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Above, the cover of Darlene Sells Treadwell’s new book

By Colm Ashe

Above, the cover of Darlene Sells Treadwell’s new book
Above, the cover of Darlene Sells Treadwell’s new book

In terms of social prevalence, bigotry and sexism have decreased dramatically over the last century. However, many still remember a world where minorities and women were considered second-class citizens. Darlene Sells Treadwell is one of those people.

In her new book, “The Bittersweet Taste of the American Dream,” the 74-year Setauket native tells the true story of her grandmother — a Native American with African roots and a special knack for cooking who fell prey to a cutthroat corporate money game.

Treadwell, who currently resides in Georgia, will be traveling to Long Island this weekend to present copies of her book to the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library and the Three Village Historical Society. She will hold a book signing event where she will share her family story with the attendees. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ms. Treadwell by phone.

What can you tell me about your grandmother?

Her name was Ms. Emma Francis Calvin Sells of Old Field, Long Island, New York, and she was apart of the Setauket Indian Tribe. She was also of African American descent. She was the daughter of Clifford and Abby, and married Charles Augustus Sells of Setauket on Jan. 11, 1917, at the age of 18. She was my heroine in the kitchen. I always imagined her as a Black Native American Julia Child. If she was around today she would be on all these new cooking shows! Instead, she died heartbroken and disillusioned from her trust in the big buys and the industry… that they would do the right thing.

How did the cooking industry take advantage of Grandma Em?

They stole her recipe. They began the process slowly, never blatantly, but persistently eased knowledge of the recipe away. I have a letter from The National Biscuit Company asking her to bring in four bags and to identify the ingredients. She even tried to reach out to her hero, Jackie Robinson, to intervene when she realized she’d been had. This transgression prevented her from accumulating her rightful place in history. I have all of the proof in the book: letters between attorneys and employees at the National Biscuit Company, names and signatures, her recipes.

When did she realize her recipe had been stolen?

1949. She was at the supermarket when she saw the first ever Ready-to-Use Corn Bread Mix on the shelf — with her recipe on the back of the box. She dropped to her knees crying in the middle of the aisle, realizing the last 12 years of working with the National Biscuit Company to make her dream a reality were nothing but a scam.

How was the story passed on to you?

When Grandma Em died at the age of 74, we slowly went through her list of belongings. We came across a blue hat box. And this was handed to me, that’s how I wrote the book. Upon opening, I unfolded years of sentimental holdings to her heritage, her recipes and her lost dreams. It was given to me to decipher what went wrong and slowly, piece by piece, I carefully, and tearfully, read her notes and recipes. And I could feel her frustration and pain and suffering as she waited patiently for news from patent attorneys and inventors. I read and wept as they lead her on and on, sent her to their New York offices in vain, to sit and wait and wait. From 1937 to 1949.

Why did you want to write this book?

I want to make peace with this injustice and I want to see if they want to right a wrong. No civil attorney can help me because the companies can change one ingredient and it’s no longer litigable. Plus, it’s too late. That corporation (now called Nabisco) benefited from the free labor and ideas of my little old grandma. I wanted to give Grandma Em the power and the humanity that was denied to her that time in history. I just wanted to … publicly honor her ingenuity and entrepreneurial achievements. I’m the last surviving member of the family. I’m 74. When I’m gone, that blue hat box is gone. I wanted to write the book so she could receive her accolades. I did not want to die with her story untold. I don’t want to publicize myself. I really just want to give honor to my Grandma.

Will you be holding any book
signings in our area?

I’m doing a book signing at the Three Village Historical Society. They have an exhibit on the Setauket Indians now — the tribe my grandmother was apart of. I’ll be there on Sunday, July 3, from 2 to 4 p.m., but the reading starts at 3.

You can join the Times Beacon Record at Darlene’s book signing as she recounts this tragic, yet hopeful story of a local Setauket legend who deserves her place in history. The Three Village Historical Society is located at 93 North Country Road in Setauket. For more information, please call 631-751-3730.

Tommy and Sue Sullivan pose for a photo in front of their soon-to-be old, Superstorm Sandy-damaged house prior to revamping. With hard hats on, the two prepare to help Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County help renovate their home. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tommy Sullivan has always been paying it forward.

So when Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk reached out to help renovate his Sandy-damaged home, he said he was overcome with emotion.

“We’re really overwhelmed by this,” Tommy Sullivan said of he and his wife Sue’s reaction to the help and support they’ve received. “It was looking hopeless for us for a while. We couldn’t have done this ourselves. It was just way, way too much work and, again, we’re just so overwhelmed and happy and just very, very grateful.”

The effort to help the Sullivan family started when members of the VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point heard about the damage done to the Rocky Point home. When Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, the house sustained roof damage that could not be repaired. As time went on, the damages became worse, which rendered the house unlivable for Tommy Sullivan, a U.S. army veteran, and his wife Sue, a substitute teacher. The family was forced to spend several nights out staying at friends’ homes.

The front of the Sullivan's house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The front of the Sullivan’s house shows the exterior and roof damage brought on by Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Desirée Keegan

But John Rago, outreach coordinator for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs project known as the Suffolk County United Veterans group, stepped up to help the Sullivans find sanctuary when he met Diane Burke, executive director and CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County at a luncheon in Patchogue back in March.

At a meeting for the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, Rago explained the program’s support and services for veteran families, which included a rapid-rehousing and homeless prevention program for veterans.

“We were reaching dead ends all over the place and I happened to be sitting at the luncheon across from Diane and I introduced myself,” he said. “I asked her if she did teardown and rebuilds, and she said yes, so I started to tell her about Tommy and before I even finished she said, ‘We’re in.’”

Burke said she was more than happy to help who she saw as such a well-deserved recipient.

“I thought, ‘We have to make this happen,’ and we just put the pieces together and we’re here to support a local veteran to recreate a place to call home,” Burke said of the initiative. “Not only did Tom serve our country, but he continues to serve our community, so that is absolutely what we’re about. It’s great to partner with somebody who understands volunteerism and actually lives it.”

Tommy Sullivan was a member of the West Point band for three years when he served during the Vietnam War. He is an original member of Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge, a musical group best known for their million-selling rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “The Worst That Could Happen,” and has been performing solo since then at charity organizations and events.

Some events include Long Island State Veterans Home’s annual Golf Classic, Wounded Warrior Project events, Rocky Point high school’s Veteran’s Day and 9/11 ceremonies. Just last Friday, the veteran sang at cancer benefit for a friend with brain cancer.

“When people with a good cause call, we never turn it down, because that’s it’s own reward,” he said. “Whenever I get a call, especially from the vet’s organizations, I’m there. I set up my stuff and I sing, and it feels great to have this support. We’re all the same kind of people here and it’s special because it’s all about the heart. Everyone here has a big heart and we’re just very happy.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who said she knows the Sullivans as longtime residents, said the work Tommy Sullivan does for his community is extraordinary.

“It’s a very exciting time for all of us to be able to help them because they’ve helped so many people through their advocacy and their volunteering,” she said. “He has the voice of an angel. It’ll bring goose bumps to you. It really, really will.”

The councilwoman also said she sees the family as more than deserving of this renovation.

“They pay it forward all the time,” Bonner said. “They never ask for anything in return, and they’ve fallen on some difficult times — probably from volunteering so much and not asking for money. Helping is so easy to do, and it’s the best part of my job. I believe it is part of the main reason why we have public service, such as council people.”

The work for the eight-week project began on Oct. 19 with several different projects including reframing and reroofing; the installation of new electric, plumbing; new interior fixtures; remodeling to the flooring, kitchen and bathroom; and new windows and doors throughout the home.

“I’m very happy that they decided to help Tommy and Susan out and I can’t wait until we give them the keys to their brand new house,” Rago said. “It’s nice to help a veteran, especially one that gives back so much to the veteran community.”

Sue Sullivan said she was excited to remain in the couple’s same home they’ve lived in since 1996, and said the love and care she has received is what she believes life is all about.

“Everyone taking care of everybody — we dedicate our lives to that,” she said. “This is the most wonderful thing that could happen in our lives besides marrying each other. As community members, we want everyone to know we’re here for them for anything. If you need us, we’ll come. Everything that everyone is doing and the way they’re contributing, they’re our family now, and that’s just a forever family.

Family is the most important thing in Mario's life. She celebrated her 108th birthday in February. Photo from Elaine Campanella

Much has changed since Anna Mario lived in her first-floor Brooklyn apartment back in the 1920s.

In those days, people were friendlier, they said hello to each other, and they were more attached to their friends and neighbors, according to the 108-year-old, who now lives in St. James Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

“People are more independent now. They don’t help each other, they think they are better than you,” Mario said. “I don’t want to be better than anyone, I want to be what I am and I’m happy,” she said.

A positive outlook has always played a part in her life, according to Mario’s daughter Elaine Campanella of Hauppauge.

“She’s got a good attitude,” Campanella said. “She believes that anything you do, you do with happiness. She says if you smile, the world smiles back at you.”

One of seven children, Mario was born in New York City in 1907. She worked in the garment industry as a machine operator in a factory that made pajamas.

“I worked most of my life and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “We made the most beautiful nightgowns.”

Mario’s husband passed away in 1975, but she stayed in Brooklyn until 1990 when she moved out to Port Jefferson Station. Campanella said her mother remained active after the move, taking bus trips to Atlantic City and participating in senior clubs, even becoming president of one.

According to Campanella, no one in Mario’s family has lived past 100 years old, let alone 108. Mario’s father died when he was 80 and her mother at 62.

Campanella doesn’t think there is a secret to her mother’s longevity, but she did say she always cooked well and she rarely took medication except for the occasional dose of Tums. Her faith always remained important to her.

“If anyone was in trouble or sick she would say a prayer and say it was in God’s hands,” Campanella said.

She said her mother always lived a simple life, never shying away from crises but always handling it as best she could.

“She always tells everyone that if you have a problem, you deal with it. If there is nothing you can do, then you move on.”

Mario lived on her own until she was 106 years old, doing all of her own cooking and cleaning. Heart problems that year put her in the nursing home, where she has been ever since.

“I have a nice life here,” Mario said of the nursing home. “Everyone is friendly and I have a nice time. If I can’t be home, this is the place to be. They make me feel at home.”

She occasionally leaves the nursing home to join her family for holidays and special events, she said.

According to Lori Sorrentino, recreational therapist at St. James, Mario keeps busy practicing tai chi, socializing with friends, dancing in her wheelchair at facility dance events and playing Bingo, one of her favorite pastimes.

Sorrentino called Mario “very spunky,” adding that she has had a great attitude since coming to the facility over a year ago.

“She is very funny and very inspirational. She is just full of life and age does not stop her,” Sorrentino said. “She always says that its good friends and family that keep her going.”

Mario’s family includes four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Campanella said her mother hates to see the younger generation glued to iPods and cell phones.

“It’s just not social — she sees it as detachment,” Campanella said. “It hurts her.”

At her 108th birthday celebration last month, Mario made a toast to her family, urging them to avoid that detachment.

“She made everyone cry when she said how much she wanted the family to stay together,” Campanella said. “Family is what she loves about life. That is her philosophy.”

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Roller derby gets the adrenaline pumping

When asked to describe roller derby in one word, the girls of Strong Island Derby Revolution kept saying the same thing: “Awesome.”

It isn’t surprising though, as there isn’t any sport that really compares to roller derby — the derby names, the high energy, the cringe-worthy wipeouts, the makeup and uniforms — whose leagues have taken roller rinks by storm over the past few years. Strong Island Derby Revolution is no exception, as its players and fans took over the Sports Arena rink in St. James for their last bout of the season on Saturday night.

“It’s amazing just to see how many people we have,” Marie “Jett Bruise” Letourneau, said at the game, known as a bout, on Saturday, which also marked the league’s one-year anniversary. SIDR has grown from about 12 people to more than 50.

Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp

According to Jennifer “Jenny from the block” Dutton, SIDR was established by a group of local women skaters and debuted Nov. 19, 2011 with a sold-out bout. Last March, SIDR began its first full season with another sold-out bout.

“It is unusual for a team to be formed and to have their first bout only four months later,” Dutton said. “Most teams don’t sell out like we have with over 600 tickets sold in our season opener last November.”

Each bout consists of two 30-minute periods with an unlimited number of jams, where a skater known as the jammer tries to get through a pack of skaters known as blockers. The first jammer to make their way through the blockers becomes the lead jammer. Blockers work to block an opposing jammer, while also helping their jammer get through. A jammer scores points for every blocker she passes after making the first pass.

Lindsay “Vixen Bone Breaker” Estes, one of SIDR’s coaches, said she loves the strategy involved in the game and how different it is from other sports.

“It’s the only sport that plays offense and defense at the same time,” she said.
Estes also said the sport is really empowering for women, as there aren’t many full-contact sports for women.

According to Dutton, the league is owned, managed and operated by skaters and volunteers, with skaters paying monthly dues. Even so, the team still finds time to give back to the community, such as having a fundraiser for Long Island Cares and supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Stephanie “Trinity” Finochio, a jammer on the team, said the amazing thing about roller derby is you don’t have to be an athlete — everyone fits in.

“This is something that everyone can do,” she said.
Veronica “Queen Benzene” Bickmeyer, one of the team’s newer members, said she had no experience when she first joined.

“I got started and now I am obsessed,” she said.

Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp

She called the game addicting and added with a laugh that while she played soccer in high school, in roller derby you’re actually allowed to hit.

“It’s a good way to get out some aggression,” she said. “But in a friendly way.”

Even though SIDR lost Saturday’s game to Shoreline Roller Derby, a Connecticut-based team, Dutton said the team will spend the offseason practicing and working harder for next season, which will begin in late March or early April.

While each skater seemed to enjoy different things about the game, they all agree they love the new friends it has given them.

“I love playing, but I’ve made so many friends,” Letourneau said. “The camaraderie and the community; the feeling of family. I have a lot of friends now and its really good!”

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For Port Jefferson Station tattoo shop, it’s about doing the art the right way

When Ariel Padilla told his parents he was going to open a tattoo shop, they gave him two years to succeed. If he didn’t, he would go back to school and finish his master’s degree in forensic technology.

“In my heart I knew I wasn’t going to fail,” Padilla said.

His heart was right. More than 15 years have passed since he opened his first tattoo parlor in Ozone Park, Queens. Today, Dark Child Tattoo is located about two miles from his high school.

After graduating from Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in 1987, Padilla attended NYIT, where he studied criminal psychology. Artistically inclined, Padilla worked as an airbrush artist at an artist colony in Smithtown. A Long Island tattoo artist told him he was wasting his time and talent and encouraged him to begin tattooing.

Padilla began shadowing tattoo artists in the city and New Jersey, just trying to get in where he could. Most of what he learned was self-taught, which he said was very difficult and something he wouldn’t recommend.

At the time, tattooing wasn’t legal in New York City. In 1961, the city banned the practice after a possible connection between tattooing and a Hepatitis B outbreak. In 1997, the city lifted the ban and began licensing tattoo artists. Padilla said he welcomed the industry regulation.

“Sometimes people look at you … and they think, ‘This is all you had left,’” Padilla said. “No, I had a lot of choices other than this. I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla began working at a tattoo shop and married his wife, Velkys, in 1996. Wanting to be his own boss and having built up a strong client base, he decided to open his own business. The couple compromised — they would move back to Long Island and open a store close to the city.

The shop has moved to numerous locations since. After Ozone Park, a Brentwood location opened, but Padilla moved the business when the area began to change. He set up shop in Uniondale, right around the block from Hofstra University, where his eldest daughter, Caryn, was majoring in Asian Studies and minoring in Japanese. She managed the Uniondale shop while attending school.

“I chose to be a tattooist because I loved tattooing and the art form it expresses.”

Padilla has two other children: Illyana, 15, and Elijah, 12.

Caryn Padilla apprenticed under her father and has been tattooing professionally for six years.

“I started it as a back-up, like as a way to pay for school. … At some point, I fell in love with it,” she said.

Ten years after opening up the first store in Queens, the family opened a second location, in Port Jefferson Station, close to their Miller Place home. While the Uniondale shop was doing well, Padilla closed the location due to the long commute and slowing economy.

Ariel and Caryn Padilla are the only tattoo artists at the Port Jefferson Station store and every employee is a family member. The daughter specializes in tribal tattoos and lettering while the father specializes in fantasy, portraits and full-color works.

“Since I am family, he is hard on me, but I appreciate it because it has helped me grow into a better artist,” Caryn Padilla said about her father.

He also isn’t scared to tell clients that what they think will work, won’t. Deanna Cammarata, a 20-year-old from Holbrook, came in wanting a butterfly on her lower ankle. Padilla sat down with her to explain it couldn’t be so small or the details would be lost. Cammarata’s boyfriend, Jim Fritz, a 27-year-old from Farmingville, heard about the store through a friend.

“I have many, many clients who want me to do it their way … but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way,” Padilla said. “The right way is more important to me. Perfection.”

Gina Daleo, whose family owns Chandler Square Ice Cream in Port Jefferson, has known Ariel Padilla since she was a teenager. He has completed pieces for her and her family. Her daughter, Dominique Godsmark, has a portrait of her late grandfather, Anthony Daleo, tattooed on her shoulder and a fox intertwined with flowers on her side.

“He’s a wonderful man,” Daleo said.

It has been very busy at Dark Child Tattoo, with the waiting room full of new and old customers. Dark Child will be heading to Long Island’s first tattoo convention in a decade at the end of July. The convention will be held at Nassau Coliseum.

“We’re just not a biker tattoo shop,” Velkys Padilla said. “[We want] customers coming back to get something that will represent them for the rest of their lives.”

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