On a clear night at dusk the cool ocean breeze sweeps through Coney Island's amusement area in a background of music and fun. Soaring high about the beach and boardwalk is Deno's Wonderwheel. Freshly painted and highly maintained, lit up like a strange light house for the ocean going ships entering New York Harbor, The Wonderwheel and it's park is rigorously maintained by Steve Vourderis and his brother Dennis.
Steve & Dennis are sons of a Greek man who came to the US less than half a century ago. The patriarch Deno Vourderis began his Coney Island Oddesey as a Hot Dog Vendor buying a stand for $5,000 near the Brooklyn Aquarium on the boardwalk near West Eighth Street in 1967. When the Aquarium needed the property for expansion, Poppa Vourderis moved into what was Wards Kiddie Park, next to Old Man Fred Garms 10 story hiegh Wonder Wheel. Deno won friends fast around the Amusement Park and over time, as the old guard owners retired brought the Kiddie park and the Wonder Wheel.
In 1981, at the height of the homeless problem in New York City, and at a time when homeless people sheltered themselves under the board walk at Coney Island, Deno was stabbed and laying in the hospital. Fred Games at this moment decided that he needed to sell. Poppa Vourderis, who years earlier promised to buy the Wheel for his wife as a wedding present, was laid up in the hospital. His Son, Dennis explained that this might not be a good time to make a purchase. But Deno would have none of that and demanded that Dennis negotiate the deal NOW.
Shuttling back and forth, Dennis did just this, and the Wheel has been in his families possession ever since, maticuleously maintained by the two brothers. With the Kiddie Park and the Deno's Area finally merged as one property, intagration of the two sites was begun. Today Deno's 4 children run the park, and everyone in Brooklyn benefits from their constant feeling of duty to Coney Island and the people of Brooklyn.
As Dennis describes his role in Coney Island's lifeline, he says' "One of the most gratifying aspects of doing this sort of work is that when I enter the grounds here, it feels like home. The air is familiar, the sounds unique. The people here are all like family. I was out on the water with my son a few days ago, and from out there I could see the Wheel over the Brooklyn Shore Line. It filled me with pride and my son with excitement"
Dennis's feeling for family with the people of Brooklyn doesn't just end with metal and promotion. Weekly he has free rides for the homeless Kids of by the Salt N Sea mission for children based in Coney Island. They routinely bring in over 100 kids to ride the Wheel and the Kiddie Parks, putting a sense of community into troubled children, brightening there present condition and hopefully their future's as well. In addition, Dennis has made a point of hiring many local people in the Coney Island area, providing income for many residents.
In fact, Deno's is an industrial job creating program which benefits the entire borough. The Wheel is Unique in the world. It's maintmence is known only to Steven as special car must be taken with every custom part. While it has an unheard of safety record, the Wheel comes with no manual or tech support. Paint is custom made for the Wheel in Brooklyn. Lightbulbs are of a special design, one which ended in the 1950's. Dennis had to purchase bulbs from the NY Transit Authority to keep the Wheel Lit since they are no longer made. Each part of the wheel is removed and checked every year, a manpower intensive routine which puts many to work. The net result is income for families in the borough, and a landmark for all of Brooklyn's citizens everywhere
And for this reason - Brooklyn On Line's People of the Month are Dennis and Steven Vourderis.
Mail Reuvain your comments. Visit the Jewish Billboard or Take a spin the Wonderwheel!