Village Times Herald

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright speaks about history at the Three Village Community Trust’s 11th annual celebration. Photo by Maria Hoffman

There used to be more to North Country Road than meets the eye.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) discussed the history and importance of Long Island’s Main streets like North Country Road during the Three Village Community Trust’s 11th annual celebration Nov. 18. Around 80 residents attended the event, which helps raise awareness of various conservation or preservation topics.

Cynthia Barnes, president of the group, said the event also helps residents understand the community better. This year, highway and street preservation was the topic of the evening.

According to guest speaker Englebright, in the early 1600s the king of England ordered the construction of North Country Road otherwise known as Route 25A or Main Street. Christian Avenue was once part of Main Street before North Country Road was developed further. Englebright said North Country Road is the oldest road in the community and it is one of many structures that help define the area.

Speaking about the streets in the neighborhood, Englebright said, “They are also fragile and can be lost and in doing so we can lose part of who we are.”

While change is inevitable as time progresses, the goal is to remember and preserve the history of the locale. Englebright added that many roads residents use are some of the oldest roads in the area. He didn’t specify which roads in particular but said that those living in the community don’t always realize the small changes made to the area over time.

With development pressures and gentrification it’s easy for a community to lose its history. With the trust’s annual celebration, Englebright hoped to bring awareness to the history of local roadways, and help continue preservation efforts.

“We have a tradition in this community of preserving our heritage and trying to maintain that quality of our overall community through preservation and adaptive rescue of repurposed historic buildings,” Englebright said. “[Preservation efforts have] happened here more than almost anywhere else I could think of.”

For his past 32 years as an elected official, Englebright fought and continues to fight to preserve historic neighborhoodsincluding the roadways. In light of his preservation efforts over the years the trust not only invited Englebright to make a presentation at the event, but also honored him for his service and his support of the trust and its work.

The assemblyman has helped preserve many historic sites including the Davis Town Meeting House in Coram. The exterior of the house was renovated but the interior was left in shambles. Unused buildings are typically targeted. In order to preserve the 1750s-built house, Englebright supported a grant to help the Davis Town Meeting House Society cater to the building’s interior. The grant is one of many the assemblyman has advocated during his time in public office.

“We’re very lucky to have an assemblyman or an elected official with not just a vision for this community, but he’s actually able to implement [these visions] in various ways and inspire other people to help him,” Barnes said in a phone interview.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine listens to residents’ concerns before adopting the 2016 operating budget. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Town of Brookhaven officials and residents have one less thing to worry about next year, now that the 2016 budget has been finalized.

On Nov. 19, the town board approved Supervisor Ed Romaine’s nearly $281 million proposed operating budget, which complies with the New York State cap on tax levy increases — in fact holding it, and thus residents’ property taxes, steady next year.

According to a previous interview with Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright, who helped Romaine (R) craft the budget, the town accomplished this by properly managing its capital projects and by satisfying debts.

Earlier this year, the town finished paying off an $8.4 million debt connected to the New York State employees’ retirement system, allowing the town to save about $1 million annually. But its efforts to reduce debt will not end there — going forward, Romaine said, the town will continue addressing that issue and prioritizing expenditures.

“You should not spend money you do not have,” he said. “We’re very much aware of that, and we’re monitoring all of our expenses very carefully.”

Some funds that would have gone toward the completed debt payments will instead be used to fund other parts of the budget in 2016.

The budget also allocates $5.2 million for the highway department’s snow removal budget, a number that has been incrementally increasing since Long Island communities had to dig out of dense snow in the February 2013 blizzard commonly dubbed Winter Storm Nemo, which shut down some roads for days. Brookhaven’s snow removal funding has doubled in the last few years.

If there is leftover money in that account after the winter, the goal is to deposit it into a reserve account that would be used in an emergency winter weather situation.

While roadway upkeep is important, Romaine said designating money to fund all maintenance issues is difficult, because spending is limited.

“It’s hard to do that when you have a tax cap,” Romaine said. “I believe the budget is as good as it’s going to get, considering the constraints we live under.”

In addition to raising the snow removal budget, the town is putting money toward traffic safety, park improvements, open space preservation and land acquisition. The spending plan also increases funding for public safety staff, code enforcement and internal auditors, among others.

Romaine touted the budget’s relying less on fund balance to get by, which adds to financial stability. Without including its debt reserves, Brookhaven’s 2016 budget will only use $2.35 million in reserves, a substantial decrease from the 2015 spending plan, which used about $8 million.

Dick Solo photo from Naomi Solo

Richard Solo, known as Dick or Doc to those he loved, died on Nov. 27 at age 79, after a four-year struggle with cancer.

Solo was the beloved husband of Nomi for 56 years; father of David, Julie and Michael (Susan); and brother of Marge Seltzer.

Friends remember Solo walking around in nature, Stony Brook University, his beloved Port Jefferson or other parts of the world, camera in hand, ready to photograph, in his special way, the world around him. He loved his family, students, nature, the Red Sox and a good bowl of  chili.

Solo had a joyous and productive and giving life. From his early days in Brookline High in Massachusetts to his years earning a bachelor’s at MIT and his Ph.D in chemistry from Berkeley, he was involved with student life, sports, and music.

When he moved to Port Jefferson in 1970, he became involved in the village and was an integral part in the development and building of the Village Center.

Solo came to the SBU on its opening day in August 1962, after a research stint at Aerospace in Los Angeles. Since that time, he had dedicated his heart and soul to it, beginning as an assistant chemistry professor. He set up a first-rate lab, but his main love was the student body. For 10 years, he taught chemistry classes of 110 to 150 students, including an introductory seminar on science and ethics before it was fashionable. The blend of teaching and research was a source of excitement, fun and satisfaction, and he was a first-rate teacher and communicator.

He became an integral part of student affairs, getting involved in counseling and helping to create an orientation course for incoming freshmen, ultimately developing an orientation program that was lauded throughout the state. He affected the lives of thousands of students, leading to his role as director of new student orientation, one of the first contacts an incoming student had with the university after admission. To the end, students who went through the program visited and corresponded with Solo and have used it as an example of how it made them grow as individuals.

Any student or faculty member who worked with Solo’s orientation program would agree that the spirit of genuine empathy is what made all the difference in the effectiveness of the program. Solo, along with his carefully chosen administrative assistants, molded freshmen and transfer orientations each year to the changing needs of incoming students. The process went beyond just registering for classes — there were social activities and workshops that included food, films, sports and a family-like spirit. His goal was to reach the attendees, to make a difference in their lives by caring about and understanding them.

His service to the SBU community spans half a century, during which Solo served on and chaired numerous committees and boards, including the University Senate, the first Student Affairs Affirmative Action Committee, the presidential search that chose Jack Marburger, the president’s advisory board on the disabled, and the Faculty Student Association. He was the unofficial photographer of Stony Brook history in the making.

Solo cared about every facet of the campus and students, attending many athletic events each season. After he semi-retired, he went back to teaching chemistry and did student advising at both summer and winter orientation programs.

Rabbi Joseph Topek from the university described Solo as a pioneer. He introduced many new ideas that have become university tradition — it was Solo who first thought of the Roth Pond Regatta.

A memorial visitation will be held on Wednesday at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket, from 4 to 8 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Good Shepherd Hospice or to the Staller Center for the Arts via the Stony Brook Foundation.

Sabelo Ndala mugshot from SCPD

A motorcyclist was killed on Saturday afternoon when a young man who was allegedly on drugs crashed a car into his bike.

Two days after Thanksgiving, the Suffolk County Police Department said, 56-year-old Thomas Heissen Buttel was riding a 1972 Harley-Davidson north on Old Town Road when he was struck by a vehicle whose driver had been trying to make a left onto Hyson Way in Coram, just south of Hawkins Road.

The motorcyclist, a South Setauket resident, died from his injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital, police said, while the driver of the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta that struck him, 22-year-old Port Jefferson Station resident Sabelo Ndala, was not hurt.

Police charged Ndala with driving while impaired by drugs, operating a vehicle without an interlock device and second-degree aggravated unlicensed driving. He was arraigned the next day.

The suspect is listed as defending himself in the New York State court system’s online database and could not be reached for comment.

According to the database, Ndala had a previous drunk driving charge against him, dating back to February, to which he pleaded guilty. His license was revoked for 18 months in that case and he was mandated to use an interlock device on his vehicle, which prevents the car from operating unless a sober person breathes into the device, for three years.

After Saturday’s crash, police impounded both the Jetta and the Harley-Davidson for safety checks.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to call detectives from the SCPD’s Vehicular Crime Unit at 631-852-6555.

Stop right now

Police arrested a 66-year-old man from Port Jefferson Station on Nov. 20 for driving while ability impaired in a 2015 Honda after he went through a stop sign and collided with a 2000 Dodge on Jefferson Avenue. The suspect fled in his car to Norwood Avenue, where he hit a different stop sign, before police pulled him over and cuffed him.

Practice makes perfect

Two Flushing women were charged with unauthorized practice of profession after police said they were practicing massage therapy without a license on Route 25A in Mount Sinai. The women, ages 37 and 42, were arrested on Nov. 17.

Just a little shot

On Nov. 18, a 28-year-old man from Sound Beach was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance after police said he entered the Stop&Shop on Route 25A in Miller Place and attempted to inject himself with heroin in the store. Police arrested him at the scene for possession of heroin.

Benched

Police responded to an assault on Milburn Road in Centereach on Nov. 18 but when officers arrived, they discovered there was a bench warrant out for the arrest of a 26-year-old Ronkonkoma man at the scene and collared him. According to police, the man was charged with assault twice before.

If I had a Nicolls for every time …

On Nov. 20, officers arrested a 22-year-old man from Sayville for driving while ability impaired after he was speeding south on Nicolls Road in Stony Brook in his 2015 Chevrolet.

I’ll wring your neck

According to police, an unknown man got into a dispute with another man on Nov. 20 and punched him in the face. The victim went to the hospital but didn’t press charges. Police didn’t know what caused the dispute on Ringneck Lane in Setauket-East Setauket.

Don’t answer the phone

An unknown person called another individual at their residence on University Heights Drive in Stony Brook and threatened them on the phone on Nov. 21.

He’s got pep

A customer entered the Pep Boys Auto Parts and Service on Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station on Nov. 18 and got into a dispute with an employee. Although the customer threatened the man, the employee didn’t press charges. Police didn’t know what started the dispute.

Scent of a thief

An unknown person entered a Bath and Body Works in Independence Plaza in Selden and stole more than $250 worth of merchandise. The incident happened on Nov. 20 at 1:30 p.m.

Going boating

A 20-year-old man from Wading River was arrested on Nov. 21 for driving while ability impaired after police said the man was driving a 2010 Chevrolet Suburban down North Country Road in Port Jefferson and crashed into a fence and a boat. Police arrested him at the scene.

Meat the vandal

An unknown person smashed the protective cover of an electric meter at Halal Meats on Middle Country Road in Selden on Nov. 19 and then threw a broom, wash bucket and rubber floor mats on the ground of the building.

Thief makes like a tree

A woman called police on Nov. 20 after workers on her property on Maple Road in Rocky Point reported an unknown person had stolen two weed whackers and three leaf blowers from the workers’ trailer. Police said the trailer was parked on the road at the time, and workers didn’t realize the equipment was stolen until after they finished their work.

The Dukes of Hazzard slide on

Police said someone jumped on the hood of a 2011 black Nissan parked in the Kohl’s parking lot on Route 25A in Rocky Point on Nov. 18 and the owner of the car saw scratches on the car. Police said the victim had an idea of who damaged the car but didn’t press charges.

A man with a van

A man in a white van drove through the barrier gate at Scotts Beach in Sound Beach on Nov. 21, breaking it. Police didn’t know why the man wanted to access the beach.

Knock, knock

An unknown person damaged the doorknob of an office on Pond Circle in Mount Sinai. Police said the incident occurred on Nov. 21 around 9 p.m.

Garden gnomes gone

On Nov. 18. an unknown person entered the shed of a residence on Patricia Court in Smithtown and stole various lawn and garden equipment.

Scene flee

A 49-year-old woman from Smithtown was arrested at 10:25 a.m. on Nov. 21 at Old Willets Path in Smithtown for a previous charge. Police said she hit a 2001 Volkswagen on Avalon Circle in Smithtown, causing damage, and then fled the scene without exchanging information at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 21. She was charged with leaving scene with property damage.

Odd steal

An unknown person stole three leaf blowers and a chain saw from a residence on Veterans Memorial Highway in Smithtown on Nov. 17. at 5 p.m.

Lane fail

Police said 41-year-old man from Smithtown was arrested for drunken driving after he was pulled over for failing to maintain his lane on Main Street in Smithtown on Nov. 21 at 2:40 a.m. He was charged with driving while intoxicated.

Walmart woes

An unknown woman stole assorted clothing and health items from a Walmart on Crooked Hill Road in Commack on Nov. 21 at 5:45 p.m.

Five crimes at 7-Eleven

On Nov. 18, a 20-year-old woman from Ronkonkoma and a 27-year-old woman from Nesconset were arrested in a 2002 Subaru at a 7-Eleven on Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset. Police said they were found in possession of marijuana, a stun gun and stolen license plates. The woman from Ronkonkoma was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The woman from Nesconset was charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana, fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

High times at the park

On Nov. 20 a 20-year-old man from Deer Park was arrested in the parking lot of Otsego Park in Dix Hills. Police said he had Vicodin and marijuana in his possession without a prescription at 8:40 p.m. He was charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

The generator terminator

A generator was stolen from the yard of a home on East Gate Road in Lloyd Harbor on Nov. 18 at 1:20 a.m.

Jeep-ers!

On Nov. 21 a 53-year-old woman from Deer Park was arrested at the 2nd Precinct for a previous incident. Police said on Nov. 14, just before 5 p.m., she was driving on New York Avenue in Huntington in a 2005 Chrysler when she struck a 1999 Jeep and then fled the scene. She was charged with leaving the scene with property damage.

No chill at Chili’s

Two unknown men dined at a Chili’s restaurant on Jericho Turnpike in East Northport at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 and then left without paying their bill.

Out of time

A watch was stolen out of a vehicle parked on East 16th Street in Huntington Station on Nov. 18 at 10 p.m.

High in the Hyundai

Police said a 27-year-old man from Amityville had marijuana in his possession when he was driving a 2007 Hyundai on Floral Avenue in Dix Hills on Nov. 19. He was arrested at 5:30 p.m. and charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

You’ve got mail

An unknown person damaged the mailbox of a home on Greenvale Drive in East Northport on Nov. 20 at 2 a.m.

All the drugs

A 52-year-old woman from Huntington was arrested for multiple charges on Nov. 21 at 6:15 p.m. She was driving a 2008 Ford SUV on the corner of Chestnut Street and Soundview Road in Huntington when police stopped her and said she had both cocaine and crack cocaine in her possession, as well as driving without a license. She was charged with two counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

At the corner of high and high

Police said a 17-year-old woman from Huntington Station was arrested for possession of marijuana on Nov. 20. She was on the corner of Waterside Avenue and Norwood Avenue in Northport at about 5:30 p.m. when police stopped her. She was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.

Oh no on Jericho

On Nov. 21, on the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Jones Lane in Huntington, police said an 18-year-old from Melville had marijuana in his possession. He was arrested at 8:25 p.m. and charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of marijuana.

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The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Anthony Matusky received his wings at Pensacola, Fla., in 1941. His sister, Mary Matwell, remembered that Anthony had said that he trained off Greenland in the unit with Joseph Kennedy. At the time of his death, Anthony was stationed on the Trinidad Naval Base as a pilot in a naval patrol squadron engaged in patrolling for enemy submarines, which were taking a heavy toll of shipping in the Caribbean.

“The Navy Department has notified Mrs. John Matusky, of Setauket, that her son, Lieut. Anthony R. Matusky, U.S.N.R., reported missing in action last August [1943], has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, highest aviation honor, in recognition of the following service: ‘For heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as a pilot attached to a Patrol Squadron during a coordinated attack on an enemy submarine in the Caribbean Sea . . . His cool courage and superb airmanship in the face of danger contributed decisively to the eventual destruction of the enemy submarine and the capture of her crew.”
— New York Journal American, 1944

As reported in the November 1945 issue of The Reader’s Digest by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Ira Wolfert, in an article titled “The Silent, Invisible War Under the Sea,” the German submarines were an effective tool in destroying the supply arm of the Allied efforts, sinking 1,161 merchant vessels in 1942. Their subs basically owned the Atlantic until an effective strategy was developed using aircraft and radar to find submarines recharging their batteries on the surface and the ideal attack procedures to cripple and sink them.

On the night of Aug. 5, 1943, a patrol plane out of Trinidad Naval Base spotted a sub and made an attack as the sub crash-dived. The Mariner aircraft then kept the sub in radar contact all night but it did not surface again. As detailed by Wolfert, “At dawn [the patrol plane] running low on gas was replaced by Lieut. A.R. Matuski. For seven and a half tedious hours, Matuski plied back and forth and around a square of ocean, figuring how he would maneuver if he were a sub skipper who had been down so and so many hours in such and such currents and this and that kind of sea, and making his gambit accordingly.

“Matuski was a boy who knew his business. At 1321 hours (1:21 p.m.) Trinidad Naval Base got a sub contact report from him, giving longitude and latitude, adding ‘I am going in to attack.’
‘1330’ he radioed, ‘sub damaged, bow out of water, making only about two knots.
‘1335: sub bow sank.
‘1337: no casualties to plane or personnel.
‘1348: Damaged. Damaged. I am on fire.’”

The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler
The Setauket High School senior class dedicated the 1946 yearbook to the eight Setauket men who died in World War II. They are, from top to bottom and left to right, Cpl. Douglas Hunter, Sgt. Francis Hawkins, Cpl. William Weston, Lt. Anthony Matusky, Fireman First Class Clifford Darling, and Machinist Mate Orlando Lyons. Henry Eichacker and Edward Pfeiffer are not pictured. Photo from Beverly Tyler

There were no other transmissions from Lt. Matusky’s aircraft and no trace of the pilot or crew of 10 was ever found. Trinidad sent another aircraft to keep up the pressure on the sub and as detailed by Wolfert, “[The next naval patrol bomber] reached the position given by Matuski and 20 minutes later picked up the enemy pip on his radar. When he got in visual range, he could see that Matuski had done his last work well. The sub’s stern was down, its bow up, and it was lumbering across the sea.”

Together with an additional naval aircraft, a blimp and finally an army bomber the sub was sunk. Navy destroyers picked up 40 sub survivors the next morning.      

Anthony was killed during the war but his four brothers returned home, all five honored. Anthony’s name is engraved on the monuments on the Setauket Village Green and the East Setauket Memorial Park along with the other seven men from Setauket who died in WWII.

Two men from the local area gave their lives in WWI, Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. A massive boulder and south-facing bronze tablet were erected on the Setauket Village Green in their memory. The boulder was brought from Strong’s Neck and the plaque was designed by the well-known artist William DeLeftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capital in Albany.

On the opposite side of the rock is a plaque that was placed there after WWII.  It reads, “1941-1945 In memory of Clifford J. Darling, Henry P. Eichacker, Francis S. Hawkins, David Douglas Hunter, Orlando B. Lyons, Anthony R. Matusky, Edward A. Pfeiffer, (and) William E. Weston of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives in World War II.” On the memorial in East Setauket is also listed the local serviceman Chris F. Brunn who died in Vietnam.

We have a lot to be thankful for during this time of Thanksgiving. We have a very special community here in the hamlets of Setauket and Stony Brook and the villages of Old Field and Poquott. Let us never forget the sacrifice made by these men, by those service men and women from our community who were injured physically and/or mentally, and by all the men and women who served in war and in peacetime to keep us safe and free.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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From left, Sarah Cronk, Sara Costantino and Kim Dufrenoy in a scene from ‘Strangers in the Night.’ Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Stacy Santini

“With him it’s impossible…it’s like being with a woman. He’s so gentle. It is as though he thinks I’ll break, as though I am a piece of Dresden china and he’s gonna hurt me,” the American Film Institute’s 25th greatest female star of classic Hollywood cinema Ava Gardner was quoted saying about her marriage to the most tremendous musical icon of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra. Hailed as one of the most sensational, intense romances of all time, the bond between Gardner and Sinatra was as complex as the participants themselves.

Sal St. George and his wife Mary, of St. George Living History Productions take on the task of telling the lovers’ story in Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Holiday Musical Theatre Performance of “Strangers in the Night … The Story of ‘The Crooner’ and the most beautiful woman in the world, Ava Gardner” currently in production through Jan. 10.

Gardner’s dreamlike pilgrimage toward stardom was what so many young girls could only hope would happen to them. The ease at which fame came upon her was not without a cost, and like many well-known 1950s leading ladies, her life was peppered with tumultuous relationships and conflicting interpersonal desires.

Raised in the Deep South, this ravishing beauty was from humble beginnings; her parents Molly and Jonas Gardner were poor cotton and tobacco farmers in Grabtown, North Carolina, a spec on the map in Johnston County. While visiting one of her four sisters, Beatrice, in New York City, her brother-in-law, Larry Tarr, a professional photographer, took some pictures of her to place in his storefront window. The images captured the eye of Loews Theatres legal clerk, Barnard Duhan, hoping to secure a date with the alluring Gardner. This interaction prompted Tarr to send her pictures to MGM. Within the blink of an eye, Gardner was solicited to do a screen test for MGM’s talent agent, Al Altman. She was immediately signed to a standard 7-year MGM contract and flown to Hollywood.

Sal St. George talks about Ava’s ascent to celebrity: “Her story is fantastic. Coming from this tiny farm town, on a fluke a man notices her at seventeen years old. She is brought to Hollywood, signed to a contract and essentially thrown to the wolves, and in a very short time she is right there, smack dab in the middle of the pack, keeping company with some of the most famous stars of all time.”

Her first fifteen movie roles for MGM were small “walk-on” parts and it appeared that it was only her beauty the studio was interested in. But in 1946, she starred opposite George Raft in “Whistle Stop” and Gardner began to carve out her place in Hollywood movie history. Playing femme fatale Kitty Collins, in Universal Studios’ adaption of Hemingway’s “The Killers” with the legendary Burt Lancaster further secured her status. Performances in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Sun Also Rises” made it impossible to not recognize that there was indeed a tremendous talent behind the now tempered southern drawl. Although nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “The Killers,” it was her role in “The Barefoot Contessa” that gave her international acclaim.

As intrigued as the populace was by her beauty and her eventually respected talent as an actress, Gardner gained much notoriety for her romantic pursuits. Over the years, her partners — some spouses, some merely lovers — read like a who’s who of Hollywood.

Her first marriage, at the age of nineteen, was to Mickey Rooney. Lasting only one year, Gardner quickly moved on to famed bandleader and musician Artie Shaw. Eventually the union met the same fate as her marriage to Rooney, and Gardner moved on to marry Frank Sinatra. That relationship also did not last but, although Gardner had several more dalliances with men such as Ernest Hemingway and bullfighter Miguel Dominguin, it was “The Voice” that remained her one true love. Frank Sinatra dwelled deep in Gardner’s heart until she took her last breath in 1990.

Sal St. George is no stranger to the theater or legendary icons. Prior to starting his creative consulting company, St. George Living History Productions, he was a playwright for entities such as Disneyland, Sea World and Busch Gardens. Specializing in historic sites and museums, St. George is often commissioned to tell a story based on the history of a venue, such as The Vanderbilt Museum. He and his wife have also become known for their ability to translate, in fantastic ways, the lives of celebrated actors and actresses of the past — Lucille Ball, Natalie Wood, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.

St. George likes to write from the women’s perspective and his stance when it comes to his scripts is often surprising and unexpected. In his own words, “It is easy to just go with the facts. When I am writing a script, I write to myself; it is instinctive and I believe if I find something interesting, others will too. I want the audience to feel like they are eavesdropping on the rich and famous.”

Producing about two shows per year along with the Edgar Allen Poe Festival, “Strangers in the Night” joins a long roster of stellar productions. St. George describes the show, “When Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, discovered it was Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, she wanted to do something special. She has been pivotal in bringing us on board, very supportive and encouraging. I always try to approach things from a different angle, and with this I kept thinking that behind every great man is a great woman. I wondered what it was like to be married to Frank Sinatra, and so it was Ava Gardner’s perspective that undoubtedly would make the most impact.”

St. George’s unique perspective is further developed in his choice of settings for the storyline. Actress Gail Storm’s 1957 musical TV show serves as the catalyst for this biographical tale. Along with her sidekick Rosie, they prod guest Ava Gardner to expose what it was really like to be married to the infamous Sinatra. Expect surprises along the way.

Ava Gardner’s character is played by Sara Costantino. She is joined on stage by Sarah Cronk as Gale Storm and Kim Dufrenoy as Rosie. The production most certainly tells Ava’s story, but one will not leave without understanding Sinatra’s life as well.

Ironically, Costantino, whose resemblance to Gardner is uncanny, did not know who the woman was that she is now so elegantly portraying. After much study, it is apparent that she has assumed the role with a complete understanding of this complicated woman. When asked about her part, Costantino says, “The most challenging and exciting part about playing Ava is that she had two different lives in a way … because the studio was promoting her as one thing, but deep down she felt completely different; finding the balance between the façade she put on and who she truly felt she was. I really related to this. There are things she said in her autobiography that I have said over the years. My connection with her was amazing.”

When asking St. George what his favorite part of putting on these shows is he says, “My favorite thing in the world, period, is a blank piece of paper, for everything is created from it — the Verrazano Bridge, the Mona Lisa, all the great novels … all these started with just a blank piece of paper. I get to let my imagination run wild.”

It is hard to imagine that “Strangers in the Night … The Story of ‘The Crooner’ and the most beautiful woman in the world, Ava Gardner” was ever a blank piece of paper, but nonetheless, it has been filled in quite beautifully.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational and Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook, will present “Strangers in the Night” through Jan. 10 as part of its Holiday Musical Theatre Performance series. Catered by Crazy Beans Restaurant, tickets are $50 adults, $48 seniors (60 and over), $45 groups of 20 or more. For reservations, please call 631-689-5888.

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Chris Matthews, Judith Burgess, Erin Tobin and Robert Lewis share a laugh after Tobin presented the grant last Thursday morning. Photo by Giselle Barkley

History is worth preserving for the Higher Ground Inter-Cultural & Heritage Associates.

Once the Bethel Christian Avenue and Laurel Hill Historic District had an extensive African American and Native American population. But with Long Island’s high cost of living, that robust population decreased as these families left the district over the years.

While many of the historic houses have disappeared due to development pressure, some descendants of the African American and Native American communities have resided in the district for more than 200 years. But Higher Ground doesn’t want the history of communities to disappear in the future.

The nonprofit organization received a $7,000 grant from the Preservation League of New York State on Thursday, Nov. 19 to help the organization’s cause. State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) were among those in attendance.

The grant will allow the organization to complete a survey of the Bethel Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District and neighboring communities. The survey is one step toward registering the historic district with the state.

“When you have a very small community with a fixed number of people, gentrification is disastrous and that’s the struggle,” said Robert Lewis, president of the Higher Ground Inter-Cultural & Heritage Associates.

Although Lewis doesn’t know the exact number of African American and Native American descendants residing in the area, he said the population might be around 7 to 8 percent. Pastor Gregory Leonard of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church said the African and Native American history in the area dates back to pre-revolutionary war time when Native, European, and free or enslaved African Americans began establishing a rapport in the district.

Leonard added those developing relationships were an important part of the area’s heritage that the church will continue — creating a close relationship with community members and helping those in need. While some descendants have moved, Leonard said the church and the district is still home for these descendants.

Establishing the district as a historical landmark is a goal for Lewis — his effort to preserve the district began more than two decades ago. According to Erin Tobin, director of preservation for the Preservation League, the organization applied for the grant and is one of 14 to receive funding. Professor Chris Matthews of Montclair State University said the team conducting the survey would have more time and resources to execute the survey.

“Hopefully this will strengthen our understanding of this community and how it’s developed, grown [and] changed over the years and help to bring awareness to the large communities,” Judith Burgess said. Burgess is a freelance consultant who conducts historical research on Long Island communities.

Displacement in the area due to development pressure landed the Bethel Christian Avenue-Laurel Hill Historic District on Preservation League’s Seven to Save list of endangered places in 2014, according to a press release about Higher Ground’s grant. But the grant and the survey will help find a permanent way to preserve the district for present and future generations.

“This community has such a unique history and culture. If the history is not documented properly then…it gets distorted and we don’t want that to happen here,” Cartright said during the event. “We want to make sure that everything is historically accurate and the present committee has done a great job getting us to this point.”

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Setauket firefighters get set with a ladder to approach the second floor dormitory fire area as soon as interior firefighters put water on the fire to extinguish flames. Photo from SFD/R. O'Rourk

A ferocious fire inside a dormitory building at Stony Brook University has left multiple floors and rooms damaged, the university said Monday.

The blaze broke out Saturday night in a student’s room on the second floor of O’Neill College, one of four residential buildings in Mendelsohn Quad, officials said. It took teams from various fire departments in the community to extinguish the flames and forced about 115 student residents to relocate to temporary housing, the university said in a statement.

The cause was still under investigation and there were no reported injuries.

“The fire was contained to one bedroom on E-wing [of the dormitory] with some damage to several room doors on multiple floors of the wing as well as some water and smoke damage,” the university said in a statement. “Professional and student staff within campus residences immediately began to work diligently to provide resident students with the resources and support needed, and continue to do so.”

The fire is extinguished but a clean-up of debris from the room continues to ensure no hidden flames exist. Photo from SFD/R. O'Rourk
The fire is extinguished but a clean-up of debris from the room continues to ensure no hidden flames exist. Photo from SFD/R. O’Rourk

University police initially reported the fire before crews arrived. The Setauket Fire Department responded to the call and received mutual aid from the Stony Brook, St. James and Port Jefferson departments. There, officials found that the dorm room where the flames originated was completely destroyed, officials said.

Setauket firefighters had to carry hoses up to the second floor because there were no standpipes there to connect to, due to the building’s decades-old architecture, the Setauket Fire Department said in a statement.

“Once water was brought to bear, most flames were extinguished and the remainder of the alarm resulted in cleaning out debris to ensure there was no extension to the fire,” the department said in a statement.

The university said the displaced residents would return to the building when it is properly restored.

“Currently there are professional fire restoration personnel on-site working to repair the facility in conjunction with our campus residence operations and risk management staff,” the university said in a statement.

A fireball erupts during a demonstration on the dangers of deep-frying a turkey in hot oil. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town officials held a fiery presentation on Nov. 20 to demonstrate the dangers of deep-frying a turkey in hot oil.

According to a press release from the town, the trend is a growing one that is responsible for several deaths and dozens of injuries every year.

The hot oil can splash or spill, causing severe burns.

“The fireball that we saw during the demonstration clearly showed how the improper use of turkey fryers can lead to personal injury and the destruction of property,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “I hope that people who use deep fryers follow all the manufacturer’s safety instructions and keep a fire extinguisher handy.”

Romaine and the town’s chief fire marshal, Chris Mehrman, held the demonstration on the Friday ahead of Thanksgiving.

The supervisor also announced that this holiday season the town would accept waste oil, which is used to create biodiesel fuel, at the town landfill on Horseblock Road in Brookhaven hamlet.

Last year, the town accepted more than 350 gallons of used cooking oil after Thanksgiving, according to the press release.

The landfill is open Monday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday, from 7 a.m. to noon.

For Thanksgiving fire safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association at www.nfpa.org.