STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Yvonne Ann Taylor, a seventh-generation descendent of Sandy Ground and founding member of its Historical Society, who was recognized as an Advance Woman of Achievement and honored by several national and local organizations for her community service, died on Monday, Nov. 21, at home surrounded by her family. She was 88.
Born Yvonne Ann Usry in the Sandy Ground section of Rossville, a descendant of one of the area’s original settlers, Taylor lived there until she married her husband Elmore in 1959. The couple, who met when they were both senior advisers to the Youth Council of the NAACP on Staten Island, were wed in the Rossville African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, where Taylor remained a member until her death.
“My mother was very involved in the Rossville AME Zion Church, which is the heart of the Sandy Ground community,” said her daughter, Yvette Taylor Jordan. “There, she was the superintendent for Sunday school, a trustee, a class leader and a missionary. She also helped to form a committee to preserve the trees and the area surrounding the church, and the Sandy Ground Historical Society was born from that committee. She became the society’s first president in 1978.”
A graduate of Tottenville High School, Taylor earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Hunter College in Manhattan before launching a career in education. She worked for the New York City Board of Education for 36 years, teaching kindergarten through second grade at PS 44 in Mariners Harbor.
“She was one of the first African-American teachers at PS 44, and was highly revered by her co-workers and students,” Jordan said.
After retiring in 1991, she consulted for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for 15 years as an adversity trainer, a role that allowed her to travel throughout the United States, working with corporate executives to foster diversity in the workplace.
Passionate about preserving Black history in the borough, Taylor was a founding member of the Sandy Ground Historical Society and worked tirelessly to have the area — which is considered the nation’s oldest continuously inhabited free Black settlement — listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Her contributions to those efforts were recognized by the Staten Island Advance with a Woman of Achievement award in 1984.
“She had such fond memories of growing up in the Sandy Ground community,” Jordan said. “She was an only child, but the community there was her extended family. The house where she grew up still stands on Woodrow Road. It’s one of the few original Sandy Ground edifices that are still standing.”
Taylor was also actively involved in Community Board 3 and once chaired the Community Advisory Board at the Seaview Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home. In 2005, Taylor and her husband were honored by the National Council of Negro Women North Shore-Staten Island Section as a couple of distinction for their embodiment of traditional African-American family values and their exemplary community service.
“She was soft-spoken, kind and giving,” Jordan said. “She achieved so much during her lifetime, but her biggest legacy is what a truly wonderful person she was.”
Taylor was preceded in death by her husband of 53 years, Elmore, who died in 2013. Her stepson, Walter, passed in 2004. In addition to her daughter, Yvette, Taylor is survived by her son-in-law, Frank, a granddaughter, Noelle, a grandson, Robert, and three great-grandchildren.
The funeral will be Saturday, Dec. 3, at Rossville AME Zion Church, with visitation from 9:30 to 11 a.m. and a service to follow. The Rev. Jacqueline Nolton will officiate, and the Rev. Janet Jones will deliver the eulogy. Burial will be in Rossville Cemetery; Stradford Funeral Home is handling the services.