Marty Zelnik charted his own course, without regret


Mel Brooks once described immortality as a “by-product of good work.” When any of us look around the greater Riverdale community — or even New York City — we find so much of that good work, the memory of Marty Zelnik will never be lost.

An architect. An educator. A husband. A father — Marty was many things to many people, never afraid to stand up for what he believed was right, no matter how unpopular it made him.

Some might call that the true definition of courage. But for those that knew him, it was just who Marty was. And he was perfect. Simply perfect.

Marty followed in his father’s footsteps, designing the homes, synagogues and office buildings we have come to cherish. But Marty was never a good follower. He was always a leader.

He showed that when he walked onto the Massachusetts campus of Brandeis University without a single athletic scholarship. Yet, Marty led not one Judges team. Not two. Not even three. He led five different sports, including the tennis team under future legendary sportscaster Bud Collins that went undefeated in 1959.

Just last year, Brandeis honored Zelnik by naming after him an award for non-recruited athletes who excel at sports while demonstrating “spirit, enthusiasm and work ethic.”

“At the time I thought everyone just showed up,” Zelnik told The Riverdale Press about his first days on campus. “It was kind of shocking because we thought everybody would compete at the same time.”

Marty leaves behind his wife, Lassa, and three sons — Bryan, Noah and Geoffrey. Just as he lived his life on his own terms, Marty chose to leave it the same way.

“He didn’t want to suffer,” Bryan shared on social media. “You know my dad. That’s not how he would want to live.”

Marty somehow found his voice just enough to demand he leave the hospital and spend his final days in the Riverdale home he loved so much.

“We are devastated,” Bryan said. “He gave to everyone, and never asked for anything in return.”

While the community is filled with many bricks-and-mortar reminders of Marty’s time walking amongst us mortals, it’s really those deep friendships, that enduring love for everything good that will keep him shining bright in our hearts for years — and generations — to come.

An architect. An educator. A husband. A father. But if you ask Marty, he was simply a man, hoping to leave behind a better world than what he found.

And Marty had just two wishes he relayed through his children in his final days. He didn’t want us to mourn his passing. Instead, Marty wanted us to celebrate his life.

From the neighborhoods of Riverdale, to the sports teams at Brandeis, to his many years teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology, to the very family he and Lassa raised.

The other? To enjoy a margarita. In his honor.