Paula Chin in Board Operations on April 16, 2021
At first glance, Sylvia Broder knew she’d found the perfect place to call home. Safe and spacious, the seven-story, 113-unit apartment building at 5601 Riverdale Ave. in the leafy Riverdale section of the Bronx was ideal for raising her three children. After going back to school and earning a master’s degree in recreational therapy at Lehman College, Broder worked at several nursing homes in the neighborhood before retiring at age 72. But she still hasn’t quit her other longtime gig: For 30 years straight, Broder, 93, has been a board member at her co-op, where she is currently vice president.
HABITAT: When did you move into the building?
BRODER: Sixty years ago. I was living in a small apartment near Yankee Stadium and pregnant with my third child when I visited a friend here. There was a huge, gorgeous lobby, lots of space, and I thought the whole building was fabulous. I told my husband, Joseph, who was a stockbroker, and he said, “Okay, just go ahead and make the arrangements.” There was a two-bedroom apartment available, and we started renting it for $200 a month.
HABITAT: When the building went co-op in 1982, did you join the board right away?
BRODER: No, I wasn’t interested. But at the annual meeting in 1990, when we got to the elections, my husband nominated me. He just stood up and said, “I’d like to nominate my beautiful wife, Sylvia.” I was stunned. But by then I pretty much knew everybody in the building, and they just voted me in.
HABITAT: Did you jump right into your new duties?
BRODER: No. When I first started out, I was very quiet because I really didn’t know what was going on in the building. We also had a very, very strong president. But I eventually joined the building committee. Our job was to go through all the floors and see what needed to be done and what wasn’t being done, and report it to the managing agent. I also helped interview people who wanted to move in, which was great because I really enjoy talking to people. You have to make certain that it’s not just their finances that are stable, but that they’re nice people who will add something to our community. Even to this day, we’re more like a family.
HABITAT: Did you have any pet projects?
BRODER: At the time, we only had a part-time doorman who worked from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. We’re on a main thoroughfare, and when the doorman would leave, anybody could push a bell on the outside and somebody would buzz them in. And we did have an incident. I spoke up at a board meeting and said we needed a full-time doorman because with our glass entry doors, anybody passing by could look in and see that there’s nobody at the desk. The president agreed with me, we voted, and it happened.
HABITAT: Did you serve on any other committees?
BRODER: I was in charge of redecorating the lobby. There was one other person on the committee, and we picked out fabric samples and couches and recommended them to the board, and I must say it came out really beautiful. Then we had to wallpaper all the hallways. They were painted this dark soldier blue, and then they took a sponge and put on white enamel paint. Can you imagine? It was such an embarrassment I wouldn’t invite anybody to visit me. I picked a neutral, beige-y grass cloth wallpaper, which worked well with our beautiful granite floors.
HABITAT: What do you think is your greatest strength as a board member?
BRODER: You have to be able to get along with people. Everybody comes from different backgrounds, so you have to be careful about what you say, how you say it, and how you present things so that you’re not insulting anyone. Otherwise, people won’t listen to you or understand what you’re talking about. I guess I’m just a people person.
HABITAT: We’ve heard from fellow board members that you’re great at putting out fires when tempers flare.
BRODER: Well, there are short-tempered people who explode at board meetings. I just say, “Oh, I hear what you’re saying. That’s a very good suggestion, but it may be a little extreme, so let’s look at it this way and see what can be done.” You can always find a solution when people aren’t emotional. So you have to get them to calm down and move on, ignore the extraneous junk and focus on the important things. You can’t get stuck on one person who’s crazy. And believe me, there have been crazy people on the board.
HABITAT: How has the building changed over the decades?
BRODER: When I moved in, none of the women worked. It was a real family building, and everybody had kids. The building is split into two sides – when you walk in, you can go to the right or the left, and they don’t connect in the middle. But back then, you could just let your kids go over to the other side to play. We don’t have as many children at all today. It’s changed tremendously. There are a lot of elderly residents and young couples who both work, so you don’t see people nearly as much as you used to.
HABITAT: How long do you plan to keep serving?
BRODER: I’m going to leave shortly, because I’d like to see some new blood coming in. Not necessarily young people, because it’s good to have people on the board who aren’t working and who have the time to deal with everything that needs to be done. And you know what? I’m 93, and I don’t have the same energy that I had when I was 80. I’m a bridge player and have been playing online, so I’ll play more bridge. I’ll take it a little bit easy, but not a lot, because it won’t be good for me to do nothing. I’ve told our president that anytime he needs me for anything – as a consultant, as an honorary chairperson, whatever – I’ll always be available.
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