Obituaries

Olness remembered as brilliant scientist, education advocate

John Olness with his wife Margaret. Photo from Richard Olness

He did what he loved, and was loved for it.

John William Olness, a nuclear physicist and a Long Island resident since 1961, died on Feb. 15 at the age of 85.

Olness is survived by his wife Margaret, their sons Robert, Richard, Frederick and Christopher and their daughter Kristin.

“He was a creative parent,” son Richard said in a phone interview. “I wouldn’t trade him for the world.”

Olness was born in 1929, in Saskatchewan, Canada, while his father was teaching at a junior college. The family returned to their farm in northern Minnesota when John was young, and that is where he grew up.

Olness received a doctorate in nuclear physics from Duke University in 1957 where he met Margaret. He moved to Long Island from Dayton, Ohio, in 1961, then he began his career at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1963 where he stayed until his retirement in 2000 after 37 years of service. John and Margaret married in 1958 and moved to Stony Brook in 1968.

John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness
John Olness poses for a photo with his family and family friends. Photo from Richard Olness

“He got to do what he wanted,” Margaret said in a phone interview. “He was one of the lucky people who loved what he did for a living. You can’t beat that.”

“John worked with many of the visiting scientists who came to BNL to use the facilities, including Sir Denys Wilkinson (Oxford University), D. Allan Bromley (Yale and, later, science adviser to President George H.W. Bush) and future Space Shuttle astronaut Joseph Allen,” son Robert said of his father’s time at BNL, in an email.

Margaret identified her husband’s passions as physics first and music second.

In his leisure time Olness was a Little League baseball coach; and a founding member and trombone player with the Memories of Swing, a big band that performed around Long Island. He also served as a vice president of the Three Village school board in 1975-76. Kristin said that his desire to be on the school board was in large part to fight for the budgets of the music, sports and arts programs that are seemingly always the first to go when money gets thin.

Olness loved baseball, tennis and basketball, and often spent hours on the phone discussing the Detroit Tigers baseball team with his father, who lived in Michigan. He also played football in high school and college, Margaret said.

Olness was a supportive father and husband, according to Margaret. Their children have gone on to enjoy rewarding careers in wide-ranging walks of life, thanks in no small part to that parental support.

Frederick is a professor and physics department chair at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas; Robert is a major in the Army Reserve, awaiting his next deployment; Kristin has just finished a year on Broadway in “Cabaret,” and was also a member of the cast in the show’s 1998 revival; Richard is an actuary for the Department of Defense; and Christopher is a professional trombonist on Broadway currently playing in “On the Town,” the hit musical comedy.

“Dad put emphasis on education, and he and Mom supported us in exploring the arts and recreational sports,” Richard said in an email. “And in the later years, he encouraged us each to find a career we would enjoy.”

A memorial service will be held for John Olness on Thursday, July 2, at Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Michael Cosel fought hard for people with disabilities, will be remembered as model of advocacy, generosity

By Alex Petroski

Michael Cosel is remembered as a staunch advocate for the community. File photo
Michael Cosel is remembered as a staunch advocate for the community. File photo

The North Shore’s own Michael Cosel will always be remembered as a relentless advocate for people with disabilities, according to those who knew him.

Cosel, a resident of Setauket for 44 years, died this week. He was 69 years old.

Cosel dedicated much of his life to improving the lives of others, his wife Ronne said.

“It forces me to reflect on those things and makes me realize just how deep and enduring his effect was on people and the community,” she said.

The couple was married for 48 years.

It is difficult to quantify just how many lives her husband touched, she said.

“He had a big heart and a generous spirit,” Ronne Cosel said. “We had a lot for ourselves so he had enough to share.”

In addition to his wife, Michael Cosel is survived by a daughter, Paige, and a son, Andrew. His mother, Claire, will turn 90 on Friday.

He leaves behind the Michael & Ronne Cosel Foundation, which was established in 2007 to fight for the rights of people with disabilities. The Cosels’ son Andrew, 43, has cerebral palsy.

Cosel was a coordinator for the Suffolk County Special Olympics. Because of those efforts, Andrew was the first student to attend Ward Melville High School with a service dog in the mid-1980s. Cosel also helped to set up a vocational program for students with disabilities to help them find work after high school. Andrew works at Stony Brook University Hospital today.

“We were a very big thorn in Three Village school district’s side,” Ronne said with a chuckle.

The North Shore native was also instrumental in helping to spark efforts to put in a pedestrian and bike path linking Port Jefferson to Wading River as well as the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, which eventually secured $2 million under a federal grant to finance the project linking the communities.

Cosel’s efforts in the community did not in any way impact his dedication to his family.

Daughter Paige mentioned Cosel’s humor and generosity as the traits that she would remember most.

“As a father and a grandfather he was playful and generous,” she said.

Ronne Cosel had similar memories of the family man.

“He always had time to have dinner with us,” she said.

Along with his advocacy efforts, Cosel was a custom builder of single-family homes. In his spare time he liked to travel, scuba dive, sail and ski. His wife said she shared nearly 400 dives with her late husband over the years.

“I would have probably stayed home,” she said. “He was an adventurer.”

Gene and Edna Gerrard are surrounded by their grown children — from left, Christine, Pam, Ann, Patricia and Paul — on their 50th wedding anniversary. Photo from Kerri Ellis

Edna Gerrard, a longtime resident with a knack for community service and a mind for business, died on May 16 at age 86.

A 57-year resident of Brookhaven Town and the wife of former town councilman Gene Gerrard, she died of complications related to esophageal cancer, her daughter Pam Ruschak said in an interview on Tuesday.

Edna Gerrard had lived in Mount Sinai, Port Jefferson and Middle Island with her husband, to whom she was married for 65 years. The couple raised five children together.

Gene and Edna Gerard were married for 65 years. Photo from Kerri Ellis
Gene and Edna Gerrard were married for 65 years. Photo from Kerri Ellis

The pair’s surname was perhaps most well-known through the printing shop they owned in Port Jefferson Station, St. Gerard Printing, where Edna worked until last year, when the Gerrard family sold the local business.

But “her big love was community service,” Ruschak said.

Gerrard had worked with many organizations throughout the area over the years. She was a past president of the Port Jefferson Station and Terryville chamber of commerce; a founding member and past president of the networking group Decision Women in Commerce and Professions; a former vice president of the Mount Sinai Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary; and a former Long Island Power Authority trustee.

Former LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel called Gerrard a “valuable asset to the board.”

“Soft-spoken but challenging, cared greatly for ratepayers and the environment,” Kessel said. “She’ll be missed.”

Ruschak said her mother found a way to raise a family and still be involved in her community, something that makes her proud.

“She was just a beautiful, dynamic, classy, graceful woman,” the daughter said.

In addition to husband Gene, daughter Pam and Pam’s husband, Richard Ruschak, Edna Gerrard is survived by her son, Paul Gerrard, and his wife, Pam; her daughter, Patricia Leffke, and husband Gary; her daughter, Ann Dunn, and husband John; her son-in-law, Edward McKenna; nine grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Her daughter, Christine McKenna, preceded her in death.

Moloney’s Port Jefferson Station Funeral Home handled arrangements and a Mass was held at St. Frances Cabrini R.C. Church in Coram on Wednesday.

“There will be tough shoes to fill,” Pam Ruschak said. “There will be a real void in this community.”

This version corrects the spelling of the Gerrard family name.

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James E. Dailey, 77, of Hauppauge, died on March 2. He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Navy.

James was the beloved husband of Clare; loving father of Donna (John) DeMaio and Richard Dailey; and adored grandfather of Michael, Danielle, Richard Jr. and Andrew.

Arrangements were entrusted to Branch Funeral Home of Smithtown. A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Thomas More R.C. Church in Hauppauge. Interment followed in Calverton National Cemetery.

An online guest book is available at www.branchfh.com.

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Robert D. Grancio, 70, of Ridge, formerly of Brooklyn, passed peacefully on Feb. 19. He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, having served in the Vietnam War.

Robert was the beloved husband of Rita; loving father of Gina (Greg) Soden; cherished grandfather of Emma and Will; and dear brother of Peter (Donna).

Arrangements were entrusted to Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place. A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Mark’s R.C. Church in Shoreham. Interment followed at Calverton National Cemetery.

An online guest book is available at www.branchfh.com.

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Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Louis Dionisi, 93, of Mountain Home, Ark., died on Feb. 28. His life was filled with love — for God, music, teaching, his country, his church and his growing family, whom he inspired through strength, integrity and Christian conviction.

Joe was born on Dec. 23, 1921, in Great Neck, to Andrew and Maria Dionisi. He joined the U.S. Air Force during World War II and served in communications, guiding military airplanes across the Atlantic Ocean. After leaving active duty, he continued to serve in the U.S. Air Force Reserves for many years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

After the war, Joe married Dorothy “Jane” Williamson and graduated from New York University with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, and began a long career in music education. Joe and Jane lived in Stony Brook, where they raised four children and were devoted members of Stony Brook Community Church. He taught in the Port Jefferson school district for 30 years as director of music, band director and coordinator of musical festivals.

In 1978, Joe and Jane retired to Hendersonville, N.C., where he was active at Etowah United Methodist Church as lay speaker, editor of the local and district newsletters, president of the men’s group and director of a brass ensemble and chorale. They moved to Midway, Ark., 12 years ago and joined First United Methodist Church in Mountain Home, where he continued his love of learning through Bible studies.

Joe was preceded in death by Jane, his wife of 60 years, and his brother, Charles. He is survived by two sons, Joseph (Debbie) and Michael (Devon); two daughters, Donna Smith and Patti (Bob) Budolfson; 10 grandchildren, Leah, Meg, Kerri, Brendan, Matthew, Manny, Christian, Brad, Brett and Brent; and five great-grandchildren, Cooper, Sophia, Isabelle, Mason and Cameron.

Arrangements were entrusted to Roller Funeral Home. A memorial service was held at the First United Methodist Church in Mountain Home. Interment was private.

Memorial contributions may be made to the music program or the building fund at First United Methodist Church, 605 West 6th Street, Mountain Home, AR 72653.

An online guest book is available at www.rollerfuneralhomes.com.

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Gloria H. Lauber, 67, of Smithtown, died on March 18.

She was a member of the Smithtown Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary.

She was the wife of the late Charles Jr.; beloved mother of Charles III, Sherry Lauber-Pannulla and Jeffrey; and the loving grandmother of two.

Arrangements were entrusted to Hawkins & Davis Funeral Home in Smithtown, where a funeral service was held. Entombment followed in Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale.

Her family requests donations in her name to Calvary Lutheran Church, 860 Townline Rd., Hauppauge, NY 11788 or the Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center Fund Inc., P.O. Box 765, Smithtown, NY 11787. An online guest book is available at www.hawkinsanddavisfh.com.

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Karl R. Svanberg, 71, of Wainscott, formerly of Smithtown, died on Feb. 10. He was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

Karl was the beloved father of Karl Jr. and Eric; loving brother of Lars; and dear grandfather of three.

Arrangements were entrusted to Hawkins & Davis Funeral Home in Smithtown, where a funeral service was held. Interment with full military honors followed in Calverton National Cemetery.

An online guest book is available at www.hawkinsanddavisfh.com.

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Beatrice A. Foray, 97, longtime resident of Smithtown, died on March 8.

She was the wife of the late Paul; beloved mother of Joan Svanberg and Eileen Foray; grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of four.

Arrangements were entrusted to Hawkins & Davis Funeral Home in Smithtown, where a funeral service was held. Interment followed in Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai.

An online guest book is available at www.hawkinsanddavisfh.com.

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Barbara Ann Koziuk, 57, of Lake Ronkonkoma, died on March 4. She was born on Dec. 30, 1957, in Rockville Centre, the daughter of John and Elsie Doyle.

Barbara was a bridal consultant at Bridal Suite. She enjoyed dancing, cooking and spending time with her family.

She is survived by her children, Christina (Steven) Erland, Nicole (Kevin) Winn, and Martin Koziuk Jr.; granddaughter, Ava Winn; brother, Michael (Phyllis) Doyle; and many other family members and friends.

Services were held at St. Joseph R.C. Church in Ronkonkoma and interment followed in Lake Ronkonkoma Cemetery.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket. An online guest book is available at www.bryantfh.com.

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