It was the last push for “Stroller Joe.”
The Prospect Park Y’s beloved janitor Joe Caraballo — who achieved national renown for wrangling dozens of strollers and winning the hearts of neighborhood moms, dads, nannies, and tykes, maneuvered his last Maclaren and put away his penultimate Peg Perego on Friday with the kind of kiddie fanfare usually reserved for Dan Zanes.
“I’m going to miss Joe desperately,” said Stephanie Thompson, a Park Slope mom who admired Caraballo’s warmth, spirit and steady hand with a Stokke. “He’s amazing. Every day he’s got a big smile on his face. He’s a dear friend and I will miss him very much — so will all the other moms.”
But all men who achieve greatness, greatness first needed to be thrust upon him. He started as a maintenance man in 2005, but Caraballo got his “promotion” to stroller sorter when the Y, which is Ninth Street in the heart of Babyville, created more kids programs — and someone had to play traffic cop.
“‘Stroller Joe’ became an institution,” confirmed Kathy Birro-Johnston, a YMCA director. “He has a unique style.”
It’s not just style, but substance. Caraballo earned the adoration of parents and children thanks to his attention to detail. This is a guy flips down the canopies so the seat won’t get to hot in the summer, for instance.
And it doesn’t hurt that he’s so friendly that even the most terrible two smiles in his presence. On Friday, a little girl was so proud of a necklace she had just made in a YMCA class that she proudly showed it to Caraballo.
“That is so cool,” responded Caraballo as enthusiastically as any dad would have. “That is awesome!”
The kids love such responses, but Caraballo admitted that he got a lot more back.
“When they started calling out, ‘Stroller Joe,’ it opened up a lot of my personality and made me who I am today,” he said. “They gave me their love and I gave them mine.”
Parents who are worried that their rugrats — and their Bugaboos — won’t be in good hands can rest assured; Caraballo has groomed a successor, Louie Leon. He takes over on Monday.
Then, the next day, Park Slopers will get one last chance to honor their humble public servant at a picnic in Prospect Park. Caraballo, who is moving to Florida, where he hopes to continue working with children, says he’s expecting 400 people.
And lots of strollers.
Joe Caraballo Farewell Picnic in Prospect Park [enter park at Ninth Street and Prospect Park West, (718) 768-7100], Sunday, June 9, 11 am.