People of the Year

A view of the plans for the new emergency department. Photo from Huntington Hospital

Huntington Hospital has more than just its age to celebrate.

Because it has been serving the community for 99 years, working to fulfill its mission of providing high-quality health care to Long Islanders, the institution and its staff have been named Times Beacon Record Newspapers People of the Year.

Huntington Hospital has grown since its establishment in 1916.

“It has really transformed from being a community hospital to a community hospital that functions more like a university hospital,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. Michael Grosso said.

Grosso has worked there for 31 years. He said the hospital doesn’t simply treat patients but also helps educate medical students and residents alike, preparing them for any medical complications that may occur inside or outside hospital walls.

Patients go to the hospital for anything from minor health issues to robotic surgical procedures.

The latter treatment could involve, for example, a hysterectomy with a single incision that leads to minimal scaring, less pain, low blood loss and a faster recovery.

The SkyHealth team poses for a photo on the hospital’s new helipad established this past summer. Photo from Huntington Hospital
The SkyHealth team poses for a photo on the hospital’s new helipad established this past summer. Photo from Huntington Hospital

According to Executive Director Dr. Gerard Brogan, those complex procedures have “won the highest praise based on quality and clinical outcomes.”

In addition to that praise, the hospital has received several awards for its techniques, including one from the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association for stroke care, accreditations from the Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers and a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence award from the American College of Radiology.

Its nursing staff has been recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and Huntington Hospital was the first to receive such a designation three consecutive times.

“What makes Huntington so unique is its commitment to … provide the highest quality care possible anywhere, and to do it with the greatest caring,” Brogan said. “It’s not just enough to give great quality care. It also has to be quality caring.”

According to Grosso, prominent Huntington resident Cornelia Prime, who was already in her 70s, spearheaded the push to establish a hospital in the early 1900s. At the time, the closest facility was in Mineola. Prime wanted the local hospital to be a high-quality medical facility that would cater to the area’s growing population. In December 1914, she purchased the five-acre property on Park Avenue where the hospital still stands. She established the Huntington Hospital two years later.

The hospital joined the North Shore-LIJ Health System in 1994. Connecting with other facilities expanded the resources available to medical staff and patients.

It isn’t done growing. It’s expanding in 2016 to include a new emergency department to replace its current one and accommodate a recent increase in patients — the entire facility serves 50,000 patients annually.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said he is proud to be a part of the institution for the past 20 years, starting as a resident in training and now as the chief of otolaryngology.

“Huntington Hospital has placed such an emphasis on serving the community and providing support,” he said in a phone interview. “They offer superior medical care and continue to update based on the needs of the community.”

Grosso said the institution is unique because of its deep roots with Huntington.

“The hospital continues to build and expand to meet the needs of the community,” Grosso said. “[It] has an unusual real relationship with the community and one of the reasons … is because it’s been there for 100 years and … there isn’t [another] hospital next door.”

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Ed DiNunzio skydives for a Gift of Life fundraiser. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

Jumping out of a plane, mentoring younger people and planting flowers are all in a day’s work for Ed DiNunzio.

He’s officially the head of membership for the Port Jefferson Rotary but he has worn many more hats during his years with the service organization, filling in wherever he can to make his community a better place to live.

For selflessly dedicating his endless energy to serving his neighbors, DiNunzio is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

One of DiNunzio’s biggest roles is in the Gift of Life program, which started in Suffolk County 40 years ago — but has expanded through Rotary International — and provides lifesaving heart procedures to children around the globe. The Person of the Year has been involved since the beginning, Port Jefferson Rotary member Debbie Engelhardt said, using his skills as a lawyer to help it get organized and off the ground.

Suffolk Rotary clubs have most recently raised funds and brought a 4-year-old girl to Long Island from Kosovo, for a surgery to repair a nickel-sized hole in her heart called an atrial septal defect. Gift of Life also works to provide medical staff in other countries with equipment and training to perform such procedures, so children will not have to travel so far for treatment in the future.

Ed DiNunzio digs deep to beautify a camp for kids with disabilities. File photo by Dennis Brennan
Ed DiNunzio digs deep to beautify a camp for kids with disabilities. File photo by Dennis Brennan

DiNunzio has gone to extremes for the program. He once raised money for Gift of Life by skydiving.

“That was a great thing that he did personally,” fellow Rotarian Dennis Brennan said, noting the physical risk involved in jumping out of a plane for charity. “That was a large sacrifice on his part to do that.”

Each jumper in that fundraising effort was supposed to bring in $1,500 but DiNunzio collected $2,150 for Gift of Life.

“He’s true blue,” said Engelhardt, who is also the director of the Comsewogue Public Library.

“He’s got more energy than basically anybody I know.”

Skydiving isn’t the only way DiNunzio brings in funding for Rotary. Engelhardt said the club holds an annual raffle fundraiser in which each member is expected to sell at least 25 tickets, but “without fail, Ed sells over 200 every year.”

But it’s not just about the money — between attending to his family in Mount Sinai and his law practice in Port Jefferson, DiNunzio also gives his time.

He is heavily involved in the Rotary Youth Exchange program, through which students study abroad and stay with a host family. According to Engelhardt, DiNunzio has lent a hand on an organizational level for the Northeastern region for many years and has opened his home to exchange students from other areas.

Between those kids and others from the Northeast who had life-changing experiences overseas through the program, DiNunzio has made an impact on the lives of numerous young people. Engelhardt explained that a lot of them are now grown adults living all over the world, but whenever they are in the area they look up DiNunzio.

She said Rotary is about using your life to make the world a better place, and DiNunzio does that.

Ed DiNunzio, kneeling, gets painting in downtown Port Jefferson. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
Ed DiNunzio, kneeling, gets painting in downtown Port Jefferson. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

“Everybody’s part of something bigger,” Engelhardt said. “He’s not a child, but he’d be our poster child.”

Brennan described DiNunzio’s meticulous nature, which is obvious when the volunteer manages one of the Rotary’s bank accounts.

“He watches it like a hawk,” Brennan said.

And he is meticulous about his physical fitness too. Brennan said DiNunzio brings an important strength to the Rotary: The club uses a heavy wooden sign when it collects food for donation, and “we depend on Ed” to bring it to the collections because he’s the only one who can lift it on his own.

Once at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, a Center Moriches camp for kids with disabilities where the Rotary does cleanups and beautification, a group was planting perennials by a flagpole but the ground was hard, making digging difficult.

“Old Ed, he just kept going at it,” Brennan said. “He never quit.”

Brennan refers to the Person of the Year as “Mr. Rotary” because he has his hand in every program and gives his all.

“When he gets involved with something … he puts his whole self into it and the results are easy to see,” he said. “He’s a very caring person and I think that he’s demonstrated that.”

Lina Obeid is constantly working to improve her team of dedicated researchers with the hopes of curing complicated diseases. File photo

They have a sense of urgency that motivates those around them to push for better results. In fighting against diseases that kill millions of people every year, they are doing what they’ve done from the time they left their home country of Lebanon until they arrived at Stony Brook three years ago: They are supporting their colleagues, recruiting top talent from around the world and encouraging their staff to train and encourage the next generation of researchers.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center at Stony Brook, and Lina Obeid, the dean for research, continue to build a deep and talented team, adding researchers focused on curing diseases while also developing the next generation of Stony Brook scientists. The Port Times Record recognizes Hannun and Obeid as People of the Year for their day-to-day leadership, their discoveries in their labs, and their focus on the future of science at Stony Brook.

“In terms of what they are building at Stony Brook, their vision is to grow that Cancer Center into a NCI-designated Cancer Center,” said Gerard Blobe, a professor and research director at the Division of Medical Oncology at Duke University Medical Center who earned his Ph.D. in Hannun’s lab more than 20 years ago. They want to make it a “force in clinical care and research and training. They have a mission up there and I have no doubt that they’ll accomplish it.”

Yusuf Hannun is constantly working to improve his team of dedicated researchers with the hopes of curing complicated diseases. File photo
Yusuf Hannun is constantly working to improve his team of dedicated researchers with the hopes of curing complicated diseases. File photo

Blobe said the National Cancer Institute designation is just the “icing on the cake” that enables the center to seek funding for some projects. What’s more important, he said, is “what they will accomplish by getting that prize,” in building and developing Stony Brook’s research abilities.

Scientists in the same field as Hannun were quick to praise his achievements and innovation.

Discoveries by Hannun about sphingolipids, which are molecules that are involved in a range of roles, including cell division, differentiation and cell death, provided key insights.

Hannun “pushed the field into the modern age,” said Tony Futerman, the Joseph Meyerhoff professorial chair of biochemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. “He’s been innovative for 30 years in the field.”

In her lab, Obeid, who is the dean for research and a professor at the Stony Brook School of Medicine, is exploring the role of enzymes that control molecules involved in cell growth and others that play a role in cell death or differentiation.

Futerman said Hannun and Obeid have been instrumental in the careers of many other scientists, developing talented and dedicated researchers who have also made significant contributions.

“They are excellent mentors of younger people,” he said. “There’s a whole school of former post docs who went on to get independent positions. This speaks to their mentorship. … They push young people into leadership positions.”

Those who have worked for Obeid and Hannun in the past suggested that they offered the kind of guidance, discipline and approach that was applicable in and outside the lab.

“Part of [Hannun’s] success is he’s very good at planning,” said Supriya Jayadev, who was a graduate student in Hannun’s lab at Duke and is now the executive director of Clallam Mosaic in Port Angeles, Washington. “He plans out an experiment such that it works the first time.”

Corinne Linardic, Hannun’s first graduate student, said, “I remember him saying, ‘It’s important not to look where the light is, but to try to look into the dark and turn the light on. … I thought that was very brave.”

Linardic, who is now an associate professor of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine, also said she felt fortunate to work with Obeid.

“It was extraordinary to have a female mentor as well,” Linardic said.

While they have come a long way from the beginning of their careers and their family, Hannun and Obeid have kept a consistent focus on the potential clinical benefits of their research.

“They get the translational aspects,” Futerman said. “When [Hannun] moved to Stony Brook to head the Cancer Center, that was one of the aims for his move, to be in a position where he can apply basic science to translational research.”

Futerman said Hannun and Obeid deserve recognition in the Long Island and scientific communities.

“They are considered leaders,” Futerman said. “They contribute a lot to the academic community.”

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Miles Borden is a major contributor to local history. File photo

By Miguel Bustamante

It isn’t easy to be more of a principal community participant in Kings Park than Miles Borden — even local history wouldn’t be quite the same without him, seeing as he literally wrote the book on it.

“Miles and Charlie [Reichert] are very similar,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). “They’re both very low-key, but they both [pull a lot of weight] and are able to get things done in the community.” Talking specifically of Borden, Trotta added, “He’s very well respected, just a great guy.”

Miles Borden is a major contributor to local history. File photo
Miles Borden is a major contributor to local history. File photo

Six generations of the Borden clan have called Kings Park their home, dating as far back as the 19th century, even boasting the founding of the Lucien Memorial United Methodist Church. Borden has, himself, dedicated his personal and professional life to the community he loves.

A graduate of Kings Park High School, Class of 1945, Borden, 88, continued his academic career by attaining collegiate degrees from Hofstra University, NYU and Oswego State where, in 1949, his mile relay team set a record time.

For his knowledge and efforts, Borden has been named a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Back in Long Island, Borden enjoyed a 34-year career in public education as a schoolteacher then, ultimately, as interim superintendent at the Amityville school district. Throughout his tenure as an educator, Borden found time to volunteer at the Kings Park Fire Department, an endeavor that lasted over 60 years, and ultimately he became president of the department.

Borden is also a consummate historian and a major contributor to local history. “He was afraid that the history of Kings Park was going to get washed away with the rain,” said his brother Noel Borden. “Everyone he talked to didn’t know a whole lot about the town because no one had taken the time to write anything about it.” This fear prompted Miles Borden to author five history books:

• “History of the Kings Park Fire Department”;

• “The First One Hundred Years (1892-1992): Lucien Memorial United Methodist Church”;

• “History of Kings Park in Words and Pictures”;

• “History of Our School District Community: Fort Salonga, Kings Park, San Remo”;

• “First One Hundred Years, Fire and Emergency Services: History of the Kings Park Fire Department and the Kings Park Fire District.”

“He’s made Kings Park history come alive,” said Gail Hessel, a member of Smithtown Historical Society. “People didn’t really think about Kings Park having a history. And he’s even inspired me to write a book. [Miles] is the kind of person that, if I was working on a book, he would encourage me by saying, ‘Good job.’”

Along with his involvement with the fire department, Borden has served on several other local boards, including Suffolk County Parks and Kings Park Heritage Museum, where he is one of the founding members.

Now Borden is looking to enjoy his post-retirement years with wife Leona. He has remained a consummate runner and even talks to the community’s youth of the importance of staying fit and active.

But don’t be surprised if you still see him hitting the pavement for an early morning jog.

Carolyn Emerson, left, leads a discussion at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. Photo by Dianne Trautmann

She is the librarian’s librarian and one of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library’s longest-serving employees.

Throughout her 30 years at the East Setauket library, reference librarian Carolyn Emerson, 61, can find almost anything, her colleagues said. But it’s her involvement with the library and caring attitude that’s made her an intricate part of the library and the community, and that is why Times Beacon Record Newspapers selected her as a Person of the Year in 2015.

Every other Wednesday, this soft-spoken librarian has organized the library’s senior bus program, which transports residents who would otherwise be unable to make it to the library. Although she didn’t start the program, Emerson took it over to help these seniors.

She also used her position at the library and her knowledge of Three Village history to organize and create programs like last year’s Culper Spy Day, which paid homage to the community’s ties to spy rings during the Revolutionary War.

On June 20, 2014, the library held its first Culper Spy Day program, in which residents could learn about the Revolutionary War, the Culper Spy Ring and its ties to Long Island. Three Village Historian Beverly Tyler, of the Three Village Historical Society, helped organize the event and said Emerson established a user-friendly site to spread the word about the spy ring throughout the community.

“She’s a very community-oriented [person] and easy to work with,” Tyler said. “She really makes the library a good common resource for more than just books and videos, but also history.”

Her efforts to inform the community stemmed from a desire to share her vast array of knowledge with others and help those in need, those close to her said. And her hard work is not only for the bigger programs, but also for little tasks that accompany her title as a reference librarian in Emma S. Clark’s adult section.

“Whenever anybody comes up to the reference desk, she just gives it 110 percent,” said co-worker Jennifer Mullen, the public relations manager and community outreach librarian. “She doesn’t stop looking until she finds it either, and everybody appreciates that. She digs deep.”

Mullen met Emerson a little more than 10 years ago. They worked side-by-side as reference librarians. Now, Mullen works alongside Teen Services Librarian Nanette Feder, who also commended Emerson for her insight on art, local history and literature, and dedication to her work and the community members she serves.

Emerson’s husband, Mark Rothenberg, said his wife comes from a line of people who share her tenacity and need to give back to their community. Emerson’s mother was recognized for her work following Hurricane Andrew, building homes for storm victims. Her father, a psychiatrist who ran a family clinic, counseled families in the Miami area. While her parents did their part to actively help those around them, they encouraged a young Carolyn Emerson and her siblings to be compassionate and stand up for themselves and their beliefs, Rothenberg said.

Emerson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. Despite the diagnosis, chemotherapy and surgery, Emerson remained resilient. She was cleared of cancer the following year and continued her work inside and outside the library.

“Many times, I’m in awe of her,” said Rothenberg, who works as the head of the Patchogue-Medford Library’s Celia M. Hastings Local History Room. “She’s been through a lot, including cancer.”

In addition to being a reference librarian, Emerson has also worked as a published poet. She has written poems in both English and French for publication. The librarian has also overseen poetry and book discussions at the library, which are a hit among residents, her coworkers said.

Mullen said Emerson acquired a large following for her evening book discussions and monthly poetry meetings. Her ability to listen appears to be one of Emerson’s many positive qualities that help further assist those who request her help.

While Feder didn’t pinpoint a specific moment illustrating Emerson’s character, she said, “It’s just how she works everyday at the library. She could be on a reference desk [or] helping a member of the library.”

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Vicki Rybak, far right, poses with the Rev. Patrick Riegger and Rotarians Sharon Brennan and Jackie Brown as Infant Jesus R.C. Church accepts a Rotary donation to its food pantry. File photo

By Rachel Siford

Vicki Rybak has been serving the Long Island community for more than a decade, known by her friends and coworkers as one of the busiest and most resourceful people they know.

As the director of social ministry and outreach for Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson, Rybak has gone above and beyond her job description. For that reason, she has been named a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“She is a last resort for a lot of people,” said Debbie Engelhardt, director of the Comsewogue Public Library and a Port Jefferson Rotary Club member.

The Rotary Club works closely with Rybak and the church. One of their biggest collaborations is on The Open Cupboard at the church, a food pantry for needy Long Islanders that the Rotary donates to. According to Engelhardt, one in eight on Long Island currently need help from food banks.

“Year-round she is involved in projects like this,” Engelhardt said about Rybak. “She tries to be everything that anyone needs, which can be exhausting. She is helping families from falling through the cracks and they are really fortunate to have someone who has the time and energy to be that person.”

Jim Fenton is one of the oldest volunteers at Infant Jesus and has worked with Rybak closely.

“Vicki is extremely resourceful when someone comes to her with a problem,” Fenton said. “She has all these phone numbers at her fingertips, and is very compassionate too.”

Fenton added that Rybak devotes time to applying for grants to keep the food pantries stocked and keep the equipment working — “all of her own initiative.”

“She goes above and beyond what is in her job description,” Fenton added. “There is nothing she won’t do.”

Sharon Brennan, another Rotary Club member, shared an anecdote of working with Rybak. Once, a couple went to her office crying because a fire had destroyed everything they owned.

Rotarian Jackie Brown, Vicki Rybak, St. Charles Hospital’s Marilyn Fabbricante, Rotarian Debbie Englehardt and backpack program sponsor Katharine Coen carry backpacks for donation. File photo
Rotarian Jackie Brown, Vicki Rybak, St. Charles Hospital’s Marilyn Fabbricante, Rotarian Debbie Englehardt and backpack program sponsor Katharine Coen carry backpacks for donation. File photo

“Vicki started making calls immediately, getting them stuff over the phone, getting Christmas presents for their children,” Brennan said. “She just goes into high gear and makes stuff happen.”

Rybak is involved in many different programs throughout the year, including the Adopt-A-Family program for the holiday season, through which volunteers purchase Christmas presents such as toys and clothes for families who do not have enough money to spend on those items themselves. That project gets a lot of residents and community groups involved, including the Interact Club at Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, right down the road from the church.

The Person of the Year also works on a back-to-school project, filling up 150 backpacks with school supplies — such as composition notebooks and pencils — for children at the start of the each new school year, with the help of community donations.

“Vicki somewhere, somehow finds a way to help them, no matter what they need,” Laszlo Girhiny, a church member, said about Rybak’s dedication to local people in need. “Hundreds of people have walked through her doors.”

If Rybak cannot help people herself, she connects them with other social service agencies so the job can get done.

“She has the right attitude and always treats the people she helps with dignity,” Brennan said. “She says everyone has been there one time in their life.”

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Frank Turano leads an interactive discussion delving into the history of Three Village. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Susan Risoli

Setauket resident Frank Turano delves deeply into local history. He uncovers compelling stories of everyday people and brings those tales to life for the rest of us to share.

For that reason, and for his ongoing service to the Three Village Historical Society as board member and past president, Turano is one of Times Beacon Record Newspapers’ People of the Year.

Beverly Tyler, the society’s historian, has known Turano since the early 1970s and described Turano’s leadership in unearthing details about Chicken Hill, the area of Route 25A around the current-day Setauket Methodist Church. It was once a thriving community of immigrants who helped each other make a new life in America. An exhibit about Chicken Hill is on display at the society’s headquarters in Setauket. Tyler said Turano, who is manager of the Chicken Hill project and curator of the exhibit, led the search for the community’s almost-forgotten past and wrote a successful funding proposal to create the exhibit.

“He’s there almost every single weekend, to give tours of the exhibit,” Tyler said.

He and Turano traveled in September to the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History, where the Chicken Hill exhibit received the association’s highest distinction, the Award of Merit.

Karen Martin, archivist for the Historical Society, said Turano leads the organization’s Rhodes Committee. At the group’s weekly meetings in the Emma Clark Public Library, Martin said, Turano facilitates the group’s far-ranging and free-wheeling conversations about the history of our area, and then mines the discussions for ideas to dig into.

“The big names, like the Ward Melvilles, make the headlines,” Martin said. “But Frank also wants to know about everyone who lived in a community, the everyday person, the guy who owned the general store.” If a historical topic comes up in a Rhodes committee meeting, Turano “wants to know all the details. He’ll say, ‘Who’s going to know about this? Let’s give them a call.’”

Turano also volunteers for the Society’s annual Candlelight House Tour every December, Martin said. He explains the history of houses on the tour, and in general “he loves to give presentations.”

Local resident Hub Edwards, who has worked with Turano on many history projects, said, “If people want to know history, they should listen to him. He goes to great lengths to get the true story of a project, with no shortcuts.”

Edwards said Turano is always featured in the Historical Society’s annual “Spirits” tour of local graveyards, dressed as one of the historical figures highlighted by the tour. Turano also frequently writes scripts for the tour’s performances.

Turano’s daughter Alyssa said her father is now combing through the archives of the Long Island Museum. He’s working on an exploration of the Long Island whaleship-building industry, she said, “focusing on Mr. Cooper, one specific whaleship builder who lived in the 1800s.” Turano is finding out about Cooper’s life by reading his diaries and looking over ship construction work logs. Alyssa said her father has been excitedly sharing stories with her and his friends, about the buried gems of history he is finding.

“Not everyone appreciates history in the way that he does,” she said. “It’s very inspiring. When you are so passionate about history, you can make it come alive again.”

Her father is committed to finding out as much as he can about local history, she said, because he believes strongly that “not all of these people have had their stories told.” And he has told her that “it’s better to know the back story, so you can know how your community has changed throughout time.”

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Chris Pinkenburg, far right, poses with some members of his Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team. Photo from Pinkenburg

By Rachel Siford

Chris Pinkenburg has been trying to get Rocky Point students more interested in math and science. So he created his own robotics club called GearHeadz to do so. Because of this, he has been named a 2015 Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Pinkenburg, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, was inspired to create his own robotics club in the Rocky Point school district after attending an educational symposium at BNL. He thought this was the perfect way to get more students involved in engineering. GearHeadz is a privately run FIRST LEGO League team from Rocky Point.

“For years, he was the one who was very vocal about how having robotics in the school is important,” said Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association. “Encouraging science and technology is very important for kids.”

Pinkenburg has three children in the Rocky Point school district, all of whom have participated in his robotics club at one point.

Above, the Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team demonstrates one of their projects. Photo from Chris Pinkenburg
Above, the Rocky Point robotics GearHeadz team demonstrates one of their projects. Photo from Chris Pinkenburg

“He is very passionate about education,” Wlodek Guryn, Pinkenburg’s colleague at BNL, said. “He wants children to learn as much as possible in school and give them as many opportunities as possible, which is also why he got involved in the robotics club.”

Pinkenburg started to prod his school district to implement a robotics club into the schools. He eventually formed his own private team that won first place in programming in the qualifiers the first time they competed. After this, a club was introduced to Rocky Point Middle School with Pinkenburg leading it as a mentor. They competed in a worldwide competition in St. Louis, Missouri.

According to Rocky Point Middle School Principal Scott O’Brien, the school was involved with a program associated with BNL that focused on math and science. There were multiple sections of the program, one of which was robotics.

“I had put out a survey looking for feedback about the program and the kids noted that the robotics section was their favorite part, and said they benefited the most from it,” O’Brien said. “We knew we needed to expand it, and, at the same time, Pinkenburg was there and created this club. A lot of kids are very highly interested in robotics. Over 100 students came to the first meeting.”

Each year, teams are presented with a new challenge and must try to develop a solution using robotics. This year’s theme is Trash Trek, which prompts them to explore the world of trash and invent a solution to help minimize trash issues. They must also build and program a LEGO robot to accomplish trash-themed missions on a playing field and show how well they work together as a team.

“The team has been very successful,” Ruberto said. “They won last year’s Long Island Championship and went on to compete in the North American Open Championships against 75 other national and international champions in California.”

As a physicist at BNL, Pinkenburg has been passionate about programming and simulations. One part of robotics is to build the robot itself, which is more engineering-based, but the other big part, which is Pinkenburg’s specialty, requires computing, which helps in programming the robot so it does exactly what it is meant  to do.

“He is very pleasant and passionate, and works very hard on computing aspects and simulations of his work,” Guryn said. “He is very dedicated. Physics requires a lot of passion and dedication and he has a lot of both.”

Pinkenburg’s efforts are being spread to the high school, as he starts his FIRST Tech Challenge team, a higher-level team, to continue to spread his love for computing and physics.

Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan

By Carolann Ryan

Fashions in Flowers has been on the cutting edge of floral design for the past 60 years, and this Northport business shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Current owner Debi Triola serves the community well, providing flowers from around the world for any occasion while also giving back to the village that supports her as much as possible. For this reason, she is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

Debi Triola of Fashions in Flowers smiles with a floral arrangement. Photo from Triola
Debi Triola of Fashions in Flowers smiles with a floral arrangement. Photo from Triola

Triola, a lifelong Northport resident, has been the owner of Fashions in Flowers on Fort Salonga Road for 11 years, although the shop has been running since 1955. Among the many hats she’s worn over the years, she is the current director of the Northport Chamber of Commerce.

“I am definitely lucky to live here,” Triola said.

Barbara Sorelle, a colleague of Triola’s at the Northport Chamber of Commerce who works for Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk, said Northport is just as lucky to have Triola.

“Debi is a wonderful, caring person and gives so much to our community,” Sorelle said in a phone interview. “As members of the board of trustees of the Northport Chamber of Commerce, it has been a pleasure to work with her over the years.”

It is about more than selling flowers for this local business, according to Triola. She said she always keeps the shop busy by getting involved in Northport events as much as possible.

“Part of the job as a small business is to help the community,” Triola said. “It is a given, giving back.”

Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan
Bouquet-displays are for sale inside Fashions in Flowers. Photo by Carolann Ryan

And give back she does. From something as small as donating flowers for school district functions, like Northport High School’s Relay for Life, to helping organize events such as the Northport Farmers’ Market and Tuesday Family Fun Nights in the village, Fashions in Flowers makes sure to leave their mark at many community gatherings. The business has worked with local organizations like the Cow Harbor Warriors, The Northport American Legion Post 694 and the Visiting Nurse Service & Hospice of Suffolk.

“Debi Triola is so generous to our community,” said Susan Modelewski, a cancer survivor involved with organizing the Northport Relay for Life event. “For years, Debi has donated corsages to the survivors who attend Northport’s Relay for Life survivor reception and she is also a contributor to [the] St. Charles Hospital Auxiliary Northport Chapter. Debi is one of the many reasons why Northport is such a great place to live.”

Fashions in Flowers also supports local artisans, such as the Northport Candle Kitchen, by selling their products at the shop.

With the holiday season quickly approaching, Fashions in Flowers has worked hard to spread holiday cheer. Recently, the staff volunteered to decorate the intensive care unit of Huntington Hospital and participated in Northport’s annual tree-lighting ceremony, which includes the annual leg lamp-lighting at Northport Hardware Co. and a visit from Santa himself.

“That is what I love about Northport,” Triola said, when asked why she cares so much about her hometown. “We are a tight-knit community here. We all help each other, whatever we can do.”

By Victoria Espinoza

What started out as a high school camp counselor job has turned into a career of giving back to Huntington Town for Gail Lamberta.

Lamberta, 62, is an associate dean at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, as well as a professor and coordinator of experiential learning. She’s a native Huntington resident, born in Huntington Hospital and graduated from Walt Whitman High School in 1971. “I’m proud to be a wildcat,” she said in a phone interview.

Gail Lamberta poses at National Grid for a Leadership Huntington event. Photo from Lamberta
Gail Lamberta poses at National Grid for a Leadership Huntington event. Photo from Lamberta

Lamberta is involved with more than half a dozen organizations throughout Long Island, and people who know her, marvel at her ability to be in 10 places at once, and her commitment to Huntington.

It is for this reason she is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.

“Gale is 100 percent devoted to the town, there is no doubt about it,” Rob Scheiner, chair of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce said. “She is such a dedicated individual. She’ll do whatever we ask of her. Anytime we need a volunteer for a project, she’s there.”

Lamberta is on the board of directors at the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, where she works frequently with Scheiner to organize events to provide education opportunities for the residents of Huntington.

She has been able to use her extensive network at St. Joseph’s to provide quality educators for training programs organized by the Chamber of Commerce, including events like the business leadership competition for local high school students.

Lamberta has hosted this conference for the past three years, which takes place at St. Joseph’s in early December and has been running for 13 years.

About 350 students participated in the most recent competition, which asks students to present plans about retail markets, graphic design, hospitality and more, regarding scenarios the chamber gives to the students in advance. Students are also tested on their interview skills, and are offered tours of the campus as well as job workshops.

“The kids are amazing,” Lamberta said. “To see them pull together and create top-notch presentations is one of my favorite parts of being involved with the chamber. It’s refreshing to see that caliber at the high school level.”

Gail Lamberta sits in a dunk tank at an ALS Ride for Life fundraiser. Photo from Lamberta
Gail Lamberta sits in a dunk tank at an ALS Ride for Life fundraiser. Photo from Lamberta

Melissa Kuehnle, director of communications and external relations at St. Joseph’s, said Lamberta is an asset to have for any project.

“She is a very good person to work with, because she knows so many people throughout the community,” Kuehnle. “She’s a doer and a hard worker. She’s always got her hands on something.”

She also works with LaunchPad Huntington and Huntington Business Incubator to provide free courses that teach members of the community skills on organization, leadership, basic computer skills, creating a business plan and more.

“She’s heavily entrenched in the local economy and local education,” Phil Rugile, director of LaunchPad Huntington, said of Lamberta. “She is very good at bringing the educational world to a local level.”

To further improve Huntington, Lamberta is also involved with Leadership Huntington, an organization that identifies the current needs and challenges facing Huntington. Lamberta is currently involved in Flagship Program, which takes place over nine months and helps all members develop an in-depth understanding of the community, history and art of the town.

Lamberta gives her time to numerous other organizations across Long Island, including volunteering for Ride for Life, as president of the Long Island Leisure Services Association, and as a board member of the Youth Council of the Suffolk County Workforce Development Board.

When asked why she started getting so involved in Huntington years ago, she said she wanted to help make her town better.

“I wanted to give [Huntington] my best,” she said. “I love everything about Huntington — what it has to offer in terms of parks, quality of medical care and the support within the township.”

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