Ray Unger, whose passions were divided ALMOST equally between public service and the NY Yankees – with the team holding a slight edge – died June 6 at age 73.
The Pelham Gardens resident died of complications following surgery to treat cancer.
Unger spent much of his professional career with city and state foster care agencies, working to place children in permanent – he called them “forever” – homes, and later helping mentally challenged adults transition to life outside institutions.
Unger also volunteered for more than three decades for Cub Scout Pack 18 and Boy Scout Troop 164, and in recent years also served as treasurer of the Liberty Democratic Association and the Ranachqua Foundation, a group that supports local scouting programs.
But those who knew him said perhaps his biggest love outside of family was with the Yankees, an affair that began as a youngster when an uncle first took him to the House that Ruth Built. Bob Feller pitched that day, Joe DiMaggio hit a home run, and Unger was hooked for life.
Yankee memorabilia filled his home, a gold “NY” earring adorned his ear starting at age 40, he wore a replica World Series ring, as a friend described it “with the same pride as his wedding band,” and amassed a collection of just about every Yankees baseball card ever issued by the Topps chewing gum company.
After receiving Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the City University of New York and doing a short stint at what was then called the city Department of Public Welfare, he worked from the late 1960s to 1989 at the Brooklyn Home for Children (now Forestdale, Inc.) in Forest Hills, Queens, first as a foster care case worker and eventually Director of Cottage Life, helping to arrange one of the first-ever adoptions within the foster care system in New York State.
He later worked as a rehabilitation counselor for the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Bronx Psychiatric Center where he remained until his “retirement” in 2008.
“Ray was like a roving psychiatrist,” said longtime friend and fellow Liberty Democratic Association member Joe McManus. “Anybody had problesm, they went to Ray. He was just one of the nicest people, just a good will person.”
McManus, state committeeman for the 80th Assembly District in Morris Park, also called Unger “the best treasurer the Liberty Dems ever had. He was just great with finances, very exacting. And always there if you needed him for anything – petitioning, whatever.”
Unger is survived by his wife of 47 years, Sandra (Margolis); sister, Floraine (Unger) Rosenberg, of Pembroke Pines, Florida; and children, Suzanne Unger Young of Durham, North Carolina, and Howard Unger of Brooklyn, New York, as well as three grandchildren: Hudson Young, Madeline Unger, and Celia Young.
Funeral services were held June 9 at the Shalom Jewish Funeral Home on Castle Hill Avenue, with internment at the Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Contributions in Unger’s memory can be made to the Turn 2 Foundation (www.turn2foundation.org), Ranachqua Foundation (www.ranachquafoundation.org), or any charity supporting children or animals.