Community

A WARM WELCOME Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Spirituality has new resonance at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

It comes in the voice of Marcey Wagner, who joined the Reform Jewish congregation last July, filling the dual roles of cantor and education director. The congregation will officially welcome her with an installation ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 29.

“I embrace the idea of new beginnings,” Cantor Wagner said during an interview in her temple office, “and I look forward to joyful things.”

Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

Wagner said she is pleased that many of her friends and colleagues gathered over her career will be present to celebrate and that the installing officer will be Dr. Cindy Dolgin, former head of the Solomon Schechter School on Long Island.

The addition of Cantor Marcey, as she likes to be known, is truly a joy according to her co-workers. Interim Rabbi David Katz views her as a valuable asset — both in the sanctuary and in the classroom.

“Cantor Wagner brings her vibrant nature to the bimah [clergy platform] and years of experience to the position of educational director,” he said. “She is a great addition to our staff, bringing beauty to our worship and creativity to our school.”

Temple Administrator Penny Gentile also sings Wagner’s praises. “It is a pleasure to work with Cantor Marcey,” said Gentile. “She is such a vivacious person — so full of energy that it’s absolutely contagious. I’ve heard so many positive comments from the Hebrew School students and their parents. She is truly a team player with a gift for identifying and nurturing strengths in everyone. And what a beautiful voice!”

Although ordained as a cantor, Wagner said she has not been “on the bimah” (i.e., she has not held a cantorial position) for eight years. Instead she has been focused on teaching, but she said that returning is like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” she said. “The audition felt like coming home.” Wagner said she loves seeing the children and hearing their voices and their laughter. For her it makes a synagogue come alive, which is why she has pursued education along with cantorial duties.

“Cantors spend more hours teaching than singing,” she said.

Wagner has been involved in all facets of Jewish education — teaching students from preschool through senior citizens. Before coming to Temple Isaiah she served as director of Youth and Family Education at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York. Her career included four years as principal of the Lower School of the Schechter School of Long Island and a decade as cantor and educator at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville in Nassau County.

Wagner received her investiture as hazzan (cantor) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, at which she also earned a master’s degree in sacred music with a concentration in education. She was selected to attend The Principals’ Center leadership seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The board of directors at Temple Isaiah unanimously approved Wagner’s hiring and has been extremely pleased with her performance to date.

“Cantor Marcey is a breath of fresh air,” said President Jay Schoenfeld, “both on the bimah and in the religious school. Her energy is boundless and her warmth is evident in all the connections she’s already established with congregants, lay leaders and community members. A collaboration with Rabbi Katz to offer children’s services for the High Holy Days — open to the public and free of charge — demonstrates her devotion to Judaism. We are delighted to have her at Temple Isaiah.”

Cantor Marcey is delighted, too, and said she already knows she’s found a new home.

“It’s wonderful meeting people and seeing how warm and welcoming [the Temple Isaiah] community is,” she said. “I’m planning on staying a long time. I’ve been impressed with everyone’s organization and efficiency; I have a very positive feeling about this place. Everything has lived up to my expectations. It’s exciting when there’s a path to go on and you have congenial, capable partners with whom to make the journey.”

Wagner is committed to shaking things up, she said, to prove that Hebrew school can be fun. To elucidate she described last month’s opening session of the school program. Using a film clip from the movie “Babe’” in which the title character, a piglet, arrives at the farm, she led a discussion about new beginnings, which are exciting and scary — and complicated. The unconventional, unkosher protagonist, she said, was intended to make people think — and laugh. The session included students alongside their parents, and Wagner said she made sure everyone present took away at least one new bit of knowledge, to encourage discourse.

“One of the strongest ways to promote Judaism,” she said, “is to provide a venue for parents and children to discuss the important questions; to have the important conversations.”

'Autumn Light' by Lana Ballot
An autumn tradition returns to the North Shore

By Irene Ruddock

Now in its 37th year, the Setauket Artists’ Exhibition, featuring the works of over 40 local artists and artists from all over Long Island, will return to the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket from Oct. 22 to Nov. 20 with viewing daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, Oct. 22 from 1 to 4 p.m.

‘Long Island Sunset’ by Eileen Sanger

Participating artists this year include Lana Ballot, Ross Barbara, Eleanor Berger, Robert Berson, Rina Betro, Sheila Breck, Renee Caine, Al Candia, Gail Chase, Anthony Davis, Julie Doczi, Jeanette Dick, W.A. Dodge, Paul Edelson, Stu Gottfried, Donna Grossman, Peter Hahn, Melissa Imossi, Laurence Johnston, Anne Katz, Flo Kemp, Karen Kemp, Michael R. Kutzing, John Mansueto, Jane McGraw Teubner, Terry McManus, Eleanor Meier, Fred Mendelsohn, Muriel Musarra, Genia Neuschatz, Iacopo Pasquinelli, Paula Pelletier, Denis Ponsot, Joe Reboli, Joan Rockwell, Robert Roehrig, Irene Ruddock, Eileen Sanger, Carole Link Scinta, Sungsook Setton, Barbara Siegel, Patricia Sloan, Angela Stratton, Marlene Weinstein, Laura Westlake and Patricia Yantz.

‘From Here You Can Almost See the Sea” by Iacapo Pasquinelli

The distinguished judge this year is David Peikon, a “contemporary realism” oil painter who is an instructor at the Art League of Long Island. Peikon has had over 18 solo shows and his work is in corporate and private collections throughout the world.

Each year, the Setauket Artists honor a special artist who’s work is admired and who has contributed greatly to the show. It is an award especially appreciated since it is chosen by one’s peers. Muriel Musarra, a watercolorist and oil painter and a member of the Setauket Artists for 37 years, is this year’s choice. Her work is in many collections and exudes a certain quiet peacefulness that has charmed the community for years.

The three paintings being offered for the raffle this year are the following: “Giclee of Giverny #1” by Renee Caine, a recent Artist of the Month recipient for LIMarts; “An Afternoon in Tuscany,” an original pastel by Donna Grossman, instructor of drawing and oil painting at The Atelier in Saint James; and “Nissequogue Overlook,” an original acrylic by John Mansueto, a well-known painter from the South Shore.

Fred Bryant of Bryant Funeral Home has generously offered to be the Setauket Artists sponsor again. The artists applaud Bryant’s loyalty by providing funds that have made the exhibit more professional.

‘One Daisy’ by Angela Stratton

This year, the Setauket Artists introduce their new website, www.setauketartists.com. We invite you to take a look and sign up to join our mailing list. The website will tell you about the 37-year-old organization called Setauket Artists: its history, artists, paintings, Children’s Scholarship Fund, and our newest feature, art consultation.

Art consultation is designed to create a personal relationship with buyers who may want to purchase a piece of art but are unsure of where to begin to obtain art that best suits their surroundings. After suggesting many paintings, we will bring the actual paintings to your home or office where you will see the artwork in its environment, with no obligation to purchase. Art consultation is available all year long; we look forward to providing you with affordable paintings that truly fit your needs and our motto: Art for a Lifetime.

‘Setauket Bridge’ by Muriel Musarra

The Setauket Artists will continue their art scholarship fund for children in the Setauket schools, presenting these awards at the reception opening. This year’s recipients of the awards for drawing and painting are Will Boonin in memory of Setauket Drawing Group member Andrew Schmitt, Jaden Chimelis in memory of Setauket Artist Burt Woods and Paloma Papageorge in memory of artist JoAnn Coane, given by her husband Jim Coane.

If you miss the first reception, join the Setauket Artists for a free wine and cheese reception on Friday, Nov. 10 from 5 to 7 p.m. where music will be provided once again by singer Caterina Dee.

For additional information, visit www.setauketneighborhoodhouse.com, Setauket Artists on Facebook or call 631-365-1312.

Irene Ruddock is the coordinator of the Setauket Artists.

The steeple of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Northport has been leaking for more than a decade. Photos by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is praying for community help in order to save a pinnacle of the town’s history and landscape.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church has launched a capital campaign seeking to raise $300,000 to make structural repairs to the building’s historic steeple and preserve the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. The parish has found innovative ways to deal with the leaking steeple for nearly a decade, but the need for restoration has heightened as more extensive damage has occurred over time.

Pastor Kristina Hansen, religious leader of St. Paul’s, said the issue of rainwater leaking into the church’s sanctuary predates her arrival in 2010. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, who has been at the church for 26 years,  said determining the leak’s source took a lot of guesswork. Churchgoers used pots and pans to catch the water for years, and Hansen said the church even replaced the building’s roof “at hefty cost,” which did little to solve the problem.

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” she said. “The steeple was the culprit all along. It’s gotten to a point we can’t ignore or make do anymore.”

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, is iconic, made of white-painted wooden boards with a copper dome on top. It’s steeped in more than rainwater, as throughout the decade parishioners have signed their names on the walls of the bell tower as they’ve made confirmation or held a position of service in the congregation.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Edwards-Bourdrez said the steeple’s leak has gradually limited church activities, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performance of the bell choir during inclement weather.

St. Paul’s has had a number of different construction firms come to review the damage and give estimates on the cost of repairs to preserve the historic structure, Hansen said. Initial prices range from $125,000 to $150,000, according to the pastor, but that could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection is made of the two- to three-story high structure. The church has had temporary repairs done to prevent any further damage at the moment.

“Right now, for the first time in a decade, it isn’t leaking, but it’s not going to hold,” she said.

In addition to repairs to the steeple, the pastor said that the church is seeking donors to help preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of glass has started to deteriorate, which leaves the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

“I don’t know how much of the original work is still being done anymore,” she said. “It’s a part of the character of the sanctuary.”

The parish is hoping with the community’s support to upgrade its bathrooms, which are frequently used by residents for athletic events, artistic performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts. This past Cow Harbor Day, churchgoers invited runners and spectators in need of a restroom inside to use the outdated facilities. The church wants to update its bathrooms and stairways to be fully handicapped accessible.

“With how many people we have in our building, we want our hospitality to be better,” Hansen said. “Any way we can make it more accessible, we want to do.”

The church’s capital campaign has already found support in the Northport community with John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport offering to donate $25,000 over the next three years. Hansen said a golf fundraiser is being held Oct. 16, with more events being planned in the upcoming weeks.

Jo Ann Katz, owner of Northport Plays, said the church has “been her home” for Northport Reader’s Theater and the Northport One-Act Play Festival over the years. It has provided a location for Long Island theater groups and actors to come together, with the yearly festival taking place on the parish’s stage in the gymnasium.

Katz will coproduce a special performance of “Ever Random,” a new play written by Long Island playwright Patrick Sherrard, to benefit St. Paul’s Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. The play is described as a touching comedy that explores a family’s struggles in the wake of a great loss. The show recently finished its September run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and reservations can be made by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099845.

Hansen said St. Paul’s members are grateful for the community coming together to support the steeple’s repair.

“You can see the steeple from the harbor as you are coming up the street. It’s one of those iconic marks,” she said. “The fact is it’s compromising this beautiful sanctuary.”

Eagle Scout John Ninia stands by the dogwood trees he planted at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Jerry Ninia

For one Eagle Scout, earning coveted merit badges has been more than a pastime; it’s been a mission. The undertaking has led him to earn all 137 badges a Scout can receive — an accomplishment only 6 percent of scouts in the nation have achieved, according to the Boy Scouts of America website.

John Ninia, of Poquott, a senior at Ward Melville High School, moved up from Cub Scout to Boy Scout when he was 11 years old. Ninia said it took him six years to earn all 137 badges. A scout needs 21 badges to become an Eagle Scout — 16 being mandatory ones.

“I just went for all of them,” the Troop 70 Eagle Scout said.

When he was 12 years old, Ninia said he attended Boy Scout camp, where his mission to collect every badge first became his goal.

John Ninia, an Eagle Scout in Troop 70, proudly wears his 137 badges. Photo from Jerry Ninia

“I remember after my first week of summer camp, I was on my way home and I was really thrilled,” he said. “Usually you can get five badges if you’re really into it but I got about 11, and my parents mentioned that I could go back for a second week.”

Ninia said he immediately signed up for the second week, and when he earned 20 badges that summer, he said it was a great feeling. The Scout said some merit badges, such as one for art, can take a day and a half, while personal fitness, family life and other badges require more time, even months. He said a scuba badge took several days of training to earn certification, while achieving the water skiing one was the most difficult, but he kept trying until he could stand up on the skis.

Ninia completed three Hornaday projects, which are tasks that involve the environment. He eliminated invasive knotweed, a Japanese plant, at West Meadow Beach, planted trees at Frank Melville Memorial Park and installed a rain garden in the Village of Poquott’s California Park. Working to improve the environment is a passion of his, and he plans to major in environmental studies in college.

Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Park Board President Robert Reuter said Ninia worked diligently to clear a substantial vine-choked area adjacent to the Bates House in the park. His work saved existing trees and allowed for the planting of several native white flowering dogwoods.

“It’s revealing of his commitment that I get calls from John offering to continue the work,” Reuter said. “This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

Robert Mandell, who was Ninia’s troop leader for the majority of the time he has been in Boy Scouts, said he remembers the teenager coming to him telling him how he earned badges for various activities such as glass blowing and concrete mixing. The former troop leader he said he would question him at length about what he did to earn the badge.

“I quizzed them like the FBI,” Mandell said.

He said he wasn’t surprised when Ninia earned every badge, saying he is a smart, hardworking teenager.

“This young man is driven,” the former troop leader said.

While the experiences earning the badges have provided great memories for Ninia, he said what he has enjoyed most during his Scouting years has been “providing leadership to a group of scouts and helping them with their own ability to rank up.”

“This young man has a bright future underpinned by his extraordinary personal achievements and service to community.”

— Robert Reuter

Despite a busy schedule with school, the cross-country team and DECA, Ninia said it’s important to make time for Scouting.

The high school senior said one can no longer be a scout after 18, but while his days as a scout may be over soon, he hopes to always be a part of the organization in some way, even though he’s not sure about being a troop leader.

“It’s hard, and I do have a lot of stuff and I’m a busy guy, but Scouting is something I’ve loved so I’ve always been able to make time for it,” he said. His advice to other Scouts? “Try your best and shoot for the stars.”

Ninia’s father Jerry said the family, which includes mom Lynn and siblings James and Christina, is proud of their Scout and his accomplishments.

“He’s a good kid,” his father said. “He works very hard He perseveres. He has a can-do attitude. He’s just the kind of guy that makes things happen.”

Achieving merit badges makes a Scout a more well-rounded individual, according to Jerry Ninia.

“When you think about it, 137 merit badges, it touches on everything from art to architecture to woodworking to metalworking to horseback riding to law and medicine to water sports and everything in between,” he said. “You can probably strike up a conversation with anyone as a young adult and speak to anyone from practically any walk of life because you’ll probably feel some commonality.”

Huntington town officials hope federal funding will help crack down on drug use and gang violence. File photo

Huntington town officials were pleased to find out they will be receiving federal and county funding to implement local programs addressing drugs and gang violence. 

The town will be receiving part of the $500,000 federal grant awarded to Suffolk County Police Department from the U.S. Department of Justice Oct. 5 to combat the influence of street gangs such as MS-13. The grant comes from the justice department’s Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national initiative aimed at stemming gang and gun violence through enforcement and community outreach programs.

“This is the fruits of a collaboration between Suffolk County Police Department and our town officials,” Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said. “The gang situation and opioid crisis are symptoms of something larger. While they are working on enforcement, we locally have to work on prevention and intervention.”

Edwards said she called for a meeting this past July with top Suffolk County officials including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Police Commissioner Tim Sini (D) and town officials upon learning about this grant’s available to come up with a strategy.

“We agreed at that meeting that tackling the problem required working together to coordinate the work being done by law enforcement and social services and youth programs,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said. “The funding will enable us to move ahead at full speed towards making a dent in the effects gangs and violent crime have had on the quality of life in some of our neighborhoods.”

Edwards said she did not know exactly how much of the grant, or what funds, will be directed to the Huntington community, she will start working with local leadership to see what form the prevention and intervention initiatives will take.

“The money is now available to create these initiatives,” the councilwoman said. “We will work with community leaders and school districts to see what is best for their needs.”

Edwards said she hopes to gather these “key stakeholders” together in November, once election season is over. Ideas will also be brainstormed by Huntington’s Youth Council, a group comprised of students from each of the town’s nine high schools which meets monthly.

In addition to the federal grant, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) announced the county legislature approved spending $70,000 to purchase two license plate scanners for the police department’s 2nd Precinct.

“It doesn’t infringe on civil liberties, but gives the police a heads up while they are cruising around,” Spencer said.

This will bring the precinct’s total up to five scanners allowing them better coverage of Huntington’s main roadways when searching for stolen cars or those on a watch list    whether protectively for an Amber Alert or wanted for suspected drug trafficking.

Spencer said, as a member of the county’s new Heroin and Opiate Advisory Panel, that recent reports pointed to Route 110 as a roadway heavily used for drug trafficking. He hoped the addition of two license plate scanners will help reduce the illegal activity in the Huntingon area.

“I want to keep the pressure moving in a positive direction and not only being reactive when there is some sort of public safety incident that has occurred,” he said.

The Mingoias: Samantha, Gina, Denise and Sal. Photo from Gina Mingoia

By Kevin Redding

Throughout his life Salvatore Mingoia brought smiles, laughs and music to those around him. And even though he’s gone, the impact of Shoreham’s “Superman” will surely resonate forever.

The Suffolk County police officer, Beatles-loving musician, devoted family man and friend to all died Oct. 9 following a two-year battle with lymphoma at 56 in the company of friends and family at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Although Mingoia had been in a great deal of pain as a result of his cancer,
which was diagnosed in December 2015, he never once let it show or get him down, according to his family.

Sal Mingoia was a devoted family man to his daughters Samantha and Gina. Photo from Gina Mingoia

“He was the nicest guy in the world,” said his oldest daughter Samantha Mingoia, 25. “I want to be my dad when I grow up. He was so caring, giving and understanding. Anything he could do to help someone, he’d do it and he never looked for praise.”

His trademark  upbeatness and kind character prevailed even under the circumstances — when nurses asked how he was feeling on a particular day, Mingoia always responded with a chipper “I’m great! How are you?”

This, of course, was not at all surprising to those who knew him.

“He was a sweetheart of a man,” said Suffolk County Sgt. Arthur Hughes, Mingoia’s colleague for more than 30 years. “Everyone loves Sal. You can’t say anything bad about him.”

Gina Mingoia, 19, said her dad was always “so strong and hopeful right up until the end.” She regularly shared the stage with him as a two-piece band, serving as lead singer while he played guitar during gigs throughout the area. They played everything from country to classic rock, from covers to songs they wrote together

“It was comforting,” she said on rocking alongside her dad. “Now, if I ever have to sing the national anthem or anything and my dad isn’t with me, I’m going to get panicky. I need him. He’s like a safety blanket.”

Sal Mingoia, on right, was a musician from a young age. Photo from SCPD

His daughters said while they both saw Mingoia as the best dad ever and knew how beloved he was by peers and colleagues, it wasn’t until the wake that they grasped just how many lives he touched. During the first service alone, Samantha said nearly 800 people, maybe more, showed up creating a huge line that wrapped around O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place and stretched down the street. Even a friend of his from kindergarten, from North Carolina, came to pay his respects.

“They all said the same thing — that he treated them like they were the most important people to him,” Samantha Mingoia said. “He always made everyone feel so special.”

A graduate of Centereach High School, Mingoia, one of seven children, played football and competed in track and field while excelling in math and science. An avid musician from the moment he was able to hold a guitar, he played in numerous bands throughout his life, the first being a family band with his father and brothers.

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special,” said his older sister Eydie Gangitano. “And I’ve got to tell you, I think Sal was my mother’s favorite, I really think he was. And we didn’t care, because he was all of our favorite.”

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special.”

— Eydie Gangitano

Mike Pollice, a friend of Mingoia’s for more than 40 years, met him in school and said although they were on opposite ends of the spectrum — Mingoia being seemingly well-grounded while Pollice was a self-
proclaimed “troubled kid” — Mingoia saw past that, and initiated a conversation with him over music. The two had played in bands together ever since.

“He had a heart like nobody else,” Pollice said, who described Mingoia as the salt of the Earth. “I really would not be the man I am today if it weren’t for him. The path he led me down with music served me well and kept me out of a lot of bad things in my younger days. In school, he was the guy who stuck up for people getting picked on. He was a friend to everyone. A very rare kind of person.”

After high school, Mingoia wound up at the police academy even though being a cop wasn’t exactly what he had planned for himself. His childhood friend Kenny Kearns was a New York City police officer and planned to take the test to transition to Suffolk County and encouraged Mingoia to take it too. He ended up getting a better result than Kearns and decided give the occupation a try. He joined the police department in April 1987, spending his career in the 5th and 6th Precincts and was an active officer in the Crime Scene Section
when he died, an analytical field he much preferred over issuing traffic tickets.

“He didn’t like ruining people’s days, he liked making people’s days,” Kearns said of his friend. “If Sal pulled you over, and you had a good excuse and were sorry, that was good enough for him.”

Sal Mingoiaa Suffolk County police officer, working in the Crime Scene Section when he died. Photo from SCPD

Kearns often visited with Mingoia at Mount Sinai Hospital when he was sick, and was present when he passed away.

“The last time I was in that hospital with Sal was 30 years ago when he donated blood to my father who was undergoing cancer-related surgery,” he said. “He’s been a constant in my life. Someone I could always count on. He was the true definition of a best friend.”

Those who knew him best say, despite how dedicated he was to his job on the force or as a friend, his greatest passion in life was being a husband to Denise, whom he married in 1990, and father to his two daughters. Not only did Mingoia never miss a day of work in his life, he never missed a family dinner or birthday party either.

“He was Superman,” Gina Mingoia said of her dad. “He always had his day full, but made room for everyone.”

She often thinks of goofy moments now when she thinks about her dad. Like when they were rehearsing a song and she struggled to remember an entire verse.

“He put his guitar down and rolled around on the floor, then stood back up and grabbed his guitar again,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Why did you do that?’ and he said, ‘So you would never forget that line again.’”

For Samantha Mingoia, she said she’ll simply miss sitting around the house with her father.

“Every night we all ate dinner as a family and then just never left the table,” she said. “We’d sit there until 9 p.m. talking about the day, philosophies about life, politics, anything. The house is definitely quiet and empty now.”

Smithtown United Civic Association published the above master plan aimed at revitalizing Main Street and the downtown area on its Facebook page Oct. 6. Photo from Smithtown United Civic Association

A small group of Smithtown citizens have come together to draft and present a plan they hope may lead to big changes for Main Street.

The Smithtown United Civic Association unveiled a detailed conceptual plan for downtown revitalization Oct. 6 on its Facebook page. The group is asking residents to review the proposal and provide feedback via social media before they present it to town officials.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed when Smithtown residents came together earlier this year after two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocated $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of Smithtown school district administration headquarters on New York Avenue to the town for a sewer treatment plant to support a condominium development. Small said the two events set in motion real opportunity for revitalization of the town.

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” he said. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”

Small, a retired engineer who held an executive position at a utility company, said for approximately six months the group assessed the community needs and drew inspiration from surrounding towns including Huntington, Patchogue, Sayville, Bay Shore, Farmingdale and Babylon for changes they’d like to see in Smithtown.

Smithtown United’s plan for the western downtown area focuses on several key points including consolidation of the town offices into the New York Avenue school building and retaining the sports field behind it for public use.

“It’s the last green space that remains in all of downtown,” Small said. “I would consider that an anchor for the western edge of redevelopment. It would be tragic to see that property lost to dense development.”

The civic supports the town’s acquisition of the property in exchange for selling off its other buildings scattered across the business district, but discussions of the deal have been tabled by the Smithtown school officials. The plan also proposes several existing downtown storefronts be made into two-story, mixed-use buildings with retail on the first floor and apartments above. These housing options, according to Small, would be attractive to young adults and senior citizens. Behind the existing New York Avenue school district property, the plan calls for construction of a new sports and community center.

“We need a place for our kids to go in the evening,” Small said. “There needs to be a community space for our residents and young adults.”

The conceptual design also calls for several changes to Smithtown’s existing roadways, including a rotary at the intersection of Main Street and New York Avenue and rerouting Edgewater Avenue to run parallel to Main Street. This would cause Edgewater Avenue to empty onto Maple Avenue, and there would be a new set of village townhouses built on the southwest corner of the new intersection.

To further increase available housing, the proposed plan suggests the construction of three-story, transit-oriented housing near the Long Island Rail Road train station and municipal parking lots.

Initial feedback on the plan from residents on the civic’s Facebook page has been a mix of positive and negative, along with offers to help refine it. Supporters have praised the organization for taking action, while critics expressed traffic concerns.

“Main Street is already undersized for what it is used for,” said John McCormick, 29, of Smithtown. “[The] parking does not look to be sufficient for customers of the first-floor shops and people renting out upstairs apartments.”

McCormick, a young homeowner, feared adding townhouses and apartments would change the character of the local community and the plan’s possible impact on the school district.

Smithtown resident Michael Tarquinio, 20, said the plan was a step in the right direction but needed to be more innovative.

“They need to stop thinking with a Robert Moses mind-set,” Tarquinio said, who is studying environmental science at the University of Maine. “I’m all for it, but you can’t wipe out your heritage and start fresh. You need to know where you came from to know where you are going.”

He said he believes successful downtown revitalization will require the civic to work with town, county and state officials to improve roadways and mass transportation options to reduce traffic.

Small said he agreed the proposed overhaul of both the business and residential space in downtown Smithtown required cooperation at several levels of government. It would only be possible if sewers can be brought to the downtown area.

“Anyone who is going to invest money into redevelopment won’t unless there is adequate sanitary sewer conditions,” Small said. “It’s essential.”

The civic group has tentative plans to present its proposal to Smithtown officials at the Oct. 26 town board meeting at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Commack sophomore Christian Berbert has appealed to Section XI to be allowed to compete on the girls varsity gymnastics team this season. Photo from the Berbert family

As young as 7, Christian Berbert knew what he wanted to do with his life. After his parents set up a trampoline in the backyard, Christian wasted no time in putting it to good use. The natural-born athlete approached the trampoline less as a fun accessory and more as a mini training facility.

“He was like a dolphin to water,” Wayne Berbert said of his son’s first foray into gymnastics. “He just started jumping and flipping within days of having it. This has always been his sport — nothing compares to this.”

But Christian, a Commack High School sophomore and member of Artistic Gymnastics in Hauppauge, is now being forced to defend his dream in front of a panel of county officials.

Christian, 15, has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to join the high school’s girls varsity gymnastics team this season despite three appeals before Section XI, the governing body of athletics in Suffolk County, since the start of the 2017 school year. Because there aren’t any varsity boys gymnastics team in New York State, competing with the girls is Christian’s only shot to pursue his passion in a school setting.

The sophomore has the overwhelming support from members of the girls gymnastics team, his school’s adminstrator and athletic director.

“We will continue to advocate to provide an opportunity for this young man to compete alongside the girls as we feel it would be in the best interests of our student to participate on the Commack team,” read a statement on the school district’s home page Oct. 10, the day of the most recent appeal.

However, the Section XI panel, headed by Executive Director Thomas Combs, has blocked each request, saying Christian carries too much of a competitive advantage over the girls because he actively trains as a gymnast. There is also a concern among the board that his placement on the team will take a spot away from a girl.

But their arguments don’t hold water, according to Christian’s parents, who have appeared in his defense during the appeals process. Berbert said it’s unfair to claim his son has a competitive advantage since he’s never actually competed against the girls “so there’s no way to determine that.”

He also added that just because Christian’s a boy, it’s wrong to assume he is physically stronger than the girls.

“In gymnastics, strength is not really a determining factor,” Berbert said. “And the girls team doesn’t cut anybody from the team so everyone would be able to participate.”

“It’s deplorable how people in public education can do this to a child,” Christian’s father said. “They should be doing everything in their power to include kids, not exclude them. He’s being told ‘you can’t do the thing you love to do’ and for a 15-year-old kid, that’s tough.”

Christian’s mother, Karen Berbert, said while she agrees with the notion that girls should have equal opportunities, “you can’t diminish the boys and take away from them.”

“The same thing that the board is arguing, that the girls should have every opportunity, and they should, but so should the boys,” said his mother, who fears her son’s inability to compete in high school could affect his chances at receiving scholarships for college. “He wants to be part of the school. He wants to be involved. Gymnastics is his right arm.”

In September, the girls on the team wrote personal letters to Section XI members in support of Christian’s appeal to compete.

Alexandra Lewis, a sophomore gymnast, said the team “will develop more teamwork, school spirit, and positivity by having [him].” Sophomore Stella Rentzeperis wrote it was unfair to deny Christian a chance to compete because “our gymnastics program does not say girls or boys … both genders are allowed.”

Lilli Ferro, a sophomore on the team, said Christian comes to every practice and meet.

“We all really like him and he really wants to be on the team,” Lilli said. “I don’t believe it would hurt us if he was on the team. He would help us.”

Christian’s situation coincides with that of Liam Summers, a 15-year-old sophomore and gymnast at Connetquot High School, who is currently being denied to join his school’s girls team by
Section XI. He was able to be on the team last season because he had never competed in school or in a private club. Now, with more experience, he’s looked at as having a competitive advantage.

Christian, who trains four days a week and three hours each day, said the Section XI board is not
doing the right thing.

“What they’re doing to me and all the other kids trying to do what I’m trying to do is all wrong and completely unfair,” Christian said. “I think I can do real well on the team and give them support and help and just make the team stronger and better. But they don’t see that and, instead, think I’m going to ruin the girls’ chances. They’re completely

A rendering of the proposed Country Pointe Woods development, if state approval is given to build in Smithtown. Photo from Beechwood Organization

By Kevin Reddin

The remains of a demolished hospital on the northwest corner of Routes 347 and 111 could soon become the site of Smithtown’s newest residential community for all ages.

A Jericho-based residential developer, the Beechwood Organization, has proposed plans to build Country Pointe Woods, a 69-unit condominium community on the property of the former Smithtown General Hospital. The hospital was shut down in 1999 and the land has been vacant since then. For more than a decade, various developers have eyed the abandoned lot — seen by some residents as an eyesore — as the potential site of their projects, but all plans up until Beechwood’s have fallen through.

The award-winning home builder’s proposal was approved by Smithtown Town Board at its July 12 meeting and is currently under review by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. If approved, the developer would construct villas and townhomes with a starting price tag of $600,000. The units within the community range in living space sizes from 1,395 square feet to more than 2,400 square feet. The site plan  also includes  a 1,500-square-foot clubhouse with a fitness center, lounge, outdoor pool, sun deck and gated entrance, as well as lawn maintenance and snow removal.

Of the 69 homes proposed, the plans call for 56 units,  or approximately 80 percent, to be age-restricted to buyers 55 and older. The remaining 13 units, or 20 percent, will be open to all ages, according to the developer.

If approved by the state, pre-construction sales will begin offsite at Country Pointe Huntington sales center in November with first occupancy slated for summer 2018.

“Country Pointe Woods in Smithtown gives those who are just starting, downsizing or working nearby the benefits of condominium living in a central North Shore location,” said Michael Dubb, CEO and founder of the Beechwood Organization, in a press release. “They will have brand new energy-efficient homes built to our signature quality construction with the amenities our buyers tell us they value the most.”

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who voted to approve Country Pointe Woods’ site plan application in July, said condominiums are needed in the town.

“Frankly, we have a fair number of homeowners that are emptynesters, whose
children have all grown up or gone to college [or are ] in the workforce,” Wehrheim said. “I get at least a couple calls a month asking me where they’re developing nice condos because they all want to sell their single-family home and move into them.”

During the town board’s meeting over the summer, it was discussed that the abandoned sewage treatment plant on the grounds of the former hospital had been removed and most of the site was cleared for development.

The application was approved under several standard conditions and requirements, such as building permits from the town and the installation of a fence along tree-clearing limits.

Residents on a closed Smithtown-oriented Facebook group were mixed on the proposal. While some applauded the development’s proposed location, others voiced concerns over it.

“Traffic was always an issue with either entrance to the hospital and I don’t see how it could be any better with condos,” said Lee Buxton Brooks, a former Smithtown General employee. “The intersection doesn’t need any more traffic because it can’t handle what it has now.”

But James Brako-McComb spoke in favor of the proposal.

“Higher density developments like these are the types of developments we need to keep millennials on the island,” Brako-McComb wrote.

Steve Gardella, too, spoke up for young adults who might occupy some of the condominiums.

“If you don’t want traffic — people who stimulate the economy and help make the town what it is — then continue to allow Smithtown to die and lose its citizens to towns that aren’t stuck in the 1950s,” Gardella said.

Susan Mahoney said the development’s demographic is crucial to the town’s survival.

“The older generation are people that you want to keep here since most of them will spend their money in restaurants, theaters, etc.” Mahoney said. “And it is better than that ugly lot.”

Bob de Zafra, fourth from left, seen here April 21 during a dedication of additional land to Patriots Hollow State Forest, was committed to preserving open spaces and maintaining the historical integrity of the Three Village area. File photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

When he passed Oct. 10 at age 85 from complications following knee replacement surgery, civic leader Bob de Zafra left behind a legacy in the Three Village area that will be remembered for decades.

The professor and scientist

A resident of Setauket for more than 50 years, de Zafra was a former president of what is now known as the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Historical Society, as well as a co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust. His love for the area began when he moved from Connecticut to start his career in Stony Brook University’s physics department as a professor, according to Linwood Lee, a research professor at SBU.

“He helped establish experimental physics in our physics department, which was very heavily theoretical at the time, and he was really a leader in doing that,” Lee said.

He added that de Zafra conducted research in atmospheric physics, which led to him studying the Earth’s ozone layer. During trips to the South Pole and McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, de Zafra and his SBU colleagues discovered in 1986 that chlorofluorocarbon, a type of hydrocarbon, was a cause for the expansion of the ozone hole. In honor of his revolutionary climate-change work there, an Antarctic rock ridge now bears his last name.

The civic leader

Bob de Zafra at a recent civic association meeting. File photo

In the 2002 Men and Women of the Year issue of The Village Times Herald, in which he was named Man of the Year in Civics as a “steadfast preservationist,” the professor emeritus said he saw his hometown in Connecticut “ruined” by development.

“I was sure that wherever I lived, I was going to do my best to make sure that sort of destruction didn’t happen,” he said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said de Zafra accomplished his goal. When Englebright was running for county legislator 35 years ago, he said the Setauket resident approached him and told him there was a need to protect Detmer Farm, across from the Setauket Post Office on Route 25A. The property was eventually saved from development.

“It was the centerpiece of good planning,” Englebright said. “If we won the effort to protect that open space it would mean that we had protected an important part of the watershed of Setauket Harbor and the viewshed of everyone who visits our community, or we would have taken a step toward becoming something like Queens.”

The assemblyman said the importance of saving the Detmer Farm property was only the first of countless lessons he learned from de Zafra. Englebright said a traffic island once existed at North County Road and Ridgeway Avenue adjacent to Gallery North, and with de Zafra’s encouragement, he secured the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department to cover the road with truckloads of soil.

“It was one of the first restorations that rolled back the development wave, and it was Bob that said this should be accomplished,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman said he was impressed by how de Zafra, who was instrumental in the preservation of Forsythe Meadow in Stony Brook, used his own resources to buy older houses in the area and renovate them including his own home. With the woodlands behind his property, he bought the land parcel by parcel to protect the trees; the land includes a meadow of flowers. Most recently the civic leader bought the historic Timothy Smith House, recognized as the first town hall in Brookhaven, to renovate it.

“The model of what he did with his own personal resources to enhance our community is a heroic profile,” Englebright said. “He did it quietly without fanfare but in my mind he is a civic hero of the first order. He lived what he preached and was absolutely genuine.”

Bob de Zafra in his Stony Brook University office in 1976. File photo

Three Village Historical Society historian Beverly C. Tyler and de Zafra met in 1974 when the Three Village Bicentennial Committee formed. Tyler said de Zafra was responsible for the greening of 25A by having 222 trees planted along the road from the Stony Brook train station to East Setauket, and he was instrumental in convincing local shopping centers to use unified signs.

In The Village Times Dec. 30, 1976, de Zafra was named Man of the Year for his greening efforts. The professor said during his commute to SBU he became frustrated with what he felt was the destruction of Route 25A. While he was part of the civic association, the organization had other priorities at the time, so he saw the forming of the bicentennial committee as an opportunity to beautify the road. Through letter writing and fundraising, de Zafra raised more than $13,000 for the planting.

“You only get a chance to do something like this once every 100 years,” he said during the 1976 interview. “I’m glad I grabbed hold of mine when it came my way.”

The success of the project and many others of de Zafra’s didn’t surprise Tyler.

“Bob was very well organized and relentless,” Tyler said. “He just took on a project and was a bear about it. He just kept at it no matter what the problem was until he got a successful conclusion. He was very good at talking to people and getting them to see his point of view without overwhelming them.”

Herb Mones, a former president of the Three Village Civic Association, met de Zafra 25 years ago through the organization and praised his friend for working with builders and local elected officials to curb development and maintain the historical and architectural integrity of the area. Mones said right up until de Zafra passed, he attended any event that was for the benefit of Three Village residents. Mones said his friend felt a responsibility to make the area a better place to live in.

“The thing that always impressed me is that Bob had a tremendous amount of energy and interest in preserving, protecting and enhancing the community in every way possible,” Mones said.

Current Three Village Civic Association President Jonathan Kornreich, who considers de Zafra a friend and mentor, echoed Mones’ sentiments.

“I can’t think of three people together who could fill his shoes, so great was the depth of his energy, passion and knowledge,” Kornreich said.

Local author John Broven also met de Zafra through the civic association and said the former president’s accomplishments were admirable as he fought random development rigorously, unknown to most residents.

“If Bob had been born in England, like his wife Julia, he would assuredly have been granted a knighthood for being such a dedicated community gatekeeper, let alone his incredible scientific achievements,” Broven said.

Bod de Zafra, second from right, with Norma and Walter Watson and his wife Julia at a Three Village HIstorical Society event. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Cynthia Barnes, co-founder of the Three Village Community Trust with de Zafra, said he knew a great deal of municipality and zoning code laws and was a skillful researcher. His contributions were vitally important to the trust’s mission of preserving local properties, which included moving the Rubber Factory Houses to the trust’s Bruce House headquarters.

“He was able to grasp the whole picture yet delve into the details to see where the trouble lay, and point to the areas of weakness to try to strengthen them,” Barnes said.

“He certainly brought us a long way toward [preserving],” Barnes said. “Because I think everything we saved, with the help of our elected officials as well, he was definitely a motivating force.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said de Zafra worked with her and her team on various issues and initiatives over the last few years. Most recently he was part of the Citizens Advisory Committee for Route 25A.

“Bob’s untimely passing is just before the acceptance of the 25A community visioning document later this month,” Cartright said. “Bob cared so deeply for community land use issues and for this project, and we would like to find a way to honor and recognize Bob’s massive body of work and contributions during the process and in the future.”

The person

On top of his accomplishments, those who knew him praised de Zafra as a modest man.

“He wouldn’t want to be called ‘doctor,’ he wanted to be called Bob,” Mones said. “He never referenced his degree, his status within his field, his experiences that he had. He never used that as criteria in determining what he had to say or what he was doing. It was always based upon on the merits of the case.”

Englebright said de Zafra will be remembered by many as a man of action.

“He was the leading voice for protecting the essence of this place,” the assemblyman said. “It wasn’t just his voice, it was his action as well.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who worked closely with de Zafra while she was president of the civic association, summed up how his family and friends were feeling the day of his funeral Oct. 17.

“The loss of Bob de Zafra leaves a hole in our collective heart,” she said. “He played a vital role in so many organizations as a watchdog for our community. Meticulous, passionate, diligent, generous, persistent and charming in his own way — he will be missed.”

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