Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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Kenny Rogers, left, begins his 277-mile journey to raise fund for mattresses with Eli Kopp who joined him on the first 14 miles. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Step by step, a Stony Brook man is helping to provide a comfortable place to sleep for those in need.

On Sept. 25, 66-year-old Kenny Rogers embarked on a 277-mile walking trip dubbed Miles for Mattresses to raise funds for the Open Door Exchange — an outreach program of the Setauket Presbyterian Church created to collect furniture to distribute to those in need. Rogers said his goal is to raise $22,021 to purchase mattresses and box springs for the 177 people on the furniture bank’s waiting list for the items. The hope is that the walk will generate buzz and inspire donors to contribute to the cause. The organization has an agreement with Big Lots to purchase mattress and box spring sets for an average of $159.

Rogers’ 277-mile mission began at Wider Circle, which the Long Island furniture bank is modeled after, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will end Oct. 14 at the Open Door Exchange in Port Jefferson Station. Rogers, who is retired from the Suffolk County Department of Social Services and volunteers with Open Door Exchange, said it feels good to be able to give to others. He said it was frustrating at his former job to help people find housing but then they were on their own when it came to furnishings.

Kenny Rogers has been training for his journey since January. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, said more than half a dozen congregants of Setauket Presbyterian Church, of which Rogers is a member, and volunteers from Wider Circle were on hand to cheer him on, and a handful of them walked the first couple of miles with him, while others stayed behind to help out at Wider Circle.

“We had a wonderful reception from Wider Circle,” Calone said.

Arlene Rogers, who accompanied her husband to Maryland, said she was proud of him.

“He has a very big generous heart,” she said. “He is very determined. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it. I back him wholeheartedly.”

Eli Kopp, who turned 14 Sept. 25 and is an eighth-grader at Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, also traveled to Maryland to walk the first 14 miles with Rogers.

“It’s really great that Kenny had the idea to do this walk as a way to raise money for Open Door Exchange,” Eli said. “Open Door Exchange is a great organization that helps so many people who are in need and helping out there is also a lot of fun.”

Rogers said he’ll mostly travel along US Route 1, and along the way he’ll stop at churches to eat and rest. Setauket Presbyterian’s pastor the Rev. Mary Speers, and Calone networked with churches along the route to coordinate the accommodations.

Rogers said he started preparing for the trip in January by walking two miles around his neighborhood and then he slowly increased the distance. Right before his 277-mile mission, he was walking the more than three-mile Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail both ways with a backpack three quarters filled with weights. Walking didn’t always come easy for Rogers. He said the first few years of his life he was unable to do so, and doctors thought he might have cerebral palsy. However, when he was 4 years old, he said he just started walking one day.

Miles for Mattresses is the second walk he has organized to raise money for charity. In May 2016, Rogers traveled 50 miles on foot from his childhood neighborhood of Chelsea, Brooklyn, to Stony Brook to raise funds for the American Cancer Society in honor of his best friend who died of lung cancer.

Eli Koop, right, joined Rogers on the first 14 miles of the walk to celebrate his birthday Sept. 25. Photo from Kate Jones Calone

Speers said church members and others were supportive of his last walk and she knows his current one will be a success, too.

“The Setauket Presbyterian Church is very giving especially when it’s for a mission or to help people,” Speers said. “They’ll open up their pockets for that. So, the church gave a lot, and lots of his friends and just people in his world, his former co-workers, people like that really gave a lot, and he felt good doing it.”

The pastor said she was unable to join Rogers in Maryland due to recent hip surgery, so she is looking forward to joining him and others at the end of his trip, even if she needs a golf cart to do so.

“It should be a lot of fun,” Speers said. ”It would be like a victory lap.”

Rogers said while he’s looking forward to seeing everyone at the end of his walk, the end of such a mission leaves him with mixed feelings.

“When you’re done with it — you prepared for something like this — when it’s over, it’s a let down,” Rogers said. “I feel good that I did it, but now what do I do? This is what I’ve been working for a certain amount of time.”

Calone said Setauket Presbyterian congregants are in awe of Rogers.

“It’s just so inspiring,” Calone said. “Kenny is just this wonderfully positive and energetic and selfless and generous person who just thinks about really concrete ways that he can help people, and he’s done that his whole life.”

The Open Door Exchange will post updates on Miles for Mattresses on its Facebook page. At press time, Rogers had already raised nearly $8,000 toward his goal. For more information or to donate online, visit www.facebook.com/opendoorexchange or www.opendoorexchange.org.

SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. delivered his annual address to the university community Sept. 27. File photo from Stony Brook University

During his annual address, Stony Brook University’s president celebrated the past and looked forward to the future.

President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., delivered his State of the University Address to the Stony Brook campus community Sept. 27.

He said the first graduating class of 1961 consisted of approximately 40 students. In 2017, the university granted 7,313 degrees and certificates, including master’s and doctoral degrees that did not exist the first year.

The number of buildings has also changed on campus from a few to 136 structures.

Stanley said the students attending the university come from more diverse backgrounds compared to bygone decades. Diversity he said is something Stony Brook is committed to.

“We hope to reflect the diversity of the state we live in as well as the country we live in,” he said.

Stanley said while the number of international students has increased since 1957, this is the first year the amount of freshmen from other countries has decreased. He said he has received feedback that a number of international students are hesitant to study in the United States due to changes in immigration policies. The president is a supporter of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan instituted by former President Barack Obama (D). He said students protected by DACA at the university come from tough economic backgrounds yet succeed academically and epitomize the American Dream. He said SBU is committed to working with legislators to create a pathway for the students.

Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. File photo

“Stony Brook University I hope has communicated to the campus and the world our support for these students,” he said.

Stanley said the university is trying to change the way it recruits in order to create more diversity within the crop of faculty members, as well.

Another development at Stony Brook through the years has been the change in athletic success. The president said most teams originally operated as club sports, then developed into Division 3 and eventually Division 1 teams.

Stanley touched on the addition of Southampton Hospital as part of the Stony Brook University medicine family, which occurred this past summer.

“It’s really going to improve service at both hospitals,” he said.

The president said with a $1.7 billion budget, Stony Brook University Hospital serves 400,000 patients and offers a Level I trauma center, while the newly dubbed Stony Brook Southampton Hospital serves 100,000 with a $175 million budget.

He said the university is currently working on the Medicine and Research Translation Building and construction is scheduled to be completed in spring of 2018. The eight-level 240,000-square-foot building and 225,000-square-foot new Bed Tower will create opportunities for scientists and physicians to work side by side in the hopes of advancing cancer research and imaging diagnostics.

Stanley also addressed the university’s $24 million deficit, and he said he knows SBU can overcome it. The president said the biggest issue was the failure of the state as the university has not been included in state allocations in recent years

“I absolutely support faculty and staff getting raises, they are completely appropriate,” he said.

Despite the deficit, hundreds of faculty members and students have been welcomed to Stony Brook University while the number of administration positions has decreased. The president said administrators are “working harder than they ever been before to help the university.”

Stanley has asked department heads to look at their needs when an instructor leaves, and to consider if the workflow can be adjusted if the position cannot be filled. The goal, he said, is to have the least amount of impact on students.

The president said The Campaign for Stony Brook to raise funds for scholarships and research is $559.2 million toward a $600 million goal. It strives to reach the goal by June 30, 2018.

Michael Schaefer, with Barbara Donovan and Joan Hubbard in 2016, has resigned as Poquott Village board trustee. File photo

A few months after the June 2017 trustees election, the Village of Poquott board is experiencing changes once again.

Village clerk Joseph Newfield read a resignation letter from trustee Michael Schaefer at the Sept. 14 village board meeting. Schaefer cited needing to attend to family issues in the letter. Mayor Dee Parrish has not yet appointed a trustee to replace Schaefer.

The resignation comes two months after John Mastauskas resigned, also due to personal reasons. Parrish appointed Christopher Schleider to replace Mastauskas, and he will complete the former trustee’s term, which ends in 2018. Mastauskas won his seat in 2016 after running as a write-in candidate.

On June 20, Poquott residents voted out Harold Berry, who received 170 votes, while newcomer John Richardson received 195. Incumbent Jeff Koppelson was voted back in with 180 votes, and despite candidate Debbie Stevens challenging the results and filing a lawsuit, he retained his seat after she revoked her complaint.

Before she dropped the dispute, the Suffolk County Board of Elections recanvassed ballots June 29. Stevens, who earned 178 votes, said if the opportunity arose to become trustee, she would be willing to accept the position.

“I think I would be a fair, honest, concerned, helpful trustee,” Stevens said. “I would cater to what the residents want and not what I want.”

In interviews in June, both Richardson and Stevens said they felt the village has been polarized in recent years, and the mayor and board of trustees were not hearing residents’ concerns.

Koppelson said resignations are not unusual when it comes to a volunteer position such as trustee.

“As people decide to run or be appointed, we’re trying to make them understand this is a job, and it’s a volunteer job, so you have to be able to put in the time and energy,” Koppelson said.

Setauket Harbor Day was held Sept. 23. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in free kayak tours, harbor and maritime history tours and hands-on harborside activities. There was also a sea creature touch-tank, children’s face painting and music.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were on hand at the event hosted by the Setauket Task Force to sign a memorandum of understanding regarding a partnering to plan to conserve the historic and natural resources of the Setauket Harbor Watershed.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 Stony Brook University invited the local community, employees, friends and neighbors to experience CommUniversity Day and celebrate its 60th anniversary. The free event was filled with exploration, food, hands-on activities and performances highlighting the many things the university has to offer. Attendees visited a variety of themed campus “neighborhoods” to discover more about Stony Brook University.

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Episcopal Church Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

Members of a local congregation will be pounding the pavement Oct. 1 to raise funds for their historic church, one that was designed by renowned architect Stanford White in 1889.

All Souls Episcopal Church’s 90 members are inviting runners and walkers of all ages and denominations to join them as they participate in the 9th annual Soles for All Souls 5K Race/2K Walk. Dan Kerr, race and church membership chairperson, said it’s the second year he is heading up the event. His wife Susan Kerr and friend Mary Ellen Doris started the race after the late priest in charge, Mother Ann Plummer, asked members, “Why don’t you do something to get the community more active.”

Dan Kerr congratulates his wife Susan on her win during last year’s race. Photo from All Souls

Susan Kerr, the church’s head of fundraising, said Doris suggested the race, but she herself was skeptical at first if the church committee could pull it off. However, Doris had experience with running and was confident that it would be a success, and the first year they attracted approximately 100 runners.

The two organized the race together every year until Doris moved to South Carolina.  Kerr continued to chair the race until her job as a physical therapy assistant required her to work more hours. That’s when she passed the baton to her husband, and he stepped in to head up the race.

Relieved of her organizational duties, Kerr said last year at 62 years old she competed in her first race and came in first in her division in Soles for All Souls. She said as a former power walker, who began her quest to run by taking it one mailbox at a time, she believes anyone can take up running.

“Enjoy the process and compete only against yourself,” she said.

Kerr said her husband has been doing a great job organizing the race these last two years. She said he is fastidious in his organization and has taken the event to the next level and brought in more sponsors.

“He really knows how to get out there and get sponsors, advertising on the back of shirts,” she said.

Dan Kerr said approximately 120 serious and casual runners and walkers participated in last year’s race. He said his wife and Doris carefully planned the route before the first race in 2009 wanting to make sure it was exactly five kilometers and both challenging and scenic.

“The people who run it tend to be people who are serious runners,” he said. “They run in a lot of races, and they always tell us our race, although it’s small, is one of the best planned and has one of the most beautiful routes, especially when they come to the end when they come down Sand Street on the last leg and they get to run along the harbor.”

Episcopal Church
Runners prepare for last year’s Soles for All Souls race. Photo from All Souls

The church’s senior warden Steven Velazquez has run in the race for five years along with his daughter Veronique, while his wife Suzanne helps at the event. He said the fundraiser brings the members of the church together as they promote and work on it, and Dan has been doing a phenomenal job.

“It connects our small church together, it binds us together,” Velazquez said.

He said many children run in the race, and now that they’re getting older, keeping up with them is becoming more challenging. While he used to run on a regular basis and participate in Northport’s Great Cow Harbor 10K Race, he broke his leg a few years ago and hasn’t been able to run as much in recent years.

“I’m not the greatest runner but I’m happy to complete it,” he said.

The race begins at 9 a.m. Oct. 1 rain or shine. To register, go to www.active.com and search for Soles for All Souls. Fee is $25 for adults and $10 for children under 18 before Sept. 24 and $30 for adults and $15 for children afterward and on the day of the race. The day will include pre-race stretching led by Inspired of Port Jefferson, and the band Down Port will perform after the race. Nonperishable food items and toiletries will be collected for the food pantry at St. Cuthbert’s Church in Selden.

All Souls Episcopal Church is opened every day to visitors and located at 61 Main St., Stony Brook.

Students attending a school in Bizoton, Haiti will soon enjoy a visit from Tom Manuel of The Jazz Loft in Stony Book. Photo from Patty Smith

By Rita J. Egan

Local musicians plan to share the universal language of music with children in Haiti, and they’re asking for community help with their musical mission.

Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, said the venue is organizing a drive to bring instruments to schoolchildren during a trip to Haiti scheduled for Nov. 9. Manuel, his wife Laura Landor and five fellow musicians plan to teach the students how to play the instruments while they are there. The group also plans to return once a year to check in on students’ progress.

Patty Smith, a registered nurse from Commack, sponsors the school in Bizoton, as well as a church in the same village in Haiti. Smith was evangelizing in a Brentwood parking lot when she met Jean Bonte, who told her about the country. She said the meeting led to a visit to the mountain village. Moved by her trip, she decided to have the school and church built to help locals. There are now more than 100 registered students studying at the school.

Patty Smith with the children who attend the school she sponsors in Bizoton, Haiti. Photo from Patty Smith

The nurse said the people in the village are so poor that their homes have no electricity or running water, and they are barely clothed. She said she’s spent many nights crying after her visits to Bizoton because she feels guilty about what she has.

“I sit up in my bed and I feel guilty because I have air conditioning,” she said. “I think [this mission] is going to give them hope. I think it’s going to give them something to strive for so they could do good in school and really work hard so they can obtain and see that this is something that will make their lives better.”

Smith said Manuel traveled to the village with Landor two years ago. When he showed the schoolchildren how to play his trumpet, cleaning off the mouthpiece to allow each child to play it, the nurse said he mesmerized them.

“Everyone was laughing and clapping, and they were so proud of themselves,” Smith said.

Manuel said the children also laughed when he took out his trumpet and showed them how to warm up by making funny duck noises with his mouth.

The trumpet player said the first step of The Jazz Loft’s mission is collecting instruments. The musicians hope to receive at least 20 instruments, hoping to receive more brass ones because they hold up well in the Caribbean heat.

“Having been a teacher for so long, I know that there are a lot of people that either they played or they have a son or daughter [who did],” he said. “You know, they played through middle school or high school, and they have this instrument that’s sitting in their closet, or in their basement or attic. My hopes are that if people hear this story they’ll say, ‘Why should that sit in my closet for another five years? Let me bring that trombone down to the Loft and send it off for a good cause.’”

Tom Manuel, trombone player and owner of The Jazz Loft, shows Haitian students how to play the instrument during a previous trip to the country. Photo from Tom Manuel

Once the group arrives in Haiti, Manuel said they will teach students how to play, and culminate the trip with the students playing together as a band. The musicians will also perform for them.

“There’s nothing more inspiring for these kids — most of them have never seen these instruments or heard them,” Manuel said. “To see a band play for them is really intense.”

The Jazz Loft has also organized back-to-school and food drives to help the school.

Landor, a flute player who is the director of fine and performing arts in the Hauppauge school district, said she is looking forward to this year’s trip.

“I loved being with all the kids,” she said. “They’re incredible in their resilience and they’re so excited to learn; they’re excited to be with people who want to be with them. I would love for them to experience the joy of making music, and just have something they can be proud of in saying I did this, I learned this, I can practice this.”

Guitarist Steve Salerno, who performs at The Jazz Loft often, was touched by Manuel’s accounts of his trips to Haiti and is looking forward to traveling with him to the country this year.

“It just sounded like an amazing opportunity to maybe share in what he’s experienced,” Salerno said. “I hope that this will be kind of a wondrous experience for them to hear different types of music performed collectively.”

Manuel believes the musicians will gain a lot from the trip.

“I’ve always felt, personally, and I know everyone going on the trip feels this way —  we have all these different languages and all these differences that separate us, but in the end, we have more in common than we realize,” Manuel said. “That’s part of why I think trips like this, outreaches like this, travel in general, whether you’re doing a specific mission or not, is so important for people. The more you travel, the more you spend time with human beings, the more you realize we’re more like each other than we’re not and music is a universal language.”

A fundraising concert is planned at the venue at 275 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook Oct. 5 to offset the cost of the trip and used instruments can be dropped off at the location. The Jazz Loft is open Thursday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and various evenings for performances. For more information call 631-751-1895.

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Emma S. Clark Memorial Library recently received a grant to reimburse the cost of adding LED fixtures and bulbs in its building. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

By Rita J. Egan

Three Village residents voting on the proposed Emma S. Clark Memorial Library 2018 budget will be voting “yes” or “no” on a slight increase over last year’s budget.

The proposed $5,235,398 budget for the library is $36,037 more than 2017 and would increase the tax levy by 0.69 percent.

President of the library board of trustees Linda Josephs credits Director Ted Gutmann and the library staff with keeping costs down for the Sept. 27 vote.

“We are able to consistently fulfill this responsibility due to the tireless efforts of our dedicated, professional director and staff,” Josephs said in an email. “Our very small budget increases over the past several years without any decrease in services is a result of their performance.”

The library provides an educational and cultural resource for all ages in the Three Village area. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

Gutmann said the relatively low increase is due to a few factors, including the library no longer seeing an increase in their bills from the New York State & Local Retirement System as they did for several years. Approximately two-thirds of the staff is hourly or part-time, which reduces benefits costs. He said participating in the Partnership of Automated Libraries in Suffolk, a shared catalog/circulation system for Suffolk County libraries, has led to a savings of more than $20,000 a year. The library installed a new, energy-efficient boiler and HVAC units, which reduce utility costs, according to the director, and in the future lighting will be converted to LED, another cost saver.

Gutmann said contributions have also helped to offset operating budget costs. Donations in the last few years have included money left in 2014 by deceased Three Village social studies teacher and author Philip Groia to build the Global Studies collection, and late patron Helen Stein Shack’s family establishing an endowment used to fund an annual book award for teenagers.

The library recently received aid from state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), which has allowed the library to create a new technology center, also install a new carbon-monoxide detection and alarm system.

Gutmann said in addition to the library offering paper books and e-books, it provides classes, one-on-one technology training and programs, and volunteer opportunities. There are also senior bus and social programs for older residents.

The director said he believes it’s important for residents to vote and have a say in library decisions.

“The library is one of the few places left for the community to come together,” Gutmann said. “We are a place where our patrons can enhance their lives through books, programs, museum passes and online services. We are a unique educational and cultural resource that serves all ages in the Three Village community.”

The library budget vote will be held Wednesday, Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Periodicals Room in the historic section of the building. The library is located at 120 Main St. in Setauket. For detailed budget information, visit www.emmaclark.org.

The Se-Port Delicatessen, located at 301 Main St. in East Setauket, will be featured on Travel Channel's 'Food Paradise.' Photo by Rita J. Egan

When a television show narrator fondly remembers his favorite hometown delicatessen, it turns into an opportunity of a lifetime for the deli’s owner to showcase his signature sandwiches.

The Se-port Delicatessen, located at 301 Main St. in East Setauket, will be featured in the Sept. 17 episode of Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” in an episode titled “Bun-Believable.” Owned by Wisam Dakwar, the deli is a favorite of many in the area, including former resident Jesse Blaze Snider. The oldest son of Twisted Sister front man, Dee Snider, and 2001 Ward Melville High School graduate is the narrator of “Food Paradise.” When he was younger, Jesse Snider was a frequent visitor to Se-Port.

Jason Levine, co-executive producer of the show, said the deli was a perfect choice.

“Our host Jesse Snider grew up going to Se-Port Deli with his family,” Levine said. “There’s a sandwich called ‘The Snider’ on the menu, and he’s been going there for approximately 20 years at this point. And, anytime we can incorporate that much love from our host into a childhood favorite we’re going to go for it.”

Wisam Dakwar, owner of Se-Port Delicatessen, during filming of ‘Food Paradise.’ Photo from Se-Port Delicatessen

While Dakwar and Levine couldn’t discuss the sandwiches featured on the Sept. 17 episode taped earlier this summer, Dakwar said years ago the television narrator created his namesake sandwich that includes honey mustard, bacon, chicken salad, and melted mozzarella on a toasted garlic roll.

Dakwar said it was great seeing Snider again, and he was honored he appeared on screen to eat the sandwich. According to the deli owner, Snider usually only provides the voice-over and doesn’t appear on screen.

“I’ve known Jesse since high school, and his dad,” Dakwar said. “The whole family, they grew up here.”

The deli features specialty sandwiches bearing the names of other well-known residents — especially sports figures — including Mets pitcher Steven Matz, a 2009 graduate of Ward Melville. Dakwar said recently he received a call from Matz to deliver 35 sandwiches and Se-Port’s iced tea to his teammates at Citi Field in Queens.

For many, television appearances and recognition from sports figures may equal the American Dream. Dakwar has achieved the dream through hard work and long hours. He said when he emigrated from Israel to the United States in 1991 he worked at his cousin’s deli in Islip every day and played violin at Middle Eastern clubs in New York City at night to earn additional cash in order to save up for his own deli.

“I always wanted to own my own business,” Dakwar said. “I’m a workaholic. I’m not scared of working and nothing comes easy, I know that.”

Dakwar bought the Se-Port Deli and the building it occupies in the late 1990s and renovated it. Originally the delicatessen was approximately a quarter of the size it is now until he expanded when a TrueValue hardware store next to the deli closed. The Old Field resident, who only takes off Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, still works days and nights.

Dakwar said while working with his cousin he gained the knowledge to run a deli business, and he also improved his English language skills by interacting with customers. He knew very little English before moving to the United States, because being of Palestinian descent and living in Israel, he grew up speaking Arabic and Hebrew.

The single 40-year-old, who became a U.S. citizen in the late ’90s, said his parents still live in Israel and visit him once a year for a few months at a time. Dakwar said his parents are proud of the success he has achieved while living here.

Jesse Snider, Food Paradise’s narrator, with his namesake sandwich at Se-Port Delicatessen. Photo from Jesse Snider

“I’m thankful because I do a lot of business,” the deli owner said. “A lot of people come here.”

Lately, Dakwar has been busy creating a gyro sandwich, which offers a different taste than the average one by using various meats and ranch dressing. He has plans to install an additional counter where he can offer a wider variety of foods including Mexican favorites.

Dakwar said the day of the taping the restaurant was filled with cameras and the television crew, and he appreciated the customers’ patience. Abdul Mustafa who has worked behind the counter for four and half years said it was a good day for the deli.

“The place was packed with people on the day of the taping,” Mustafa said.

Mustafa said he and the other deli employees are looking forward to seeing themselves on television. However, Dakwar said he isn’t organizing a big screening of the show, because he said he would like to view it in private.

“I’m nervous because I’m not a camera guy,” he said. 

The deli owner said he’s grateful for his regular customers, and he’s looking forward to the exposure the show will give his business.

“I’m always looking forward to seeing new people, new customers from the area,” Dakwar said.

The Travel Channel will air the “Bun-Believable” episode of “Food Paradise” Sept. 17 at 9 p.m.

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Audrey Hirschmann, pictured in 2000, has been a friendly staple at Emma Clark library’s circulation desk since 1977. Photo from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library

By Rita J. Egan

A warm, familiar face at the circulation desk has greeted patrons of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library for decades. Audrey Hirschmann’s co-workers and members of the library’s board of trustees surprised her with a party Sept. 7 at Emma Clark to celebrate her 40th anniversary as an employee of the library.

Hirschmann, 88, said she has seen a lot of changes at the library since she started in 1977, including two expansions — one in the 1970s and one in the 1990s. The circulation clerk said she has worked with three directors and several supervisors at the library through the decades.

“A lot has gone on, and it just went so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe it went so fast.”

She began working at Emma Clark at 48, when her children Leslie Baffa, who was in attendance for the recent get-together, and Nancy, were teenagers. Baffa, of Stony Brook, said she was 15 when her mother started working at the library, and remembers walking there from P.J. Gelinas Junior High School. She said she’s proud of her mother for celebrating such a milestone.

“I think it’s great for her,” Baffa said. “She loves it here. It’s such a nice place to work; it’s such a nice place for the community. She really likes helping people at her job, so I think it’s great.”

Hirschmann said when she began working at the library she didn’t have any training in the field, and learned as the years went by. She said through the decades it’s been a pleasure working with her fellow employees and interacting with the patrons, especially her regulars. The library clerk said besides experiencing expansions and staff changes, she has shared life events with her fellow employees, including the passing of her husband, William, three years ago.   

Head of circulation Aileen Clark and library director Ted Gutmann were on hand for a party held at the library to commemorate Hirschmann’s 40 years as an employee Sept. 7. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We had sadness, we had happiness,” she said.

The circulation clerk said in recent years people will often tell her to sit down and take it easy, but she loves keeping busy.

“In a lot of the ways it’s routine, which is good,” Hirschmann said. “I do certain things during the day, plus be at the desk. It’s pleasant. It’s nice work; it’s easy work, really. A lot of standing on the feet but it’s the whole atmosphere, it’s very forthcoming.”

Library director Ted Gutmann, who has worked with Hirschmann for 18 years, said he has always found her to be warm and personable.

“She’s always been great to have on the staff and at the circulation desk,” he said. “And everyone knows her here in the community, and she knows everybody.”

Library board of trustees president Linda Josephs echoed Gutmann’s sentiments.

“It’s amazing that she’s been here this long,” Josephs said. “Everybody in the community knows her. She’s always a pleasure to see at the desk.”

Aileen Clark, head of circulation, said she admires Hirschmann’s commitment to the job.

“We’re very proud of Emma Clark library, and she’s one of the reasons why,” Clark said.

Carolyn Emerson who has worked with Hirschmann for 32 years, said she’s inspired to reach the same milestone and has enjoyed her time working with her fellow employee. She said when she forgets a name, Hirschmann remembers it, and is knowledgeable about the community.

“She was the mainstay of circulation when I came, and she is always so cheerful and welcoming to people,” Emerson said.

When it comes to achieving such a work anniversary, Hirschmann has advice for those who are approaching retirement age.

“If you like what you’re doing, keep working because it’s your saving grace,” she said. “Are you going to hang around the house and be a couch potato?”

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