Times of Smithtown

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

Visitor’s entrance to the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Every dog has its day, and Town of Smithtown could be handing a juicy opportunity to any private organization looking to run its animal shelter.

Town officials are looking to potentially turn partial control of the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center over to a private company. One caveat, though, is board members warn they will only go through with the plan if it doesn’t cost more than the town already spends.

“In my opinion, if this were to go through, the organization would have to be animal experts or organizations that are expert in the care of animals,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “And it has to be financially feasible. If the RFP comes back and it would be in excess of what we pay now we wouldn’t support it.”

The town board voted 4-1 July 17 to put out a request for proposal for any private organization that is interested in assuming day-to-day operations of the shelter. 

“We’ve been discussing this for more than 18 months as a board,” Wehrheim said. “Prior to choosing the director, if that happens and we keep it, the board has had conversations for professional animal
organizations who would agree to come in and operate the animal shelter in a public-private partnership. This is strictly exploratory.”

The supervisor said that some groups have already shown interest. Under the proposed plan, current animal control officers employed by the town would remain in place. The town would continue to assume the maintenance of the property and building, as well as handling any animal control or capture programs. The incoming private organization would handle the day-to-day operations, including feeding, cleaning and fostering the cats and dogs. 

The shelter has not had a director since Sue Hansen was suspended by the town from the position in February 2017 after allegations surfaced of incompetence and mismanagement. Hansen has a pending lawsuit against the town for being arrested on allegations of criminal trespassing on the town property after her suspension. She had taken over the reins from George Beatty, who resigned in 2015, after a
scandal surfaced with claims of animal neglect and abuse. 

Supervision of the shelter has since fallen to the town’s Department of Public Safety headed by Director John Valentine. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said those public safety officers in the shelter would move back to the department office should this plan go into effect.

Wehrheim said they were looking for nonprofits already involved in animal care, but he did not rule out any for-profit organizations coming in.

Inzerillo, the liaison to the shelter, voted against the RFP, though she said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the concept. Instead, the councilwoman said she wished the town would have waited until after they finished upgrades to the shelter such as the construction of the new independent Trap, Neuter and Release building.

Smithtown has attained a $168,000 grant to build a new TNR building on the existing property. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project, and it expects to begin building in early 2019. 

“I would have preferred to have some more time to make an informed decision … or to potentially discuss the idea with experts first or in a work session with the board,” Inzerillo said. “I have the utmost faith in my fellow board members that they would not commit to anything concrete that would put these projects in jeopardy.”

The cast of ‘Pinkalicious The Musical’. Photo by Courtney Braun

By Heidi Sutton

Main Street in Smithtown was overrun by a sea of children dressed in their best pink attire last Saturday afternoon as they lined up to see the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ latest offering, the ever popular “Pinkalicious The Musical.”

The play, based on the first in a series of children’s books by sisters Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, tells the story of Pinkalicious Pinkerton, a little girl who loves to eat pink cupcakes and adores everything pink. “It’s a color like no other!” she exclaims.

One day, despite her parent’s warnings, Pinkalicious eats one too many of the sweet treat and wakes up the next morning with Pinkatitis — a condition that turns her pink from head to toe, giving a whole new meaning to “you are what you eat.” A visit to the doctor confirms the rare affliction that can only be cured with a healthy diet of green food. Will Pinkalicious follow the doctor’s orders or will she remain “a perfectly positive hue” of pink forever? Can one live on cupcakes alone?

Directed by Tommy Ranieri, the five-member teenage cast delivers a well-paced and entertaining performance with lots of audience participation. Allison Lane is terrific as Pinkalicious, playing the part with just the right amount of perkiness, and is quickly adored by the young audience members. Anthony Panarello, who clearly loves being on stage and in the spotlight, plays a delightful Mr. Pinkerton; and Brittany Hughes, as the cellphone-addicted Mrs. Pinkerton, shines. David Reyes plays the role of Peter, Pinkalicious’ annoying brother, with confidence; and Colleen Curry tackles the dual role of  Pinkalicious’ best friend Alison and Dr. Wink with ease.

As with any musical, the songs, composed by John Gregor, are the heart of the show. With wonderful costumes by Ronald Green III, standouts include “Cupcake Dream,” where Pinkalicious dreams her family and best friend are pink cupcakes, and “Buzz Off,” where Pinkalicious is mistaken for a pink flower by a bunch of bees.

The wonderful set by Tim Golebiewski, from a bedroom and kitchen to the doctor’s office, is just the frosting on the cupcake.

In the end, the moral of the story is that too much of a sweet thing is never good. You may not turn pink, but you’ll get sick, and, although green vegetables may not be your favorite food, they are good for you and you should eat them. Oh, and you can’t get sick from loving the color pink.

So grab the kiddies and take them to a performance of “Pinkalicious The Musical” — they’ll be tickled pink!

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Pinkalicious The Musical” on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. through Aug. 19. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Meet the entire cast in the lobby for photos and autographs after the show. Children’s theater continues with “Mary Poppins Jr.” from Sept. 15 to Oct. 28 and “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” from Nov. 17 to Dec. 30. All seats are $15. To order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

Connor Richardson. Photo from the Richardson family

A Smithtown father is looking to honor his young son’s memory by pledging to continue the battle against pediatric cancer in his name.

Wayne Richardson is pairing up with The Park Lounge in Kings Park to host the first Connor R. Richardson Forever One Pediatric Cancer Foundation Tournament July 22 from 1 to 5 p.m. The event — featuring a tournament of the outdoor beanbag toss game Cornhole — will be a tribute to Richardson’s late son, Connor, who died in January after a six-month battle with cancer.

“I promised him I’d cure this thing and it gives his life more meaning,” Richardson said.

“I promised him I’d cure this thing and it gives his life more meaning.”

— Wayne Richardson

Connor was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called aggressive teratoid rhabdoid tumor in August 2017, when he was only seven months old. Less than 10 percent of children with brain tumors have the same type of Connor’s diagnosis, according to St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in Memphis.

Richardson said his son and wife, Janida, spent months living at St. Jude’s while Connor was an inpatient. He underwent extensive chemotherapy treatment in hopes of defeating the cancer.

“I knew it was going to be difficult, but I was hoping it would at least be a couple of years,” his father said.

Richardson said he is grateful for how St. Jude’s staff treated his family while they were there, and keeps in touch with his son’s doctors. He recalled how for Connor’s first birthday in December 2017 his son received not one, but two birthday cakes from staff. Now, Richardson wants to pay his family’s kind treatment forward.

The Cornhole tournament at the July 22 fundraiser will cost $15 per player or $30 per team, all of which, along with gift basket raffles and all donations, will be donated directly to St. Jude’s, according to Richardson. A Kings Park High School alumnus, he’s had the support of The Park Lounge in helping put together the event.

“It all helps, it’s all bullets in the gun against cancer.”

— Wayne Richardson

“He’s a Kings Parker and he hangs out here” said Michele Cocco, an employee of The Park Lounge.

Richardson said the event will also be used to kick start the Connor R. Richardson Forever One Pediatric Cancer Foundation, with which he hopes to raise money to provide continuous support for St. Jude’s and help research ways to fight pediatric cancer.

Since Connor’s death, Richardson said he’s been learning about another former of pediatric brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which affects the brain stem. On average, less than 10 percent of children diagnosed with DIPG survive for two years, according to Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation, a nonprofit committed to finding a cure for the disease. Richardson, a retired New York City police officer, said he hopes to one day work with computer programmers to help track DIPG and other pediatric cancers in order to pin down the causes and fund research to develop a cure. He frequents Stony Brook University’s medical library, so he can study up on the cancer and similar ones that took his son and still threatens the lives other children, he said.

“It all helps, it’s all bullets in the gun against cancer,” Richardson said.

By Kyle Barr

It is a real testament to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that their songs sit so squarely in the public zeitgeist. “We Are the Champions” is still the go-to sports song for anybody’s home team, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that one song that, when played 50 times on a road trip, still never gets old.

It also means that the show “We Will Rock You,” which held its Northeastern regional premiere opening at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on July 7, really needed to encapsulate just what Mercury and Queen meant to culture just before the turn of the century. Thankfully, the talented 18-member cast at SPAC managed to pull it off with ease.

With book by Ben Elton, the story takes place 300 years in the future in a vague dystopian world where all music but that which is produced by the corporation is banned. All those living on the iPlanet, as it is called, exist under the thumb of the Globalsoft Corporation, headed by the stiff-necked Khashoggi (Dylan Bivings) and the raucous Killer Queen (the-great-as-always Brianne Boyd). Two young rebels, Galileo (Andrew Murano) and Scaramouche (Danielle Nigro) are captured by Globalsoft right out of high school for being too out of the mainstream. This leads them on a quest to find the rebels called The Bohemians and then to find the true meaning of rock and roll and set the world free.

Featuring more than 20 hit Queen songs, the show is accompanied by a live band, with Melissa and Craig Coyle on keyboard, Chad Goodstein and Mike Lawshé on guitar, Rob Curry on bass and Jim Waddell on drums. At first it’s hard to tell from where the band is playing. They are not on stage, nor on the balcony. It is well worth staying until the end to see exactly where these band members were cleverly hid.

Tim Golebiewski, who directed last year’s very fine production of “Young Frankenstein,” returns this year to showcase his talents for stimulating musical sequences and cutting humor. This time the stage is set with what appears to be a very simple layout, just a two-level affair with a white screen hanging above it all. Yet this display holds more than a few surprises. 

Golebiewski and Chris Creevy, the head of lighting design, must have had a lot of fun setting up the LED lights all around the stage, whose multiple colors coordinate with a projector screen behind the stage. Every musical performance has a corresponding color and video that plays in time to the music. It’s a surprising sensation seeing the performance and video, like attending both a musical and rock concert all at once.

Danielle Nigro and Andrew Murano in a scene from the show

In a production such as this, where the story is not much more than a vehicle to get to the next Queen song, the vocal quality is probably the biggest selling point and the cast is very much up to the task. 

Nigro does a great job with the punk-styled, quick-mouthed Scaramouche, and she is great both in lead vocals in songs like “Somebody to Love” and in chorus in songs like “Under Pressure.” Mark Maurice, as Brit, and Courtney Braun, as Oz, are both absolutely hilarious, especially with Maurice’s random bouts of martial arts. Their duet on “I Want It All” is fun and energetic. Terrific in last year’s SPAC performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Boyd  pulls out all the stops with her usual considerable stage presence. She’s a perfect fit for the part of Killer Queen, especially with such loud and sometimes racy renditions of “Play the Game” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

If you have even a passing interest in Queen, Freddie Mercury or rock in general, then this is a great night outing to rekindle that old rebel rocker spirit.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “We Will Rock You” through Aug. 19. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Photos courtesy of SPAC

A view of how Gyrodyne intends to subdivide the land. Image from Suffolk County planning department

The Town of Smithtown now knows it faces an estimated price tag of $7 to $10 million to bring St. James sewage systems into the modern era.

Smithtown officials are poring over the evaluation of the St. James Sewer District prepared by Melville-based H2M Architects & Engineers where they broke down the projected costs of installing dry sewer mains and pump stations needed to build a sewer district for the Lake Avenue business district.

“[W]e’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station.”
– Nicole Garguilo

In its report dated June 8, H2M projected that installing sewers and a force main at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A would cost approximately $1.78 million, including funds for curb-to-curb roadway restoration, if undertaken in 2020.

The engineers considered two different options for providing sewers to 18 properties along North Country Road/Route 25A from the Long Island Railroad track near Edgewood Avenue east to Clinton Avenue. The first method would cost approximately $3.8 million to install gravity sewers, a force main and pump station needed to reach a sewage treatment plant but would not provide for full road restoration. A second
design would cost the town roughly $6.2  million with road restoration costs included.

“Now that they gave us these cost estimates, we’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said.

Smithtown officials are hoping Flanagan (R-East Northport) can secure the funding through New York State’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in April 2017, which provides money for drinking water infrastructure and groundwater protection.

The estimated cost for St. James Sewer District are calculated on the premise that Gyrodyne, LLC will build a sewage treatment plan with the capacity to accommodate neighboring Lake Avenue businesses. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) first opened conversations with Gyrodyne about considering such a move earlier this spring.

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James.
– Gary Fitlin

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James,” Gary Fitlin, CEO and president of Gyrodyne said. “Our plans include a sewage treatment plant, which is tremendously beneficial to the community versus traditional cesspools.”

Gyrodyne announced its intentions to work with the Town of Smithtown to its shareholders on June 29 calling it “an opportunity to create added value for both the company and the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven.” It has hired Woobury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates to redesign its proposed sewage treatment plant to handle the plans it has for Flowerfield property and have excess capacity to service the business district of St. James.

Wehrheim said hearing Gyrodyne is sharing these intentions with its investors is positive news for St. James business owners and Smithtown.

“I think it’s great,” the supervisor said. “The fact they are selling it to their shareholders and having their engineers look at it means they are serious about doing it.”

Children enjoy the upgrades to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than a dozen excited children climbed over a Nesconset playground Monday afternoon, as families took in the park’s first upgrade in more than two decades.

Town of Smithtown officials celebrated the completion of $1.3 million in upgrades to three town-owned parks this week, which also came in approximately $62,000 under budget. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconest July 9, followed by a celebration for Gaynor and Veterans
Memorial parks in St. James held July 10.

“There is no more important mission we can do than to build parks like this for the children who are growing up here,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It’s been a long time coming.” 

Town of Smithtown officials celebrate the opening of Joseph Andreoli Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, received two new playgrounds. For older children, there are five different slides, several climbing obstacles and a swing set. A second area for younger children ages 2 to 5 consists of several tiny houses they go inside with interactive features.

“It’s visually appealing,” Shannon Cooley,  a Nesconset resident, said as she watched her 3-year-old daughter play. “It’s colorful, not faded, and everything feels inviting and welcoming.” 

Cooley said her favorite part of the renovations are the separate play areas created for young children and the new Classic Turf, a synthetic grasslike “shag rug” that replaced the former wood chips.

Both Cooley and Nesconset resident Morgan Tavis said they appreciated the modern, clean look, but if they had one criticism of the design, it would be a lack of shaded areas. “A shaded area for respite would make this into a full day activity,” Tavis said.

Wehrheim said there will be further improvements made at the Gibbs Pond park. Boy Scout Troop 566 has offered to build benches that will be installed by the town, according to the supervisor, and renovations to
make the bathrooms handicapped accessible are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019. Shaded canopies will be installed over the playground’s slides, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo, to prevent them from becoming heated and potentially burning children.

“This is the first of many,” Wehrheim said, indicating more park renovations are in the works for 2019. “We made a commitment when we got elected, one of those commitments was to renovate and bring our parks into the future so I am very pleased and honored this afternoon to tell you we have kept that campaign promise.”

Joseph Andreoli Park, off Gibbs Pond Road in Nesconset, now has a separate playground for children ages 2 to 5. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Both Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James have received similar upgrades, according to Smithtown Parks Maintenance Director Joseph Arico. Gaynor Park has received a similar new playground set and field upgrades. The existing tennis courts at Gaynor were fully resurfaced and the basketball court was enlarged from a half court to full regulation size. 

Veterans Memorial Park, located off Moriches Road, had more recently received upgrades to its sports fields. Roughly $300,000 was spent to install a new playground set along with a new artificial grass surface and a resurfacing of the water park playground to improve safety, according to Arico.

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R), who served as the town board’s liaison to the parks department on the project, voiced his approval of the final product. 

“We are putting money back where it belongs in our parks, beaches and infrastructure so that we, the residents, have a nice place to bring our children, grandchildren and enjoy this beautiful town,”
Lohmann said.

The Blanco family stands at the newly dedicated "L. Cpl. Michael E. Blanco" section of Wichard Boulevard in Commack. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

By Kyle Barr

A Commack street now bears the name of a U.S. Marine who lost his life in 2010 from the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder.

Town of Smithtown officials, local veteran groups and the Blanco family gathered July 1 on Wichard Boulevard in Commack to watch the unveiling of the sign dedicating a portion of roadway in memory of Lance Corporal Michael E. Blanco. It was erected on the street where Blanco grew up.

“It means to us that every time someone looks at that sign, they’ll remember however Michael touched their lives,” Blanco’s sister, Nicole Blanco-Abbate, said.

Smithtown Town officials, Suffolk County elected officials and member of the Blanco family at the July 1 ceremony. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

Those who knew Blanco recalled him as a selfless man who wouldn’t hesitate to do things for others. Blanco’s father, Bruce, remembered how when his son attended high school the young man asked for more lunch money, commenting that he was “a growing boy.” Later, he learned Blanco was giving that extra money anonymously to the kids who couldn’t afford lunch.

“My son was always known as the protector – he was the one who came out of nowhere to help people,” Blanco’s father said. “I get constant phone calls from his friends of what he’s done to help them. He stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves.”

The Blanco family said they were humbled when nearly 100 people showed up to the ceremony at the intersection of Wichard Boulevard and Philson Court in support including including Suffolk County officials, members of the American Legion Ladies Post 1244, Smithtown and Nesconset Fire Departments, AM Vets, the Patriot Guard Riders, Missing in America Project, Veterans for Freedom, American Legion riders and American Legion Auxiliary Greenlawn Chapter 1244.

“There were so many people there, from small kids all the way to veterans in their 70s and 80s,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “This type of dedication leads to more acceptance. It shows there has to be something done about soldiers with PTSD.”

In September 2017, the U.S. Office of Veteran Affairs released a report on suicides amongst veterans of the armed services based on 55 million record dating from 1979  to 2014. It found that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. PTSD is the leading cause of death for veterans and military service members.

Several veterans groups attended the July 1 ceremony in honor of Michael Blanco. Photo from Ron Pacchiana

“He still was a soldier – he still was a veteran,” Blanco’s mother, Donna, said. “With this sign, we are bringing awareness to the 22 veterans who die every day from PTSD.”

Both of Blanco’s parents agreed that this dedication does much to help the community remember their son and the struggles he faced.

“The worst fear a mother has when a son dies is that he won’t be remembered,” Blanco’s mother said. “Now I know my son will forever be memorialized and he will always be remembered.“

Bruce Blanco said he became involved the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244 after his son passed away, and he is now leading them as their president. Since then, the riders have been involved in many veterans memorials and events all around the Huntington and Smithtown areas. The chapter also participates in the Missing in America Project that tries to give proper military funerals to those veterans who died without family or who remain unremembered.

“One of the worst things for anyone is to ever be forgotten,” Blanco’s father said. “Everything throughout Smithtown is a remembrance for us, and this sign just adds to onto it.”

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.

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Nesconset man was arrested for allegedly making a terroristic threat against a campaign worker at  U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) headquarters last July 6, according to Suffolk County police.

Nesconset resident Martin Astrof, 75, was arrested for allegedly threatening one of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s campaign workers. Photo from SCPD

Martin Astrof was arrested Friday after he allegedly threatened to kill one of Zeldin’s supporters and supporters of President Donald Trump (R).  Astrof went to Zeldin’s campaign headquarters on Terry Road in Smithtown and became irate with a campaign worker, identified by Zeldin’s office as Donato Panico,  at approximately 11:15 a.m., police said. After allegedly threatening to kill Panico and other supporters, Astrof backed his car up in an aggressive manner nearly striking the worker, according to police.

“Donato Panic is an exceptional citizen who has dedicated his life to serving our law enforcement and nation’s veterans,” Zeldin said in a statement. “He should never have been targeted like this today for his support of a political candidate.”

Astrof, 75,  allegedly fled the scene and was arrested a short time later in front of his home in Nesconset. He was charged with one felony-count of making a terrorist threat and one count of second-degree reckless endangerment.

“In the United States of America, political scores are settled at the ballot box, not by trying to kill your political opponents,” Zeldin said. “It is unacceptable to resort to actions to kill or seriously harm political opponents or otherwise incite those violent actions by others. It must stop now.”

The congressman said he himself has received several death threats, and his wife and children have been targeted as well since the last presidential election in 2016.

Astrof was arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip July 7 and released after posting bail in the amount of $25,000 bond. A temporary order of protection was issued by Suffolk County police.

 

Social

9,192FansLike
1,098FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe