Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan


One of the 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.

Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.

“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.

In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.

Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine present a proclamation to President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Gloria Rocchio, making May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”

Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.

When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.

“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”

Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.

“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.

Local politicians following the enveiling of the Washington Spy Trail sign along 25A. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”

John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.

“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”

Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.

“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.

Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.

The temperature was high May 19 but that didn’t melt the enthusiasm of the nearly 7,000 students at Stony Brook University as they anticipated the moment they could turn their tassels and throw their graduation caps in the air.

The milestone event was chock-full of memorable moments including honorary degree recipients, Michael J. Fox — actor and advocate for a cure for Parkinson’s disease — and Jonathan Oringer — Shutterstock founder and a Stony Brook alumnus — clad in traditional caps and gowns, joining the students. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree for his acting career as well as establishing the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The university honored Oringer with a Doctor of Science degree for creating Shutterstock, the first worldwide subscription-based service for acquiring images, as well as his other contributions to the tech industry.

The first degrees awarded were to Oringer and Fox. Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. introduced Oringer, a 1996 graduate of the university, as one who has “personified technologic innovation.”

As Fox approached the podium to deliver his speech, someone yelled, “Marty McFly.” The actor cleverly responded with a line from his 1985 movie, “Back to the Future.”

“You’re just too darn loud,” he said.

The actor said before that day he didn’t hold a degree from college or high school. He said he respects the university for its dedication to the sciences and its research.

Described by Stanley as a “fierce warrior in the fight to cure Parkinson’s disease,” Fox said he’s optimistic about the future.

“When I look out at the sea of red, I am filled with hope for you represent endless possibilities,” Fox said. “Among you may be the first human to walk on Mars, the engineer who will revolutionize the world’s energy technology, the next great investigative journalist who exposes political corruption, or the scientist who discovers a cure for Parkinson’s.”

U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D), also addressed the graduates and their families. Schumer advised the graduates to always take risks in life even when feeling uncertainty. He said to always “go for it.”

“The key is not to fear the unknown,” Schumer said. “Embrace it, relish it, soak up every possibility it has to offer.”

Among the nearly 7,000 graduates, ranging in age from 19 to 65 years old, in attendance, 42 states and 71 countries were represented. The degrees awarded included 4,292 bachelor’s, 1,999 master’s and 449 doctoral degrees.

Life is filled with various milestones. When the students at Imagination Pre-School in Stony Brook graduate June 19, owner, director and teacher Eileen Hummel will also be stepping into a new stage of her life.

A couple of months ago, Hummel, who owns the pre-school with her husband Sol, sent a letter out to parents notifying them the pre-school will be closing after 20 years. The owner said it wasn’t a decision she and her husband were planning on making in the near future, but when Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the building’s owners she leases the space from at 380 Nicolls Road, decided they wanted to utilize the building for their own needs, and no longer wanted tenants, the Hummels decided it was time to move on.

It was in June of 1997 when the doors to the school officially opened. Hummel had 20 years of experience in the education field, which included seven years as a director and head teacher at a local private school. Through the years, she estimates over 2,500 have come through the school’s door not only for pre-k classes, but summer camp, too.

The location has been an ideal one, especially with Stony Brook University right down the road.

Imagination Pre-School owners Eileen and Sol Hummel participated in the 2016 Three Village Electric Holiday Parade. Photo from Eileen Hummel

“We chose it because at the time we felt it was a perfect location being on Nicolls Road, which is a well-traveled road, and we knew someone who belonged to the fellowship — one of my neighbors — and it seemed like a very good fit at the time,” the teacher said.

Danielle Short, 21, who is currently a junior at Salisbury University in Maryland majoring in respiratory therapy, was surprised when she heard the news. The former student, who also worked as a camp counselor at Imagination, said she still keeps in touch with a couple of people she made friends with there.

“I was surprised because the school was open for so long, and it’s a really popular school in the area — a lot of people go there,” Short said.

Elizabeth Avella, 23, who also attended the school and would often visit her mother who worked there, was also saddened by the news.

“It makes me sad because I went there — all my brothers went there, my mom works there, so it’s close to home,” she said. “It’s sad to see a place like that go.”

Hummel, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, created a pre-school where children can socialize and learn in a fun environment. She said one of her favorite things to do, and among the things she’ll miss most, is dressing up for holidays and special occasions. Through the years, she has played Santa’s helper and a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day, among other characters for the children.

“She dresses up for the holidays and everything,” Short said. “She’s always very spirited at the events.”

Hummel said in addition to missing special occasions with her students, she’ll miss the everyday running of the school, which included greeting parents and grandparents as they dropped their children off. 

“I loved owning a pre-school, and I loved interfacing with the families,” she said.

Eileen Hummel and Jenna Stimmel during her school days. Photo from Jenna Stimmel

While Hummel had created an entertaining environment for her students, who range in age from 2 to 4 years old, there was also a lot of learning going on both in scholastics and life skills.

“My philosophy is, especially for 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds, socialization is the most important thing,” Hummel said. “For the 4-year-olds, the academics to get them ready for school is as important as the socialization.”

She said 4-year-olds learned the alphabet and numbers. And no matter a child’s age, Hummel said she and the teachers felt it was important to teach good values, how to be polite and kind, and how to make friends. In addition to the basics, it’s most important for young students “to be able to love school and want to go to school every day,” she said.

Jenna Stimmel, 20, another former student who worked at the summer camp, remembers playing games at the pre-school. The former student said she met one of her best friends there.

“It’s so cool to have met someone in pre-school and still talk to them now,” Stimmel said.

For Stimmel, who is now a sophomore majoring in psychology at Binghamton University, it was a pleasure to work for her former pre-school as a camp counselor, and work with the children. She said it was heartwarming to see the kids look up to her as she had to her teachers and counselors.

“It was really cool to get to work with [the counselors] because I’ve seen them as a child and now I get to work with them,” she said.

Avella, who now works in the corporate design industry, remembers how sweet Miss Eileen was when she attended the school, and her first day of school when her teacher helped her get through the day.

“I remember my first day of school,” Avella said. “I was crying, and I remember the teacher Miss Denise was holding me all day, and she wouldn’t put me down.”

Like Stimmel, Avella made friends at the school and still keeps in touch with them and the teachers. When her mother used to be a teacher, she would volunteer to help her mother at the school.

Eileen Hummel dressed as a bunny for a holiday celebration. Photo from Eileen Hummel

“I’m glad I got the opportunity to go there,” Avella said. “You wouldn’t think pre-school would be so important, or that it would last this long. I mean, I’m 23, and I still talk to my pre-school teacher. That’s pretty cool.”

As she says goodbye to Imagination Pre-School, Hummel doesn’t plan to rest. She hopes to become involved with an organization that works with children on a volunteer basis. However, her school will always hold a special place in her heart.

“It was a huge part of my life the last 20 years, and I will miss interacting with the children, with the families,” she said.

Her former students hope she’ll enjoy her retirement.

“I feel like she’s been working so hard for so many years,” Stimmel said. “She was an incredible person to get to work with. She’s such an incredibly hard-working person, and I think that this retirement is well-deserved for her.”

Avella hopes Hummel will continue her career in childcare in some shape or form.

“I hope that she does what she loves still, and she can find a way to still incorporate kids into her life, and bring joy to kids, because I loved going there,” Avella said. “Everyone that works there is a family, so I hope she’s still able to do that. I hope she’s able to still bring joy to people’s lives.”

With great admiration, many in the area are remembering a jazz music preservationist who recognized the importance of the American-born genre from its early days. Ann Sneed, 87, formerly of Stony Brook and founder of the nonprofit foundation International Art of Jazz, died in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 21, from cancer.

Sneed founded the International Art of Jazz foundation in the 1960s and organized concerts in the Three Village area, as well as surrounding towns. The foundation also traveled to schools to introduce children to the sounds of jazz throughout the state.

When Tom Manuel, trumpet player and owner of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, decided to open his venue, he reached out to the music preservationist. He said for years he had heard about her from other musicians, who when they discovered he was from Stony Brook, would ask him if he was familiar with her.

Ann Sneed outside of The Three Village Inn before a campaign event for Assemblyman Steve Englebright in October of 2012. Photo by Maria Hoffman

“Ann used to produce these amazing concerts not just in Stony Brook but in the Three Village area, Port Jefferson, at the university,” he said in a telephone interview. “Some of the first jazz concerts at the university were produced by Ann. So, I always heard about her and was always kind of impressed that the oldest organization for jazz in the history of our country was founded right here in Stony Brook. What an amazing accomplishment.”

Manuel said Sneed’s health was failing when they connected, so the majority of their conversations occurred over the phone. The two of them would talk for hours about her life in music and her days running IAJ.

“She was there at the beginning,” he said. “There are so few people you can talk to like that now.”

Manuel described Sneed as spunky, bright, genuine and inspiring. He said he admired her for recognizing the importance of jazz music and preserving it.

“Everything she said was so powerful and so applicable today — that the music was so important, that the artists were so underappreciated,” he said.

Manuel was always in awe of her stories about all the musical artists she met, especially composer, pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington.

“She actually had a fairly well-established friendship with Duke Ellington, and that kind of floored me,” he said. “Not only just the fact that he was a jazz legend but Ellington was arguably one of the greatest American composers of all time, and so much of the jazz standards are Ellington compositions.”   

John Broven, music history author, also had the opportunity to meet Sneed when she lived in the Three Village area.

“For many years I knew Ann as the always-friendly ticket collector at Democratic fundraisers, but for a longtime had no idea of her background in classic jazz,” Broven said.

Sneed invited him to her home after she discovered his wife Shelley’s father was the founder of Golden Crest and Shelley Records of Huntington Station.

“It wasn’t until she asked me about three years ago to identify the valuable jazz albums in the large record collection at her Stony Brook home that I became aware of her deep involvement in the music,” he said. “As we browsed through the LPs with the red wine flowing, she brought alive revered artists as real people. She seemed to know them all, including Clark Terry, Marian McPartland, Billy Taylor and a personal favorite, Ruth Brown. Ann was a remarkable pioneering lady in the world of jazz, full of compassion for the musicians, and in a sense paved the way for today’s vibrant Jazz Loft facility in Stony Brook.”

In her autobiography “Miss Rhythm,” rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown credits her participation in Sneed’s organization International Art of Jazz as being one of the opportunities that helped her get back on her feet after suffering with a career downturn and financial hardships.

“The work that she did, the pioneering work really that she undertook as the executive director of the International Art of Jazz, helped set the stage for the current level of appreciation that jazz has in our society.”

— Steve Englebright

Brown, who lived in Deer Park, wrote in her book how IAJ organized workshops in schools, from kindergarten to college, sometimes two or three times a week to expose children to jazz music.

In addition to her involvement in music, Sneed was also a member of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, and she was a familiar face at many campaign events for Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) where she was a volunteer manning the front desk.

Englebright said he knew Sneed for 35 years but when it came to her productions he was only able to attend one in the early years of IAJ. However, he said through his conversations with her about jazz and her productions he felt as if he attended all of her events.

“She had the great luminaries of the years when she was there (IAJ) from all over the country and all over the world,” he said. “She was the catalyst really for bringing so many of these people to our shores and to our community on Long Island. I think she lifted the level of our cultural experience rather significantly.”

The assemblyman echoed both Manuel’s and Broven’s sentiments about Sneed’s groundbreaking work as well as her paving the way for jazz appreciation even in present times. “The work that she did, the pioneering work really that she undertook as the executive director of the International Art of Jazz, helped set the stage for the current level of appreciation that jazz has in our society,” Englebright said. “Ann Sneed was well ahead of her time.”

The assemblyman said that it was after Sneed’s work with IAJ that she began to volunteer at his campaign events.

“I was so very privileged and honored that she spent a good deal of her time working to help me in my work with the public,” he said. “Often she was the person who would greet you at the door at the Englebright fundraisers, graciously show you in and make you feel that all was good.”

Matthew Barton, curator at the Library of Congress’ National Audio Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia, said recordings of the jazz concerts that Sneed produced are housed in the Library of Congress. The recordings include performances by jazz legends such as Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Illinois Jacquet, Johnny Hartman, Thad Jones and more.

“There are more than 200 of the jazz concerts that Ann Sneed mounted with the International Art of Jazz in the Library of Congress’ recorded sound holdings,” Barton said. “The tapes include a wonderful range of the best performers in jazz over several decades. It’s a wonderful and fitting legacy for someone who loved jazz so much, and did so much for it.”

Sneed is survived by her two daughters Jan Sneed and Kathleen Lukens and two grandsons. Services will be announced at a later date.

Edward Schmidt, above, in 2015 when he served as president of the Poquott Civic Association. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Former Poquott Civic Association President Edward Schmidt may be off the hook concerning charges of stealing funds from the civic group in 2015.

Schmidt, 24, recently received an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office for charges filed against him in 2015, according to his lawyer Tad Scharfenberg. Schmidt, who is also one of Poquott’s former deputy mayors, was accused of stealing more than $20,000 from the civic association in August 2015.

Edward Schmidt and friend at the 2014 Poquott Fish Fry he helped organize. File photo by Barbara Donlon

The adjournment notification means in October, two counts of petit larceny against Schmidt will most likely be dismissed. A felony grand larceny charge previously filed was already dropped in 2016. The charges were for incidents between September 2013 and May 2014, when the civic association alleged the former president used money for non-association expenses such as gas for his personal vehicle, clothing and dining at gourmet restaurants.

In a phone interview, Scharfenberg said Schmidt has always pleaded not guilty to the accusations, and while he has sent the civic association $10,000 in total, he never made an admission of guilt.

Scharfenberg also said Schmidt made a good business decision by sending the association money, as litigation would have cost him more in the end.

“I think it was an outrage that charges were brought in the first place,” the lawyer, and former prosecutor, said.

Scharfenberg said Schmidt was only 19 when he became president of the civic association and was organizing large events such as a holiday party and fish fry. He said he felt the former civic association president might have been too young to handle such large events even though the lawyer said the now 24-year-old is a highly motivated individual.

“He got a lot of the young people in the community involved in the events they ran,” he said. However, the lawyer said, “He didn’t keep good records.”

Scharfenberg said he believes Schmidt simply was caught up in the politics while he was involved in the civic association.

“[The prosecutors] did the right thing come the end of the day,” the lawyer said, adding Schmidt is ready to move on.

“He’s a good young man, and he’s going to go on from here,” Scharfenberg said.

Current Poquott Civic Association president Carol Pesek said the board would also like to see the community put the incident behind them, but the board members believe they followed the letter of the law.

“Our board represents the membership,” Pesek said. “We persevered undeterred by ongoing harassment from some who chose to ignore the facts despite being invited to view all of the financial records.”

From left, Marielle Greguski, Jessica Ader-Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes and Katie Ferretti star in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

By Rita J. Egan

The Wonderettes are back in town and they are as marvelous as they were during their high school days in the ’50s. The musical comedy “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts last Saturday, just in time for some warm weather fun.

Ronald Green III has done a terrific job in directing the four actors in the production, which is one of the sequels to the long-running off-Broadway hit “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Written and created by Roger Bean, the story begins in 1969, as Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy reunite to perform at the retirement party of their former teacher at Springfield High, Miss McPherson.

From left, Katie Ferretti, Jacqueline Hughes, Marielle Greguski and Jessica Ader-Ferretti in a scene from ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.’ Photo from SCPA

The first act provides a handful of hits from the ’60s, and as the party ends, Cindy Lou announces she has dreams of making it big in the music business. In the second act, at their 20-year high school reunion in 1978, the Wonderettes are as sensational as ever when they perform iconic hits from the ’70s. Katie Ferretti (Cindy Lou), Jessica Ader-Ferretti (Betty Jane), Marielle Greguski (Missy) and Jacqueline Hughes (Suzy) all deliver dream-worthy performances in this four-women show. Their vocals and harmonization are excellent, and they nail the corny girl-band dance moves of the past.

Ferretti has the right amount of sass and confidence to play Cindy Lou and is convincing as the girl who always gets the guy, and yet at times plays the role with enough tenderness that one can’t help but feel sorry for her when things don’t go quite her way.

Ader-Ferretti is witty as Betty Jane who always has a quick comeback for any situation, and despite that wit, the audience can also sense the singer’s big heart, especially for her on-again, off-again love, Johnny. Greguski is a sweet, quirky Missy who keeps everything together. When things look like they may go south with her husband Mr. Lee, she’s so lovable, theatergoers can’t help but feel sorry for her. Hughes is a giddy and ditzy Suzy, and while an actor on stage may not portray her high-school-sweetheart-now-husband, Richie, whether she looks out into the audience with affection or longing, one would be convinced that he is actually sitting in one of the seats.

When it comes to the story line, some of the highlights of the show are when the Wonderettes interact with the audience members. The improvised scenes with ticket holders lead to some of the funniest moments in the musical.

The list of songs that complement the story line is a baby boomer’s dream, and like the Wonderettes, the four women know how to belt out a tune from the first song “Gimme Some Lovin’” to the closing number that blends “We Are Family” with the reprise of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” The actresses harmonize beautifully, and they each have their time to shine in the spotlight multiple times during the musical with well-executed solos.

Ferretti delivers beautiful renditions of songs such as “You’re No Good,” “Band of Gold” and “Groupie (Superlove)” while Ader-Ferretti is soulful and strong during her numbers, especially with “I Keep Forgettin’,” “When Will I Be Loved” and “I Will Survive.” Greguski also is strong and soulful on songs such as “For Once in My Life” and “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and Hughes delivers heartfelt versions of “More Than Yesterday” and “Lonely Night (Angelface).” The numbers are perfect examples of how theatergoers will believe Richie is sitting right in the audience with them.

The theater’s band, with conductor and keyboardist Melissa Coyle, Craig Coyle on keyboard, Ray Sabatello on guitar, Chad Goodstein on bass and Jim Waddell on drums, were just as wonderful as the stars of the show. SCPA’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” is a delightful, high-energy production that will have you leaving the theater humming and feeling better than when you entered.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main Street, Smithtown, presents “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” through June 17. All seats are $35. For show schedule and more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit

Vietnam-born Hakin Lienghot, the subject of Eileen Davenport's first novel, was 'adopted' by Three Village community

Eileen Davenport, on right, is writing a novel about Hakin Lienghot, on left, who was adopted by the Three Village community following his immigration to the United States from Vietnam. Hank Boerner, at center, worked for American Airlines and helped the then-13-year-old get a flight to his new home. Photo from Eileen Davenport

Eileen Davenport has embarked on a writing journey, and she’s hoping local residents will join her on a trip down memory lane. The Setauket resident is working on a book about Hakin Lienghot, better known as Kin, a young man adopted by Three Village community members when he immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1967. She is reaching out to the community asking for stories involving her longtime friend.

Davenport said Lienghot, who now lives in Rhode Island, was a Montagnard child from Da Me in the Central Highlands of Vietnam whose people were mistreated by their fellow Vietnamese. When James Turpin, an American doctor, visited his village with the independent relief organization Project Concern, he met Lienghot and discovered the teenager dreamed of one day going to college. When the doctor returned to the United States, he addressed the members of the Three Village Jaycees, a junior chamber of commerce where members were between 18 and 35 years old. He asked the community to help him bring the young man to the states.

Hakin Lienghot arrives at John F. Kennedy airport and is greeted by the Fleeson family, who he stayed with over winter break. Photo from Eileen Davenport

“All these people in Three Village started to stand up and say, ‘We will help this boy to get here,’” Davenport said in a phone interview. 

She said she’s not certain of all the details, but Lienghot was offered a five-year scholarship to The Stony Brook School, and members of the Jaycees offered additional help. A clothing store owner said he would give Lienghot clothes, others said he could stay at their home during school breaks. Hank Boerner, who had just moved to Stony Brook and worked for American Airlines, offered to approach the company to arrange Lienghot’s transportation.

When the 13-year-old landed at John F. Kennedy Airport, the Jaycees, his future schoolmates, the local public school band and the Stony Brook Fire Department were there to greet him. She said the young man carried two bows and two arrows in his hand.

“His father said, ‘Here take this to your host family as a gesture to say that we are so happy and proud that they took you,’” Davenport said. “It was just this big hospitality thing.”

Lienghot said he was overwhelmed when he arrived at the airport, as he didn’t expect to be greeted by so many people, and his knowledge of English consisted basically of “yes,” “no,” and “thank you.”

“I didn’t expect anything like that so I was overwhelmed; I was frightened,” Lienghot said. “But I was cool on the outside, and I was frightened on the inside. I didn’t know how to talk to people or communicate. They had someone from the Vietnamese consulate to interpret for me.”

He remembers it snowing when the Fleeson family of Stony Brook drove him to their home where he stayed with the family until school began after winter break. He remembered that first night trying Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and not liking the  taste of it, and the next day throwing snowballs with the neighborhood children, and the Fleesons taking him to Sears in the Smithhaven Mall.

Eileen Davenport and Hakin Lienghot dance at his wedding. Photo from Eileen Davenport

He said he tried his best to fit in with the American children he met, so much so that it wasn’t until he matured that he realized the significance of his experiences here.

“I would love to hear about what people remember about me, because I was so focused on fitting in,” he said.

Lienghot, who is now a clinical social worker specializing in children with ADHD and autism has fond memories of his time in the area. He said he would walk down Quaker Path to go to West Meadow Beach and Christian Avenue into Stony Brook Village. From his walks to the village, he remembers looking out into the harbor and going to the shops, and he got his first American haircut from a Stony Brook Village barber.

He started at The Stony Brook School during a time when there were only 47 boys in the prep school, and Davenport said the students came from some of the most elite families, such as Edmund Lynch from the Merrill Lynch family.

While the original plans were for Lienghot to return home during summer vacation, circumstances in Vietnam prevented it. The Viet Cong attacked his village, and people were shot at point-blank range. In the attacks, he lost his brother-in-law and cousin as well as 36 others in his village. When he did get home in 1969, he was almost drafted when he was stopped while riding a scooter. He said he pretended to only know English, and for identification he just showed his Stony Brook School ID. After that, he knew he couldn’t return to his village again. 

The Three Village Jaycees, who already helped Lienghot with food, clothing and books, now opened up their homes to ensure he would have a place to stay during every school break and summer vacation.

“It was a collective community thing, really kind of parenting him,” the writer said.

Hakin Lienghot arrives at John F. Kennedy airport with flight attendants. Photo from Eileen Davenport

Davenport said she hopes Three Village residents can help her with the story of Lienghot, because her family only became a part of his life after he left The Stony Brook School. She said it was in the early 1970s when her father, Ed McAvoy, joined the Jaycees and was the newly elected president of the group. Lienghot was graduating from high school at the time, and her father decided to go to the graduation ceremony.

As her father was leaving, her mother Mary Ann said to him, “Just make sure he has somewhere to go.”

When Davenport’s father saw Lienghot, the young man didn’t know where he was going for the summer, and McAvoy invited him to stay at his home for the summer with his wife and four children.

While Lienghot was at the McAvoys they helped him pack for college and obtain his green card since his student visa ended. The young man had a four-year scholarship playing soccer at Barrington College and eventually went on to Boston University. Every college school break he came back to the McAvoy family, and through the decades has visited the family regularly.

“He kind of adopted us as family and we adopted him,” Davenport said.

The new author said many have told Lienghot to write a book, and but he never believed anyone would be interested in his story. She said while she has no experience in writing books, she’s an avid reader of memoirs and non-fiction inspirational stories, and she believes many would read a book about a community coming together and taking in an immigrant child during war.

The future author said to her adopted brother,  “I read stories like this all the time, and I know it’s a good story to tell.”

Those who remember Lienghot can email their stories to

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Thomas Allison, 2017 Discovery Prize winner, with James H. Simons, chairman of the Simons Foundation and Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of Stony Brook University. Photo from Stony Brook University

Once a year, Stony Brook University takes science to the competitive level with their Discovery Prize competition.

At the event, which took place April 13, four competitors presented their research to a panel of judges. The competition was established in 2014 with a donation from the Stony Brook Foundation board of trustees. This year at the university’s Charles B. Wang Center Theatre the panel of judges consisted of 2016 Nobel Laureate in physics from Princeton, F. Duncan Haldane, UC Berkeley’s director of the nuclear science division, professor Barbara Jacak, and chairman of the Simons Foundation and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, James H. Simons.

After a tough competition, Thomas Allison, assistant professor in the departments of chemistry and physics, won the $200,000 prize. Allison said all his competitors — Gabor Balazsi, associate professor at the Laufer Center for physical and quantitative biology; Matthew Reuter, assistant professor in the department of applied mathematics and statistics; and Neelima Sehgal, assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy — did a great job.

Allison won for his concept called “Molecular Movies.” The technology he is working on will record the movement of molecules, which in turn can lead to the development of better high-tech devices.

“I was honored to be a part of it,” he said. “Obviously the result is great, and in general, it’s a great thing at Stony Brook.”

The competition is produced in collaboration with the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science and is described as a “Shark Tank” meets “TED Talk” type of event. Each contestant presents his or her research in approximately 10 minutes, and they must describe their project from the scientific approach to the potential impact of their research in a way an everyday person would understand it. 

Allison said he has been working on his research for three years and was a bit nervous before his presentation. However, before the event contestants received coaching from communication experts at the Alan Alda Center, which he said was a big help.

“I just tried in the end to be clear, explain my project and what we’re trying to do, so I guess that got me through it,” he said.

When it comes to describing his project to a layperson, Allison said it all depends on how much a person is familiar with electrons.

“Mostly it’s just basic science,” he said. “You can think of it kind of like a microscope, so once you have this tool, then you can use the tool to try to make devices.”

Allison said his tool would be beneficial with any technology that uses molecules with electrons moving around because molecules are “excited” by light. He said the application could help in developing better technology such as solar cells, which are used for light absorption to produce electricity from sunlight, that use organic molecules instead of silicon.

“I’m not going to make a better solar cell,” Allison said. “What I would like to do is make a tool so that people who work on these things can make better solar cells or something. So it’s more about making the tool.”   

After winning the prize, Allison said he will be able to pay for a new electron detector. The detector uses UV lights that make the electrons come out. He said the detector he has right now can only measure the energy of an electron and not its angle. However, a new one will be able to measure both at the same time, providing measurements that are more effective.

He said he has the same goal as those who are working on much larger scale projects, but he can achieve the same results with a less expensive light source as well as instruments.

The prize money will also allow him to hire a post doctorate student to work on the project, and the professor is glad that he now has the funding to spend more time in the lab and less time applying for grants.

“I’m looking forward to doing experiments, and the discovery fund was a big boost,” Allison said.

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Doctors present the Howard triplets with gifts from the hospital. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Rita J. Egan

When Center Moriches residents Amy and Mike Howard discovered she was pregnant with triplets, they never imagined how unique their children would be. All three babies, Hunter and Jackson, who are identical, and Kaden, who is fraternal, were born with craniosynostosis.

The medical condition, a congenital premature fusion of one or more sutures on a baby’s skull, changes the growth pattern of the skull causing an abnormal head shape. If not surgically repaired it could increase the chances of intracranial hypertension, which could lead to visual impairment or impaired mental development.

One of the Howard boys during the press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At a May 1 press conference at Stony Brook University Hospital, the six-month-old boys were introduced to the world, accompanied by their parents and their surgeons Dr. David Chesler, assistant professor of neurosurgery, and Dr. Elliot Duboys, associate professor of plastic surgery. The procedure, which took place at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in early January, was the first-ever reported of its kind where all three triplets had craniosynostosis.

“It’s not that uncommon with twins or multiple births that one child have [craniosynostosis] and the other not,” Chesler said. “The fact that all three of them had it was pretty unique.”

While the condition occurs in about one out of every 2,100 births, Chesler said he and Duboys were working out the numbers to see what the odds were for all three in a set of triplets to have craniosynostosis, and they estimated the chances are one in 500 trillion.

Chesler said when Kaden was born his head looked triangular while Hunter’s and Jackson’s skulls protruded in the back. The doctor explained the difference in a normal skull compared to one with craniosynostosis.

“It means that their skulls have just fused a little bit earlier,” he said. “Our skulls are normally a set of plates. They’re not one big bone, and the skull grows as a consequence of that.”

The infants wore custom-fit helmets to the press conference, which they are required to wear 23 hours a day and will continue to wear for another three months. The helmets help to guide and mold the shape of their skulls as they grow. Their mother said she cleans the helmets once a day, sometimes twice, when she washes the children’s hair, and they don’t seem to be bothered by them as they go about their everyday activities. They can even sleep with them on.

“The first two weeks when we brought them home with the helmets they didn’t like it but now it’s like putting on a baseball cap for them,” the boys’ father said.

Chesler said without the helmet the bone would grow back and then the problem that created their abnormal head shape in the beginning is reestablished.

Amy said the triplets were her first pregnancy and when she first found out she was pregnant in March 2016 the doctor told her there was only one embryo. Three weeks later when she went for her nine-week checkup, the doctor informed her she saw three babies on the sonogram. Since her doctor doesn’t deliver multiples, the new mother came to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she and her husband were alerted of the various things to watch for when dealing with a high-risk pregnancy. However, after an uneventful pregnancy doctors delivered the triplets six weeks early, Oct. 22.

“The first two weeks when we brought them home with the helmets they didn’t like it but now it’s like putting on a baseball cap for them.”

— Mike Howard

It was after the triplets’ birth that the Howards discovered their babies had craniosynostosis. Their mother said you could tell their heads were malformed.

“It was really extremely scary just thinking about having your eight- or nine-week-old baby going through surgery and having their bones cut open,” Howard said.

Chesler said while there are a number of ways to conduct the operation, when he started working at the hospital in 2014, he introduced a minimally invasive endoscopic surgery for the condition. The doctor said the surgery involves less bone being removed and less loss of blood than the alternative, open-skull surgery. The procedure takes about two hours, and the patients can go home 24 to 48 hours later.

While Kaden had the rarest form of craniosynostosis — metopic synostosis — and Hunter and Jackson had the most common form — sagittal synostosis — their surgeries were similar.

The procedure involves a small incision being made in the patient’s head, and then using an endoscope and scalpel a strip of bone is cut to remove the fused seam. This is considered a better option over the open-skull surgery, which can require a few hours of surgery and five days of recovery at the hospital. There is also less of a need for a transfusion with the endoscope surgery.

Duboys said in Kaden’s case, metopic sutures usually fuse in three to six months, but in the baby’s case it fused while he was in the uterus. With Hunter and Jackson, the sutures that fused while in the uterus usually fuse in adulthood. He said the endoscope surgery can be done much earlier than the open-skull surgery.

Duboys said they have operated on several hundred children using the open operation, and he said the endoscope procedure allows them to operate on younger children.

“Now at Stony Brook, and with Dr. Chesler, we’re able to offer both,” the doctor said. “In Dr. Chesler’s case, usually it is much better in the younger ages.” 

Hunter and Jackson were able to go home after two days in the hospital and Kaden spent just one. The doctors performed the procedures on Hunter and Jackson the first day and Kaden on the second so they could all go home together. After the surgery, the three only needed Tylenol for a week, and the parents said they didn’t think their children were in much pain. 

The Howards said the children have been meeting all their development milestones, and their mother added, “Hunter and Kaden are shooting up their growth chart.”

Local legislators and members of the Three Village Community Trust unveil sign for the newly acquired portion of Patriots Hollow State Forest in Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials and a decision by a legacy family on the North Shore, Setauket has gained additional preserved land in the hopes of being able to protect local waterways, among other environmental benefits.

April 21, a day before Earth Day, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and local elected officials held a press conference to announce the state’s acquisition of 17 acres of woodlands stretching from the corner of North Country Road and Watson Street in Setauket. The property expands the already 28.3-acre Patriots Hollow State Forest, which runs adjacent to Route 25A and is located across from Setauket’s Stop & Shop.

DEC’s regional director on Long Island, Carrie Meek Gallagher, who grew up in Setauket, started the press conference by welcoming everyone who gathered in the woodlands. She also thanked  Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket); Peter Scully, deputy county executive for administration and former DEC regional director;  Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket);  Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and Robert de Zafra and Cynthia Barnes from the Three Village Community Trust for their efforts in securing the land.

Gallagher said the preservation of the land, which was once utilized for potato farming, plays a part in safeguarding the Long Island Sound watershed, and supports forest health while providing a habitat for wildlife.

Many in attendance recognized Englebright for his determination in acquiring the property in the Old Setauket Historic District. The land is where the Fitzsimmons family established their farm in 1939, and through the decades, they began acquiring more land parcels. Once farming ceased, the parcel remained open land where red cedar, gray birch, poplar, black locust and Norway maple trees now stand. Descendants still live in the family home today, and Englebright commended them for choosing preservation over selling the land to developers.

“These beautiful woods that disappear in an eternity behind us could have been more suburbia, could’ve easily been converted into something other than preservation,” he said. “The consequences of that — more traffic, poor air quality, and even worse, a compromised water chemistry in our nearby shores and harbor.”

He said creeks in the area drain into Conscience Bay, which is part of Setauket Harbor, and the bodies of water form the most western part of the Port Jefferson Harbor complex. He also added that the land was the missing link to the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail.

“We are connected to history, to water chemistry, to wildlife diversity and our sense of place,” Englebright said. “This is an important acquisition.”

Scully, who has worked on land preservation projects with Englebright in the past, including the original acquisition of property for Patriots Hollow from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center diocese in 2010, thanked Englebright for his leadership.

“I know that your interest in this property was a motivating factor in the state of New York’s decision to move forward,” Scully said.

Hahn echoed the importance of acquiring the property as well as praise for Englebright. 

“Steve, really our community’s thanks is to you,” Hahn said. “Your dedication, your commitment, your persistence on this piece of property, I know how long this has been in your vision.”

Cartright said Brookhaven Town has been committed to preserving open spaces, and she appreciated the cooperation from all levels of government on the issue.

“We are grateful to be in partnership with the state as well as the county as it relates to the preservation of open spaces,” she said.

She also alluded to key initiatives when it comes to preservation in the future.

“We ask you keep your eyes and ears open as it relates to that,” she said. “But this is an amazing announcement on such an appropriate day as we approach Earth Day.”

Before the unveiling of the new park sign which stands on the new acquisition, Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, thanked the elected officials in attendance calling them a “rogue gallery of people who really make a difference” and expressed gratitude to the Fitzsimmons family, who were unable to attend.

“Nothing reinforces the integrity of a historic district like open space,” Reuter said. “In so many cases, I sort of have this joke about preventing the future — we’re protecting the past, we’re preventing the future. In this case, it’s really quite apt, except the future is our environmental health, and this is a huge triumph.”