Community

The Blanco family stands at the newly dedicated "L. Cpl. Michael E. Blanco" section of Wichard Boulevard in Commack. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

By Kyle Barr

A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.

Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.

“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.

Smithtown Town officials, Suffolk County elected officials and member of the Blanco family at the July 1 ceremony. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.

“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.

“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”

In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979  to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.

Several veterans groups attended the July 1 ceremony in honor of Michael Blanco. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”

Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.

“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“

Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.

“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”

Caithness Long Island approaches town about building new 600-megawatt plant

Port Jefferson Power Station. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski 

Another player has emerged to complicate the legal battle with Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village in one corner and the Long Island Power Authority in the other.

Representatives from Caithness Energy LLC, an independent, privately held power producer with a Yaphank plant, went before Brookhaven’s board June 26 requesting permission to construct a 600-megawatt plant, which would be called Caithness Long Island II. This is not the first time, as the power company originally approached the town with plans for a power station in 2014.

“Caithness is seeking an amendment to the covenant and restrictions so it can utilize cleaner, more efficient equipment that recently became available,” said Michael Murphy during the June 26 hearing, an attorney representing Caithness.

“The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources.”

— Michael Murphy

In 2014, Caithness Energy had plans approved by the Brookhaven Town to construct a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank powered by two gas-powered turbines and a steam generator. Both Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) voted against the 2014 proposal, though it passed 5-2.

The project has been on hold ever since as energy demands on Long Island are projected to decrease, according to recent annual reports from PSEG Long Island. Then, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) mandated in August 2016 that 50 percent of New York’s electricity needs come from renewable energy sources by the year 2030.

The 600-megawatt power plant would be constructed on 81 acres of vacant land zoned for the use based on the 2014 approval. The proposal has several differences from the 2014 plans in addition to the reduced energy output including a reduction from two exhaust stacks to one; use of newer, more efficient technology; and a reduction from two steam turbines to one.

“It creates a platform for renewable energy,” Murphy said. “The new equipment has rapid response capability, thereby creating critical support for intermittent renewable energy resources. So, this facility will not compete, in essence, with solar and wind.”

The request comes as Port Jefferson Village and the town have said a settlement is nearing in an eight-year-long legal fight with LIPA over the utility company’s contention its Port Jeff plant’s property taxes are over assessed based on its decreasing energy demand. The settlement would smooth the impact of a potential substantial loss of revenue for the village, Port Jefferson School District, Port Jefferson Free Library and Port Jefferson Fire Department based on a reduced assessment of the plant. It would also prevent the village from being held liable for years of back pay should it have chosen to play out the legal battle in court and lost rather than settling the case. The village has argued a way to make good with LIPA over its decreasingly needed plant could be to increase its output capacity. If approved, the Caithness II plant would theoretically kill plans to repower the Port Jefferson plant.

However, according to Caithness President Ross Ain, LIPA has made no commitment to purchase power from the company should a second facility be constructed in Yaphank. It does purchase power from the first Caithness plant, with a 350-megawatt natural gas fire power generating facility operating in Yaphank since 2009.

The public hearing drew comments from those in favor of the proposal, many of whom being Longwood school district residents who would likely see a reduction in property taxes, similar to what Port Jeff residents enjoy currently for housing the Port Jefferson Power Station.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community.”

— Margot Garant

Environmental groups and other residents opposed the plan, as did Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) each submitted statements to be read into the record by Cartright against the proposal and urging the board to vote it down. Garant has taken to social media to urge Port Jeff residents to submit written comments to the town on the proposal.

“There is no denying that these [revenue] reductions will cause significant hardships to all segments of our community, which is also your community,” Garant said in her letter read by Cartright, referencing the impending LIPA settlement. “But at the end of these reductions, our community would still be left with an operating power plant which could produce a significant amount in tax revenues.”

The village mayor painted a dark picture for Port Jeff should the proposal earn board approval.

“The construction of a Caithness II facility will have the inevitable effect of pushing our community off the economic cliff at the end of the proposed period of gradual reductions, while leaving us to deal with an enormous, closed, unusable industrial site which will need serious environmental remediation,” she said.

A representative from Sierra Club Long Island, a local chapter of the national nonprofit dedicated to environmental advocacy, spoke out against Caithness II during the hearing.

“The Sierra Club strongly opposes any attempt to construct a new gas plant on Long Island, and we oppose the Caithness II proposal regardless of the technology involved,” said Shay O’Reilly, an organizer for the nonprofit. “It is absurd to argue that building more fracked gas infrastructure will allow us to meet our clean energy and pollution reduction goals.”

Jack Kreiger, a spokesperson for the town, said he did not know when the board would vote on the proposal.

The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons, with the Sikorsky seaplane behind them, are greeted by press photographers at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina. Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum
Update: This event is sold out!

By Sabrina Petroski

Dance the night away at the eighth annual Summer Fiesta at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, located at 180 Little Neck Road in Centerport! The year’s most important fundraiser for the museum, the gala event will be held in the Vanderbilt Mansion’s Spanish Revival courtyard on Saturday, July 21 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and feature an evening of wine, food, music and, of course, dancing. 

“We want it to be a wonderful evening for the attendees, and we also want to showcase the museum and have them see why it’s important to support the museum and the work that we’re doing here,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the museum, in a recent phone interview. “Thirdly, we want to raise funds for our programs and to be able to expand our education programs.”  

 According to the museum’s Director of Development Sue Madlinger, this year’s gala is a salute to William K. Vanderbilt II, his wife Rosamund and friends Edie and Robert Huntington who flew around the Caribbean, Central America and the perimeter of South America in Vanderbilt’s Sikorsky S-43 seaplane, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11, 1937, “which was a major feat in it’s day. Each year we try to bring Mr. Vanderbilt’s history into our events, and all the great things he did for [the museum], for Long Island, and all the adventures that he went on,” she said.

Entertainment for the gala includes Latin music by the world-renowned band, Los Cintron, with performances by flamenco dancer Juana Cala. The Cintron brothers are known as the greatest Gypsy Kings tribute band, and the group’s guitars, vocals and melodies evoke the traditional sounds of Andalusia and their beloved Spain. Food will be catered by Sangria 71 restaurant in Commack and feature hors d’oeuvres, a five-foot paella and dinner. On the menu will be chicken, salmon, fish and skirt steak plus margaritas, sangria, wine and beer. 

The funds raised from the gala will go toward expanding and modernizing the Vanderbilt Learning Center within the Carriage House. “We have an aggressive plan to upgrade [the Carriage House] architecturally, to maintain the historic features of the building but to bring in modern elements and flexibility so that we can continue the education program in a way that children are used to learning,” said Reinheimer. 

Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, the associate director of the museum, says the museum is looking for more sponsors, as well as corporate support to continue working on making the educational programs more attractive for children of all ages. 

Tickets are $135 for nonmembers, $125 for members. In the event of rain, the Summer Fiesta will be moved to the Celebration Tent. Guests are asked to follow a formal dress code, with cobblestone-friendly shoes. For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org or call 631-854-5579.

Skerryvore will perform on the Chapin Rainbow Stage on Aug. 10. Photo by Rachel Keenan

By Sabrina Petroski

Art and music collide this summer at the 53rd annual Huntington Summer Arts Festival, where over 40 musicians, dance companies and theater companies will present performances on the Chapin Rainbow Stage in Heckscher Park over the span of seven weeks. The festival, which opened on June 26 and runs through Aug. 12, will be held every day of the week except Mondays, rain or shine.

According to John Chicherio, the performing arts director for the Huntington Arts Council (HAC), there will be “a whole new lineup of visiting or touring performing artists and ensembles who have never performed in Huntington before including Yael Deckelbaum, Las Cafetera and Skerryvore, other renowned artists returning with their latest projects, plus all new programs from superbly talented local and regional groups.”

Every Tuesday at 7 p.m. there will be performances geared toward children, including “Aladdin” performed by the BroadHollow Theatre Company, “The Pirate School” by David Engel and “Mammoth Follies,” a puppet show by the Hudson Vagabond Puppets. 

Returning acts include the Huntington Community Band, the Huntington Men’s Chorus, the Nassau Pops Symphony Orchestra, The Long Island Dance Consortium, Sol y Sombra Spanish Dance Company for lovers of dance and BroadHollow Theatre Company. 

“It says a lot about a community that supports the arts and we celebrate and cherish the Huntington Arts Council as a vibrant and essential part of what makes the Huntington community such a great place to live,” said Thomas Gellert, director of the Huntington Community Band, in a recent email. “As sure as there is summer, there is the Huntington Summer Arts Festival! I am proud to direct the 73-year-old Huntington Community Band and we thank the town and Arts Council for their unwavering support of the arts.”

Chicherio agreed, adding, “The entire festival is unlike any other on Long Island in terms of scope, variety and the high level of artistic quality. And you cannot beat the price — all concerts are free admission, open to all!”

According to the director, there will be multiple themed concerts this year including Huntington Jazz Week from July 17 to 22, Folk Americana Weekend from July 27 to 28 and the 13th Annual Huntington Folk Festival on July 29.

Festivalgoers are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets for seating as well as a picnic dinner. The HAC will sell sodas, water and ice cream in addition to T-shirts and novelty items, plus artists’ merchandise when available, and there will also be a snack vehicle located near the restroom building on most nights as contracted by the Town of Huntington. 

For the full calendar of events,  visit ​www.huntingtonarts.org. For further information, please call 631-271-8423.

A bee pollinates catmint in Jen Carlson’s garden. Photo by Jen Carlson
Native plants dominate the landscape this year

By Sabrina Petroski

April showers sure did bring May flowers, and those beautiful flowers just keep blooming. In celebration, the Rocky Point Civic Association will present its 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour on Saturday, July 14. The tour, held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., rain or shine, will showcase 10 beautiful gardens in the Rocky Point area including the one at the historic Noah Hallock House.

A Ruby Falls weeping redbud at a previous garden tour. Photo by Edith Mahler

According to the creator of the event,  civic association member Kathy Weber, the gardens on the tour will be “architecturally inspiring” and will feature annuals and perennials, native and heirloom plants, shrubs and trees, several ponds, a herb garden and a sustainable meadow adopt-a-spot. The idea for the tour originally stemmed from Weber’s own love of gardening. “I always liked to garden and thought Rocky Point has so many unique landscapes,” she said.

Rory Rubino, a member of the board of the civic association and the corresponding secretary for the Rocky Point Historical Society said she enjoys going to this tour every year. “I’ve seen so many amazing gardens. I wish I knew how they got their flowers to bloom so incredibly unique and beautiful!” 

She continued, “The features that are the most interesting are those that conform to how Rocky Point is, using natural rocks for rock walls and unusual plants from the area. Our gardeners’ dedication to natural Long Island plants, not foreign ones, is incredible. They try to use local plants, and by doing so they attract the most butterflies and birds.”

Milkweed in the center, surrounded by rose campion, blooms in Jen Carlson’s garden.

One of the featured gardens is curated by Master Gardener Jen Carlson. Her garden, Pollinator Paradise, includes flowers for pollinators and creates an environment that supports beneficial insects and wildlife. “I will be providing garden tour guests with information from Cornell Cooperative Extension regarding plant varieties that benefit bees and other pollinators, information on composting, and resources available to residents from CCE,” she explained in a recent email.

The Hallock House property will highlight gardens lovingly restored by Edith Mahler, a master gardener and trustee at the historical society, based on historical research of herb and flower gardens from the 1700s to the 1900s.

In addition, one of the stops on the tour will host a book signing and sale (cash only) of “Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family” by Rocky Point resident Kathy McKeon. As of press time, Weber was hoping to add a local artist as well.

Guests will be greeted at each stop by the homeowner, and each home will have refreshments to enjoy while taking in the beautiful scenery. Because the gardens are at various locations around Rocky Point, ticket holders can go where they please without a strict schedule to follow. 

A raised bed garden at the Hallock House. Photo by Edith Mahler

Tickets for the tour ($10 each, cash only) are available now through July 14 and may be purchased at Back to Basics, 632 Route 25A; Flowers on Broadway, 43 Broadway; Heritage Paint, 637 Route 25A; and Handy Pantry, 684 Route 25A, all in Rocky Point. 

Each ticket also includes admission to the Noah Hallock House (1721) at 172 Hallock Landing Road. The oldest standing house in Rocky Point, it features vintage furniture including a rocking horse from 1750, photographs of the Hallock family, a gallery room where local artists have donated paintings and many more artifacts that will transport guests back in time. The gift shop will also be open.

The 6th annual Rocky Point Garden Tour is sponsored by the Rocky Point Civic Association, Carlson Mechanical and the Rocky Point Funeral Home and was organized by volunteers on the Beautification Committee of the Rocky Point Civic Association. Proceeds from the tour will benefit the Rocky Point Civic Association and the Hallock House. For more information, please call 631-521-5726.

Fred Rogers. Photo courtesy of Focus Features
Make the most of this beautiful film

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a portrait of Fred Rogers, a man of deep faith and principles and unique in the pantheon of television personalities. His show, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” is lovingly celebrated in this wholly engaging 93 minutes. It does not attempt to be a full-fledged biography but rather a picture of the man in the context of his work and his mission. There are insights into his personal life (interviews with wife and sons), but it is more the story of the evolution of his vocation and his influence on American culture.  

Fred Rogers with Mr. McFeely (David Newell) the delivery man in a scene from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood

The film opens with the iconic entrance of Rogers changing into his sweater while singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and we are immediately transported back to the world he created. With its modest production values and its messages of love and understanding, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” became an integral part of our collective experience.

 

The documentary is simple and delicate, mirroring the show and the show’s creator. There are no bells and whistles. We are treated to an assortment of interviews that give perspective on the span and impact of Rogers’ career. What is common to all is that he was exactly who he presented himself to be. An ordained minister, Fred Rogers deeply believed that “love is at the root of everything” — learning, relationships, understanding. He saw television as a wonderful way to connect with children; a tool to make them better and happier people.  

Fred Rogers poses with the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

His wife (and much of the documentary) posits that, in essence, Rogers was Daniel Striped Tiger, the first of the many puppets he employed. The tamed feline represents Rogers’ doubts but also the ability to listen and learn. Daniel Striped Tiger is the bridge between the real and fantasy worlds that Rogers invented. As a child, he had been plagued by various illnesses and spent a great deal of time in bed; it was here that he began to realize the power of imagination and he used this to inform his work.  

The film also touches on his faith, suggesting that the show was his ministry and he wore a sweater in lieu of a collar. The heart of this ministry, of course, is the power of love — love for each other and love for ourselves. The belief is that everyone is special (incorrectly twisted by some as entitlement) and we all have inherent value. The embodiment of this is his song “It’s You I Like” — a reminder that we grow through acceptance.

Fred Rogers presented himself as the friend every adult should be. He made it clear that his journey was to take care of the myriad of children who watched him. Unlike his own unhappy youth in which he was not allowed to be a child or to show his feelings, he aspired to provide a safe space for all of the country’s children.  

Fred Rogers with King Friday XIII. Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Over the years, Rogers tackled everything from racial discrimination to divorce to death (including an episode focusing on grief that dealt with the assassination of Robert Kennedy). After retirement, he returned to do a few short PSAs about 9/11 — the horror of which overwhelmed him. What we take away is that he was unflinching in his desire to be truly honest with children but to always let them be children.

There are a treasure trove of clips, dating back to his pre-Neighborhood television days through his series and later efforts. There is the often-seen but no less-effective testimony that saved funding for public television. Puppets (King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, Lady Elaine Fairchilde, Queen Sara Saturday, X the Owl) and regulars (Mr. McFeely, the delivery man; Lady Aberlin; Chef Brockett; Officer Clemmons), songs and guests … the trolley to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Picture-Picture … they are all here. 

Throughout his work, there was always an emphasis on taking time and not allowing the world to speed up. He believed that “slow” space was not “wasted” space. That silence is a gift. The final moments of the picture are perhaps the most memorable.  He often invited people to take a minute to think of the those who have cared for them. One after another, the various people interviewed are shown to do just that. Like Fred Rogers and his work, it is at once so simple and honest and yet so powerful.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a film not just to be seen but to be shared. Find those people that mean the most to you and spend some time remembering the power of love.

Photo by Alex Petroski

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the month to celebrate so many wonderful connections. We celebrate the beginning of summer, various graduations and the gift of our fathers.

This year our schools have been in crisis because of the conflict around gun safety and the unfortunate tragedies caused by reckless gun use in a number of our schools across the country. We continue to struggle around the value of common core, teacher evaluations and empowering students to learn not just academic lessons but also life lessons.

Our schools are an invaluable resource that we are destroying. They are environments that have helped countless students find their way in the world and have provided a context for children to grow and become all that they can be. Schools have helped many to build positive self-esteem and self-worth and have empowered our students to dream dreams and believe that their dreams really can happen.

Nationally, our educational system seems to be broken. We are more fixated on test scores and teacher evaluations than on providing an environment where students can thrive and excel; a place where teachers can teach and be creative; a place where their spirit of love of education can be contagious. We’ve lost that and now we are failing our students and setting them up for disaster. 

Despite the landscape this year, an extraordinary group of young men and women have graduated from our high schools. Our communities are better and brighter because these young men and women have spent time in our schools. They are our future leaders, our future Congress and our future president. Hopefully they will continue their educational journey with passion and energy, believing that they can make a difference in our world.

Photo by Alex Petroski

Seniors, as you graduate from high school this year, look to discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and be willing to work for peace grounded in justice.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending; teach love to those who only know hate; and let the love embrace you as you continue your journey in the world.

Think positive, make positive choices — choice not chance determines one’s destiny. You may make a living by what you get but make a life by what you give. Give generously of your heart, your time, your talent and your treasure; the autograph you leave will make a tremendous difference in the world.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or stop at the introduction. Read it through, see the meaning and message it offers for life. Everyone’s life is sacred and important, even those who are different from you or those you do not like. Be more inclusive than exclusive; don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people and divide them. Set people free with your respect and your nonjudgmental way.

These are troubling times. The rhetoric of our country is despicable and disrespectful. As the next generation of leaders, raise the bar, dare to be different. Have the courage to stand up and be counted, challenge injustice, disrespect and dismissive rhetoric. 

Make America good again by rejecting the unconscionable behavior of those who lead us. Do not allow them to shape how you see the world. Commit yourselves to building bridges and not walls. Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, dance, play, have a great sense of humor. But most of all be aware of wonder and respect it!

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed and/or sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace, human rights and social justice for all. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2018. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be and thank you for being our beacon of hope!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Calling all green thumbs! The Grow to Give Garden is in full swing at the Smithtown Historical Society, but they need more help! Thanks to some funds from a grant, they have a bunch more seedlings to get in the ground, and plenty of other work to keep everyone busy as well. Come down Monday night, July 9th, starting at 5:30 p.m. to lend a hand. Any time you can give is appreciated, and no experience is necessary. They will supply all the needed tools. Enter through entrance at 239 Middle Country Rd – the garden is directly behind the Cottage house. Call the office with any questions. 631-265-6768.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will hold an open cast call for strong singer/actor/dancers (ages 16 and up) on Tuesday, July 10 and Monday, July 16 at 7 p.m. for its upcoming production of “The Addams Family.” Prepare 16 bars from the song of your choice; bring sheet music in the proper key and be prepared to dance. Readings will be from the script. Please bring picture/résumé. Performances will be held from Sept. 16 to Oct. 27. For further information, call 631-928-9202 or visit http://theatrethree.com/auditions.html.

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