Yearly Archives: 2015

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A memorial will rest on the pre-existing hill on the new Tom Cutinella Memorial Field. Photo from Ryan Ledda

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s “Tommy Tough” slogan is not only changing the culture of the Wildcats football team — it’s changing the community.

When Tom Cutinella passed away from an on-field collision last year, sophomore Ryan Ledda was right in the middle of thinking about what he should do for his Eagle Scout project. Ledda didn’t know Tom, but his sister Gabriella did, and after seeing how the loss affected her, coupled with what he saw during a Clemson University football game, his memorial idea was born.

“Before each game, the Clemson team comes onto the field touching a memorial called Howard’s Rock, and I figured I could do something similar to that,” Ryan Ledda said. “That the team could come out and touch the memorial for good luck before each home game. My goal is that everyone in the school could be connected to Tom without him being there. So no one will forget him.”

First, Ledda presented the idea to high school Principal Dan Holtzman, before going to the board of education.

“I thought it was an impressive one,” Holtzman said. “It was well-received by the board of education and they gave Ryan the go-ahead. I think it is a meaningful and thoughtful project and one that I hope encourages students at all grade levels to engage in community-oriented projects.”

Ryan Ledda, whose Eagle Scout project will raise money to fund a memorial in Tom Cutinella’s name. Photo from Ryan Ledda
Ryan Ledda, whose Eagle Scout project will raise money to fund a memorial in Tom Cutinella’s name. Photo from Ryan Ledda

The proposal was a 4- by 20-foot retaining wall on a pre-existing hill on the field that would have a concrete base with pavers stacked on top. In the middle will be a pedestal with a bronze bust of Cutinella. The bronze piece will be life size.

“I thought it was a very big project — I was very nervous,” Ledda’s mother Jennifer Ledda said. “I myself didn’t know the Cutinellas, but after Ryan went to the board and got approval I met Mrs. Cutinella. I found out how the boy was outstanding in every aspect of what he does. It reminded me of all of the kids who do good.”

According to Ryan Ledda, the project is estimated to cost $30,000-$40,000. The approval was quick by the board, but the approval by Boy Scout Troop 161 in Shoreham took longer.

“You need to fill out a long application and they send it back with improvements and revisions,” he said. “But they thought it was a great idea. A lot of the Eagle board members knew Tom’s family so they wanted to help out. Once they heard how much it was going to cost they got a little freaked out, but I told them how I was going to raise money and how important it was because of how Tom affected the community.”

To help fund the project, bricks are being sold that can be engraved, to rest atop the base. Smaller bricks cost $125, while larger ones cost $250.

“Those who went to school with him will always remember him, but kids to come that didn’t know him might not, so hopefully this can help them honor Tom,” Ledda said.

The sophomore created a website where the bricks can be purchased, and he handed out flyers in front of the school that were donated by a local printing company. To purchase a brick, go to www.bricksrus.com/order/bsatroop161. There is also a GoFundMe account raising funds for the base of the memorial and bronze statue.

The goal is to reach $20,000. Currently, 34 people have donated a combined $3,271 in the last month. Fourteen of those people have donated $54 or $154, representing Cutinella’s jersey No. 54. To donate to this project, go to www.gofundme.com/tomcmemorial.

For Shoreham-Wading River varsity football coach Matt Millheiser, he thinks all projects done in Cutinella’s name have been beneficial for the community.

“Outside of football, you see so many projects and so many things done — whether it’s a run or a blood drive or this Eagle Scout project — that are done in Tom’s name, he said. “It really shows the impact he had as a person and some of the good things that are being done by his friends and family and even people that didn’t know him, in the things they do throughout their lives. I think it is part of his long-standing effect.”

As for the memorial, the head coach knows it will only add to the field.

“I think it’s a great, worthy cause and idea — they’re all good things to remember their friend and brother who was lost,” Millheiser said. “‘Tommy Tough’ kind of changed the culture of Shoreham-Wading River football and the way the kids viewed how they went to work, how they practiced and how they prepared and how they carried themselves, and it really speaks to his legacy.”

Diana Todaro stands with Francesco Ianni, who was named her successor. File photo

Change is in the air in Harborfields and Cold Spring Harbor school districts.

Superintendent Judith Wilansky, who has served Cold Spring Harbor for the past eight years, and Superintendent Diana Todaro, who has been at Harborfields for 14 years, and lead as superintendent for three, announced their retirements this past week.

While Cold Spring Harbor has just begun the search for a new superintendent, Harborfields has already named Todaro’s successor: current Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources,
Dr. Francesco Ianni.

Todaro’s contract had been extended through June 2017 by the school board, however, she said she wanted to “accelerate the timeline in order to mentor my successor within the upcoming school year and provide the opportunity for a smooth transition,” according to a statement.

Wilansky has had an unprecedented run at Cold Spring Harbor, being the first female superintendent for the district and holding the second longest term in the history of the district. She has been at Cold Spring Harbor since 2000 as a central office administrator.

Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Judith Wilansky is leaving her position next school year. Photo from Karen Spehler
Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Judith Wilansky is leaving her position next school year. Photo from Karen Spehler

“I’ve been here long enough to see children go through their entire school career,” Wilansky said in a phone interview. “I was at the middle school’s winter concert recently and it dawned one me that I would miss their graduation, and that’s what I’ll miss the most — seeing these kids graduate and having the opportunity to watch them grow up.”

Wilansky said she’s most proud of Cold Spring Harbor schools for meeting the needs of all students in the district because “that’s what a public school is designed to do.”

She also said she spoke to the board about what she thinks a good search project should look like, but has no idea where the decision will land on her replacement. Her final day as superintendent will be June 30, 2016.

President of the Cold Spring Harbor Board of Education, Robert Hughes, said Wilanksy was an important asset to Cold Spring Harbor and will be missed.

“She has been a steady hand at the helm,” he said in a phone interview. Todaro began her career at Harborfields as a student teacher at Oldfield Middle School.

“For the past 14 years, it has truly been my pleasure to be in the Harborfields school community,” Todaro said in a statement. “It has been my distinct honor to be the superintendent of Harborfields Central School District. I am confident that the district will continue to excel and be recognized as a leader of the state.”

Board member Nicholas P. Giuliano said Todaro has been dedicated to every student that has walked through the buildings of the district.

“She has every reason to be proud of her achievements and we, as a district, are lucky that so many of her achievements were accomplished for our children.”

Ianni brings years of experience in Harborfields, working as assistant principal at the high school for four years, and has been in his current position since 2013.

“I am humbled by the board of education’s confidence in my ability to lead our prestigious district,” Ianni said in a recent statement. “We are fortunate, at Harborfields, to have benefited from the successive leadership of our exemplary superintendent, and I hope that, in collaboration with the board of education, a strong administrative team, superior teaching staff, knowledgeable parents, and of course, outstanding students, our tradition of excellence will continue.”

Ianni will take over for Todaro in January 2017.

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‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The celebration of Christmas, as we know it, goes back about 125 years to the late Victorian era. Following the Civil War, the growth of industry picked up dramatically. By the time of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876, conditions at home and leisure time experienced by Long Islanders and by the rest of the country changed for the better.

‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler
‘Happy Christmas.’ Forest Hills, Dec. 23, 1908. Willie Hamilton to Miss Muriel West, East Setauket. Photo from Beverly Tyler

Despite union riots and periods of depression, the decades following the Civil War, known as the Gilded Age, ushered in a time of significant material change. The coming of the railroad in the second half of the century, the improvement in communications that resulted in the beginnings of telephone service in the 1890s, the change in printing methods that brought magazines such as Harper’s and Leslie’s Monthly to many homes and the penny postcard that revolutionized contact between people in America and as far away as Europe all brought new ideas and customs to the local residents.

These, coupled with the masses of immigrants that arrived in New York in the three decades following the Civil War, brought new customs for celebrating Christmas that became a part of “keeping Christmas” for everyone.

The first Christmas card was designed by John Calcott Horsley for Henry Cole of England, later Sir Henry Cole. Cole was the organizer and first director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The card was printed in London by a method called lithography and was hand colored by a professional “colourer” named Mason. It was sent in 1843. It was the custom at the time to send letters to relatives and friends at Christmas. Cole’s cards were to take the place of the letters that he would have to write to his large number of friends and family. A total of about 1,000 of these cards were printed.

By the 1850s and ‘60s Christmas cards were well established in England and were making an appearance in America and throughout Europe. The first American Christmas card was issued by R.H. Pease of New York between 1850 and 1852. The man generally regarded as the father of the American Christmas card, though, is Louis Prang, whose plant was located in Roxbury, a suburb of Boston, in 1856. First in partnership with Joseph Mayer of Boston, but after 1860 as L. Prang & Co., Louis Prang also instituted the idea of competitions for Christmas card designs in 1880, an idea that was instantly copied by his rival in England, Raphael Tuck & Sons. The first prize was 1,000 pounds, and Louis Comfort Tiffany, a Long Islander, was among the judges.

By the 1880s Christmas cards were being printed in the millions and were no longer being hand-colored. Christmas cards during the late 1800s came in all shapes and sizes and were made with silk, satin, brocade and plush, as well as with lace and embroidery surrounding the printed card. These cards were just as varied as those we have today and included religious themes, landscapes from every season, children, animals and the traditional Father Christmas. The cards were very colorful and usually included some verse in addition to the greeting.

Christmas cards were eventually sent through the mail as postcards. The lower price of postage — one cent for a postcard — was one of the reasons for the popularity of the postcard-greeting card. The postcard was most popular during the years between 1895 and 1914, when the craze for collecting cards was at its height. The beginning of the use of postcards probably goes back to the influence of the trade card, used to promote business and trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the visiting card, which included the sender’s name prominently added to the card, and was used to send a greeting.

The postcard became popular worldwide and was recognized by the American Post Office Department on May 1, 1873. The card it adopted measured 5 1/8 by 3 inches and was sold by the Post Office Department for one cent each. It was not until 1898 that an act of Congress allowed privately published postcards the same privileges and rates as the government-issued cards.

Many Christmas cards were saved and placed in postcard albums. Today these provide us with a glimpse of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Michael Bell casts a minnow trap at Loberg Lake in Palmer, Alaska. Photo by Peter J. Park

The creation of a freeway in Los Angeles put Michael Bell on the road to his career choice. When Bell was about 12 years old, construction near his home cut through rocks that contained a treasure for him: fossil fish.

“I formed a relationship with the Natural History Museum in LA County and started bringing fossils [to them],” Bell recalled. “I had friends who would do it for a week or two and then they’d had enough. I did it endlessly. In a way, that’s how my career started.”

Michael Bell casts a minnow trap at Loberg Lake in Palmer, Alaska. Photo by Peter J. Park
Michael Bell casts a minnow trap at Loberg Lake in Palmer, Alaska. Photo by Peter J. Park

Indeed, that career led him to Stony Brook University, where he arrived in 1978 and is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution. Bell was co-editor of “The Evolutionary Biology of the Threespine Stickleback” in 1994 with Susan A. Foster.

Recently, the American Association for the Advancement of Science elected Bell as a Ffellow. Bell said he appreciated the “broader recognition of his work.”

Those who have collaborated with him said Bell is a leader and an exceptional scientist.

Bell’s “contribution to the field has been enormous,” explained Windsor Aguirre, a former graduate student who is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at DePaul University who still works with Bell. “Many of the most important papers in the field have been made possible or greatly enhanced [by Bell’s efforts],” he said.

From those early days, Bell has focused on the threespine stickleback, a fish that used to be considerably more prevalent at Flax Pond in Old Field and in the Great South Bay.

This particular fish, whose three sharp spines on the top of its body prevent some predators from swallowing it, appeals to scientists for a host of reasons —  from the variation it exhibits within and among populations to its relatively small size and ease of maintaining in a lab.

Bell has focused on establishing the relationship between traits and environmental factors. These fish can live in the sea ­— where they contend with the usual saltwater dilemma, where the concentration of salt is higher than in body fluids — and in freshwater, where salt is lower than in their body fluids.

Like salmon, they breed in brackish water (water that’s in between fresh and salty) and freshwater. The population of fish that evolve in freshwater can continue to survive despite having marine ancestors.

Indeed, the evolution, through mutations, of these fish is so rapid that they defy Charles Darwin. Coming up with the theory of natural selection when he studied the many unique birds in the Galapagos Islands 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, Darwin believed that evolution occurred on an almost imperceptibly slow time scale.

“Darwin underestimated the potential for rapid evolution,” Bell said. “He believed evolution is slow.” Sticklebacks have traits that evolve at high rates.

Bell has studied stickleback fossils in Nevada and California and modern stickleback in California and Alaska.

He has often studied the armor plates of stickleback, which have a marine and a freshwater version. In the ocean, the freshwater version would theoretically occur only once in about 10,000 young sticklebacks, because it’s a disadvantage to that individual. However, in a different environment, the fish with the freshwater armor plating becomes the natural selection superstar.

In an experiment in Cheney Lake in Anchorage, Alaska, Bell released sea-run stickleback. A year later, none of the fish had the freshwater plates, while fewer than 1 percent had them two years later. Six years after the experiment began, however, one in five fish had these plates.

“When you put the fish in freshwater, it evolves,” he said.

A resident of Stony Brook, Bell chose to live close enough to the university to walk to work. That, he said, was by design because he moved in during the gas crisis in the 1970s and didn’t want to wait in line for gas or struggle to get to work.

Bell and his wife Cynthia Blair travel to farms out east, shop and visit vineyards. Bell enjoys wandering through stores, especially for craft objects, which Blair also likes and makes herself. She designed a pillow of Bell, surrounded by swimming sticklebacks.

After four decades of research, Bell remains as inspired to find fossils and gather evidence about these rapidly evolving and adaptive fish as he was when he was a teenager.

“I won’t ever really retire,” said Bell, although he does expect to cut back so that he can travel with his wife. He appreciates being able to visit the shore of a lake in Alaska and “see what comes up in traps. It’s all still fun — making samples of modern and fossil stickleback, getting results that mean something scientifically and standing in front of a class and explaining biology to them.”

Aguirre, who described Bell as a “great” mentor, suggested that Bell and the stickleback are inextricably intertwined. “The threespine stickleback is truly one of evolutionary biology’s supermodels and [Bell] has played a critical role in bringing the species to the attention of the broader scientific community and the general public.”

By Emma Collin

The Eiffel Tower is surrounded by protesters at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Photo by Emma Collin
The Eiffel Tower is surrounded by protesters at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. Photo by Emma Collin

It’s the morning of Dec. 12 as I hurriedly make my way across Paris. Today will be my first real engagement with civil disobedience. Under a broad state of emergency, French President François Hollande has banned demonstrations, which the state defines as “more than two people sharing a political message.” In the weeks leading up to today, citizens who publicly criticized the egregiously dangerous deal brewing in the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties climate talks were confronted with state-sanctioned violence, tear gas, and arrest. I emerge from the metro and scan the scene. Imposing graffiti on the bank of the Seine River nearby reads “L’état d’urgences pour faire oublier les tas d’urgences,” or “A state of emergency to ensure other emergencies are forgotten”.

Let’s back up. From Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change convened heads of state in an old airport hanger in a suburb north of Paris. World leaders were tasked with drafting and signing a binding agreement that would prevent the most catastrophic effects of climate change. COP21 comes after years of unproductive conversation around climate; e.g. the notorious COP15 in Copenhagen 2009 produced only a vague document with no legal standing.

After an emotional and exhausting two weeks, not to mention an extended deadline and a few all-nighters, a deal heralded by most major news outlets as “historic” and “groundbreaking” was signed.

In many ways, the deal is historic. World leaders unanimously signing a deal at all signals progress. This forward movement is undoubtedly a testament to grassroots power built by communities around the world who are demanding action — for example, the more than 400,000 people who took to the streets of New York City last September for the People’s Climate March.

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The author holds a monkey. Photo from Emma Collin

While acknowledging that victory, here are some things you should understand about the Paris climate accord. For one, it is functionally unenforceable. Emission reductions are based on voluntary commitments by each nation. To adhere to the desperately needed 1.5°C warming limit that appears repeatedly in the document’s text, we need to stop extracting and burning fossil fuels almost immediately. Instead, the tangible commitments to emission-reduction lock us into 3.0°C warming or more, which spells catastrophe, especially for the global south. Furthermore, language on indigenous and human rights were stripped completely from the body of the document. The words “fossil fuels,” “coal,” or “oil” don’t appear once.

One of the most debated and divisive sections of the document is called “loss and damage.” It outlines the idea that compensation should be paid to vulnerable states to aid adaptation to climate change. In a predictable move, representatives of developed countries like the United States fought hard to make this section non-binding. This strips poor nations — those already feeling the brunt of the consequences of climate change despite a historically negligible contribution to emissions — of any mechanism for claiming damages or compensation. Contrast this with international free trade agreements, which give corporations concrete mechanisms to sue nations for projected loss of profits. I know this deal is inadequate, and I know others know it too.

So when I exit the metro on Dec. 12 and quietly walk past swarms of Parisian police officers in full riot gear, I find myself in a crowd 15,000 people. I stand with people peacefully singing and chanting and defying a protest ban because they understand that we can do better. I stand next to my family and fellow delegates of Gulf South Rising, an inspirational group of community and indigenous leaders from the five southern states on the Gulf of Mexico, who are uniting to build just economic, political, and energy systems that heal their communities. And I stand with the understanding that what happened this month is just the beginning — that we must operate from a framework of resistance where we demand the healthy and safe communities we know we deserve.

The Paris Climate Accord will not get us there, but with world leaders committing, however theoretically, to action, it is a tool we can leverage as we continue this fight.

Emma Collin, a Centerport native, graduated from Harborfields High School. She recently moved to New Orleans, La., and is a senior project manager at Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy and a community organizer with Gulf South Rising.

Leon Klempner poses with Dunia Sibomana in front of the Christmas tree. Photo from Amy Epstein

The last two years have been rough for Dunia Sibomana, but now that he has been brought to the United States for reconstructive surgery, everything could change.

Since the 8-year-old was disfigured in a chimpanzee attack — the same one that killed his younger brother — he had stopped going to school because the other children in his native Congo ridiculed him. And being extremely poor, he came to America weighing only 40-something pounds, although the typical weight for a boy his age is almost double that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein
Above, Dunia Sibomana and park ranger Andre Bauma both give a thumbs-up for school. Photo from Amy Epstein

Despite all he has gone through, volunteers from the Smile Rescue Fund for Kids said Dunia is still a sweet kid.

That group, founded by Poquott resident Dr. Leon Klempner, who until recently was an orthodontist based in Port Jefferson, is hosting Dunia on Long Island and will care for him through a series of surgeries to reconstruct his lips and cheek.

Klempner started his nonprofit organization a few years ago to care for kids with severe facial deformities who are often ignored by similar groups that repair simpler issues like cleft lips.

Dunia lost both his lips and has scarring on his cheeks after the chimpanzee attack two years ago on the outskirts of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, near that country’s border with Uganda and Rwanda. While his father was working in the fields, he was playing with his friends and his 4-year-old brother, Klempner said. The chimps “killed and completely dismembered” the brother, but a ranger fortunately found Dunia and rushed him to the hospital.

“He refused to go to school after the injury because the kids were just ridiculing him too much,” the Poquott man said. “He lost most of his friends.”

Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana hugs Eian Crean while playing with Collin Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

Smile Rescue Fund stepped in, bringing Dunia and that park ranger, Andre Bauma, stateside. Bauma was acting as a translator for Dunia, who only speaks Swahili, and helping him get settled with his Hauppauge host family, the Creans, but had to return to Congo last week.

Jennifer Crean said Dunia is getting along well with her three children, ages 10, 12 and 15.

“They have fun with him and he loves them,” she said. “So far so good.”

The family has taught him how to swing at the Hoyt Farm playground in Commack and taken him horseback riding, Crean said. Dunia has also played on an iPad, learned about Santa Claus and gone bowling.

“Everything for him is like brand new. It’s pretty cool.”

After the holidays, when things have slowed down, Crean said, the plan is to take him into New York City to see the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

Dunia’s experiences here deeply contrast with his life back home — Klempner said the boy’s mother died when he was a toddler and his father is indigent, picking up work wherever he can, so they don’t have a home. And there’s not much food to go around.

Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana laughs with Grace Crean. Photo from Amy Epstein

At his temporary Hauppauge home, “He eats like a horse,” Klempner said. “He eats as much as Jenn’s teenage son.”

He’s also recently started instruction at Hauppauge’s Pines Elementary School, where he’s in the second grade. Klempner noted the biggest benefit of school is that Dunia is being reintegrated into a social setting, with kids who don’t mock him.

“They’ve been very warmly receiving him.”

He’s already picked up some English — Crean said with a laugh that “he knows the word ‘No’” — and has adapted to the new environment.

JenniferCrean-Dunia-wThe surgeries begin in early January, when Dr. Alex Dagum will put three tissue expanders into his face, under the skin on his cheeks and chin. Over a few months, Dagum will slowly fill those with saline, expanding them and stretching the skin. Once there is enough excess skin created, the expanders will come out and that skin will be cut away and used to reconstruct the lips and cheek.

Stony Brook University Hospital, where Dagum is chief of plastic surgery, has donated the facility and medical staff’s time to operate on Dunia, and is even preparing special meals for him. In addition, Klempner said, “nurses volunteered to be dedicated nurses for him when he comes in for surgery so he sees the same faces.”

Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein
Dunia Sibomana meets Santa Claus. Photo from Amy Epstein

All of the work will add up to a new look for Dunia that will hopefully improve his quality of life at home in Congo when he is ready to return.

“He is sweet, and he is fun-loving; he’s got a sense of humor,” Klempner said. “He’s an 8-year-old kid that got a bad draw on life.”

Help needed
Smile Rescue Fund for Kids is searching for a local volunteer who speaks Swahili to translate for Dunia while he is in the United States, as well as volunteers who will spend time with Dunia, as a way of helping out his hosts, the Crean family. Contact Leon Klempner at 631-974-7511 or leon@smilerescuefund.org. For those who cannot volunteer but would like to help, Smile Rescue Fund accepts donations online, at www.smilerescuefund.org.

Roger Kramer stands on his deck overlooking Conscience Bay with one of his sculptures, a great blue heron.

Directions to the small waterfront cottage pressed up against Conscience Bay in East Setauket included the phrase “follow the dirt road that’s covered by leaves.” Down a narrow, wooded path and around a hard left that is the last option prior to tires hitting water, you’ll find a small one-bedroom cottage with a deck overlooking the water. Out of his front window, the artist sees a sight suitable for framing each and every day. Inspiration is not hard to find in a setting like this.

Snowy owl by Roger Kramer
Snowy owl by Roger Kramer

Roger Kramer is a 74-year-old artist who lives alone in that one-bedroom cottage. He is separated and his two children, Matthew and Emily, are grown. He has two grandchildren, with a third on the way; his son and daughter live in New York City and California, respectively. Kramer has a psychology practice that he attends to a few times a week. Occasionally, he is accompanied by his son’s dog Jagger, an exceedingly friendly 95-pound ten-year-old golden retriever who needs sporadic breaks from city life. Together Kramer and Jagger spend much of their free time exploring the woods that engulf the cottage and flank the bay, searching for some of that inspiration that lies around every corner in Kramer’s world.

Kramer is a kind man with a warm, welcoming disposition. He stands about five feet, ten inches tall and has long gray hair. He was born in Brooklyn. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and then went on to a psychology master’s program at Hofstra University. At 27 years old he got married and took off on a “whirlwind tour” of Europe on a motorcycle (which he had shipped overseas) with his new wife. When they returned, the couple settled in Boulder, Colorado. Stops in California and Woodstock, New York, lead him back to Long Island in 1971, where he earned a Ph.D. at Stony Brook University. After that, Kramer took a job as a psychologist in Vermont, which he did for about seven years. Eventually he made his way back to Long Island, this time to the shores of Conscience Bay.

Jagger the dog sits with Roger Kramer's artwork.
Jagger the dog sits with Roger Kramer’s artwork.

Kramer’s combination of artistic talent and passion for environmental preservation and appreciation serve as a perfect blend for his current life.

“I do ‘found’ wood work,” Kramer said. “I like taking a piece of wood that’s just dirty and foul and [you] can hardly see what it is but it turns out to be 200-year-old black walnut that grew around here.”

Specifically, Kramer turns the wood that he finds on the land surrounding his home into stunningly lifelike sculptures of birds (fowl wood), most of which he’s spotted not far from the places that he finds the wood. Kramer contests that they’re not meant to be too lifelike but rather interpretations of how he sees the shore birds that grace his fit-for-framing view. However, a few minutes in his presence make it obvious who his harshest critic is.

After that hard left turn is made and Kramer’s cottage and deck are finally, mercifully in sight through some forest that a Long Islander would classify as “fairly thick,” though that would probably be mocked by someone from another part of the country. For Long Island though, this is as remote as it gets. Along the right side of the “driveway,” which is paved similarly to that path leading to the house, with dirt and leaves, there’s a covered BMW motorcycle and a cherry red Saab crossover. Either one is suitable for a day of exploration.

Bald eagle by Roger Kramer
Bald eagle by Roger Kramer

Kramer accumulates wood in his travels, usually without a specific idea in mind of how he plans to use it. His favorite tool to shape the wood into wings or heads or feathers is a small handheld grinder. “I’m excited when I first see something, even if I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with it and then the excitement comes when I’m in the process and something is emerging. It comes alive. It talks to me.”

After one meeting, it might be crass to identify Kramer as eccentric. Creativity oozes from him. “Right now I liken myself to some kind of wildlife artist,” Kramer said with a chuckle. It wasn’t clear if Kramer meant simply that the subject of his art is usually wildlife or if he as an artist is now part of what is classified as wildlife. Either way, the description suits him.

His living room is furnished with chairs and tables that he crafted out of wood, just like his birds. On his refrigerator hangs an Andy Warhol quote: “Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

When walking up the three or four stairs that lead to Kramer’s deck, the majestic and nearly to scale size birds finally come into view, and this is about the same time that just over the deck’s railing and some foliage that the bay comes into view. By the time one’s foot hits the top step, what follows is breathtaking.

Great blue heron by Roger Kramer
Great blue heron by Roger Kramer

In the early afternoon the sun was just peeking around the corner of Kramer’s house, giving the water a little shimmer that served as a perfect backdrop to view the birds. They are assembled into the corner when not being staged by the railing for jaw-dropping, beautiful photo opportunities. On this day, the blue heron has the main stage. This particular sculpture is crafted in such a way that despite being made of wood, flight looks to be imminent. There’s also a bald eagle, a snowy owl, and among about a dozen others, my personal favorite, an osprey.

Kramer sends picture messages to his kids for honest and constructive criticism. “I’ll send pictures to both kids and they’ll say either ‘oh, good,’ or ‘hmm maybe keep your day job.’” Kramer’s intention is to start getting more recognition for his work.

More words could be used to describe Kramer and his magnificent work, but they don’t do him or his beautiful birds any justice. Not many people have seen his work yet. A neighbor borrowed his bald eagle for a few weeks, just because he couldn’t keep his eyes off of it. I am not an art critic, nor do I have an artistic bone in my body, but  I can say with confidence that Kramer’s birds will be seen  and appreciated by far more than a few dozen eyes in the very near future.

To contact Roger Kramer and learn more about his projects, email him at rogerpsyqi@gmail.com.

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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown homeowners are slated to receive more hefty state tax rebate checks this year, thanks to a healthy report from the state comptroller, the town said this week.

The New York State Deputy Comptroller Division of Local Government and School Accountability sent a notice to the Town of Smithtown on Dec. 10 outlining that the town’s tax levy limit and tax levy for the fiscal year ending in 2016 was reviewed with “no findings.” This meant that the Smithtown residents could expect a state tax rebate check more than double the amount of last year’s amount of $173, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said in a statement.

These rebate checks are made available to residents who also qualify for the state’s STAR exemptions — which includes roughly 31,734 homes in the town, Vecchio said.

“Irrespective of the debate on whether tax incentives stimulate the economy, one thing I know for sure is that had we not complied with the tax cap requirements, nearly $14 million of money from the state would have gone elsewhere and not into our homeowners’ pockets,” Vecchio said in a statement.

According to the supervisor, the economic impact to Smithtown would have been huge had the town not compiled with both requirements of the tax program. In order to receive the tax cap rebate checks, Smithtown had to keep the 2016 tax increase below the town- specific allowable tax cap amount of .99 percent and also meet the requirements of the government efficiency plan imposed by the state. This plan required that Smithtown achieve savings through intramunicipal agreements of 1 percent of its 2014 tax levy or at least $536,000 in savings.

Vecchio said the actual savings should approximate $785,000 and the tax increase of .81 percent was well below the limit of .99 percent.

The effect of complying with these requirements has a triple effect for residents, Vecchio said. Smithtown residents should benefit from the efficiency savings of $785,000, the tax increase being below the town’s maximum amount of .99 percent, and most of all, cumulatively, town residents should receive about $13,725,000 in rebate checks, the town said in a statement.

“When you take into account the economic impact of putting nearly $15 million into the pockets of our residents and taking into account the effect of spending this money in our small business community, the affect is enormous,” Vecchio said.

Curbing a DWAI
Police arrested a 20-year-old man from Port Jefferson Station for driving while ability impaired on Dec. 15, after they saw him drive over a curb on Wilson Avenue and pulled him over.

Hitting the trifecta
A 31-year-old Medford man was arrested for driving while ability impaired on Dec. 17 after he failed to maintain his lane and struck a grassy median while speeding on Lincoln Drive in Rocky Point. Police said the man was going 70 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone in a 1998 GMC.

Wanted woman
On Dec. 16, police collared a Wading River woman who had five warrants out for her arrest. At the time officers found her on Babylon Drive in Sound Beach, the 26-year-old was also allegedly in possession of a controlled substance, and was charged with that crime.

That sucks
Police arrested a 28-year-old man from Lake Grove for petit larceny on Dec. 16, right after he stole two vacuums from a store at the Centereach Mall.

Hand-to-hand-to-cuffs
Police observed a woman in a hand-to-hand drug transaction on Route 25A in Selden on Dec. 18, and stopped the 55-year-old before she could pull away in her 2002 Cadillac. Officers found heroin in her possession and arrested her for criminal possession of a controlled substance.

Caffeine fiend
On Dec. 18, a 69-year-old man from Centereach was arrested for petit larceny. According to police, the man entered the Shoprite on College Road in Selden on Sept. 15 and took a Keurig Coffee Maker worth around $190.

Vroom vroom to jail
Police arrested a 29-year-old Ronkonkoma man on Dec. 13 for driving while ability impaired, after the suspect failed to maintain his lane while driving a 2008 Volkswagen south on Nicolls Road in Stony Brook. Police said the man was speeding, at 62 miles per hour.

Unwarranted steal
A 27-year-old woman from Port Jefferson Station was arrested for petit larceny on Dec. 18, after stealing assorted costume jewelry, clothing and other items from a store on Route 347 in Setauket-East Setauket. According to police, there were already two unrelated warrants out for the woman’s arrest.

Cashing in
Between Dec. 13 and Dec. 15, an unknown person withdrew more than $200 cash from a bank without the Port Jefferson Station cardholder’s permission.

That’s a big dog
On Dec. 19, an unknown person entered the Walmart on Nesconset Highway in Setauket-East Setauket and stole a television and a dog bed. Police said the person may have used the dog bed to conceal the TV.

In hot water
An unidentified person stole three faucets from the Lowe’s Home Improvement store on Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook on Dec. 18.

Taking it to-go
On Dec. 18, three unknown men with guns entered the Peking Chinese Kitchen on Middle Country Road in Selden as someone was closing the restaurant. The men demanded money but the suspects fled empty-handed.

Visa revoked
On Dec. 19, someone stole a jacket, a wallet and a person’s visa from a car in the Starbucks parking lot on Middle Country Road in Selden.

Rock on Tree
According to police, an unidentified person threw a large rock at a 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer and damaged the car. Police didn’t specify where the car was damaged but said the incident happened some time between Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 on Tree Road in Centereach.

Tired of theft
An unknown person gained entry to the Mavis Discount Tire on Route 25A in Mount Sinai and stole money from the register before fleeing the store. The incident happened on Dec. 14 around 8:25 p.m.

Smashed
On Dec. 19, someone smashed the back window of a 2009 Honda outside a residence on Deepdale Drive in Rocky Point.

Police are in purse-uit
An unidentified person stole someone’s bag from the Walmart at the Centereach Mall on Dec. 19. Police said the victim put the bag down and walked away. When they returned, the bag was gone. According to police, the bag contained money and an ATM card.

Lest we forget the Lexus
On Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. police said an unknown person stole a 2015 Lexus parked on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood.

Climbing in your windows
Police said an unknown person entered a 2015 Jeep with a window open in the parking lot of Eastern Athletic Club on Jericho Turnpike in Dix Hills on Dec. 18 at midnight and stole an iPad and credit cards.
On Dec. 18 a 50-year-old man from Wyandanch was arrested for a previous incident that occurred sometime between June 17 and 18. Police said he broke through a window at a residence on May Street in Huntington Station and stole electronics. He was charged with second-degree burglary.

Painted love
On Dec. 19 an 18-year-old man from Huntington was arrested for multiple graffiti incidents. According to police, he spray painted several vehicles parked on Stewart Avenue in Huntington and a wall on the exterior of a Payless Shoe store on New York Avenue in Huntington on Nov. 26 and 27 around midnight. He was charged with making graffiti.

Honda hijacked
A 22-year-old from East Northport was arrested on Dec. 16 after police said he took a 1998 Honda without permission at 2:30 a.m. and then hit a pole with the car while driving on Cuba Hill Road in Huntington and then fled the scene. He was charged with unauthorized use of a vehicle without the owner’s consent.

If only it was a candy cane
An 18-year-old man and a 19-year-old man from Huntington were arrested on Dec. 19 at 3 a.m. after police said they hit a man in the head with a cane and stole his money on Fairview Street in Huntington and then tried to flee the scene. When searched, the men were discovered to have gravity knives and marijuana in their possession. They were charged with resisting arrest, unlawful possession of marijuana, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree robbery with use of a dangerous instrument.

Jag at the Jag Salon
At Jag Salon on Wall Street in Huntington on Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. an unknown person entered the business through an unlocked window and stole money.

Taken: Tools edition
Police said a 38-year-old man from Holbrook stole assorted power tools from Home Depot in East Islip at 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 17. He was charged with fourth-degree grand larceny valuing property of more than $1,000.

Minor problem
A 45-year-old man from Commack was arrested on Dec. 18 after police said he sold beer to a minor at a food market on Laurel Road in East Northport at 7:30 p.m. He was charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.

Gone in a blink of an eye
On Dec.19 at noon at Blink Fitness on Broadhollow Road in Elwood police said an unknown person stole a wallet with credit cards inside of it from an unlocked locker inside the gym.

Dry cleaners cleaned out
On Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. an unknown person broke a window of Parkmore Dry Cleaning on New York Avenue in Huntington and stole money.

Of-fenced taken
A 16-year-old from Holbrook was arrested on Dec. 19 at 10:40 p.m. after police said he was trespassing on the property of United Fence and Guard Rail Corporation in Ronkonkoma and damaged the windows of five vehicles. He was charged with third-degree criminal mischief valued at more than $250 and first-degree criminal trespassing.

Dissed on Craigslist
Police said a resident of Mount Pleasant Road in Smithtown reported that on Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. someone used counterfeit money to pay for a transaction done through Craigslist.

Blurred lines
On Dec. 19 a 29-year-old man from East Setauket was arrested at 2 a.m. after police pulled him over for making an illegal left turn while driving a 2002 Chevy on East Main Street and then discovering he was driving drunk. He was charged with driving while intoxicated within 10 years of being convicted for a previous DWI.

Illegal use of legal papers
A woman reported to police that an unknown man followed her into her driveway on Roderick Court in Commack on Dec. 17 at 2:35 p.m. and threw legal papers in her face and ran off.

On tree down on Acorn Road
Police said a 51-year-old man from St. James crashed a 2014 Lexus into a tree while driving on North Country Road and Acorn Road at 10:50 p.m. on Dec. 17 and then discovered he was drunk. He was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated within 10 years of being convicted for a previous DWI.

Tool stealing stools
Police said a 38-year-old man from Holbrook stole assorted power tools from Home Depot in East Islip at 1:15 p.m. on Dec. 17. He was charged with fourth-degree grand larceny valuing property of more than $1,000.

Minor mistake
A 45-year-old man from Commack was arrested on Dec. 18 after police said he sold beer to a minor at a food market on Laurel Road in East Northport at 7:30 p.m. He was charged with first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child.

Don’t phone home
Police said a man called on Dec. 19 at 1:49 p.m. to report that an ex-tenant from a residence on Karen Place in Commack was calling continuously and threatening the man.

This stinks
On Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. an unknown person stole assorted cologne and perfumes from Ulta Beauty on Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack.

Kohl’s woes
An unknown person stole assorted clothing and jewelry from Kohl’s on Crooked Hill Road in Commack on Dec. 18 at 1:42 p.m.

The Doors
On Dec. 18 at 7 a.m. an unknown person entered a residence through a back door on Harned Road in Commack and stole assorted jewelry and a television.

Retired tires
On Dec. 17 at 1:20 p.m. an unknown person slashed two tires of a 1989 Acura parked in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven on Lake Avenue in St. James.

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By Jonathan S. Kuttin

When life gets busy, it’s easy to become more passive about managing your bank accounts and credit cards by letting receipts, bills and statements pile up. Even if you regularly keep up with your finances, it can be beneficial to take a fresh look at them. Simplify your financial life with these three strategies:

Go paperless. It’s easier than ever to access financial documents online. Going paperless will not only make your life more efficient and clutter-free, it’s also environmentally friendly.

A good place to start is by requesting electronic statements and opting out of printed ones from the companies who send you regular bills. Consider going paperless with your bank, credit card companies, cell phone and cable providers or your electric company. You’ll then receive an email when your statement or bill is ready each month. This gives you the option to download and store your statements electronically and also to print and file if needed.

If you’re not already enrolled in direct deposit with your employer, make sure to get this set up. It saves a trip to the bank on payday and you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors sooner. While you’re at it, go ahead and request electronic receipts at the store when they’re offered, in lieu of stuffing them in your pockets or purse.

Consolidate where you can. There are several corners of your financial life that can be simplified through consolidation. Retirement accounts are one of those areas. If you’ve worked for several employers during the course of your career, you’ve probably acquired a few retirement accounts along the way. Accumulated assets left in a former employer’s retirement account are still yours, but they sometimes offer less investment flexibility.

If you like the idea of having fewer accounts to keep track of, or if you prefer to actively manage your retirement dollars, consider consolidating stray 401(k) and IRA dollars by rolling them into a centralized retirement account. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to rollovers, so it’s important to weigh all your options carefully. Consider a direct rollover, as withholding tax and tax penalties may apply for cash withdrawals.

Credit cards and debt are two other areas where consolidation may be wise. Is it time to chop up the card that carries a hefty annual fee? Are you carrying a credit card balance that is snowballing due to high interest rates? It may be financially advantageous to pay off the cards with the highest interest rates and either close the account or put it away for emergency-use only. It’s a relief to have fewer cards to manage, along with a plan for extinguishing debt.

Turn to the professionals. As you sort through your financial choices, enlist the right team of professionals to assist you. Helpful professionals may include a tax advisor or accountant, who can provide guidance on how to put you in the best tax situation, and a lawyer who specializes in estate planning. Also, consider consulting a financial advisor who can help you streamline your financial life and accelerate your financial goals by recommending specific strategies based on your individual situation. Each of these professionals can share their expertise with you and help you eliminate unnecessary financial clutter.

Jonathan S. Kuttin is a Private Wealth Advisor with Kuttin-Metis Wealth Management, a private advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. in Melville. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 19 years.

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