Authors Posts by Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski

Alex Petroski
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Olness remembered as brilliant scientist, education advocate

John Olness with his wife Margaret. Photo from Richard Olness

He did what he loved, and was loved for it.

John William Olness, a nuclear physicist and a Long Island resident since 1961, died on Feb. 15 at the age of 85.

Olness is survived by his wife Margaret, their sons Robert, Richard, Frederick and Christopher and their daughter Kristin.

“He was a creative parent,” son Richard said in a phone interview. “I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Olness was born in 1929, in Saskatchewan, Canada, while his father was teaching at a junior college. The family returned to their farm in northern Minnesota when John was young, and that is where he grew up.

Olness received a doctorate in nuclear physics from Duke University in 1957 where he met Margaret. He moved to Long Island from Dayton, Ohio, in 1961, then he began his career at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1963 where he stayed until his retirement in 2000 after 37 years of service. John and Margaret married in 1958 and moved to Stony Brook in 1968.

John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness
John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness

“He got to do what he wanted,” Margaret said in a phone interview. “He was one of the lucky people who loved what he did for a living. You can’t beat that.”

“John worked with many of the visiting scientists who came to BNL to use the facilities, including Sir Denys Wilkinson (Oxford University), D. Allan Bromley (Yale and, later, science adviser to President George H.W. Bush) and future Space Shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen,” son Robert said of his father’s time at BNL, in an email.

Margaret identified her husband’s passions as physics first and music second.

In his leisure time Olness was a Little League baseball coach; and a founding member and trombone player with the Memories of Swing, a big band that performed around Long Island. He also served as a vice president of the Three Village school board in 1975-76. Kristin said that his desire to be on the school board was in large part to fight for the budgets of the music, sports and arts programs that are seemingly always the first to go when money gets thin.

Olness loved baseball, tennis and basketball, and often spent hours on the phone discussing the Detroit Tigers baseball team with his father, who lived in Michigan. He also played football in high school and college, Margaret said.

Olness was a supportive father and husband, according to Margaret. Their children have gone on to enjoy rewarding careers in wide-ranging walks of life, thanks in no small part to that parental support.

Frederick is a professor and physics department chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; Robert is a major in the Army Reserve, awaiting his next deployment; Kristin has just finished a year on Broadway in “Cabaret,” and was also a member of the cast in the show’s 1998 revival; Richard is an actuary for the Department of Defense; and Christopher is a professional trombonist on Broadway currently playing in “On the Town,” the hit musical comedy.

“Dad put emphasis on education, and he and Mom supported us in exploring the arts and recreational sports,” Richard said in an email. “And in the later years, he encouraged us each to find a career we would enjoy.”

A memorial service will be held for John Olness on Thursday, July 2, at Setauket Presbyterian Church.

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Owner Bob Willemstyn in front of the grand fireplace at the Country House in Stony Brook, circa 1712. Photo by Alex Petroski

Culper Spy Day is approaching quickly and the buzz is starting to build. The Three Village area will be celebrating its storied connection to the Revolutionary War and the Culper Spy Ring on Saturday, June 20.

The Country House Restaurant on North Country Road in Stony Brook will be participating in the festivities, offering a spy-themed menu for the occasion. The restaurant’s owner and Stony Brook resident Bob Willemstyn said he is excited to be a part of the historic day.

“It’s really nice to see the cohesiveness of the community coming together,” Willemstyn said. He has owned the restaurant since 2005. Before that, Willemstyn worked at the restaurant for 27 years.

Built in 1710, the house has served many purposes over those 300-plus years. Willemstyn said that every character from the popular television show TURN on AMC, which depicts the actions and inner workings of the Culper Spy Ring in Setauket, physically set foot in the Country House Restaurant around the time of the Revolutionary War. Everyone except for George Washington, Willemstyn admits.

The menu for June 20 features dishes with Culper Spy Day-related names. Yankee Doodle Chicken Fingers & French Fries, Secret Spy Ring Cheese Ravioli and George Washington’s Flatbread Cheese Pizza will surely be favorites on the kid’s menu. Members of the Culper Spy Ring are paid homage on the adult menu with items like the Anna & Selah Strong Twin Maryland Crab Cakes, Mary Woodhull Chilled Poached Salmon Fillet over Greens and the Caleb Brewster Cavatelli Pasta & Braised Beef Short Rib Ragu.

There will be some extra-added fun with the kid’s menu, Willemstyn said. There is a secret code within the menu that if cracked will earn the sharp, young revolutionary a free dessert.

“We hope to draw some people into the village with this menu,” Willemstyn said. The Country House Restaurant is not quite within walking distance from some of the other Culper Spy Day festivities, but it is the only place that will boast a spy-themed menu and more than 300 years of history and tradition.

Willemstyn said he plans to decorate the restaurant with an American flag bunting to draw in other revolutionaries enjoying the special day. He also recommended that anyone interested in dining at the Country House Restaurant on Culper Spy Day should make a reservation in advance because space is limited. The commemorative menu will be available from noon until 4 p.m.

The Country House is located at 1175 North Country Rd., Stony Brook. For reservations, please call 631-751-3332. For more information, visit www.countryhouserestaurant.com.

North Shore resident calls on neighbors to boost effort against blight

The Crooked Hill bus stop is blighted before Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as he spearheaded a community effort to clean up Commack. Photo from Mikell

By Alex Petroski

The 7 Cents Club of Commack is not a household name, but it might be one day.

Ed Mikell, a retired Commack resident, said he created the 7 Cents Club of Commack hoping to attract, as he puts it, “anyone interested in promoting Commack community pride.”

Promoting community pride might sound vague, but for Mikell it is specific and direct. He is tired of seeing the streets of the town he has called home for nearly a half-century covered with trash and he is ready to do something about it, he said.

Mikell said he plans to focus his efforts to clean up Commack on a small segment of Crooked Hill Road for now, which runs north and south for about four and a half miles almost right down the middle of Long Island. He described the site of his inaugural, and to date his only completed 7 Cents Club of Commack project, which he did by himself back in September.

“It’s the first time that I decided to do anything like this,” Mikell said. “I had a free afternoon. There were about 10 people standing in the middle of that garbage. I said, ‘this is just terrible.’”

The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell
The Crooked Hill bus stop in Commack shines after Ed Mikell helped to rejuvinate it as part of a community effort to clean up his neighborhood. Photo from Mikell

It is hard to discern who should be responsible for the bus stop in question that now features a white bench and a brown, metal garbage can with white lettering that reads “7 Cents Club of Commack,” compliments of Mikell’s wife Linda.

The garbage can was a spare that Mikell spotted in the corner of a field on the Suffolk County Community College Grant Campus, along with about 20 other identical ones. Mikell said a maintenance worker was more than happy to help him load the can into his car to be transported to the site. Mikell wouldn’t divulge where the bench came from because he didn’t want to endanger the generous party’s employment.

And while cleaning, Mikell had found seven cents on the ground, hence the name of his volunteer project.
“He comes up with these ideas every once in a while and they usually turn out to be quite amazing,” Linda Mikell said, adding she wasn’t surprised when her husband came to her and described his plan, rather than searching for someone else to do the dirty work. “That’s the way Ed is.”

There is no question over who is responsible for the bus stop now. Mikell said he has an arrangement waiting with Cliff Mitchell of the Suffolk County Public Works Department to claim the spot, along with a larger segment of Crooked Hill Road, as part of the Adopt-a-Highway Program.

To proceed he needs signed waivers from his team that he can bring to the county, which will then provide him with gloves, sticks to pick up garbage, bags, reflective vests and anything else that the club might need.

The program requires a commitment from applicants to tend to claimed areas once a month, 10 months a year for two years.

Mikell said he is willing to commit to this cause for the foreseeable future, and thanks to his nearly 50 years of business experience, he is prepared for possible expansion. He has what he called a “project control” system in place that will help him track the sites of cleanups, when they were addressed, by whom and when follow-up was done.

“My whole thought about this was if it works in Commack it’ll work in Kings Park, it’ll work in Hauppauge, it’ll work in Wyandanch,” Mikell said. “It will work in every town and all that needs to be had is a person like me in every town who cares, who will go out and organize and structure it.”

Since he began dropping flyers in Commack mailboxes and hanging them in public places about six months ago, Mikell says he has yet to hear back from anyone interested in lending a hand. The lack of enthusiasm from others in the community has disheartened him, he said, but it has not deterred him from finding applicants in other ways.

Mikell has since enlisted the help of a few neighbors from his street, including retired mechanical engineer Nicholas Giannopoulos.

“We’d like to have the community look halfway decent,” Giannopoulos said. “Basically I think everybody should contribute to the community to make it better. If you live in an area that you like to live in, everybody should think along those lines.”

Mikell returns to the original site regularly to make sure that his efforts were not wasted. On one occasion, he noticed someone sitting on his bench at the bus stop and saw garbage next to the can. He asked the woman why she didn’t put the garbage in the can. She responded defensively and said it didn’t belong to her.

“I’m not blaming the woman. I was just making a comment,” Mikell said with a smile. “She’ll sit there and allow that to be there instead of just picking it up and putting it in the garbage. I think people are just busy as all hell. If you don’t have one job you have two.”

Mikell has a big job ahead of him with Crooked Hill Road alone. He pointed out about 15 to 20 spots that needed attention from someone. There is no doubt in his mind though as to where the attention will come from.

“People say ‘it’s the town of ‘X-Y-Z’ — you’d expect it from that town.’ Well I don’t expect it from any town.”

If you would like more information about the 7 Cents Club of Commack you can contact Ed Mikell at 7centsclubcom@optimum.net.

Councilman Neil Foley, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine stand by the jetty where a Selden man allegedly crashed his boat and then fled the scene. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Town and county officials aren’t taking boating safety lightly, and are urging residents to take precautions while out on the water this summer.

Boating safety was the topic of discussion at a press conference held at the Sandspit Marina in Patchogue Thursday, following a hit-and-run incident on May 24.  Mark Tricarico, 31, of Selden, was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a boating accident involving injury, according to a Suffolk County Police department press release.

Tricarico allegedly crashed a 23-foot boat into the west jetty at the entrance of the Patchogue River on the night of the 24th. One passenger was treated for minor injuries. Tricarico could not be reached for comment.

“If everyone follows safe boating procedures, most accidents can be prevented,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said on Thursday, just yards away from the site of the incident.

June and July are typically the busiest boating months of the year on Long Island, and Romaine along with Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale urged boaters to be aware of boating laws in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of the events of May 24.

From left, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini; Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale; Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine; and Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley at a press conference on boating safety. Photo by Alex Petroski
From left, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini; Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale; Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine; and Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley at a press conference on boating safety. Photo by Alex Petroski

Romaine and Vitale also reiterated some general boating safety precautions, like avoiding alcohol while operating a boat, being aware of weather forecasts and following paths set by buoys.

“Stay in the navigable channels,” Romaine said. “Understand what the buoys are for.”

Operating boats while intoxicated was a point everyone touched on.

“You don’t see it that often until you see a boat up on the rocks,” Jesse Mentzel, a bay constable, said in a one on one interview.  “It happens, and they could hit another boat just as easily.”

Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini attended the press conference on behalf of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We want to make one thing clear—boating while intoxicated will not be tolerated in Suffolk County,” Sini said.

Sini added that there would be checkpoints and patrols to monitor the waterways and ensure that everyone remains safe this summer.

Some additional safety precautions suggested by Romaine and Vitale included a boating course approved by the U.S. Coast Guard as well as a swiming and first-aid course, operating at safe speeds, and designating an assistant skipper in case you are injured or otherwise unable to assume command of the vessel.

“The water can be a very hostile environment,” Vitale said.  “It’s a beautiful looking place and it is truly, but it can be very hostile to people.  You have to pay attention.  You have to be aware of the weather.  You have to be aware of the currents.  This is something that every now and then people get out on the water and they just don’t get it.”

Michael Cosel fought hard for people with disabilities, will be remembered as model of advocacy, generosity

By Alex Petroski

Michael Cosel is remembered as a staunch advocate for the community. File photo
Michael Cosel is remembered as a staunch advocate for the community. File photo

The North Shore’s own Michael Cosel will always be remembered as a relentless advocate for people with disabilities, according to those who knew him.

Cosel, a resident of Setauket for 44 years, died this week. He was 69 years old.

Cosel dedicated much of his life to improving the lives of others, his wife Ronne said.

“It forces me to reflect on those things and makes me realize just how deep and enduring his effect was on people and the community,” she said.

The couple was married for 48 years.

It is difficult to quantify just how many lives her husband touched, she said.

“He had a big heart and a generous spirit,” Ronne Cosel said. “We had a lot for ourselves so he had enough to share.”

In addition to his wife, Michael Cosel is survived by a daughter, Paige, and a son, Andrew. His mother, Claire, will turn 90 on Friday.

He leaves behind the Michael & Ronne Cosel Foundation, which was established in 2007 to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. The Cosels’ son Andrew, 43, has cerebral palsy.

Cosel was a coordinator for the Suffolk County Special Olympics. Because of those efforts, Andrew was the first student to attend Ward Melville High School with a service dog in the mid-1980s. Cosel also helped to set up a vocational program for students with disabilities to help them find work after high school. Andrew works at Stony Brook University Hospital today.

“We were a very big thorn in Three Village school district’s side,” Ronne said with a chuckle.

The North Shore native was also instrumental in helping to spark efforts to put in a pedestrian and bike path linking Port Jefferson to Wading River as well as the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, which eventually secured $2 million under a federal grant to finance the project linking the communities.

Cosel’s efforts in the community did not in any way impact his dedication to his family.

Daughter Paige mentioned Cosel’s humor and generosity as the traits that she would remember most.

“As a father and a grandfather he was playful and generous,” she said.

Ronne Cosel had similar memories of the family man.

“He always had time to have dinner with us,” she said.

Along with his advocacy efforts, Cosel was a custom builder of single-family homes. In his spare time he liked to travel, scuba dive, sail and ski. His wife said she shared nearly 400 dives with her late husband over the years.

“I would have probably stayed home,” she said. “He was an adventurer.”

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