile running track to Arroyo. He said he brought greetings from the temporary mayor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to the memory of the full-time mayor of Central Park.

Mr. BENEPE: So, on behalf of a grateful city, thank you, Alberto.

(Soundbite of applause)

ADLER: Edmund Maring said Arroyo told a filmmaker he didn't mind dying. You just go from one apartment to another. This was his place in the sun, he said, the Central Park Reservoir, even on a rainy day, his last apartment on earth. But most runners said they still keep thinking they'll see him when they round a bend.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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