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Crews looking for Nikola Tesla’s famed "death ray" come up empty

Crews working with Discovery Channel dig under the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham in search of underground tunnels. Photo from Discovery Channel

After detecting something under the surface of the Rocky Point Fire Department in Shoreham using ground-penetrating radar, a duo of explorers asked permission to dig a 16-foot-deep hole on the property.

It was October 2017 and segments of a new Discovery Channel program “Tesla’s Death Ray: A Murder Declassified” were being filmed at the fire station, located just five minutes away from Wardenclyffe —
Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory.

With the go-ahead granted by Rocky Point Fire District Secretary Edwin Brooks, and then the rest of the district’s board, an excavation crew dug out the hole in hopes of finding the remnants of tunnels Tesla was rumored to have built under the grounds of his laboratory that connected to surrounding areas in the early 1900s.

Filming and research was also conducted on the property of the Tesla Science Center
at Wardenclyffe, but digging there was prohibited due to contamination on the site from previous tenants.

Hosts Rob Nelson and Stefan Burns of Science Channel’s Secrets of the Underground look over some findings. Photo from Science Channel

“We were definitely interested in what’s going on, and if there were some tunnels here, we’d like to know about it,” said Brooks, who was also interviewed for the show.

The multi-episode docuseries, which premiered Jan. 2 with new episodes every Tuesday,  follows military investigator Jack Murphy and Tesla historian Cameron Prince on their quest to decode some of the mysteries and urban myths surrounding the Serbian-American inventor. The two aim to track down Tesla’s innovations and research that may have gone missing from his safe after he died in a hotel room in 1943 — including a supposed formula for a particle beam, or “death ray.” Murphy and Prince theorize that designing the fatal weapon could have caused someone to murder Tesla.

“I think that’s really far-fetched, and I don’t believe that’s the case — it’s all very speculative,” said Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, who, along with other board members, allowed the crew to shoot on their premises last September. “But it’s been an interesting experience.”

Alcorn said the site receives many requests a year from film and television companies, as well as documentarians from all over. In addition to Discovery Channel’s show, the Science Channel also recently shot and aired a two-part episode for its “Secrets of the Underground” show with the subtitle “Tesla’s
Final Secrets,” which similarly tested the ground beneath the laboratory in search of clues for the death ray invention.

Before filming began, Alcorn said both companies had to fill out an application, which the Tesla Science Center board reviewed to ensure its shows met their requirements for science-based content. As the programs featured testing on the grounds using magnetometers and ground-penetrating radars, they were allowed to proceed.

“We can’t control what they do with their footage or what they find, but since they’re using this equipment, if they were to find anything, it was important that it is based on science and data,” Alcorn said. “Both shows were very cooperative and we had no problem with them. We had them on-site for a couple days — they would come in the morning, do their filming and testing, and then they would leave. They were also all excellent in terms of hiring good companies, with bonafide technicians that look for voids in the ground as a means to discover whether or not there’s something underground — not just for film projects but mining companies, too.”

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

As for Alcorn’s verdict of the shows themselves: Neither program led to any concrete discoveries, she noted, and both had the air of reality shows with repetitive material and cliffhangers before commercial breaks, which  she “wasn’t crazy about.” But she said she and other board members are grateful that expensive testing was conducted and paid for by an outside company as they themselves had long been curious about what, if anything, was under the site’s surface. Now there’s a body of data that the board can examine if it wishes, she said.

“It was an opportunity for us to save some money and get some information,” Alcorn said.

Response to the shows has been mixed among residents. Some were happy to see Shoreham and its famous scientist represented, while others dismissed the shows as sensationalized and inaccurate.

“It’s great for people to learn who [Tesla] is and bring some knowledge of Wardenclyffe to the public so we can have it turned into a proper museum and erase some of the eyesore that is there,” Wading River resident Erich Kielburger said in a closed Shoreham-Wading River community group page on Facebook.

Amanda Celikors said her 7-year-old son watched the Discovery Channel show and was fascinated by it.

“He’s learned so much about Tesla and his impact on science,” she said. “We joked that the tunnels could lead to our house. I think it’s great.”

But Rob Firriolo was less than impressed.

“Typical reality TV trash,” he wrote on the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Facebook page. “Contrived and melodramatic, with annoying camera work and even more annoying music trying to gin up tension where there obviously is none. … We will get hours of fluff, hype and speculation with a payoff at the end as rewarding as Geraldo [Rivera] in Al Capone’s vault.”

Shoreham resident Nick Renna said in an interview he watched the Science Channel program, and enjoyed it as it shed some light on the historical value of the Wardenclyffe property.

“I thought it was really cool to see our own neighborhood on television,” Renna said. “Exposure is huge for that property. When most people hear Tesla, they think about the car, but in reality, without him, there would be no electricity, remote controls, radio waves — the guy was a historymaker. And that property is an incredible asset that we’re able to call home, to some degree.”

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Some residents see it as a magical place full of rich history and memories that deserves preservation, others consider it a tax burden that should be sold and disposed of. The future of Briarcliff Elementary School, a shuttered, early-20th century building on Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, is currently up in the air as the school district looks to community members to weigh in on potential options.

A dozen voices were heard Jan. 9 during a public forum held by Shoreham-Wading River’s board of education to decide the fate of the beloved historic school, which has sat vacant for the last three years. The nearly 27,000-square-foot manor was built in 1907, expanded on through 2007 and closed permanently in 2014 as part of the district’s restructuring plan.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, pleads his case to the board as to why it should preserve the school building. Photo by Kevin Redding

Administrators made it clear during the meeting that the board has no plans for the property at this time and, due to declining enrollment throughout the district, does not foresee it will be used for instructional use anytime soon — be it a pre-K or BOCES program. Board members said it will determine the best course of action for the building based on input from the community in the coming months.

“The board will not be making any decisions tonight on the future of the Briarcliff elementary school building, we’re only listening to residential statements,” said board president Robert Rose. “We recognize the importance of input from the entire community.”

This year, the annual operating costs for the property are estimated to total $95,000, which are expensed through the district’s general fund and includes building and equipment maintenance; insurance; and utilities, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finances and operations.

A presentation of the pricey upkeep didn’t dissuade several residents from speaking passionately about the school’s place in the history of Shoreham, pleading with the board to neither sell nor redevelop it for condominiums, as one speaker suggested.

“It was such a wonderful place — the children loved the building,” said Bob Korchma, who taught at Briarcliff for a number of years. “To lose such a great part of our community for housing and any other endeavors would be crazy. It has such history and working there was one of the best parts of my life.”

Debbie Lutjen, a physical education teacher at the school for 10 years, echoed the sentiments, calling the building “special,” and encouraged the board to move the two-floor North Shore Public Library that is currently attached to the high school to Briarcliff.

“If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

—Colette Grosso

“The majority of my teaching career in the district was at the high school, and when they put the public library there, I believe it created several security problems where the general public was on school grounds during the school day,” Lutjen said, suggesting that the freed up space at the high school could be used for classrooms, a larger cafeteria, a fitness center and testing rooms.

Residents also pushed the idea to designate the building a historic landmark and pursue grants, potentially from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), to restore it. David Kuck, whose son went to Briarcliff, said on top of making it a historic site, the district should turn it into a STEM center for students across Suffolk County, as it stands in the shadow of inventor Nikola Tesla’s famous Wardenclyffe Tower.

David Madigan, a Tesla Science Center board member and a former Briarcliff student, outlined the building’s history for the board — three generations of the prominent Upham family, including a veteran of the Civil War, built and owned the school in three different phases — and urged that covenants be filed on the property that says the building could never be taken down.

“The exterior must be kept in its historic state,” Madigan said. “It’s a very valuable and historical asset for our village. And it’s the most important thing to preserve as a resident.”

Joan Jacobs, a Shoreham resident for 40 years and former teacher, explained to the board how the building was the model for the mansion in the “Madeline” children’s books by Ludwig Bemelmans, who worked at a tavern on Woodville Road.

Joan Jacobs gets emotional talking about her connection and history with Shoreham’s Briarcliff Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s so rich and having taught there for 14 years, having a daughter go through there, there’s an awful lot there,” an emotional Jacobs said. “It’s a shame to throw away our history.”

Both Bob Sweet and Barbara Cohen, members of Shoreham Village, advocated that the school be redeveloped as a residence for seniors in the area.

“I care about this building and sorely miss when the school buses coming up the road to drop the grade schoolers off,” Sweet said. “I admonish you don’t sell the property and explore the notion of turning this into condos for retired village members.”

But Colette Grosso, a special education aide at Miller Avenue School, said she hopes the community works toward a solution where the building remains an asset within the district for educational purposes as opposed to housing.

“All-day daycare and aftercare services could be done there, and there are other organizations besides BOCES that would love to use the facility to serve special education, which is an underserved population,” Grosso said. “If we sell, it’s a one-time influx of cash and we’re never going to get it back again. I think we should work together to keep it as an asset for Shoreham-Wading River.”

Further discussions with community members on Briarcliff will occur at the next board of education meeting Feb. 13 in the high school auditorium at 7 p.m.

Hans Wiederkehr, a former NFL player, decided to leave his playing career behind to coach high school football at Babylon for 15 years. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

T.J. Lynch grew up without a father. With no direction or motivation, all he knew was that he enjoyed playing football. Hans Wiederkehr, the head coach at Babylon High School at the time, struck up a relationship with Lynch like he had with many players before him. He would pick up the athlete early in the morning to make sure he was going to school, take him to the weight room and speak to him about the potential he saw.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life,” the 1998 graduate said of Wiederkehr. “He was a very caring man, and he guided me. He showed me how to train, breathed words of encouragement and wisdom about life into me and lifted me up. He made you want to be better on the field and in the classroom. He got you excited about life.”

Hans Wiederkehr coaches from the sideline. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Relationships like the one Wiederkehr had with Lynch are what the soon-to-be Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame inductee had hoped for when he decided to trade in an NFL career for a high school coaching gig back in 1988. Making a positive impact on someone’s life drew him from the gridiron to the sideline, and as a result he’ll hold a special place in Suffolk’s athletic history.

The Shoreham resident was born in Connecticut and played for East Lyme, graduating in 1981. He competed in the state championship his senior year, and after receiving multiple offers to play at the next level, decided to commit to Syracuse University on a scholarship. The 6-foot, 4-inch 322-pound offensive lineman played under defensive coordinator George O’Leary, a Central Islip native who went on to coach at his alma mater, and eventually with the San Diego Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. While leading Central Islip, O’Leary mentioned to Wiederkehr, who had a physical education degree, that if things didn’t work out with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was on the injured reserve list following college, that a teaching job and eventually head coaching position would be available at Babylon. While rehabbing, he spent a year as an assistant at Babylon under 20-year head coach Tom DiNuovo, which is where he caught the coaching bug. He returned the following year and took over the helm when DiNuovo retired.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so,’ that’s the biggest kick I get out of coaching,” Wiederkehr said. “You work with kids who are there because they really love the game, and I fell in love with coaching. I decided this is what I want to do.”

The head coach, who went on to enjoy a 15-year career, said he wanted to pay it forward, giving to others what coaches had given to him. When he was a sophomore in high school, his parents moved to Schenectady, but he wanted to stay in Connecticut because he saw potential in his team. Head coach Tom Smyth opened up his home to Wiederkehr and let him live with him until he graduated.

“He was the biggest positive influence in my life. … He got you excited about life.”

— T.J. Lynch

“He was a lead figure in my life next to my dad,” Wiederkehr said of Smyth. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him. He got my name out there and opened up the doors for me. It’s unbelievable the pedigree of coaches that I’ve had, and all those guys have one thing in common — they preached outworking your opponent.”

While at Babylon, Wiederkehr amassed a 99-41-2 record, good for a 0.70 winning percentage. The Panthers reached the playoffs 12 times and won nine league titles under his guidance, going on to play in nine Suffolk County finals, winning five, followed by two Long Island championships. He coached alongside Rick Punzone, his defensive coordinator, and the pair of 25-year-olds led the team until Wiederkehr retired in 2002, leaving the team in the hands of
Punzone, who has now been the head coach at Babylon for 15 years.

“With his experience we had very successful teams,” said Punzone, the godfather of one of Wiederkehr’s daughters, who considers the coach a best friend of his for the last 28 years. “He’s a brother to me. He was professional, and always gave me free reign over the defense. We weren’t always the most talented but he got the most out of the kids, which is why we were always known as one of the tougher schools around. It’s because of his leadership, work ethic and organization.”

Wiederkehr left coaching to focus on his daughters, and eventually went on to coach his son in youth programs at Shoreham-Wading River.

“He stopped to watch my sisters develop,” his son Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It just shows you what type of person he is. He’s a family first type of guy. He’s not selfish, he cares about others and he’s a humble person. It’s been amazing to call him my father.”

One win shy of the coveted 100, Hans Wiederkehr left the helm of Babylon to work with youth in Shoreham-Wading River school district, including his son Ethan, above at a county awards dinner with wife Karen. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

Punzone also noted Hans Wiederkehr’s work with and attention to detail regarding his position as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association.

“He’s taken our association to the next level,” he said. “I’m a coach in the association and we’ve never had as good a leadership as we’ve had under his reign.”

Joe Cipp Jr., the head coach at Bellport for the 31 years, who has collected his own 202-84-3 record and been a coaching friend of Wiederkehr’s over his entire career, said he took on being president the same way he tackled anything else in his life, giving it 100 percent.

“He puts a million hours in, just like he does with coaching, without getting paid,” Cipp said. “I could say he puts in 150 percent of the effort, but there’s no such thing. He makes the football awards dinner something special to the kids in Suffolk County. He does a tremendous job, and it speaks to the type of person he’s been his whole life. And as a coach, he was able to demand tremendous [effort] of his kids and still be well-liked. It’s the best combination you could be.”

Wiederkehr is one of 11 honorees selected for the hall of fame out of 32 nominees. According to Section XI Executive Director Tom Combs, who was a head coach at Babylon’s rival Harborfields for 13 years, his former opponent is the first to get into the hall of fame his first time being nominated.

“It says a lot about what a good man he is,” Combs said. “It’s very competitive, especially their first time on the ballot, and Hans is just a great coach and mentor to a lot of people. His teams were always very well
prepared and it usually came down to our two teams for the head of our division. There were some fierce battles. He’s a hard-nosed guy but the kids loved that discipline and direction that he provided. You could see he motivated the kids, and they loved him.”

Hans Widerkehr with former players. Photo from Hans Wiederkehr

He added that giving up reaching the monumental 100 wins once again shows how he’s always willing to put others before himself. He eventually became an assistant coach to the Shoreham-Wading River varsity team under head coach Matt Millheiser. His son Ethan was part of two undefeated seasons and three straight Long Island championships. The 6-foot, 5-inch 273-pound offensive lineman accepted a scholarship to play at Northwestern University after winning the Bob Zellner Award, presented to Suffolk’s top lineman. He has aspirations of going pro.

“I fell in love with the team aspect of it, the relationships you build with your teammates and extend your family,” Ethan Wiederkehr said. “It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing since he taught be so much, but through hard work and dedication you can accomplish almost anything. I’ve learned to push through difficult obstacles to gain success. There was ups and downs having him in the sideline, but looking back now it’s been a blessing to have him by my side. He’s developed me as a person and an athlete through our experiences together on the field.”

Ken Gray, whose multisport standout son Chris played under Wiederkehr, remembered the first time he met the coach.

“Parents want their kids to win, and he was about teaching them about not always wining at an early age and expanding the program,” said Gray, whose son started playing football at 5 years old. “Shoreham-Wading
River wasn’t a big football community, and I’d say over 10 years he did a pretty good job of developing a pretty good program. I think that’s a result of Hans’ commitment to the community and the kids.”

Babylon athletic director Michael DeJoseph, was one of several who along with Cipp, wrote letters of recommendation for Wiederkehr to be inducted. DeJoseph said he was not at all surprised when he heard the news but, like many, said he wasn’t aware he’d been selected, because the coach remains humble.

“Probably the most enjoyable part of coaching is teaching a kid something that he really doesn’t think he can do, and then looking into his eyes after he completes something and say, ‘I told you so.'”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“It’s beyond well deserved,” said DeJoseph, who was hired by Wiederkehr as a teacher and coach of the junior varsity team, and eventually worked his way up the ladder. “He really cared about the kids, and he showed me and the players blueprints for success. As impressive he is as a coach he’s probably more impressive as a father, husband and family man. He’s a community guy who cares for others.”

Former athlete Drew Peters, a 2002 graduate, also said he knows about his former coach’s devotion firsthand. He played on the varsity team all four years of high school and said he and all of Wiederkehr’s players felt like he cared about him.

“He treated you like you were one of his kids,” he said. “When you’re on a team of 30-plus kids, every one of you felt very special to him, and I think that’s what made you play even harder. He had that father-like figure to everyone on the team and we always wanted to do our best for him.”

Peters spoke of his coaches sacrifices, saying Wiederkehr would drive from Shoreham, even during the winter months, to pick up his athletes at 6 a.m. and take them to the weight room before school started. He said he’ll never forgot how the man with three children would sacrifice his own time to come to each one of his teammates houses to pick them up. He became so close with so many of the players, he even attended
several of their weddings, including Peters’.

“He teaches you a lot more than just the sport, he prepared us young men to go through the struggles that you’ll face in life,” he said. “My senior year we lost in the Long Island championship and it was a tough game for us, but there was a controversial penalty that I was involved in and he took me under his wing after the game and said, ‘Hey, if this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to you in life, losing a football game in high school, then you’re going to have a pretty good life.’ And I just remember that being something that obviously at the time was very upsetting but it’s true, it was a game that was very important to everybody, but he definitely had a way of putting things into perspective.”

Rocky Point Fire Department has added a new member to its commissioner board. File photo by Kevin Redding

Ray Strong has helped put out more fires across Rocky Point and Shoreham than he can remember. He has saved countless residents from burning buildings. He stood at Ground Zero to aid in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But entering his 40th year in fire and rescue service, Strong, 59, is stepping into uncharted territory within his field as he begins a five-year term on the Rocky Point Fire District’s five-member board of commissioners.

Strong, who joined the Rocky Point Fire Department in 1978 and later served as chief, was elected commissioner Dec. 12 after running unopposed to fill a vacant seat left by former commissioner Gene Buchner, who opted not to run again after his own five-year term ended. A total of 159 votes were cast, and Strong received 153 votes.

Fireman Ray Strong, on the scene, has been elected the newest Rocky Point fire commission board member Dec. 12. Photo by Dennis Whittam

He will be officially sworn in Jan. 9 and said he hopes to apply his  four decades of hands-on experience and knowledge as both a volunteer and career fireman to the job and better protect the community in which he grew up and lives.

“I want to continue to be an asset to the department,” Strong said. “After 40 years of fighting fires, I think I have enough experience to help me make the difficult decisions that have to be made in regard to protecting our communities and making sure our first responders are getting the best education, training and care. This is going to be a learning experience for me, but I’m looking forward to helping keep the ball rolling.”

Commissioner duties are generally divided among the board members and  include overseeing budgets and insurance policies within the district, maintaining the custody and control of all village property of the fire department, and purchasing necessary equipment to prevent and extinguish fires or administer first aid within the area.

“I’m going to do the best I can in whatever job I’m given,” said Strong, who will still serve as a firefighter while in his new position. “My mission in life has always been to be a firefighter and now hopefully a good commissioner. I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

He had his first brush with the department as a member of its drum and bugle corps when he was a student at Rocky Point High School, marching in parades and routinely interacting with its members at the firehouse. He became a volunteer at 19 in March 1978 and was trained in first aid and firefighting tactics before taking advanced classes in both. Just two months in, Strong responded to a call to extinguish a major 24-hour fire at a squab farm on Randall Road in Shoreham — still the biggest one he’s ever faced.

“I get a thrill and satisfaction from it. It’s my gift back to my community, and I plan to do that as long as I’m standing on my own two feet.”

— Ray Strong

“I’ll never forget that,” he said, claiming that fire better prepared him for the job more than any training course could have.

Within Rocky Point, he has primarily served in the district’s North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse, on King Road, while also volunteering for a few years at Mastic Beach Fire District. In 1985 Strong was hired as a career fireman within the New York City Fire Department, where he ultimately climbed the ladder to lieutenant of Rescue Company 4 in Woodside, Queens, and served there until he retired in 2016.

“Ray’s going to bring a lot of firsthand experience to the position, which really helps,” said district vice chairman, Kirk Johnson. “He has a ton of knowledge, too, as far as what equipment is needed for firefighters to do their jobs properly and to keep them safe.”

Johnson added that Strong will be particularly helpful when it comes to monitoring the district’s newly passed capital projects to replace the North Shore Beach Company 2 firehouse with a safer, more updated one, and acquire a new fire truck.

“He knows every nook and cranny of that building,” Johnson said.

Bill Lattman, an ex-chief at Rocky Point, has been working alongside Strong since 1982 and said there’s nobody better for the job.

Ray Strong, with wife Iris, is a longtime Rocky Point resident. Photo from Ray Strong

“He’s a great guy and an extremely loyal friend to everyone,” Lattman said. “He’s always been a very hands-on person within the fire district and has been involved in everything in our department. He’s definitely going to bring a lot to the table. He’s going to be a very good asset to the district and the community.”

As an FDNY member, Strong not only saved lives, but bettered them. In 2013 he started a nonprofit motorcycle club called Axemen M/C NY-3, geared toward raising money for special needs children of FDNY firefighters through annual fundraisers and charity events. The organization, which has raised more than $25,000 since 2015, came out of Strong’s own experience with two daughters born with cerebral palsy, both of whom passed away in recent years due to complications with the illness.

“He’s the most kindhearted and giving man that I know,” said his wife Iris Strong. “Anything he puts his mind to, he gives 100 percent. He’s always looking out for everybody else and if anybody ever needs help with anything, he’s right there and he’ll never ask for any help back. That’s just his nature.”

As commissioner, Strong said he hopes to  strengthen the department’s community relations and keep residents more aware of what goes on within the district. He encourages young people to give volunteering a shot.

“Everybody in fire service started out as a person who just wanted to help their community,” Strong said. “This is what has driven me for decades. People’s lives are being saved daily by your local volunteers, and it’s nothing but a great feeling.”

Scott Kelly and Amiko Kauderer.Photo by Stephanie Stoll/ NASA
Astronaut Scott Kelly’s girlfriend recounts a year apart

By Daniel Dunaief

One night, her leg drifted to his side of the bed, where she often snuggled up so close that she nearly pushed him off the bed. The cold woke her up. After that, she stayed away until he returned from his perch, circling 249 miles above the Earth for a record-breaking year.

Amiko Kauderer, who works for NASA, has been dating astronaut Scott Kelly for years. Indeed, she had been through a six-month separation when he traveled to the International Space Station in 2011. This time, however, Kelly was gone for a year, conducting a range of experiments, including one in which he grew flowers in space. He also took samples of his own blood, which NASA will use to compare to his identical twin brother Mark to track the effects of extended time in space on his body. The information Kelly collected will help NASA prepare for future missions deeper into space, including to Mars.

Kelly’s journey, and his NASA career, ended on March 1, 2016, a year after jetting away from Kauderer and his two daughters from a previous marriage for an extraordinary journey that covered 144 million miles, or more than the distance from Earth to the sun.

Kelly recently published an in-depth book about his life before and after his historic mission titled “Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery.” Kauderer has her own story to tell about their prolonged separation. When asked about the time apart, both of them acknowledge that the challenges are no different from the ones people face when a spouse is on active deployment with the military.

During their separation, Kelly and Kauderer spoke regularly, including by videoconference. In an early videoconference, Kelly took Kauderer on a tour of his orbiting home, where he circled Earth 5,440 times. “I’ve seen it,” Kauderer recalled, as he drifted from room to room, using his toes to push off and float to the next destination. When he entered a room, Kelly asked her to guess where he was. “I know where you’re at,” she laughed. “You’re in the gym.”

While he was beaming images of his life in space, Kauderer returned the favor with video of their home in Houston, Texas. She took him outside, where he could see the pool. She knew he loved the water. When they were on these calls, Kelly focused on Kauderer as well as on areas around the house that he could see from space that needed attention. He saw that the refrigerator water filter light was on, indicating it was time for a new one. He told her, “You need to change the filter,” she recalled. She enjoyed the observation because “those kinds of moments felt like he was home.”

Kauderer recalled an experience where she was on a video conference with Kelly while she cooked a pizza, something he couldn’t eat during his journey. He asked her to show it to him when she was taking it out of the oven and then told her the pizza wasn’t done and she needed to stick it back in the oven for another few moments. “Him being from New Jersey and me being from China Spring, Texas, I’m not going to argue with the New Jersey guy on how to make a pizza,” she recalled. That, too, felt more like normal.

Kauderer didn’t dwell on the dangers of his trip, even though she had considerable information about his schedule and his daily assignments. Knowing “her man,” as she puts it, well also helped her recognize the early signs of trouble for him from afar. Once, when they began a conversation, she heard an aggressiveness and frustration in his voice. She told him to check the carbon dioxide levels, which were above normal.

The most stressful moment for her was when he went on the first of his three space walks. “I had seen how hard he worked,” she said “I knew all the behind-the-scenes stuff, even the things that are not as fun and [are] painful. I was extremely excited that he was finally going to do this.”

She said she knew he’d be fine as soon as he got back inside. While he was gone, she forgot what it felt like to have physical contact with Kelly. “The one thing you can not replicate is human touch,” she said. “There does come a time when you forget what that person feels like, what it feels like to get a hug.” The moment of realization is “sad,” although she said she always knew there was an end point.

Indeed, when his journey was almost over, Kelly sent her a list of the things he wanted and craved back on Earth, including green Gatorade, strawberries and salad. She didn’t have any similar such lists for him. “You tend to put your own needs aside,” she said. “You focus on everything for him. I didn’t think about what I wanted.”

At first, she felt an urgency to make sure he adapted to his return, which was no small task. In addition to getting him to doctors’ appointments, she helped him deal with a painful rash that developed after an extended time when gravity didn’t push clothing against his skin. He also had swelling in his legs. When she massaged his feet, she couldn’t feel his ankle bones. At the beginning, it was “disgusting,” she said. “I knew they weren’t his feet.” She said he was “in such a fog” after his return. Physically, he was back, but the pain, particularly in his feet, was difficult for him.

Kauderer felt limited in what she could do for herself. “When he came home, I didn’t have any me-time,” she said. She went to the door to go for a run and Kelly asked her where she was going. She told him she needed to get out for 20 minutes to take a run. “That’s all I need,” she said. “He was like, ‘OK.’”

Kelly’s life has returned to a new normal, as he travels to promote his book. Kauderer said the distance apart brought them closer together. At night, she said she has returned to moving over to his side of the bed, which is warmer than it was during his absence. “When he was back, I went back to pushing him off the bed again,” she said.

Katlyn Lindahl, above left, and Jillian Dinowitz, above right, were honored for saving the life of Ryan Magill, at center, who was critically injured when he fell off a boat while giving sailing lessons. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

A senior at Shoreham-Wading River High School was recently recognized as a hero for helping to save the life of her best friend over the summer.

Jillian Dinowitz snapped into action when she heard Ryan Magill screaming.

It was Aug. 9 and Dinowitz, 17, was in a powerboat on Moriches Bay giving sailing lessons to kids, ages 8 to 12, as an instructor at the Moriches Yacht Club. Her lifelong friend Magill, 17, who was instructing kids in another boat, had fallen overboard and was wailing and thrashing in red water. His left arm and pectoral region had been severely cut by the boat’s propeller.

Jillian Dinowitz, on left with Ryan Magill, are best friends and avid boaters since age 7. Photo from Jillian Dinowitz

Dinowitz, joined by another friend and instructor, rushed over to Magill, pulled him out of the water by his life jacket and got to work. As the boat sped back to shore and emergency services were called,  Dinowitz focused on keeping her friend calm and awake while Katlyn Lindahl, 18, made a tourniquet out of a towel and T-shirt. Dinowitz and Lindahl pressed it tightly against his blood-soaked arm.

“I honestly don’t know how I did it — it’s kind of a blur,” said Dinowitz, who admitted to feeling queasy at the sight of blood. “I would’ve done this for anybody in the water but just seeing that it was somebody so close to me, I kind of held myself together and just tried to stay strong for him. He’s the one that needed help at the time.”

Lindahl said while the two of them have had first aid training, their actions were entirely based on instinct.

“This was definitely a fight or flight thing,” she said. “There was no time at all really to think about what to do.”

Once back on land, Magill, a senior at Center Moriches High School, was emergency airlifted off the property to Stony Brook University Hospital. There, he underwent major surgeries. The doctors had to take a nerve out of his leg and transplant it into the damaged part of his shoulder.

They told him that if the girls hadn’t acted as quickly and effectively as they did, there was a good chance he could’ve died from blood loss or, at best, lost his arm.

“The difference they made was the difference between me being here and me not being here,” said Magill, who has since been slowly but steadily on the road to recovery. While he has trouble with menial tasks like tying his shoes and must wear a brace, he said he’s regained 50 percent of movement back in his arm and shoulder. “I’m doing very well, actually, and it’s thanks to Jillian and Katlyn. They literally saved my life and I’m in debt to them forever.”

His mother, Heather Magill, said her son has been incredibly positive throughout the entire experience and can be seen smiling every day no matter how tough things are.

“We’re in awe of him,” she said.

“After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

— Heather Magill

Magill’s and Dinowitz’s mothers, who have been best friends since high school, said the two teens have been inseparable since they were born. They joined the yacht club together when they were 7.

“I know in my heart there’s not a thing [Jillian] wouldn’t do for him in this whole world,”Heather Magill said. “It’s a testament to their friendship. We love her like family. After the accident, when we went to visit him in the recovery room, he said to my husband and me, ‘I love you guys … I need you to get me my phone, I have to call Jillian and Katlyn and tell them thank you for saving my life.’”

But for Jillian Dinowitz, it’s all about Ryan Magill getting back to his old self.

“When I visited him the day after the accident, it really hit me that something really serious happened, but it turned out okay and things are going to be better from there,” she said. “It’s amazing that he’s never gotten down about himself through all of this and has always been positive and willing to work hard to be where he was before the accident. It’s so inspiring.”

Nearly four months after the incident, on Nov. 28, the Shoreham-Wading River board of education honored Dinowitz, an Advanced Placement student and member of the school’s varsity tennis team, for her heroism, dedication and courage. As it happened in Center Moriches, Dinowitz said nobody at the school really knew about the incident, but it felt good to be recognized.

“Our true character often shines the brightest when we’re thrust into challenging circumstances,” high school Principal Frank Pugliese said of Dinowitz. “When that happened to Jillian this past summer, she rose to the occasion and helped to save a young man’s life. The entire Shoreham-Wading River community is so incredibly proud of her for her quick thinking and brave actions.”

Gift of hearing made possible through nonprofit program Senior Dreams Come True

Sally Lepis gets fitted for new hearing aids at the McGuire Hearing Center in Centereach. Photo from Seiden Communications

Thanks to a nonprofit program, one Selden senior is calling her new hearing aids a dream come true.

Sally Lepis, who lives independently at St. Joseph’s Village, a subsidized housing complex, was granted her wish for new hearing aids by Senior Dreams Come True. The nonprofit program founded and run by the elder law firm Genser Dubow Genser & Cona in Melville benefits low-income seniors on Long Island by granting wishes — from helping a senior meet basic needs to fulfilling a lifelong dream. The program especially looks to grant wishes for seniors who have given back to their communities or helped others in their lifetime.

With significant hearing loss, 102-year-old Lepis could not afford to replace her more than 25-year-old hearing aids. Whether speaking to one person or in a group, she has difficulty communicating.

To fulfill Lepis’ wish, Senior Dreams reached out to David Carr, owner and director of McGuire’s Hearing Centers, which is headquartered in Centereach with 10 facilities in the New York City and Long Island areas. He agreed to donate two of the most advanced, custom in-canal hearing aids plus four appointments with the audiologist to do testing, programming and fine tuning of the devices. The total cost for the hearing aids and services is $7,500.

“I was intrigued with this important program to help seniors and the amazing story of Mrs. Lepis and her family,” Carr said. For many years, he has helped seniors in need throughout the U.S. by donating hearing aids to the less fortunate through a program he started called the Foundation for Sight and Sound.

Often referred to as “Mother Teresa,” Lepis has remained the anchor for her family, maintaining a positive attitude no matter what personal hardships she goes through. When she was 57, her husband died. She also lost her twin sister at a young age and raised her then 14-year-old niece Olivia Schmidt in her home.

“No one is more deserving of a Senior Dreams wish than Sally,” Schmidt said. “[She] has devoted her life to caring for many family members and friends while coping with her own sadness and losses she has endured.”

Lepis worked as a seamstress from a young age and only recently got rid of her Singer sewing machine. When her husband died, she worked at B. Altman Department Store in Manhasset as a sales clerk before retiring.

Before she stopped driving at age 95, Lepis did her best to care for friends by driving them to doctor’s appointments. She even saved a friend’s life when she found her stuck in a bathtub for several days.

“Mrs. Lepis has given so much of herself over the years to friends, family and those in need in her community,” said Jennifer Cona, managing partner of Genser Dubow Genser & Cona. “She is exactly the kind of person for whom Senior Dreams Come True seeks to grant wishes.”

Brianna Florio, on right, was honored by the Sound Beach Civic Association and president Bea Ruberto, on left, for her community involvement. Photo from Sound Beach Civic Association

A Sound Beach Girl Scout recently solidified the organization’s highest honor by helping children who live in a temporary shelter feel a little more at home.

Brianna Florio, an 18-year-old Sound Beach resident and a member of Rocky Point Girl Scout Troop 2945, has been working since last year to better the lives of 16 children who reside at Halo House in Sound Beach, a shelter for families in crisis.

While staffers within the home — which gets its funding from the Department of Social Services — do all they can to help the four families currently living under one roof get their cases under control, find employment and locate more permanent housing, helping young children adjust to their new environment is a constant challenge.

Brianna Florio will be receiving her Gold Award next month after working with children at Halo House in Sound Beach to paint a mural to make the place feel more like home. Photo from Brianna Florio

So when it came time to pick a community outreach project in summer 2016 to fulfill the requirements for her Gold Award, the Rocky Point High School graduate, who learned of the shelter from one of her troop leaders, set her sights on making it more kid-friendly.

“I knew this would be a good fit for her,” said Donna McCauley, her troop leader who first became aware of the Halo House through St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach. “Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

Florio utilized her artistic talent and painted a large mural on the wall in the shelter’s dining room depicting animals having a tea party, installed a bench to be placed in the property’s yard and hosted a toy and book drive at her high school. Through that event, Florio brought multiple boxes of donated entertainment for children of different ages to the Halo House — items that are sorely needed, according to shelter manager Joe Pellegrino.

“[Brianna] definitely helped bring the kids a sense of community within the neighborhood of Sound Beach,” he said, adding the children in the shelter were eager to be involved in her mural project. “The younger ones would wait for her to come, and when she got here, they would say, ‘Can you paint a snake? Can you put a hat and bowtie on it?’ It betters the children’s state of minds when they’re at the shelter, because they get a sense that it’s a home and not just a place they’re forced to live in.”

Pellegrino said the mural has become a center of pride in the home and is even used as an educational tool to teach the children about the different animals depicted.

“It really warmed my heart to see the kids and their smiling faces and just how excited they were about it,” Florio said of the mural. “It was really nice to see it all finished, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it.”

She will officially receive her Gold Award from the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County council in December.

Although it was an independent project for the Girl Scout, Florio was able to acquire paints and various supplies through local donations, like from Costello’s Ace Hardware of Rocky Point. She also received support from her school district, where she was a member of the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club, a group that cooked for the homeless and performed songs at senior citizen homes during the holidays.

“Brianna is very dedicated, has a very generous spirit and is always ready to help anyone in need. It also gave her a way to express herself creatively, which she’s very good at.”

—Donna McCauley

“I think if anybody is deserving of a Gold Award, it’s Brianna,” Rocky Point High School Principal Susann Crossan said. “What sets her apart from everybody else is she has a constant concern for other people. She’s been involved in so many activities within the high school that involve giving back. She was an extremely well-rounded and kind student.”

Florio’s project was also no surprise to Nancy Kloska, the director of an aftercare program for children at Mount Sinai Elementary School, where Florio currently serves as a mentor helping students with homework, playing games with them and leading fun activities.

“She’s warm, approachable, responsible and the kids really love interacting with her — Brianna always has a large group around her,” Kloska said. “I think she just brings out the best in the kids and is such a positive role model. I can’t say enough good things about Brianna. I think she’s wonderful.”

Florio was bestowed a certificate of appreciation by elected officials and community members for her Gold Award efforts during a Sound Beach Civic Association meeting Nov. 13. Civic president Bea Ruberto later said in an interview that Florio is a shining example of upstanding youth in the community.

“We were so proud to honor Brianna at our meeting — she’s very community-minded and is always there to help and give back,” said Ruberto, pointing out that Florio has helped with the civic’s pet adoption efforts and contributed a drawing in honor of the civic’s 40th anniversary. “We often hear about all the kids who behave badly and do this or that, and we really make an attempt in the civic to showcase the good kids. She’s a very fine young lady.”

Florio is currently pursuing a career in computer science and game programming as a freshman at Stony Brook University.

Thanksgiving Turkey Trot races benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic

By Bill Landon

Thanks to Mount Sinai community members displaced children are once again getting what’s on their Christmas lists this year.

The school district’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club members teamed up with Strong Island Running Club and more than 36 local businesses and families for the 7th annual Mount Sinai Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run to benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic.

According to running club founder John McHugh, the organization receives letters from children who write to Santa from area homeless shelters.

“Many were originally displaced back in 2008 as a result of the housing market crash,” McHugh said. “We get those letters, and with the proceeds of today’s race, we’ll go shopping next week and buy presents for the kids and host a dinner for them and their families.”

The races brought out more than 350 entrants, and Mount Sinai student-athletes swept the top five 5K spots. First across the finish line was Mount Sinai junior Sean Higgins, who is a member of the school’s varsity track and field and cross country teams. He clocked in at a personal best 17 minutes, 26:31.

“I practice at 7 a.m. every day,” the 17-year-old said. “I run for a living.”

Second across the finish line was teammate Ryan Wilson, who tripped the timer at 17:55.88. Mount Sinai runner Jackson Law finished in third with a time of 18:23.38, and was followed by his twin brother Christian who covered the distance in 18:24.97.

The first female finisher was Mount Sinai senior Noreen Guilfoyle, who finished in 18:35. It was her third consecutive first-place finish among females in the event.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she said.

The event had the best turnout of any year so far, with event proceeds totaling just over $7,500, according to McHugh. After dinner, which will be held at Mount Sinai High School Dec. 6 at 5 p.m., there will be a visit from Santa where the kids will receive their gifts and sing Christmas carols.

“These people all have hearts of gold,” McHugh said. “It is our privilege to help make the holidays special for those children and families in need across Long Island.”

For more information about the collaboration, visit www.strongislandrunningclub.com or call 631-806-4649.

Members of Miller Place Fire Department, EMS volunteers and community members come together at Stop & Shop in Miller Place to raise donations for those in need this holiday season. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Local families in need have a group of Miller Place volunteers, generous strangers and a big red bus to be thankful for this holiday season.

Cold, windy weather did nothing to stop Miller Place Fire Department members from gathering outside Stop & Shop at 385 Route 25A for five hours last weekend. In fact, the dozen volunteer EMS members, engine company officers and firefighters were all smiles as they collected 800 pounds of nonperishable items from passing shoppers, whose contributions were packed into a fire department bus and dropped off to St. Louis de Montfort R.C. Church in Sound Beach the next morning.

Former Miller Place captain of EMS
Debi Rasweiler, on left, collects
donations. Photo by Kevin Redding

Canned food, condiments, paper towels and much more stock the shelves at the church’s food pantry for Miller Place, Sound Beach and Mount Sinai families struggling to make ends meet. The donations will help them have a proper Thanksgiving.

“The outpouring is always incredible — people here are just amazing,” said Debi Rasweiler, a former captain of EMS at the fire department and organizer of the 7th annual EMS Stuff-A-Bus Nov. 17, which ran from 3 to 8 p.m. “Last year we stuffed the bus from floor to ceiling, rear to front. It just grows every year.”

During the event, shoppers on their way into the supermarket were handed a list of items needed for the pantry — including pasta, dry cereal, canned vegetables, soaps and toothpaste — and asked to donate if possible. It didn’t take long before residents wheeled their carts over to the bus to chip in. Some dropped off one or two items while others outdid themselves, handing over full bags of groceries and cash.

“I just think we all have to give back,” said Shoreham resident Peggy Debus, who donated peanut butter, jelly and cereal. “When people stop giving back, the world gets very bad.”

John Barile from Mount Sinai, who handed over paper towels, said he takes any opportunity he can to help others who need it.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems,” Barile said.

“If everybody gave something, we would never have any problems.”

John Barile

When asked what inspired her to donate multiple items, another shopper simply said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Stephen Rasweiler, Debi’s husband and a lifelong volunteer firefighter, voiced his appreciation for the community as he held up a donated bag of yams and turkey stuffing.

“This is somebody’s Thanksgiving dinner just in one bag,” he said, beaming. “This time of year is very stressful, the economy’s tough for a lot of families and we know we’re helping a lot of people. It’s sad that this is needed but it’s been a great department and community effort.”

It was the Rasweiler’s daughter Jessica who initially brought Stuff-A-Bus to the community seven years ago after being involved in a similar event with her sorority at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. When she came home from college, and joined the fire department as an EMT, Rasweiler was determined to adopt the donate-and-transport event.

She got local businesses to sponsor it and went door-to-door from Setauket to Wading River to spread the word. As a full-time nurse at St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, she was unable to be at this year’s event, but said over the phone that the event’s continued success makes her heart smile.

“I wanted to do more for the community,” she said. “I knew we could do something greater than just wait for the whistle to blow for any kind of call that we get at the fire department. I just can’t believe it and it’s amazing the community has just latched onto it. It’s a very special event.”

For Bobby Chmiel, 2nd Lieutenant of EMS, the Stuff-A-Bus is a highlight every year.

St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator Jane
Guido shows off her new inventory as a result of the
annual Stuff-A-Bus event. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s not just residents helping people, it’s helping people they might know,” he said. “They could be your friends or neighbors. The community in Miller Place and Sound Beach will unite around a common cause. When it’s one of our own that needs help, especially during the holiday season, we’re there.”

On Nov. 18, the big red bus delivered its boxes upon boxes of items to the church. The various foods were stacked into the church’s pantries and will be given out to families, many of whom the church takes care of year-round.

“It’s a blessing and I can’t thank them enough,” said Jane Guido, St. Louis de Montfort’s outreach coordinator. “The families are very appreciative because a lot of them wouldn’t’ be able to put that kind of spread on their table for a holiday. It’s just too costly. People are so generous — we get plenty of stuff that holds us through the year — without their help, our pantry would be bare.”

After all the boxes were brought inside, Debi Rasweiler announced that on top of the food, one resident who asked to be anonymous donated $1,400 worth of Visa gift cards.

“It was a single parent who had been needy for a long time,” Rasweiler said.

An emotional Guido hugged her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you everybody,” Guido said.

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