Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Amy Hagedorn worked with Middle Country Public Library

After teaching, Amy Hagedorn continued to dedicate her life to helping others. Photo from Darren Sandow

By Kevin Redding

Amy Hagedorn, whose generosity and activism as co-founder of the Hagedorn Foundation, provided millions of dollars for children, families and immigrants across Long Island, died Sept. 8 after a lengthy battle with lymphocytic leukemia at her home in Floral Park, surrounded by her family. She was 79.

Hagedorn was called an incredibly strong, passionate and kind-hearted person by family and friends, who said she dedicated her life and wealth to making an impact on a wide variety of groups and causes. She deeply cared for others, especially those who were in low places, and was hands-on with everything within her foundation and fund up until her final days.

Born Amelia Maiello in a small apartment in Queens in 1936, she had a humble upbringing. Her mother — a first-generation immigrant from Italy — struggled with poverty her whole life. Hagedorn understood that every cent counted. She was an accomplished student who went to Jamaica High School and went on to graduate from Baruch College. Even with college costing $15 a semester, money was tight. For years, she struggled financially as a single mother of four — having to juggle parenting, a house in Great Neck that constantly needed repairs and a job as a preschool teacher at a number of schools, ultimately Hillside Grade School in New Hyde Park. But she never let it be known. She loved teaching and brought a certain serenity to her classroom.

Longtime friend and fellow pre-school teacher Anna-Marie Quinlan said that she had a very caring and respectful way of treating children that was different from a lot of teachers.

“She was a very gentle, serene person. For all that she did, she was just always easy to be with.”

— Anna-Marie Quinlan

“Amy brought security and calm into their lives,” Quinlan said. “She was always very careful about the way she set things up to them; they were set up to be accomplished and they learned how to be successful in that small manner. When she was a teacher, she was a team member and those are the kinds of things I appreciated about her. She was a very gentle, serene person. For all that she did, she was just always easy to be with.”

In the mid-1980s, Hagedorn began the transition to being an activist for many people on Long Island, by writing a singles ad in a weekly newspaper. She sought a “warm-hearted man with a cool head and charming manner” who would share in her yearning for romance, love of reggae and dreams of sailing.” Recent widower Horace Hagedorn — the born-wealthy marketing genius behind the hugely popular Miracle-Gro gardening product — responded, and in 1986 the two were married. They couldn’t have come from more differing backgrounds, but for the first time in her life, Amy Hagedorn was in possession of a great deal of wealth. But she wasn’t about to spend it on yachts or jewelry. Instead, she was adamant to give it to those who truly needed it.

In 1993, she and Horace started a fund at the Long Island Community Foundation — geared toward children and families in need of help — which has since donated $65,403,917 in nearly 2,985 grants to more than 500 nonprofit organizations. After Horace died in 2005, he left her $50 million to continue their charitable activism. With the help of Darren Sandow, a longtime member of the Long Island Community Foundation staff, the widow started the Hagedorn Foundation, a limited-life organization that continues to provide much-needed attention and care for families and children, especially those of an early age.

“As a preschool teacher, Amy was very concerned with the early years of a child’s life,” said Sandow, executive director of the foundation. “That was a very big passion of hers; she basically wanted every kid to get to the same starting line, no matter what ZIP code they came from.”

Hagedorn believed that parents who are emotionally available, educating children as early as possible, and providing safe environments are greatly improving the health and future job prospects of their child, as well as reducing involvement in crime and substance abuse. Her passion led to programs like the Parent Leadership Initiative, among many others like it, which provides intensive advocacy training for parents.

“She basically wanted every kid to get to the same starting line, no matter what ZIP code they came from.”

— Darren Sandow

Her contributions to the world around her were limitless and awe-inspiring.

The Hagedorn Foundation helped establish a more family-based system at Middle Country Public Library and was instrumental in transforming it into a community center — providing childhood education and support for families in need of a nurturing environment.

Another huge passion of hers was immigration. The foundation worked tirelessly in helping immigrants and making Long Island a more comfortable place for them to live and thrive and advance. Having grown up hearing stories of what her mother went through in a country brand new to her, Hagedorn was proud to grant them the money they needed to get going. She also hired an outreach coordinator on behalf of the foundation to speak at schools and avert prejudices and hate crimes against immigrants.

In addition, Hagedorn granted scholarships to deserving students from her alma mater, Baruch College, among several other colleges. She was also heavily involved in helping people become more hands-on politically, exercising their rights to vote and participating in the local governments of their communities.

She was pivotal in the foundation of ERASE Racism, which served to expose and combat structural racism across Long Island and was on the board of Northwell Health, a system devoted to providing better health care.

For Sandow, Hagedorn’s absence will be immensely felt.

“We have staff meetings every Monday, and Amy attended just about every single one of them, and it’s heart-wrenching to not see her in her normal space around our table, being part of our conversations,” he said. “I’ve known Amy for 20 years now and I considered her a matriarch and a mentor and partner at this foundation. She was very hands-on and very approachable to everyone. You would never know the kind of wealth she had. She was an amazing lady, and she was fearless.”

Amy Hagedorn is survived by her four children, as well as Horace’s six children, 34 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. A public memorial service will take place in October. The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, those who wish to express condolences make a contribution to the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust.

Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out,’ one of this summer’s sleeper hits with a sequel already in the works. Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

By Kevin Redding

“Lights Out” may appear to just be another entry in the often cheap and soulless things-that-go-bump-in-the-night subgenre that reigns supreme in modern horror, but don’t let its seemingly conventional premise, of an evil entity that shows up to haunt when the room is dark, fool you: This movie is scary, clever and — surprisingly — elevating by addressing mental illness and the effect it could have on a family.

First-time director David F. Sandberg takes on the challenge of stretching his original three-minute short — which was praised for being on a level of terror and suspense that most contemporary horror movies fail to reach — into something that sustains its 80-minute runtime and doesn’t grow stale quickly, which is tough when the concept is as simple as this. It’s creepy and makes for some exceptionally eerie visuals (the freaky silhouette appearing and disappearing with the flick of a switch will undoubtedly stick with you before bed) but how can that work for an entire narrative?

As Sandberg showcases, the answer is with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama that raises the stakes when the inevitable horror fill the screen.

Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival
Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in a scene from ‘Lights Out.’ Photo courtesy of LA Film Festival

At the center of the scares is a family in crisis. A young boy named Martin (Gabriel Bateman) is left alone with his mentally unstable mother Sophie after his father dies in a mysterious freak accident at work (which makes for a really intense opening sequence). Sophie, played by an incredible Maria Bello, is way too damaged to be raising a kid; she spends most of her time locked away in her room talking to a dead woman named Diana, with whom she spent time in a mental institution when they were both young.

Diana is like the physical embodiment of Sophie’s psychological problems, which allows the movie, through jump scares and a freaky atmosphere, to talk a little about the dangers of trying to hide these issues and the consequences of harboring them — or unleashing them.

Diana makes herself known by standing in the shadows, aggressively attacking her victims, and doing everything she can to ensure that the lights don’t go on and halt her terrorizing, and the lengths to which she’ll go are really unnerving. Even during the day and when all lights are on, she could be hiding in darkness under the bed, or a corner of the room, or strike when the inevitable power shortage occurs. She can also travel to different locations, so safety is never really guaranteed no matter where you go.

Martin seeks refuge in his older sister Rebecca, played with a realistic chip-on-her-shoulder attitude by Teresa Palmer, who has long since moved out to escape her own dealings with her mother and Diana. Over the course of events, she becomes hell-bent on protecting Martin at all costs — even going as far as wanting to be his legal guardian. Together with her unexpectedly likable and resourceful boyfriend Bret (Alexander DiPersia) Rebecca helps Martin battle the evil that has latched itself onto their mother in an ending that contains plenty of high-tension scares and a big moment that’s sure to be contentious among viewers, in relation to mental illness.

Produced by modern horror master James Wan, who recently gave us a winning horror movie filled with great acting, characters we care about, and real human drama, with last month’s “The Conjuring 2,” “Lights Out” is truly effective and bold, serving as proof that a PG-13 rating slapped on a movie in this genre doesn’t always mean that it won’t deliver.