These North Class of ’67 grads have remained close as they raised their families in their childhood homes
While planning the 50th Great Neck North class of ’67 reunion in Great Neck last summer, I was surprised to discover how many of my classmates still reside in town. Among them are reunion committee members Gene Reibstein and Peter Gruber.
There are a million stories about Great Neck; lifetime residents Reibstein and Gruber can tell you many of them. Best friends for more than 65 years, they grew up just steps from each other—Reibstein on Oxford Boulevard and Gruber on Wooleys Lane—and they brought up their own kids (Reibstein’s sons, Zack and Luke, and Gruber’s daughter, Danielle) in the same homes, as well.
These days they can often be found at Reibstein’s house as Gruber’s is being remodeled, or at local restaurants like Sushi Palace, where I recently caught up with them after the reunion. Reibstein is a retired Queens District Attorney; Gruber is an emergency room trauma physician at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.
Reibstein and Gruber first met when they were just 2 years old; their older sisters, Janet and Susie, were friends. The boys attended a Great Neck nursery school called Les Cocquelicots (idiomatic French for “The Little Kids”), before moving on to Clover Drive Elementary School. Reibstein remembers that Clover Drive, Grace Avenue and Cherry Lane were deemed three of the four best-designed school buildings in the U.S. at the time.
The two were classmates throughout their years at Clover Drive, where their teachers were Miss Cleaver (kindergarten), Mrs. Low (first grade), Miss Smith (second grade) and Mrs. Brown (third grade). The boys were so close at this time that Mrs. Brown recommended that they be separated in class after third grade for their best independent development and, except for one gym class in a later year, that was the case. They went on to Kensington School for fourth through sixth grades.
In seventh grade, at Great Neck North Junior High, Reibstein and Gruber had a dispute—over 72 cents, as Reibstein recalls. It would be the only real dispute they ever had, but by the following spring they reconciled.
Around this time, Gruber also took a ride down Ravine Road, straddled on the handlebar of a friend’s bike. The cycle struck a telephone pole in the middle of the sidewalk and Gruber went flying. Reibstein remembers seeing Gruber the next day with his face all scraped up and his arm in a cast.
As teenagers, Reibstein and Gruber skied together every winter and attended Camp Walt Whitman in New Hampshire during the summers, hiking and camping out.
After graduating from GNN, Reibstein attended New York University uptown, followed by SUNY Buffalo Law School, while Gruber went to Syracuse University followed by Duke University, where he earned a degree in forestry and environmental science.
Gruber worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for seven years. Coincidentally, Reibstein put in a short stint working for NYC’s EPA right before law school. Gruber ran a tree service in Great Neck for a few years before he earned his medical degree at New York Medical College; he then trained in emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Throughout these years, they visited one another often and stayed close.
While Reibstein and Gruber pursued different paths after high school, their mutual service to the public and the environment—and their commitment to the next generation—reflect parallel professional and still intersecting personal lives.
Reibstein began his professional career as a district attorney in Brooklyn; among other cases there, he prosecuted the Flatbush Rapist. Transferring to Queens, from 1981 to 2012, he rose through the ranks to become coordinator of trials for the Major Crimes Division, in charge of homicides, special victims and domestic violence prosecutions.
His most prominent role was at a federal hearing for the killer in the infamous Kitty Genovese murder case; he was also involved in the case of a guy who parachuted into Shea Stadium in the middle of a World Series game. Listening to Reibstein talk about his work is a little like hearing about several episodes of Law & Order. Over the years, Reibstein trained more than a few of the assistant district attorneys now serving in Queens. He also tried and supervised many
other murder and major crimes trials.
Gruber has been busy saving lives and training residents in the Jacobi Hospital Emergency Room for more than 20 years. He is most proud of numerous Teacher of the Year Awards the ER residents in the hospital have selected him to receive.
In the 1970s, Reibstein and Gruber mobilized their Great Neck neighbors to action, hoping to preserve a small park across the street from Gruber’s house before developers could take it over; they succeeded. Since then, with the approval of the Great Neck Department of Public Works, Gruber has set free what he calls his “Johnny Appleseed side,” planting and caring for shade trees and other foliage in the park, all at his own expense. He is pleased by how large the trees have become and is always happy to give people tours of the park, as well as his own property’s impressive specimens and various shrubs.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Reibstein and Gruber worked together again to lead the movement in Great Neck to enact a moratorium on home demolitions until new zoning laws could go into effect in the village and the Town of North Hempstead, which oversees zoning in other areas. The new laws restricted teardowns, overbuilding on lots and the felling of many trees, thereby assuring that landmark homes were preserved, new homes were appropriately sized and Great Neck was kept green.
Off duty, Reibstein and Gruber often swim at Great Neck’s Parkside Pool. Gruber participates in the 6 a.m. Masters Swimming Program; in the fall through late October, he can be seen swimming in Long Island Sound, too.
Reibstein’s sons graduated from Great Neck North; Zack is an assistant district attorney in Nassau County, following in this father’s footsteps, and a granddaughter, Iris, was recently born. Gruber’s daughter attends The Village School.
The schools, the library, the parks and the easy access to New York City are among Great Neck’s many amenities that Reibstein and Gruber say they like best. They also hope that someday their children and grandchildren choose to bring up their own families and live in Great Neck, as well.
Richard J. Gerber is a collectible book dealer in Lake Peekskill, NY. He can be contacted at www.rmgerberbooks.com.