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Isabella Panag, Kelly Wang, Zekey Huang, Snigdha Roy, and Mount Sinai Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris during the board of education meeting, where certificated were presented to winners and runner-ups of the district-wide spelling bee. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Two Mount Sinai students, sixth grader Zekey Huang and fourth grader Carrie Wang, will represent the district in the Long Island Regional Scripps Spelling Bee at Hofstra University next month. The two spelled their way to victory in building-wide competitions held at the middle school and elementary school, which were judged by administrators and members of the English faculty.

Last week, at the district’s board of education meeting at Mount Sinai Middle School, students from both buildings, grades one through eight, who participated in the annual spelling bee in December, were presented with certificates of recognition on behalf of the board.

“As a former athlete and former teacher, I love academic competition and I’m really just so proud of all the participants,” Mount Sinai Middle School Principal Peter Pramataris said. “They participated [in the spelling bee] with class, and the excitement they bring to the building is great.”

Among the four middle school finalists were seventh graders Isabella Panang and Kelly Wang, who tied for third place; seventh grader Snigdha Roy, who, according to the principal, had been in a “fierce, back and forth battle” with Huang during the competition, won second place; and 11-year-old Zekey, who ultimately took first place by spelling “flammable.”

“They participated [in the spelling bee] with class, and the excitement they bring to the building is great.”

— Peter Pramataris

This is the second time Zekey, who said he’s “happy and really excited,” will represent Mount Sinai at Hofstra, having competed after winning the spelling bee as a fourth grader. He and Carrie will be taking a written test Feb. 5 and, assuming they pass, will be competing in the traditional oral portion on the stage of John Cranford Adams Playhouse on Feb 12, with the hopes of making it to the National Scripps Spelling Bee in Washington D.C. during the spring.

“We’re very proud of him,” Zekey’s father, Edward, said. “He has accomplished a lot in the elementary and middle school, and we’re very thankful for the opportunity that the school gave us.”

Speaking about Carrie, Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore said the fourth grader is poised, beyond her years and is preparing to compete on a daily basis.

“When she stops me in the hallway, she gives me a word to spell, and when I stop her in the hallway, I give her a word to spell,” Gentilcore said in a phone interview. “It’s nice to see her excitement shine through and [we’re] very excited for her.”

The principal said during the spelling bee, the 9-year-old and her fourth grade co-champs quickly made their way through the fourth grade list of words, ending up with words at the eighth grade level in the final round. In terms of reaching the finals in Washington, Gentilcore said he’s knocking on wood.

“Typically,” he said, “one of the older students will win, but anything can happen.”

Edna White offers a section of clementine to her granddaughter, Alexandria McLaurin. Photo by Donna Newman

In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and [his] vision for a just and peaceful future.

The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.

Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.

Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman

“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”

The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.

“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”    

Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.

“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”

The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.

Leisure Village residents listen to Suffolk County Legislature Sarah Anker as she voices their frustrations and worries regarding the recent PSEG rate hike. Photo by Kevin Redding

Local seniors are getting the cold shoulder from PSEG Long Island electric rate increases, which have forced those on fixed incomes to make difficult and dangerous living decisions  — and they’re not going to take it anymore.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) led a protest against the rate hikes with vocal seniors from Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll at the Leisure Village clubhouse in Ridge Jan. 10.

Representatives from the senior communities gathered to voice their concerns that the recent revisions to the rates have been harmful and “debilitating” to them. Some residents, of which a large majority are in their 70s and 80s, have to debate whether or not to heat their homes and pay for food or heat their homes and pay for their prescription medications because they just can’t afford all three.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker protests the PSEG rate hike. Photo by Kevin Redding

Carole Leonard, president of the board of directors at Leisure Village, said it’s “insane” seniors have to live this way.

“They’re absolutely freezing. They keep electric so low and some are still seeing [up to] $600-$700 electric bills each month,” she said. “There are residents who sit in their house with blankets on them because they’re cold and they’re afraid to turn the heat up because of the rates.”

Mike Elkins, a retired resident, has been reduced to turning the heat on in just one room in his condo.

“It’s really bad,” he said. “As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”

The revisions from PSEG at the start of the new year have made rates higher than the originally announced $3.50 increase; so now the average customer using 775 kWh of energy in a month will see an increase of $7.57, or 5.4 percent, in their total energy bill. Customers who use 762 kWh will see their bills increase by $6.44. Because residents living in Leisure Village, Leisure Glen and Leisure Knoll rely on electricity for everything, even cooking, their use of kilowatt-hours in the winter is projected to double and even triple the average 775 projected by PSEG, which would bring their increases to $15-$22.

The LIPA bill also includes a decoupling charge and delivery service adjustment fees, all implemented in 2016 giving LIPA permission to recoup revenue that fluctuates due to weather, green energy and labor agreements. The energy costs hit seniors the hardest.

At the protest, Anker, with full support of the residents as well as AARP, pushed for the PSEG board to revisit the rate increases and consider the impact the hikes have on the overall senior population.

“As you get older, you get more pains and aches and with [these bills], you just can’t make the house comfortable and affordable at the same time.”

—Mike Elkins

The legislator also called for New York State to create an independent utility consumer advocate — a special department that will provide oversight and accountability and possibly challenge heightened rates and fees. There are only 10 states in the country that don’t have this department, and New York is one of them.

She said California saved consumers $4 billion since establishing its own advocate agency.

“Having the consumer advocate would level the playing field between the consumer and the utility companies and we’d be in better shape,” Anker said. “The most important thing we can do is communicate.”

Anker said she hopes the message reaches PSEG Long Island, the New York Public Service Commission, the New York Department of Public Service and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who was speaking in Farmingville the same day calling for 30 miles of wind turbine farms in Montauk, as part of his initiative to have 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

“How dare Gov. Cuomo,” said Leonard. “We’re gonna pay for something vacationers will have when we can’t, at this moment, pay for our food, medication and keep warm? Something has to be done. We need a senior advocate on the Public Service Commission who’s going to speak for us. We are tired of these rate heights pushed on us.”

Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O'Brien, was named Administrator of the Year earlier this year. He is seen with assistant principal James Moeller, on left, during an award ceremony. File photo from Scott O'Brien

By Desirée Keegan

Walking into Rocky Point Middle School, you’re greeted with smiles and hellos everywhere you turn. The hallways are filled with Eagles pride, whether it’s the large painting of the school’s mascot on the wall or children’s classwork lining the hallways.

Students are laughing, working diligently in classrooms or holding raffles for clubs with good causes.

The Middle School was one of just five middle and high schools in New York to receive the 2016 Inviting Award from the International Alliance for Invitational Education.

The feat wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Principal Scott O’Brien, who was also named Administrator of the Year by the Council of Administrators and Supervisors.

Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien plays air hockey with a student inside the school’s recently-added recreation room. Photo by Desirée Keegan

O’Brien wanders about the hallways, as students smile, wave or greet him, he stops to help a student who is having trouble opening her locker. Rounding the corner he enters several classrooms to see how the teachers’ days are progressing, or to let the home economics teacher know he loved her homemade cookies.

Social studies teacher Dawn Callahan has noticed the improvements O’Brien has made first hand, being in the district for 21 years.

“It was a big change; a 150 percent turnaround of what we were experiencing,” she said, adding that she takes a lot of pride in what goes on in the district, because she grew up in Rocky Point. “Things used to be so close-minded years ago, and he made it that you had a voice. You could run ideas by him and he does the same back — you feel included in what’s going on in the building. I think all the positive change is a reflection of how hard everyone works together, and for the students.”

Because of O’Brien’s dedication to the district, and change in culture he’s created at the helm of the school, he and the rest of the staff at Rocky Point Middle School are Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

To O’Brien, 2016 was one of the most productive and exciting years to date.

“We had many new initiatives that yielded incredible results beyond our expectation and imagination,” he said. “Getting to a place where you can be recognized and acknowledged for that high-level atmosphere takes time. I don’t think it’s something that happens overnight and it certainly isn’t something that just has to do with me as a principal.”

As part of the inviting school application process, the staff learned about what they do well, while also learning what areas to improve. Over 60 educators from all around the world came to visit the school, talk to students and observe classrooms.

“It was a proud moment for me,” O’Brien said. “We took the things we needed to work on, and we starting working on them right away.”

A survey to students was created to see what they thought was missing. An overwhelming majority wanted different ways to occupy their free time. So O’Brien partnered with the Parent-Teacher Association to use Box Top funds and create a recreation room where the kids can play during lunchtime. Inside the rec room is a basketball shoot, pingpong table, foosball table, air hockey table, an old school video arcade system, a television with a Nintendo Wii and video games, a stereo system and bean bag chairs.

“It’s really been a big hit with our kids,” O’Brien said. “They love it.”

The school also hosts club fairs at various times throughout the year to show students that there’s no one-time signup. He said he’s seen marked improvement in enrollment.

“You can take anything to his desk, and he never puts a damper on any of your ideas. He’s the best thing to ever happen to this school. He came into our lives and we all benefited from it.”

— Kristen LaBianca

“This is the age where they’re learning who they are, and they start forming their identity here, so the more opportunities we give kids at the middle school age to participate in activities, the better the end result will be,” O’Brien said. “There’s been a noteworthy increase in student achievement and graduation rate, and I feel very proud to be a significant part of that. I feel that we have such a strong culture and climate for kids and parents and staff.”

English teacher Joseph Settepani, who was named a Teacher of the Year in 2016, runs the Natural Helpers club. The group raised more than $2,000 in November for its Dimes for Diabetes cause and is currently raising money for Dogs for Dylan, after a seventh-grade student lost his three dogs in a house fire.

“I’ve had many experiences in different school environments and this is an amazing building,” he said. “Everyone comes together as a team to do everything they can. These are very, very altruistic, caring kids. They feel they can’t do enough.”

Assistant Principal James Moeller added that other changes he and O’Brien made were mixing the grade levels during lunch.

“You’d think that was a great way to keep things separate so there would be less problems, but we integrated the grades, and we found the kids interacted more with others and there was less influence of clicks,” he said. “They sort of self police one another.”

Since the school doesn’t have a playground, being that the building shares space with the high school next door, it’s tough to have recess, but a system has been worked out where during warmer months, kids can go outside and run around. Moeller said the staff loves it as teachers have noticed when the kids can burn off some energy, they’re more focused during the rest of the school day.

Pride cards were also established as a part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Students are awarded pride cards when a faculty member sees someone displaying positive behavior, whether it be holding the door open for someone or picking up a classmate’s books after they’ve fallen on the floor.

This year, the Rocky Point Middle School was named a 2016 Inviting School, recognizing the building, one of five in New York, to for going above and beyond to display a positive and friendly learning environment for students. File photo from Scott O’Brien

“The idea behind it is to reward kids for doing the right thing, as opposed to being reactive and giving them a consequence when they make a mistake,” Moeller said.

Being a part of the school since it opened in 2002, Settepani, like Callahan, has also seen the changes O’Brien made for himself.

“It’s been an amazing transformation,” he said. “It’s evolved light years. We’re finally all on the same page. We speak about how fortunate we are to work in this type of environment — to feel supported, respected and validated. No one cares about taking credit for anything, and everyone just thinks about what they can do to help.”

Art teacher Kristen LaBianca, who has been in the district for 23 years, came over to the school the same time as O’Brien and said the positive atmosphere he has created isn’t confined within the school walls — it gets out in the community.

“Ideas are never turned away,” she said. “You can take anything to his desk, and he never puts a damper on any of your ideas. He’s the best thing to ever happen to this school. He came into our lives and we all benefited from it.”

Spanish teacher Bruce Wolper, who has been at the school for five years, said he’s enjoyed the changes during faculty meetings. He said O’Brien always starts with something positive, asking who has good news whether it be personal or in the classroom, and there’s always a laugh.

“I would walk through fire for him, and for Jim Moeller, too, who is just as good,” the 30-year teacher said. “They’re a great team. They play off each other fantastically.”

O’Brien thinks it’s a great age to feed into the kid’s self-esteem and is constantly seeing students come back wishing they were still a part of the school. Because of that, he takes tremendous pride in the work the school does.

Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien, standing in front of an Eagle Pride wall with students of the month, has been at the helm of the school for seven years. File photo from Scott O’Brien

“Other people brag about where they teach, but I feel like I really mean it,” he said, laughing. “I’ve always been able to get out of bed and say I love what I do, I can’t wait to go in and I look forward to another 20 years.”

While academic rigor and programs that challenge kids are also right up there, he said he thinks that without the right environment, the rest falls by the wayside. Although his plate may already seem full, the principal also teaches an administrative program at St. John’s University and The College of St. Rose, to instill these ideas in other future leaders.

“I know I made the right choice,” he said of choosing to become a special education teacher at the Frank J. Carasiti Elementary School 20 years ago, before becoming an assistant principal and principal at the building before making the move to the middle school. “I’ve had the opportunity to impact the lives of thousands of kids for the better and there’s nothing more meaningful than to hear from a parent years later telling me all I did for their children and appreciating the impact we’ve had on them. Not many jobs get to do that.”

He said that while garnering recognition and accolades is appreciated, he feels there’s something almost wrong with the notoriety, and said despite that, the school will continue work on improving.

“We have to challenge ourselves to do more — something bigger, something better — that drive needs to continue,” he said. “I’m so appreciative of the accolades but I feel that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. To get the recognition sometimes feels weird because this is how it’s supposed to be. And I don’t feel like my work is ever done.”

SBU program for retirees is unique on Long Island

File Photo

A substantial gift from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute will extend Stony Brook University’s ability to offer opportunities to individuals who are semi-retired or retired.

Originally founded at the university as The Round Table, the program was renamed after receiving an initial grant from the Osher Foundation in June 2007.

A program within the School of Professional Development, directed by Wayne Holo, OLLI is open to mature adults interested in expanding their intellectual horizons in a university setting. Volunteers — very often experts in the subjects they teach — teach peer-taught sessions, which carry no credits or prerequisites. Workshops are structured to offer an informal exchange of ideas among participants.

Osher Foundation President Mary Bitterman found the Stony Brook OLLI’s progress to be inspiring.

“Since making [the] initial grant, we have been impressed by [the program’s] exceptional progress,” she said. “We applaud the collective effort and achievement of its excellent staff and its dynamic community of intellectually vigorous members. We also salute the university’s leadership for its steadfast support of the Osher Institute and for embracing the concept that education is a lifelong pursuit that has the power to forge and enhance our connection to one another and to a larger world.”

Retired schoolteacher Bruce Stasiuk, of Setauket, is one of the more popular workshop leaders in the program and his philosophy may indicate why.

“The ingenious OLLI program is like going back to school without the pressures, or papers,” he said. “Here, required courses and tests went the way of Clearasil. OLLI is all about pursuing interests, keeping active, and continuing personal growth. It’s the purest form of education — it’s fun.”

Martin and Joyce Rubenstein of Port Jefferson Station would agree. Marty Rubenstein has been a participant for nearly two decades; Joyce Rubenstein almost as long. Both have taken classes, and Marty Rubenstein has taught quite a few, ranging from physics for poets to classes in his special passion, music appreciation, including history of the big band era and history of rock and roll.

“I started soon after retirement, about 1998,” Marty Rubenstein said. “It’s a well-run program and a good vehicle for people who are retired.” He added that one’s social network disappears when you no longer see the colleagues and friends you worked with daily.

It was still The Round Table, comprised of 300 members when Rubenstein joined, and he has watched the organization grow. He said he is hoping that the new funding will make it possible to improve the model, now that there are more than 1,000 members.

Joyce Rubenstein, a participant since 2000, says she likes the variety of classes offered.

“It’s nice because I don’t have to take academic courses unless I want to. You go in and you laugh. I enjoy it. I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she said, adding, “There are some extremely smart people there. You learn a lot just by listening.”

The Rubensteins shared their OLLI experiences with Bonnie and Norm Samuels of Setauket, who take classes, too.

“It’s great OLLI has received this endowment because the program has grown so much and so many people are now involved,” Bonnie Samuels said.

Norm Samuels is a newbie, taking classes for the first time this fall. He sad he is finding his DNA class stimulating.

“It opens your mind up to more in-depth examination of ideas,“ he said. “What I’ve learned about future uses of DNA — I think it’s going to shake us to our foundations! Being on campus, seeing the young people gives me vicarious pleasure. What I’d like to see is more integration between the young ones and us elders.”

Bonnie Samuels said opportunities of that sort do come up. OLLI members were recruited this semester to be audience members for a Talking Science class for undergraduate students. The goal was to listen and give feedback to young scientists to help them become clearer communicators when addressing nonscientists.

OLLI membership is open for an annual fee to all retired and semiretired individuals. The program currently offers more than 100 workshops per semester, and a variety of day trips. Avenues for participation include workshops, lectures, special events, committees and social activities. OLLI classes include topics in history, creative arts, science, literature and computer skills; fall classes included intermediate Latin, history of England, quantum weirdness, poetry out loud, senior legal matters and a virtual investing club.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes operate on the campuses of 119 institutions of higher education throughout the nation. Stony Brook’s OLLI program is the only such program on Long Island.

For more information, go to the Stony Brook University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute website or call 631-632-7063.

A rock, that sits in front of a home in Rocky Point and is believed to be a boulder deposited from glaciers thousands of years ago, is part of a Suffolk County spending controversy. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

The massive boulder that sits in front of the boarded-up house at 30 Sam’s Path in Rocky Point looms large in the childhood memories of Annie Donnelly, who grew up there. When she was 8 years old, the rock was the place to be in the neighborhood — the place local kids would gather for use as a clubhouse or a fort or even just to climb. Years later, teens would find the rock made a great place for a first kiss or a first swig of beer.

“It was the focal point for so many of us,” said Donnelly, who is now retired and living in Florida. “It was the go-to place for many of our first times in those days.”

The rock, which measures 50 feet long and 35 feet high, was even the site for Donnelly’s wedding reception in 1971.

The home which the rock sits in front of, at 30 Sams Path, was purchased last year for $107,000. Photo by Erin Dueñas
The home which the rock sits in front of, at 30 Sams Path, was purchased last year for $107,000. Photo by Erin Dueñas

“There was a dance floor built by my dad behind the rock and we decorated it with flowers from around town,” she said. “It was an enchanted wedding.”

With her fond memories, it comes as no surprise that Donnelly supports efforts spearheaded by Suffolk County legislator Sarah Anker to acquire the property and turn it into a “pocket park.” Donnelly recalled that her father never minded when kids played on the rock, even though it sat on his front lawn. “Any kid could use it,” she said. “We knew it belonged to the town and everyone in it.”

According to Anker, efforts to acquire the property where the rock sits began after campaigning in the area last year, and listening to neighbors who weren’t concerned with the rock, but more with the dilapidated, empty house behind it.

“Neighbors asked about doing something with the zombie home,” Anker said. “Revitalizing the property was the main objective of the initiative.”

Anker pointed out that she never submitted legislation for the county to purchase the property with tax dollars like it’s been reported — stressing that public funds would not be used to purchase it. She said she is in talks with several not-for-profit organizations including the Nature Conservancy and the Peconic Land Trust, who may have an interest in helping to purchase the property for public use. The house was purchased though, last year, for $107,000, and the current owner has signaled that he could be willing to sell.

While some like Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Smithtown) says it’s “preposterous” and “embarrassing” to buy a rock, community members and historical leaders view the piece of property differently.

“Rocky Point is very proud of this rock,” said Rocky Point Historical Society President Natalie Aurucci Stiefel. “It’s a natural wonder and the town takes pride in it.”

“Neighbors asked about doing something with the zombie home. Revitalizing the property was the main objective of the initiative.”

—Sarah Anker

She said that the rock is likely how Rocky Point got its name. Local legend contends that it was once a spot frequented by Native Americans in the area, lending it its nickname, Indian Rock. Stiefel said that like many of the rocks on the North Shore, the boulder was deposited from glaciers thousands of years ago.

Anker said that there are many benefits to revitalizing the spot, which as it stands now, depreciates the value of the entire community. She noted the historical and natural value of the rock, as well as value of remediating the blighted area.

“There’s also the educational value,” she said. “I imagine a child looking at that boulder from thousands of years ago in awe.”

Dot Farrell, of Sound Beach, said she passes the rock frequently and considers herself sensitive to the historical significance it plays in the town. But she has reservations about what the acquisition of the property could mean for the town.

“Pocket parks become drug hangouts,” she said. “We don’t need another one.”

She also questioned where the money would come from to maintain the property, even if the initial purchase was made without tax dollars.

“It’s going to need ongoing upkeep and there are so many other things to spend money on,” she said. “I prefer my town didn’t take on anymore obligations that they don’t need. I want my town to be as fiscally savvy as I try to be.”

Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe's Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn helps American Physical Society President Sam Aronson unveil the historic site plaque while American Physical Society chair member Paul Halpern looks on. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Tesla Science Center At Wardenclyffe, a lab of the former inventor Nikola Tesla, is the only one left of its kind, so it’s no surprise it’s historic.

To recognize this, a large crowd of local dignitaries and community members gathered in Shoreham Dec. 11 to witness the site be designated as a national historic physics site by the American Physical Society.

Back in 2013 a local not-for-profit known then as Friends of Science East Inc. raised over $1 million to purchase the property – Nikola Tesla’s last standing laboratory he conducted research in – when it was on the brink of being forgotten with the hopes of preserving its history. The site has since turned it into a hub for science education, “inspiring the Tesla’s of tomorrow.”

And while there’s still plenty of work to be done before the Science and Technology Center and Museum opens, the APS’s plaque presentation ceremony proved appreciation for Tesla is alive and well – due in large part to the determination of those in Shoreham to keep the legacy of the Serbian-born scientist and inventor of alternating current electricity and neon lighting energized.

“We wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

–Jane Alcorn

Members of the APS, the largest professional committee of physics in the U.S. that has deemed just 40 sites worthy of designation since 2004, presented the black stone plaque to Board of Directors President Jane Alcorn and Director Marc Alessi, because of the site’s commitment to raising awareness of Tesla and physics to Long Island and across the world.

Paul Halpern, a chair member with the society, said the site is of great value and interest in terms of history and science.

“There’s a lot of [renewed] interest in Tesla now, and we’re hoping this will help spur on the Tesla Science Center project to build a museum here,” Halpern said.

Speakers took to the podium in front of the historic brick building where Tesla built his laboratory in 1901 with the help of renowned architect Stanford White.

Unfortunately, his funders had given up on the project a few years later and a tower he was using to send wireless power across the world was demolished in 1917, leaving his grand vision to go unexplored.

But, as the plaque reads in gold lettering, “while long-distance wireless power transmission remains a dream, worldwide wireless communication was achieved within a century.”

Alcorn, who has been an especially instrumental force in saving the site, said she and the rest of the volunteers at the center are humbled to be listed among the other notable institutions and people who’ve received the prestigious recognition in the past.

“We work to educate the public about Tesla and his work,” Alcorn said. “We also work to educate the public about the importance of science education for children … so when we set out to create this place, we wanted to have a place where children could build upon their science education, enhance what they learn in school, and have an opportunity to explore and develop a curiosity of how the world works.”

Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding
Tescla Science Center at Wardenclyffe Director Marc Alessi speaks during the national historic site designation ceremony. Photo by Kevin Redding

In the future, the 16-acre campus plans to include a children’s playground, an entrepreneurial lab, an exhibit space and a gathering space for community events and programs.

Alessi said he and the center raised upwards of $1.37 million in 2012 in collaboration with internet cartoonist Matt Inman through an internet fundraising campaign that had the support of over 33,000 people in 108 countries. They obtained the property from the Agfa Corporation officially in May 2013.

“For quite some time, [Tesla] was almost forgotten,” Alessi said. “If it wasn’t for the work of many of the people here in this community and across the country we would have lost this location, historic lab and beautiful building behind us. With all of that hard work we’ve been able to secure the property and pay testament to the history of this property and Tesla’s legacy here by establishing the museum and science center.”

Alessi said the site belongs to the public and the center wants to open as soon as possible and will continue to fundraise. Just that day, he said he was informed somebody in attendance of the ceremony who wished to remain anonymous donated $5,000.

He said the center hopes to have two buildings up by early 2018 and intends to eventually have something to the scale of the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey or the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

Just before the official register was signed to seal the designation, Alessi called Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said the science center being developed is desperately needed in a nation that needs to focus more on science and fact.

“We are standing here – long after Tesla’s death in 1944, long after his emigration to this country in 1884 – to remind people that the power of ideas doesn’t die with the person who thought those ideas,” Romaine said. “We envision this to be one our best institutes.”

Ricardo and Eva Estevez with their children, Amelia Estevez Creedon and Ricardo Estevez Jr. Photo from Amelia Estevez Creedon

By Amelia Estevez Creedon

I am a Cuban-American woman born and raised in New York City. My parents have instilled in us a love for the United States and patriotic passion. We are also proud of our Cuban heritage and are affected by situations that arise in my parent’s native home.

My father came to the United States in 1960 after fleeing the Communist regime. My mother came to the United States in 1961. They met in the United States and married in 1971.

My father lived a prosperous life in Cuba.

He was a farmland owner and a veteran of the Cuban military. He also did many side jobs. One of his side jobs under the Batista government was to drive dignitaries to their desired destinations. My father loved Cuba. He loved the nightlife and  time with friends and family and was very proud to be Cuban.

My father was imprisoned. He remembers hearing men cry before they died in front of the firing squad. He was beaten, starved and tortured.

But when Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, everything changed. My father was imprisoned. He remembers hearing men cry before they died in front of the firing squad. He was beaten, starved and tortured. The soldiers would insult, humiliate and mutilate the prisoners. The men in the prison were not criminals, but people that were incarcerated for voicing their opinion, going to church, refusing to join government-run organizations and more. My father was able to escape from prison and Cuba and help other families come to the United States.

My mother lived with her parents and two sisters. They were poor and worked hard to make a living. My grandfather was a mailman. My grandmother washed clothes for neighborhood families. Despite their poverty, my mother has precious memories of her country. She remembers school being a place of great learning. She recalls the love that existed between neighbors. She remembers a childhood filled with dreams, play and joy. All that changed after Fidel Castro took power.

Castro established watch groups within communities to make sure that civilians were obeying the rules he had in place. Neighbors began turning in neighbors for playing television programs that were considered anti-revolutionary, or eating food that was meant for the soldiers, or for gathering for prayer, or expressing views that were different from that of the government.

My mother remembers the frequent assaults on her house. Soldiers would enter by force in the middle of the night. The rationale for this entry might have been that a neighbor had heard them speaking ill of the government, or that they had some item that was considered counterrevolutionary. One night, my mother’s family was told to remove their crucifix from the house and replace it with Fidel Castro’s picture. My grandfather refused and was taken prisoner. He was incarcerated in a dark enclosed space, alone, starved, beaten and humiliated.

My grandparents knew they had to leave the country.

My mother remembers the frequent assaults on her house. Soldiers would enter by force in the middle of the night.

They applied for a program through which they might gain permission to leave. This program consisted of the family working in an agricultural camp for two years. This did not ensure exit from the country but placed their name in a lottery. The family was separated within the camp and lived in barracks. Life in the camp consisted of working from dawn until dusk cutting sugar cane. The work was brutal. The workers were given raw horse meat to eat, had no work breaks and limited water. My mother remembers being taunted by the soldiers. They would spit at her, call her “gusano,” which means worm, and was a popular derogatory term used to describe anti-Communists. The barracks had bunk beds with no mattresses or pillows. The workers were housed in these cramped quarters and the outhouses were filthy and unkempt.

My dad passed away this past March. My grandparents died two years ago. They knew that the government was still oppressing many, as well as incarcerating political prisoners and dissidents on the island.

This type of oppression continues today. The inhumane treatment of many Cuban citizens is still occurring. My parents, as well as grandparents, became United States citizens shortly after arriving. When they first arrived they worked long hours cleaning floors, waiting on tables, basically doing whatever work was available. My father was able to learn different trades as time passed so that he could better provide for our needs. Neither of them was a stranger to hard work and they taught my brother and me to value it as well.

They came to love the United States as their home. They were, and my mother still is, fiercely proud to be United States citizens. They taught us to love our country but to always have hope that Cubans in Cuba might also one day be free. They always reminded us that anyone could be successful if they worked hard in the United States and that freedom was not free. Every year our family prayed that Cuba would be liberated from this dictatorship. For my father and grandparents, Castro’s death would have restored a glimmer of hope that despite the years of tyranny, things could change.

Unfortunately, my grandparents and father never saw this day. Fidel Castro’s death does not mean that communism is over or that the brutalities will cease. His brother, Raul rules similarly. Yet, Castro’s death gives many Cubans a hope for the future, a hope that one day democracy and freedom might come to Cuba.

Amelia Estevez Creedon lives in Sound Beach. She is an elementary school teacher at Riley Avenue Elementary School and a school librarian, the leader for a Webelos and Bear den for Cub Scout Pack 204 in Miller Place and a member of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

Americans lost on Pearl Harbor are honored during a previous remembrance in Port Jeff. File photo

By Rich Acritelli

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with terrible resolve.”

Japanese Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, the architect of the attacks on Pearl Harbor 75 years ago, supposedly uttered these words as he assessed the immediate aftermath of Dec. 7, 1941. Up until Japan attacked, most Americans still subscribed to the popular sentiment of remaining out of the conflict, inspired by the words of Charles Lindbergh — “America first.” The America First Committee openly resented any notion that the United States should prepare for war. Even the first peacetime draft conducted in 1940 that expanded the military forces received stiff anti-war congressional opposition. While German tanks easily invaded France and later pushed through the Soviet Union, officers like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton still saw the cavalry play a major role within the mobility of the Army. All of this changed when Japanese fighter planes swarmed into Hawaii and attacked the air, naval and Army bases that manned the “jewel” of our forces in the Pacific Ocean.

When word of the attack spread to Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Cordell Hull was in the midst of negotiating with his Japanese counterpart. After a couple of choice words for the diplomat, the nation was rapidly placed on track for war. Within seconds, Americans were on lines blocks long to enter the service. President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation with his “Day of Infamy” speech that was adopted as a rallying cry by American citizens to defeat the Axis powers. Unlike the political gridlock seen today, Roosevelt’s words were accepted without reservation, and supporters and opponents of the president’s New Deal listened to the beloved leader. The “sleeping giant” of productivity, strength and endurance was awakened to defeat a global enemy. Prominent baseball players like Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg and Yankee Manager Ralph Houk hung up their uniforms during the prime of their careers to support the war effort. By the end of 1942, the size of the U.S. armed forces had doubled from the previous year. The enthusiasm could be traced to a commitment to avenge Pearl Harbor and defeat Hitler and the Nazis.

Americans today do not realize how close the Allies came to losing the war. Although the U.S. government was fully committed to fighting and helping its allies, America had a steep learning curve in teaching its young men the ways of modern warfare. The Japanese crippled America’s naval forces and Hitler looked unstoppable in Europe, but Roosevelt promised armed forces would be fighting the enemy in the Pacific and in North Africa before the close of 1942.  Americans were drafted so quickly into the military that there were not enough uniforms, weapons, tanks or trucks for them to utilize for their training. Longtime Wading River resident Michael O’Shea, who passed away in 2009, was a navigator in a B-17 Flying Fortress and experienced the earliest aspects of the war efforts.

The New York City kid watched Yankee games and attended Stuyvesant High School. Like other young men, O’Shea was horrified by the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted to forgo his senior year to enter the military. His parents were adamant that he finish high school before enlisting. As a young recruit into the Army Air Force, O’Shea for a brief time was stationed in Atlantic City, N.J. He was not issued a uniform, did not have many knowledgeable instructors, and the lack of heat in the military housing made people sick. The local resident flew 24 combat missions and had the rare experience of being shot down twice over Europe. He was later imprisoned in Stalag Luft III, the same camp depicted in the film “The Great Escape.”  In the spring of 1945, Patton’s Third Army liberated O’Shea. He was present to see the noted armored general speak to all of the freed Americans. O’Shea was a good friend to Rocky Point High School, where he was a proud representative of the “Greatest Generation” and spoke about his crusade against totalitarian powers.

It was 75 years ago that America was propelled into a war it did not choose, but the people worked together and completely sacrificed for the safety and security of a thankful nation. Citizens like O’Shea, without hesitation, risked their lives for the well-being of the country. On this Pearl Harbor anniversary, may we never forget those men and women who were lost and wounded in the defense of this nation and continue to do so today at home and abroad.

Joseph Lalota of the Rocky Point History Honor Society contributed to this story.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

California-based Northern Imagination to contribute portion of Tesla statue sales to the Wardenclyffe site

Replicas of the Nikola Tesla statue in Silicon Valley were given to those who donated to the Kickstarter fund. A portion of the proceeds are being donated to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo by Terry Guyer

A love of science and invention has brought together two small startups from across the country.

Dorrian Porter learned of Nikola Tesla eight years ago, and said he was surprised by how under-recognized the inventor was. Porter, the creator of Northern Imagination — a California holding company formed in 2013 to support creative ideas, entrepreneurs and companies — had some interest in the Kickstarter platform, and decided to use it to educate others on the founder of alternating currents.

The Nikola Tesla statue funded by Northern Imagination through a Kickstarter campaign is constructed. Photo by Terry Guyer
The Nikola Tesla statue funded by Northern Imagination through a Kickstarter campaign is constructed. Photo by Terry Guyer

“Elementary school children should know about him just as they learn about [Thomas] Edison or [Alexander Graham] Bell,” he said. “Along with others in his time, Nikola Tesla worked on a range of theories and inventions that helped form the basis of our world today, including computers, x-rays, wireless communications and solar. Most people don’t realize that the transfer of power across any kind of distance over wires via alternating current is the direct work of Nikola Tesla.”

While he prepared for the project, he paid a visit to the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, where he met board president Jane Alcorn.

“Dorrian Porter heard what we were doing here and came to volunteer some time and visit us one weekend,” Alcorn said. “He was inspired by what we were doing.”

And he was motivated by how the organization was able to raise more than $1 million to purchase the property.

“He’s a Tesla fan and thought it was fascinating what we were able to do,” she said. “He wanted to be helpful, like many other people across the world.”

So in 2013, Porter raised $127,000 to build a statue of Tesla in Silicon Valley in California. The campaign lasted just 30 days, and was supported by more than 700 backers, with Alcorn being one of them. The figure was sculpted by Terry Guyer, and works as a free wifi spot, while also housing a time capsule scheduled to be opened January 7, 2043. The landlord of the property where the statue now stands, Harold Hohbach, agreed to put the statue there. Hohbach began his career in the 1940s as an electrical engineer at Westinghouse, a company that was a major beneficiary and benefactor of Tesla, according to Porter.

A gift for donating was a replica of the statue, showing Tesla holding a large light bulb.

Northern Imagination founder Dorrian Porter stands with the Nikola Tesla statue he crowdfunded to build, at its permanent place in Silicon Valley, California. Photo by Terry Guyer
Northern Imagination founder Dorrian Porter stands with the Nikola Tesla statue he crowdfunded to build, at its permanent place in Silicon Valley, California. Photo by Terry Guyer

“He could [generate] power wirelessly in 1895 — so we put the magnet in the mini-replica inside the light as a random idea that we thought would be nifty, and since magnetism and electricity go together, it seemed to fit,” Porter said. “It’s hard to imagine the last 100 years without power being transported from Niagara Falls, and every other power generating plant now, to other parts of the country.”

The company held a few hundred in stock for the last few years, selling them closer to the original price of $90, which was used to raise the funds for the project. To sell the rest of the line, he lowered the price, and decided he wanted to give back in support of Tesla, by donating $3 of each sale to the science center in Shoreham.

Porter said Northern Imagination anticipates donating around $2,000.

“I am an enthusiastic supporter for seeing a permanent place of recognition established for Nikola Tesla,” he said. “By showcasing the wide range of areas Tesla worked on 100 years ago, the center will without question spark the imagination of a young girl or boy, and take our world forward the next 100 years. I hope the Tesla Science Center can be a place of recognition for Tesla and his inventions, a gathering place for people and a spot for children to learn and experiment.”

Alcorn said no matter what the science center receives, she is happy to have Northern Imagination be a part of the science center’s network. She said she also received a matching time capsule that will be placed on the grounds.

“We’re pleased that people think of us and consider us in any kind of giving,” she said. “Whether it’s their time or money or skills or connections, all of that is helpful and it’s welcomed. We appreciate it.”

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