Times of Middle Country

Jim Ward, MCPL librarian, Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, library director, county Legislator Tom Muratore and Kevin MacLeod, DeLorean owner, in front of one of the cars used in the movie 'Back to the Future.' Photo from Middle Country Public Library

The Middle Country Public Library will go ‘Back to the Future’ in style Tuesday, July 24 as part of its Under the Stars program. The library will host one of the original DeLorean time machines used on the set of the 1985 hit film. Kevin MacLeod, who owns and maintains the DeLorean, will greet attendees as the character Doc Brown from the movie and share original blueprints and other special items used in the movie.

This program is free and open to the public. Bring lawn chairs and meet in the library parking lot. Showtime is 8 p.m. Support for MCPL Under the Stars is sponsored by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma).

For information about upcoming MCPL Under the Stars events, call 631-585-9393, or go online at www.mcplibrary.org.

Concerned residents fill a room at the Hilton Garden Inn Stony Brook to hear about the discovery of a cancer cluster on Long Island. Photo by Anthony Frasca

By Anthony Frasca

Brad Hutton, the deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Public Health, delivered sobering news to a standing-room-only crowd at the Hilton Garden Inn Stony Brook July 17.

At a public hearing, Hutton told concerned residents that the New York State Cancer Registry had identified three local communities with significantly elevated cancer rates for four common cancers. The affected communities include Centereach, Farmingville and Selden.

“Two of my son’s friends have cancer. One has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and one has a sarcoma.”

— Cindy Faicco

The four cancer types that were discovered to be well above the state average include lung, bladder, thyroid and leukemia. The cancer registry statistics disclosed that the rates of these cancers above the state averages were: thyroid, 43 percent; bladder, 50 percent; lung, 56 percent; and leukemia, 64 percent.

Concerned Centereach residents Cindy and Dennis Faicco had questions about how the state would handle such a discovery.

“I want to know how much they are going to reveal,” Dennis Faicco said. “I’m curious if this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Two of my son’s friends have cancer,” Cindy Faicco said. “One has acute lymphoblastic leukemia and one has a sarcoma.” She also said that there were other children in the area who had developed cancers.

The cancer registry has had gold-level certification since 1998, according to Hutton. New York State laws mandate cancer reporting, and this contributes to the accumulation of data; and with statistical analysis, it allows the state to identify areas of concern throughout the state.

Currently there are four areas throughout New York State that are being investigated for cancer clusters. Staten Island is being investigated because it has the highest incidence of cancer rates of the five New York City boroughs. East Buffalo and western Cheektowaga in Erie County are being studied for a high incidence of six forms of cancer, and Warren County has the highest incidence rate for all forms of cancer.

In addition to educating the audience about various causes and types of cancer, Hutton outlined a detailed plan for the upcoming state investigation.

“Simply living in a highlighted area does not mean a person is more likely to get cancer,” Hutton said, referencing a map of the three Long Island communities.

“Simply living in a highlighted area does not mean a person is more likely to get cancer.”

— Brad Hutton

The timetable for the upcoming investigation included identifying study areas, releasing cancer mapping, getting input from community members and finalizing study questions. Hutton outlined a one-year timetable to complete the investigations and recommendations, and results will be shared with the community at another public hearing by the end of 2018.

A number of residents shared personal stories of cancer and expressed concern about numerous potential sources of contamination, especially drinking water. Hutton assured the audience that the Office of Public Health would be responsive to the community’s input and would explore the issue in depth. He said that the community input would be helpful in focusing the state investigation.

Contaminated drinking water, radiation from towers, nitrates, emerging chemicals and pesticides, radium, high-tension wires and industrialization of the entire island were all highlighted issues identified by audience members in a question and answer session.

“We can’t be drinking radium,” one resident said. “That’s an emergency as far as I’m concerned.”

Ken from Centereach was concerned about high-tension utility wires and petroleum pipes feeding holding tanks. He said he had been diagnosed with a rare intestinal cancer and that his 32-year-old daughter developed a rare sarcoma.

“Here we sit with a zebra and a unicorn-type cancer,” he said. “Do you look at those in your studies?”

Joseph from Babylon told of developing a rare bladder cancer and implicated overchlorination of the water supply in addition to overindustrialization.

“As far as I’m concerned this island is done,” he said. “I can’t wait to move off this island. There is something very horribly wrong here. You can stop everything you’re doing right now, and this island will be done for a hundred years.”

The Faiccos were curious why there was little mention of childhood cancers, yet they were hopeful.

“He didn’t have any answers but we’re going to come back and hope he has some in December,” Cindy Faicco said.

Eric Williams, 27, of Centereach, was found dead in an Oakdale home. Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

Suffolk County police found Eric Williams, 27, dead inside a house on Vanderbilt Boulevard in Oakdale July 16.

According to SCPD 6th squad detectives, Williams’ parents reported him missing July 14. He left his Centereach home, located on Jonas Boulevard, July 13 at 5 p.m. in a 2011 gray Ford Ranger.

The death does not appear suspicious, according to SCPD.

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

By Melissa Arnold

Artie Weingartner

For as long as Artie Weingartner has taken photos, his focus has always been on others.

Weingartner, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has faithfully chronicled the work of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and is the official photographer for the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

Now, for the month of July, the focus is on him as Sachem Public Library presents an exhibit featuring a wide array of Weingartner’s photos in a collection titled Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma.

It’s an odd feeling for 58-year-old Weingartner, who admits it took a serious push from friends and loved ones to move forward with the exhibit. But nothing makes him happier than bringing joy to the people who see his photos.

“I like seeing people’s reactions to pictures and hearing their feedback — it really makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it more. I love the rush of satisfaction that comes with it. I guess you could say I’m addicted to it,” he laughed.

Lake Ronkonkoma on a fall day

While photography has piqued his interest for decades, it took a long time for Weingartner to really find his niche. His father bought him his first camera, a simple Kodak, when he was just 9 years old. But he admitted feeling frustrated over the process of shooting a roll of film, waiting to have it developed, and then discovering that many of the photos were duds. “I didn’t have the patience for [traditional photography],” he said. “Not being able to see what the result was right away was hard for me.”

When digital photography emerged in the early 2000s, Weingartner was thrilled. Finally, he had the instant gratification of seeing each photo, with no wasted film and the option to delete ones he didn’t like with the push of a button. His love for photography was rekindled, and he hasn’t looked back. 

He began casually taking photos of his kids’ sports matches, plays and concerts. Word spread quickly about his natural talent. “Parents stopped bringing their cameras around and my pictures were used more and more. It became a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Weingartner said.

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

Now that his children are grown, the photographer is focusing more on chronicling the history of Lake Ronkonkoma. On a frigid day in January of 2016, he was invited by Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society member Matt Balkam to photograph the historic Fitz-Greene Hallock Homestead on Pond Road. The 14-room home was built in 1888 and contains all of the original furnishings of the Hallock family. In 2006, the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society took over the care of the home, and it is now the only historic home in the community that remains open for tours and other public programming.

That experience would lead Weingartner to become regularly involved with the historical society and the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

In 2016, News12 contacted Evelyn Vollgraff, the president of the historical society, about filming in the area for a show covering historic places on Long Island. When reporter Danielle Campbell arrived at Long Island’s largest freshwater lake with Vollgraff, she was horrified to see how neglected and filthy the body of water was.

Fog encompasses Lake Ronkonkoma

Campbell, Vollgraff and several others put the word out on social media that they wanted to work on beautifying the area. The response was beyond anything Vollgraff anticipated. “We never asked for help. We just did it,” she recalled. “People got interested — legislators, councilmen. At the first meeting, 90 people were there asking what they could do and how they could help. The community came together in an amazing way. We have joined together as groups of friends that wanted to help our community. But now many of them are a part of the historical society as well, and most importantly, they’re my friends.”

In early 2017, the group held its first cleanup of the lake. Weingartner was there that day, too. They have since removed more than 300 tons of trash from the lake, and turned an old bookstore destroyed by fire into the historic Larry’s Landing, a popular hangout named for the bookstore’s late owner, Larry Holzapfel.

“Artie showed up with a camera at one of the cleanups and just started taking pictures — that’s just who he is,” Vollgraff said. “You have to record history. I can’t save every house in Ronkonkoma, but with Artie taking pictures, the history lives on forever.”

The community has also expressed its gratitude for Artie’s work through Facebook, where he frequently posts his photos on the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and Sachem Sports pages.

“People were coming out of the woodwork from Florida or South Carolina who lived there 30 years ago to say how much it meant to them to see pictures of the place they grew up,” Weingartner said. “When I first moved to Long Island from Queens in 1970, we used to swim in the lake, but over a few years it got so dirty that we didn’t swim there anymore. Before that, people used to come out from Manhattan just to spend time at the lake. It’s always been an important, historic part of this community.”

While the exhibit is named Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma, Weingartner said it encompasses a range of subjects, including sports and landscapes from other parts of Long Island, including Port Jefferson and Belle Terre. More than 75 framed 8-by-10 prints are on display. His favorite photo features Lake Ronkonkoma at sunset, with two birds and sunlight streaming down to the shore. All the photos were taken with a Nikon D600.

The photography show also includes guest contributions from photographers Richard Cornell and Richard Yezdanian.“This exhibit will be interesting to people in our area because [the lake and other scenes] are literally in our backyard,” said Anne Marie Tognella who works in programming and public relations at Sachem Public Library. “It captures many of the scenes that we see and appreciate every day with natural and historic value.”

Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook will present Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma in its art gallery on the lower level through the month of July. Join them for an artist reception on Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 631-588-5024.

By Susan Perretti

In the end, my visit to the campaign kickoff for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in Smithtown June 28 was more about the words I never got to say than the few I did utter before I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t leave the premises at once.

Zeldin was not yet on the stage when a man in a suit told me I had to go. “Why?” I asked. He leaned in and spoke into my ear: “If you don’t go now you will be arrested.” Why? I asked again. Trespassing. Trespassing? Zeldin, my congressman, invited me, and I had registered. After finding my name on a list, a man had waved me into the Elks Lodge. Three like-minded friends didn’t even get in.

Susan Perretti

I went because there were some things I wanted to say to Zeldin. Not in a mean, accusing way. I try not to enter conversations them versus us, Republicans versus Democrats, right versus left. It doesn’t solve anyone’s problems.

As a reporter for a Long Island weekly, I often covered election campaigns. I’ve heard folks on both sides of the aisle verbally abuse their opponents. But at the Zeldin soirée, there was more vitriol and hate rhetoric than I’d ever encountered, on the job or as a private citizen. It got to me. I felt sick over it.

A monsignor was asking God to bless Zeldin, and he mentioned justice and welcoming the stranger. For a moment, I didn’t feel quite so alone. Compassion, unity, working for peace. As a Christian, I’d grown up hearing those words, and I’m still a believer. But when Sebastian Gorka took to the stage, there were rousing, Trump rally-like chants of “Build the Wall! Build the Wall!” And this was less than 20 miles from my home. I looked around the room, but the monsignor had cut out. I was on my own.

Gorka had the crowd in a near frenzy when I found myself shouting: “But we are all Americans.” To my surprise, a few people nodded in agreement. It was during Sean Spicer’s speech that I lost it. “Enough of the hate.” I yelled. “Enough is enough.” I went on in that vein for maybe a minute. Nearby Zeldin supporters told me to shut up. For a moment, remembering the way Trump had handled protesters, I worried I would be toppled. Then the man in the suit tapped me and said I had to get out. Pleading for an end to the demonizing would not be tolerated.

I never got to see Zeldin and ask him the questions I had come with. Questions about crying children being snatched from the arms of asylum-seeking parents. Another case of gun violence that day at a Maryland newspaper and our nation’s grotesquely lenient gun laws. I wanted to ask what will become of the poor, elderly and disabled, like my 90-year-old, Medicaid-dependent mother, if more social services programs get axed — or our water and air if the Environmental Protection Agency continues to be dismantled. But mostly I wanted to urge him to follow his heart, even if that means casting votes that might anger the president, the NRA and his other big-money donors.

I was going to say, “Mr. Zeldin, it’s not too late to be your own man,” but I didn’t have the chance.

One of the five men who escorted me out asked why I didn’t just go to Zeldin’s office. I told him I had, but that I was met by two police officers and a gruff aide who directed me to write my concerns on a prepared form. And, I told my escort, Zeldin doesn’t hold town hall meetings like his predecessors did. Questions are accepted ahead of time only and are carefully screened. They’ve never picked mine. More words I meant to say.

Congressman Zeldin’s campaign has been invited to write a reply.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Suffolk County Police Department Highway Patrol Bureau, assisted by the New York State Police, arrested seven people during an overnight sobriety checkpoint in the Port Jefferson Station area June 29-30.

Police officers conducted a sobriety checkpoint at the corner of Route 25A and Hallock Avenue in Port Jefferson Station. The checkpoint was conducted as part of ongoing July 4th holiday enforcement operations for the prevention of injuries and fatalities associated with driving while ability impaired by alcohol and drugs. A total of 603 vehicles went through the checkpoint.

The following people were charged with driving while intoxicated:

  • Michele Best, 40, of East Islip
  • Roger Piacentini, 55, of Coram
  • George Gallo, 49, of Rocky Point
  • Blanca Escobar-Avalos, 32, of Washington, D.C.
  • Christian Ramos, 21, of South Setauket

The following were charged with driving while ability impaired:

  • Tariq Rana, 27, of Coram
  • David Vargas, 53, of Hauppauge

The above individuals were scheduled to be arraigned at 1st District Court in Central Islip June 30.

By Amanda Perelli

The recognized valedictorians and salutatorians of the Middle Country school district were active community members who set a positive example for this year’s graduating class. The driven students excelled in and outside the classroom, engaging in several extracurriculars and college-level classes.

Centereach valedictorian Anthony Roman and salutatorian Olivia Zhu. Photos from Middle Country school district

Centereach High School 

Valedictorian Anthony Roman graduated with a 98.2 GPA and was recognized by the college board as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Scholar. He was enrolled in 14 AP classes at Centereach and four other college-level courses.

Roman was a member of several clubs and organizations within the district, including the Thespian Honor Society, Italian Honor Society, National Honor Society, the school newspaper and Science Olympiad team.

He is attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall to study mechanical engineering and computer science. 

Salutatorian Olivia Zhu, who graduated with 11 AP courses and two college-level courses under her belt, also earned the recognition of National AP Scholar with Distinction from the College Board.

A member of National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and Math and Science Olympiad teams, Zhu also made time for sports, competing as a member of the varsity tennis team since eighth grade. She served as captain and earned most valuable player nods from her coach the past two seasons.

She will be attending Cornell University to study computer science and engineering this fall.

Newfield valedictorian Photos from Middle Country school district

Newfield High School

Valedictorian Logan Ortiz graduated with an unweighted GPA of 98.7 and more than 40 college credits. He participated in student government, National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society and served as
captain of the Mock Trial team while also remaining president of the Video Club.

Ortiz was also busy serving as captain of the golf team.

He plans to attend Georgetown University next fall and study political science. He said he hopes to attend law school and has his eye on becoming a government official.

Salutatorian Diogo Martins finished his high school career with an unweighted GPA of 98 and more than 45 college credits.

During his four years at Newfield, Martins helped out with almost every fundraising event in the school and served in leadership roles in the Thespian Honor Society, World Languages Honor Society and National Honor Society.

Martins will attend Villanova University in the fall and intends to major in finance.

By Heidi Sutton

The 1,000-seat theater at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center was filled to capacity last Sunday night as the community came out in droves to celebrate the first screening of TBR News Media’s feature-length film, “One Life to Give.” And what a celebration it was.

“I have to say this exceeds our highest expectations. We are so thrilled,” said TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, scanning the packed house as she welcomed the audience to “what has been a year’s adventure.”

“I am privileged to be the publisher of six hometown papers, a website, a Facebook page and, now, executive producer of a movie,” she beamed.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief addresses the audience.

Dunaief set the stage for what would be a wonderful evening. “I’m inviting you now to leave behind politics and current affairs and come with me back in time more than two centuries to the earliest days of the beginning of our country — the start of the American Revolution.”

“We live in the cradle of history and I hope that when you leave tonight you will feel an immense pride in coming from this area,” she continued. “The people who lived here some 240 years ago were people just like us. They were looking to have a good life, they were looking to raise their children.” Instead, according to Dunaief, they found themselves occupied by the British under King George III for the longest period of time.

Filmed entirely on location on the North Shore in 16 days, the film tells the story of schoolteacher turned spy Nathan Hale and how his capture and ultimate death by hanging in 1776 at the age of 21 led to the development of an elaborate spy ring in Setauket — the Culper spies — in an effort to help Gen. George Washington win the Revolutionary War.

Scenes were shot on location at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket, the William Miller House in Miller Place, the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, Thompson House and Caroline Church of Brookhaven  in Setauket and East Beach in Port Jefferson with many local actors and extras, period costumes by Nan Guzzetta, props from “TURN” and a wonderful score by Mark Orton.

The film screening was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes documentary and was followed by a Q&A with Dunaief, producer and writer Michael Tessler and director and writer Benji Dunaief along with several key actors in the film — Dave Morrissey Jr. (Benjamin Tallmadge), Hans Paul Hendrickson (Nathan Hale), Jonathan Rabeno (John Chester) and David Gianopoulos (Gen. George Washington).

“It says quite a bit about our community that we could pack the Staller Center for a story that took place over two hundred years ago,” said Tessler, who grew up in Port Jefferson. “I hope everyone leaves the theater today thinking about these heroes — these ordinary residents of our community who went on to do some extraordinary things and made it so that we all have the luxury to sit here today and enjoy this show and the many freedoms that come with being an American.”

Director Benji Dunaief thanked the cast, crew and entire community for all their support. “In the beginning of this project I did not think we would be able to do a feature film, let alone a period piece. They say it takes a village, but I guess it actually takes three.”

From left, Jonathan Rabeno, David Gianopoulos, Hans Paul Hendrickson and Dave Morrissey Jr. field questions from the audience at the Q&A.

“Our cast … threw themselves 100 percent into trying to embody these characters, they learned as much as they could and were open to everything that was thrown at them — I’m blown away by this cast. They are just incredible,” he added.

“The positivity that was brought to the set every day made you really want to be in that environment,” said Rabeno, who said he was humbled to be there, and he was quick to thank all of the reenactors who helped the actors with their roles.

One of the more famous actors on the stage, Gianopoulos (“Air Force One”) was so impressed with the way the production was handled and often stopped by on his day off just to observe the camera shots. “I really enjoyed just watching and being an observer,” he said, adding “It was just such an honor [to be a part of the film] and to come back to Stony Brook and Setauket where I used to run around as a little kid and then to bring this story to life is just amazing.”

According to the director, the film has been making the rounds and was recently nominated for three awards at Emerson College’s prestigious Film Festival, the EVVY Awards, including Best Editing, Best Writing and Best Single Camera Direction and won for the last category. 

Reached after the screening, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said the film was the essence of a sense of place. “I thought it was spectacular. I thought that it was one of the highlights of all of the years that I have lived in this community.”

He continued, “It all came together with local people and local places talking about our local history that changed the world and the fact that it was on the Staller Stage here at a public university that was made possible by the heroics of the people who were in the film both as actors today and the people that they portrayed.”

For those who missed last Sunday’s screening, the film will be shown again at the Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore on July 18 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Filming for a sequel, tentatively titled “Traitor,” the story of John André who was a British Army officer hanged as a spy by the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, will begin in two weeks.

Special thanks to Gold Coast Bank, Holiday Inn Express, Island Federal Savings Bank and Stony Brook University for making the evening’s screening possible.

Photos by Heidi Sutton and Rita J. Egan

Centereach High School seniors leapt up from their seats and tossed their caps in a sea of confetti to celebrate the end of their commencement day ceremony June 24.

Even though rain had delayed the festivities, Centereach seniors couldn’t find reason not to smile as they walked across the field and onto the stage to accept their diplomas celebrating the completion of 12 years of hard work and dedication.

The Cougars’ class of 2018 valedictorian Anthony Roman and salutatorian Olivia Zhu bid farewell to their classmates after sharing stories and words of encouragement and triumph.

Newfield High School seniors may have had to make one last change in their schedules, but weren’t going to let a little rain dampen their mood when they took to the football field for their graduation day ceremony June 24.

Although postponed a day, parents came out in droves to cheer on the class of 2018, watching the seniors collect flowers and stop to pose for pictures after receiving their diplomas. Valedictorian Logan Ortiz and salutatorian Diogo Martins addressed the crowd for the final time as classmates.

Students also sang and showed off decorated caps before tossing them in the air in celebration of a milestone achievement.

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