Albert Peter Banke – was as he told it – born on a kitchen table in New York City – during the Great Depression on April 2, 1933. The hard times of his childhood affected him throughout his life, always leading him to strive and move forward to prepare and provide a better way for his children and grandchildren. His was a life of self-sacrifice; he would work holidays, graveyard shifts, and through strikes – because he wanted to provide an easier path for those that followed; the true definition of a parent, and of a Father. He started his journey forward by joining the Navy – where he did indeed see the world – Italy, Morocco, Spain, England, Ireland – he was the Yank in blue. Al was a proud veteran who served as a Gunners Mate on the USS Worcester during the Korean War. After being Honorably Discharged from the Navy he married his dear departed wife Rita who was literally the girl next door from Arnold Avenue in Maspeth, Queens – and their union lasted for 30 years. Together they had 3 children – Albert Gerard, Maria Ann, and Lisa Beth – and they are both survived by 7 grandchildren: Jessica, Albert Sean, Daniel, Hannah, Matthew, Eric, and Meghan. Al was employed by the Brooklyn Union Gas Company where he worked for over 40 Years. Starting in 1994 and lasting for an unprecedented 7 years, Al served as the Commander of the American Legion Post 104 in Glendale, Queens.
He fought hard all his life to do better and he fought hard for life until the end, his determination, courage, and strength are an inspiration to his family and to us all, he was a man who lived with dignity, he will be missed by all those whose lives he touched.
Profile of Al Banke – by Lorraine Sciulli
For many years, he was an important part of our lives but we weren't aware of his importance. His name is Al Banke and for 41 years he worked at the Elmhurst Gas Tanks site serving as The Tank Commander, a title he received because for seven years he was the Commander of the Glendale American Legion Post 104.
Al Banke was a lifelong Maspeth resident who went to the local schools and graduated from Grover Cleveland HS in 1949. He joined the Navy after graduating and at the time had no idea how important the tanks would become in his livelihood when he left the service in 1954.
He applied for a job at the Brooklyn Union Gas Company and when he was hired he brought an enthusiasm to the job that, once recognized by his employers, permitted him to rise up the career ladder and become a field facilities supervisor in 1970. In that role he monitored the hidden streams of natural gas not only in Elmhurst but also at the other stations in Queens and Brooklyn. Also included were the Maspeth Gate Station and the Greenpoint Energy Center.
At these stations the constant below ground flow of methane gas was broken and scattered at reduced force through, what Banke called at the time, the busiest subterranean passages in America.
The job of inspecting all five tiers of the tanks was routine for Banke and for internal inspections he used a rowboat.
His job was dangerous too, because he had to navigate along the narrow aboveground catwalk in snowstorms and hurricanes and once, during a lightning storm, a bolt of electricity at the Greenpoint tank jolted him. There was no oversight from OSHA in the good ole days!
Al's responsibility also included removing heavy snowdrifts from the top of the tanks and for that job Brooklyn Union hired employees from other companies who wanted to help and also earn the extra pay.
Al Banke's professionalism was acknowledged by his employers and he takes pride in the fact that he was the first employee in Brooklyn Union's history to be given feature treatment with color photos in the company's annual report in 1984.
At the time the tanks were being removed Al stated that these tanks have served the people and Brooklyn Union well.
Al Banke was an accomplished baseball player in his early years and later on he became an avid fisherman. His wife of 30 years, Rita, died in 1986. He has many grandchildren who I'm sure bring comfort to him in his retirement years. He currently lives in Greenpoint and tells me that a few times a week he walks the periphery of Juniper Valley Park and loves to watch the boccie players in Juniper.
Al Banke was one of Pete Chahales,' closest friends. When I talked to Ethel Chahales about the Maspeth Gay Nineties Parade Juniper Berry article appearing in the June 2006 issue, she spoke very fondly of Al and the close friendship she still has with him.
It's guys like Al Banke who had an impact on our lives and it is only later in life that we recognize their contributions. It makes you understand why our neighborhood has endured with such stability and how it will go on as we pass the torch to the newcomers. We thank Tank Commander, Al Banke, who had an important job and did it well! Al passed away at the age of 80 on Sept. 19th, 2013.