Village Times Herald

Linda Johnson presents a check to support Stony Brook Cancer Center to registered dietitian Jennifer Fitzgibbon. Photo by Terri Quinn

By Susan Risoli

Thanks to Linda Johnson, the Three Village Artisan and Farmers Market has become a place of healthy healing, not only through its fresh produce but because of the fellowship and friendship it offers. For her hard work and dedication to reinventing the market, TBR News Media names Johnson one of the People of the Year.

Linda Johnson helps a customer at the Three Village Market. Photo by Terri Quinn

The Three Village Market — as it is colloquially known — sets up shop on the North Country Road grounds of the Three Village Historical Society. This year Johnson stepped up to manage it and ran the event every Friday from June through October. She is scheduled to manage it again in 2019.

Those who shopped at the market say Johnson infused it with the same spirit that flavors her family-run chocolate business, Chocology Unlimited in Stony Brook.

“Linda’s business is about the whole experience of chocolate, and philanthropy, and building relationships in the community,” said Sandy White, Three Village Historical Society office manager.

Johnson turned the market into an opportunity to support survivorship programs at the Stony Brook Cancer Center. She also made it a relaxed gathering spot, where neighbors brought their dogs and kids and enjoyed live music.

The Three Village Market features locally grown and crafted wares, with an emphasis on the freshest of foods. Jennifer Fitzgibbon, a Cancer Center registered dietitian who specializes in oncology nutrition, found the market to be an ally in educating her patients and raising funds to support the Cancer Center. She said Johnson donated a percentage of sales from the farmers market, as well as a percentage of sales from her chocolate business, to purchase exercise equipment and yoga mats for cancer patients and survivors to use.

As part of the Cancer Center’s Healthy Forks program, Fitzgibbon takes people to grocery stores to show them how to shop healthy without spending a lot of money. So taking them on tours of the Three Village Market was a great addition to Healthy Forks, she said. Fitzgibbon said she and her patients appreciated Johnson’s efforts to establish “an uplifting and beautiful experience. It’s just a healthy atmosphere.”

For one vendor, working with Johnson turned into a homecoming. Ann Marie’s Farm Stand, a beloved Three Village mainstay, was for many years headquartered right up the road from the farmers market. Although they’re doing well at their new location in Port Jefferson Station, many in the Three Village community mourned their absence. So Johnson brought Ann Marie’s back, by inviting them to sell their produce at the market every week.

“She was sort of our guardian angel,” said Ann Marie’s owner Mary Ann Deriso. “We saw our old customers again, and that was great for us.”

“She has a lot of positive energy. She always has so many ideas.”

— Jennifer Fitzgibbon

Deriso praised Johnson’s people skills.

“It’s not easy positioning the vendors in their spots and making them happy where they are,” Deriso said. “She’s very good at it. She made us all feel comfortable and welcome.”

Above all, “Linda is down to earth,” Deriso said. “She’s likable and real.”

Fitzgibbon said Johnson created a diverse marketplace that was more than just vegetables.

“She has a lot of positive energy,” Fitzgibbon said. “She always has so many ideas.”

The nutritionist said one example was “at the market there was a bread person, a gluten-free dessert person, a pasta vendor and even a lady who knits.”

Fitzgibbon called Johnson “the heart and the soul and the nucleus of the farmers market.”

Besides setting up the vendor tables every week, “she was literally going through the neighborhood, getting people to come over there and shop.”

White said Johnson put together a farmers market that filled a void.

“Yes, there are other farmers markets in other areas, but we needed one here,” she said. “The market is successful, and we’re happy that Linda took it over.”

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association lead a prayer vigil at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Photo from Facebook

For approximately two decades, clergy members from a variety of faiths have been working together in the Three Village area to bring residents from different religions together for community discussions. The hope is to achieve a better understanding of the issues that face the world today.

The Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association recently set up a website where members alternate writing blogs. To view the site, visit www.3vclergy.blogspot.com.

The TVICA includes leaders from various religious organizations in the Three Village area including:

Rabbi Aaron Benson, North Shore Jewish Center, Port Jefferson

The Rev. Richard Visconti, Caroline Church and Cemetery, East Setauket

The Rev. Chuck Van Houten, Stony Brook Community Church

The Revs. Margie Allen and Linda Anderson, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Ismail Zahed, Islamic Association of Long Island, Selden

Father Farrell Graves, All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Huddelson, Stony Brook University Hospital

The Rev. Steven Kim, Setauket Methodist Church

Elaine Learnard, Conscience Bay Quaker Meeting

The Rev. Gregory Leonard, Bethel AME Church, Setauket

Father James Mannion, St. James Roman Catholic Church, Setauket

Sister Edith Menegus, St. Charles Hospital and Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky and Cantor Marcey Wagner, Temple Isaiah Stony Brook

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, Open Door Exchange — Mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Mary Speers formerly of Setauket Presbyterian Church

Because of this mission, members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association have garnered the honor of being among TBR News Media’s People of the Year 2018.

“The goal of the clergy association, since the beginning, is to promote understanding among the different faith traditions in our community, to learn from one another, and to come together as people of faith interested in connecting with what’s happening in the world and in our community,” said the Rev. Kate Jones Calone, director of Open Door Exchange, a mission of Setauket Presbyterian Church.

Jones Calone said the members organize events where residents can discuss issues such as the 2017 Muslim ban, children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border and gun safety in the country in such a way that helps to build bridges. She said another hope is that the conversations will get residents involved in a positive way that may “allow us to cross the lines that divide us.”

In the past year, events have included the association’s annual Community Thanksgiving Service and prayer vigils for the victims of the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and those who were separated from their families at the U.S. border. In addition, the group hosted an event titled Interfaith Dialogue on Guns in America and a Good Deeds Day cleanup at West Meadow Beach. The clergy members have also come together to compose letters to the editor, which have been printed in The Village Times Herald.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she first learned about the TVICA several years ago when she was invited to the annual interfaith Thanksgiving program. She said she finds the events warm, inclusive and responsive to the issues existing in the country, including political and religious segregation.

“Since that time, my staff and I have attended their events whenever the schedule permits,” Cartright said. “The TVICA is a vibrant, dynamic community group within Council District 1.”

She said the association’s mission is not only of critical value and importance to the area but also to the world.

“The act of bringing together religious and spiritual ministers and leaders from all backgrounds has created a ripple effect that encourages diversity of thought, compassion for others, and respect for the rich cultural and religious diversity that exists in our area,” Cartright said.

Since the association’s inception, Joan Marino, an elder at Setauket Presbyterian Church, has attended many of the events along with her husband, Frank. She said events such as the prayer vigil for Tree of Life not only recognize the pain of those who are suffering but the pain of the mentally ill.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed,” she said.

“Everybody has a different theology of various types, but we all recognize the sanctity of life and loving your neighbor and standing up for those who are oppressed.”

— Joan Marino

Marino added one of her favorite events is the Thanksgiving service because she enjoys witnessing residents of all faiths coming together to give thanks. She also appreciates how the events are held in different houses of worship.

“That’s really wonderful because you go to be with the people in their place of faith,” she said.

Jones Calone said the TVICA has held educational programs where community members have been invited to learn about each other’s faith traditions, touching on topics such as end-of-life rituals and understanding other faiths practicing of prayer.

Marino said the events make her feel optimistic.

“From singing together to praying together, to lifting each other up — when there’s a world out there that’s pretty full of hate — and to find a way to bring people together into a more loving community, we have that here in Three Village,” Marino said.

Jones Calone said the Three Village community and surrounding areas are religiously diverse, and the clergy members have seen how meaningful the events have been to residents of different faith traditions.

“People are just hungry for opportunities to support one another — to be in a relationship with one another — and hopefully doing events like this gives people that chance to really know who their neighbors are even if we spend worship hours in different places,” she said.

 

Andrew Harris, right, stands with Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella and two other Comsewogue students. Photo from Joe Rella

Amanda Perelli

Those who know him say Andrew Harris, a special needs teacher at the Comsewogue High School, is an empathic teacher in the classroom and an advocate for service within the community, and that he often goes above and beyond.

Harris recently organized Joe’s Day of Service, a community service initiative where students and community members pledge to give back.

“Sometimes kids are like, ‘Oh, I have to get another five to 10 service hours,’ but with him the kids are so happy doing it. He’s really visionary in many ways,” Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella said. “He moves comfortably between and among the teachers, the administrators, the elementary students, secondary students, and really gets them excited about service. He’s a selfless person and that comes across in everything he does.”

Comsewogue High School students clean headstones at Calverton National Cemetery May 30 as part of Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

Harris has been a member of the district for 14 years, but it wasn’t until last year, with the help of his colleagues, that the idea for Joe’s Day of Service was born. 

The name was inspired by Rella for his constant dedication to better the community. 

Harris asked Rella what he thought of creating more districtwide volunteer opportunities and Rella was instantly on board.  

“He said, ‘What do you think about creating some opportunities [in service],” Rella said. “We have different opportunities at the High School level, where kids have to do community service as a part of the National Honor Society — what about if we did it on a district level? I said, ‘That’s a fantastic idea’ and he’s transformed the whole concept of service.”

The superintendent added the community was missing a districtwide event to get everyone involved at once.

Students in Harris’ class pitched how they thought they should spend the day — excited to work outside the classroom and with others within Comsewogue. 

“We had a movement here for many, many years to get kids more involved in their community — giving back, to be more empathetic,” said Joseph Coniglione, the principal at Comsewogue High School. “The goal was to do that through community service in the area. We had a large sum of students who went out and did individual projects and a tremendous group, who went to the Calverton National Cemetery to clean off the head stones and get them prepared for the veterans.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said Joe’s Day of Service was so successful she expects it will only grow in coming years.

 “The Comsewogue community is very close knit, and neighbors have already been working with students, teachers and faculty to improve the lives of others through the Joe’s Day of Service projects,” Cartright said. “Andy Harris and those involved have portrayed this initiative as continuous from the start, so I have no doubt that participation will increase as more members of the community learn about the project.”

Andrew Harris, right, stands with Brookhaven town Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D). Photo from Joe Rella.

Harris spearheaded the initiative, developing one day-long service event that taught students the value of service while helping out the community. 

“There are major problems everywhere — addiction, depression — and the thing is, they say one of the best things to do is to help other people,” Harris said in an interview at Brookhaven Town Hall, where the students were recognized for their efforts by the town board June 14. “I wanted the students to understand that, because they don’t always have the opportunity. I wanted them to get a taste of that just in one day and understand that when you give to others you feel rich.”

Harris has inspired students to give back to their local communities, and he also teaches the importance of being a civic leader in service. 

“Andy is a veteran special education teacher, but what sets him aside from a lot of people is his ability to really be empathic toward people,” said Coniglione. “He’s probably one of the kindest souls you’ll ever meet in your life. He really tries to make others life better and just happier.” 

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey tapes up a package to be shipped to a solider. Photo by Kyle Barr

Nearly every Friday at St. Anthony Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point a number of women are hunched over boxes, twine and packing slips.

Though it may be Christmastime, for the women of Operation Veronica, a nonprofit that sends care packages to active military personnel stationed all over the globe, the season of giving has lasted since 2005.

“I’ve been here 13 years, almost since the first day,” volunteer Annabelle Skoglind said. “The government takes care of their basic needs, but there’s always something that could make them feel a little better.”

Operation Veronica founder Janet Godfrey, in back, and volunteers Judi Miranda and Annabelle Skoglind put together items to be shipped as care packages to soldiers across the world. Photo by Kyle Barr

All of it comes from the mind of Wading River resident Janet Godfrey, who has led her team for more than a decade of giving, sending much more than 70,000 items, including food, toiletries, utensils, playing cards, hand warmers, blankets, scarves and items that help those soldiers remember that people back home still care about them and support them.

The many volunteers who work with Operation Veronica have nothing but praise for Godfrey. 

“She never stops, she’s like a dynamo,” Skoglind said.

During packing days Godfrey is a bundle of energy with her packing-tape gun like a magic wand in her hands. Though the weeks vary, the group can send more than 50 boxes out in a single session. These boxes end up in nine different countries and U.S. Navy ships.

The boxes the group dispatches are filled with essentials, but the volunteers often add other items at soldiers’ requests, such as glue traps to deal with vermin. The group is often busy making their own products such as neck coolers made from cloth or survival bracelets made from 550 paracords, the same cordage airborne infantry used making World War II parachutes. 

It’s not cheap to send so many boxes overseas, even using medium-sized flat-rate United States Postal Service boxes. If the group wishes to send a more irregular-sized box, it may cost upward of $30 or $40. Operation Veronica relies mainly on donations from the community, and Godfrey is constantly going out to civic meetings and seeing public officials to help raise funds.

“She takes great care in every package she sends,” said volunteer Liz Meskill. “She goes out to all these places to raise money just for our postage. She goes out and she does it, and she never complains. It gives her the enthusiasm to keep going.”

They often rely upon support from American Legion Post 1880 in Ridge, American Legion Women’s Auxiliary at the Leisure Glen Homeowners Association in Ridge, Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and The Richard and Mary Morrison Foundation based in Port Jefferson.

Operation Veronica volunteer Irene Stellato braids a bracelet. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Janet, who leads this nonprofit volunteer organization in certainly more than deserving the recognition as person of the year,” said Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249. “Janet would share some of the great responses that the troops send back. They are very appreciative that Operation Veronica cares about them and that they are remembered.”

The genuine feeling of appreciation for the troops overseas is evident in everything Godfrey and the volunteers do. It’s evident in the care and attention they pay to each package they ship out. It’s apparent in simply how they talk about the troops with an absolute reverence.

“She feels for the troops,” volunteer Irene Stellato said. “When something happens with the troops she cries, we all cry. She feels it from her heart.”

Godfrey said while her group isn’t explicitly a Christian organization, she was inspired by the story of St. Veronica The name for the group comes from the story of St. Veronica, who in the Bible is said to have used her veil to wipe the face of Jesus as he carried his cross to the mound. Godfrey’s words describing her organization and what it does ring true beyond all today’s
current politics and issues overseas.

“She couldn’t take him off the walk, she couldn’t change his fate, but she gave him a momentary relief from physical discomfort, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Godfrey said. “We can’t change their fates, we can’t change their lives, we can’t bring them home as much as we want to, but we can cool them off when they’re hot, we can warm them up when they’re cold, we can give them something to eat when they’re hungry, so we do what we can.”

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

By Daniel Dunaief

Heather Lynch is thrilled that she’s in the first class of scientists chosen as a recipient of the National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant.

An associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, Lynch uses computers to study satellite images to reveal details about populations of penguins.

In addition to determining how many penguins are in an area, Lynch also can use images of the stains penguin poop leaves on rocks to determine what the penguins eat. Krill, which feeds on the underside of ice, is reddish or pinkish, while fish leave a white stain.

Heather Lynch with a penguin. Photo from Heather Lynch

A total of 11 researchers won the grants, which are a combined award from Microsoft and the National Geographic Society and were announced in December. The winners were chosen from more than 200 qualified scientists.

“This is the first grant that National Geographic and Microsoft are doing,” Lynch said. “It’s super exciting to be in the inaugural group.”

To hear from Lynch’s colleagues, she is an extraordinary candidate for a host of awards, including recognition as one of the TBR News Media People of the Year for 2018.

In addition to landing a coveted grant for her innovative research using sophisticated computers and satellite images, Lynch earlier this year made a remarkable discovery using Landsat imagery about a population of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands in the Antarctic that was largely unknown prior to her published paper.

This archipelago of nine islands, which were named because of the ice that is impenetrable in most years, was home to 1.5 million penguins, which she surveyed using a combination of photos, drone imagery and hand counting. That figure represents a substantial population of a charismatic animal whose numbers often are used as a way to determine the health of a delicate region managed by a collection of nations.

“She does such good work,” said Patricia Wright, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University and the founder and executive director of Centre ValBio, a research station in Madagascar. Her discovery of the additional Adélie penguins was “fantastic.”

Lynch received some pushback from people who thought the discovery of these penguins ran counter to the narrative about the need for conservation. Wright appreciates how Lynch shared the discovery with the public, reinforcing her scientific credibility.

“She’s an example of a scientist who doesn’t give in to political pressure,” Wright said. “It’s difficult sometimes to face up to people who have good intentions, but who don’t seem to want to accept the reality.”

While the discovery of the Adélie penguins was remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the notion about the delicate balance of the Antarctic ecosystem, and it also doesn’t indicate that the population is soaring in a way the flightless water fowl never will. Indeed, the 1.5 million penguins may have been higher in the 1990s, although she is working to pin down exactly how much larger they might have once been.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

Lynch has also won admiration and appreciation from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who recently won his 14th term and has focused attention on environmental issues.

“Her ability to use statistics and mathematics to further conservation biology is pioneering work and worthy of recognition,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman believes scientists and policymakers are still in the early part of the process of understanding the complexity of the ecosystems in the Antarctic.

Finding the penguins on the Danger Islands doesn’t mean the “Antarctic is any less at risk. We still have to place that discovery into its proper context and [Lynch] is helping us do that,” Englebright said.

People who have ventured to the Antarctic with her admire Lynch’s focus, energy
and stamina.

Michelle LaRue, who is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, suggested that Lynch was “the most hardworking scientist that I know.”

LaRue recalled a time when Lynch was ill, and she still got up and did her job every day.

“The work we were doing wasn’t easy,” LaRue said. “I know she didn’t feel well and she kept going. She has a lot of perseverance.”

LaRue appreciates how her fellow scientist sees the “forest for the trees,” using a combination of high technology and considerable on-site counting to understand what changes in the penguin population reveal about the region.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, has also worked with Lynch for years. He appreciates how she’s “not afraid of uncertainty. In science, it’s knowing how well you know something. She’s amazing at taking data and information, which from the natural world is messy, and analyzing it and helping people pull useful and meaningful knowledge from complex situations.”

Ron Naveen, who founded the nonprofit group Oceanites in 1987, has worked with Lynch for 11 years.

“I’m very much proud of her work ethic and the standard of excellence she brings to the job,” Naveen said.

Oceanites collaborates with Lynch and others, Naveen said, to understand how penguins have reacted to climate change in an area where temperatures have been increasing at a faster rate than they have for much of the rest of the world.

Naveen recalls how Lynch, whom he describes as “petite and energetic” lugged around “amazingly heavy equipment,” including a camera for a Google Earth project.

“Whether [Lynch] is hiking, using a satellite or a drone, or lugging equipment that’s heavier than she is, she gets the data,” Naveen said.

He recalled a lab meeting with Lynch, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland in the lab of William Fagan. Lynch circled the room as she wrote on the board, sharing statistical language to explain a point.

“I had no bloody idea what she was talking about,” Naveen said. “When she was done, she sat down with a smile, and I raised my hand and innocently asked, ‘Would you mind translating that into plain English?’ Without missing a beat, she did.”

By all accounts, she’s continuing to do that.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks during a media event Feb. 9 at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Anthony Frasca

In a ceremony this past January at the Van Nostrand Theater on the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) swore in Errol Toulon Jr. (D-Lake Grove) as the 67th Suffolk County sheriff.

Toulon, whose father is a retired Rikers Island warden, spent many years as a Rikers Island corrections officer and went on to become an aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). In that position, Toulon supervised numerous public safety departments including fire, rescue and emergency services.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., second from right, joined by his wife Tina, right, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone during his inauguration Jan. 12. Photo by Kevin Redding

Ralph Grasso has spent 31 years in law enforcement and is a close personal friend of Toulon. Grasso said he met Toulon at their children’s soccer game 27 years ago, and they struck up a conversation that led to a long-term friendship.

“He was in corrections, and I was an NYPD police officer,” Grasso said. “We hit it off and became friends. He is the godfather of my daughter.”

He said he knew Toulon would excel when it came to being sheriff.

“Knowing him, and how he perseveres through just about anything, I knew he would take this role and take it above and beyond,” Grasso said. “We speak a lot on the issues that correlate from the city to where I am now in the waterfront commission and the surrounding areas. He’s cognizant of everything that goes on, especially the gang issue.”

First Undersheriff Steve Kuehhas said Toulon can often be found out in the communities and the schools throughout Suffolk County with an outreach program he established.

“He dedicates at least two days a week to go to schools to talk about vaping, bullying and gangs,” Kuehhas said. “He goes himself and speaks to the younger ones in the middle schools.”

The undersheriff said Toulon also increased the number of officers in the county’s gang resistance program, where officers spend time with middle school students for a whole semester.

“It serves a lot of purposes,” Kuehhas said. “One is students are no longer apprehensive when they see a uniformed officer because some of them grow up with a negative connotation of a uniformed officer. But when they are in the schools every day, they see that the officers are just like their dads, and they are teachers and many times kids confide in the officers when they get to know them about things we can actually investigate or to help them.”

‘His mind is always racing. He’s always wanting to better the sheriff’s office. It’s really pleasant to know that he’s trying to better your agency.’

—Steve Kuehhas

Grasso said Toulon has placed the best of the best in the office and has taken on the role of sheriff head on.

“He’s a rare breed where he actually looks at the outside people and what they have to deal with,” Grasso said.

With a goal of improving the mission of the sheriff’s office, Toulon has looked to uncover talents already existing within the department.

“What Sheriff Toulon has done is increased some of the specialized units within the sheriff’s office on both corrections and deputies,” Kuehhas said. “He is also very attuned to education. He’s actively looking for officers with backgrounds in certain areas or specialties like analytics or education.”

Toulon’s approach to the sheriff’s office has been to engage actively and do what it takes to improve morale too.

“He’s nonstop,” Kuehhas said. “His mind is always racing. He’s always wanting to better the sheriff’s office. It’s really pleasant to know that he’s trying to better your agency.”

Kuehhas added that Toulon is always among the officers in the jails and stops in on holidays with Kuehhas and Undersheriff Kevin Catalina.

On a personal note, Sheriff Toulon is a two-time cancer survivor, and his battles with cancer have inspired him to continue his mission to help others.

“He’s an avid hockey player and a Penguins fan,” Grasso said. “He actually wears the number 66 because he also had Hodgkin’s disease along with Mario Lemieux from the Penguins.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, above, sits in her office in Stony Brook Village Center.

By Donna Deedy

An old, darkened portrait of George Washington hangs on the wood-paneled wall behind her desk. Abraham Lincoln’s words are inscribed on an office vestibule plaque. She fills a seat once occupied by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. She’s Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. And for the last 38 years, she’s been successful at a job that she never imagined for herself.

“It’s impossible to describe all that we do here in one sentence,” she said.

Gloria Rocchio plans cultural events with staff members Kim Hernandez, Gabrielle Lindau, Anna Macukas and Patricia Dilucca.

As a landlord, Rocchio oversees the Stony Brook Village Center and 41 other commercial and residential properties in the Three Village area. She’s on constant lookout for good tenants. Her ultimate goal, however, is community enrichment. With a background in Long Island tourism, she and her staff of 12 develop educational and cultural events related to history, science and the arts.

It’s all part of the Melvilles’ legacy. The affluent discount shoe retailer and his wife ushered in an enterprising plan in the post-Depression era to create a socially viable business district with a nearby university at the headwaters of Stony Brook Harbor. Originally called the Stony Brook Community Fund (founded in 1939 and renamed The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1969), its mission celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019.

“People may not realize it, but Rocchio took on an organization that was not in the best fiscal condition and with the board turned it around to resurrect a community,” said Dr. Richard Rugen, the organization’s chairman of the board. “She’s been able to draw in big names and corporations, and our endowment has improved tremendously.”

Its net assets today are valued at $37 million, state filings show, up from a reported $2 million in 1980. Thanks to rental revenue, the company reportedly contributed $626,000 last year to the tax roll.

With an improved bottom-line, its programs now touch many lives.

The nonprofit business offers $l-a-year leases to three charitable organizations: The Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and Lending Aids for the Sick. Some of the region’s most celebrated chefs cook at the Three Village Inn and the Country House Restaurant, also part of the group’s holdings.

“We see familiar faces, business travelers and many new people in our dining rooms, and it’s all very rewarding,” said French chef Guy Reuge, who relocated his Mirabelle Restaurant to Stony Brook hamlet 10 years ago.

The organization’s programs on the Underground Railroad and the Culper Spy Ring have earned national acclaim. Performances at its historic sites reach virtual audiences near and far — from schools in Setauket to classrooms in Louisiana, Quebec and Panama. A new event in 2019 entitled The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War will showcase the unsung stories of four women involved in George Washington’s spy ring.

When Rocchio sees a social concern, she said she looks for people who can take it on.

Stony Brook University is co-sponsor for an annual walk/run that has raised to date more than $1.4 million for breast cancer research. Its Youth Corp initiated last summer a farm-to-table event that fed the needy.

To promote regional tourism, Rocchio in 2017 recruited support from elected officials to designate Route 25A from Great Neck to Port Jefferson as a national historic trail. The roadway is now prominently marked Washington Spy Trail on 26 brown stagecoach signage.

Overall, an estimated 18,000 people of all ages attend each year more than 70 sponsored events in the village of Stony Brook. Activities range from summer concerts, wetland cruises and kayak rentals to luncheon theater and cultural seminars. December’s tree lighting ceremony culminated the year’s events

Rocchio lives in town with her husband of 43 years, Richard, and their shih tzu Muffin. Residents since 1977, she’s often greeted with warm hellos and suggestions as she walks through the village.

“It’s a 9 to 5 job with 24/7 responsibilities,” she said as she encountered a jammed door in need of immediate repair at the old post office.

“I suppose Lincoln’s words sum it all up,” Rocchio said, trying to explain her organization’s purpose. Ward Melville, she said, made sure Lincoln’s quote was prominently displayed throughout the village: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”

All photos by Donna Deedy

By Daniel Dunaief

Brian Hoerger saw the doors bowing inward. A deluge of about 4 inches of rain in an hour or so in Port Jefferson on Sept. 25 sent a river of water toward Theatre Three, which was holding auditions for “A Christmas Carol” and was preparing to share “The Addams Family” a few days later.

Brian Hoerger in front of Theatre Three

The doors and nearby windows were no match for water that came flooding in, submerging a lighting board, damaging props and leaving tens of thousands of dollars in damage.

Hoerger, the facilities manager at the theater founded in 1969, sprang into action, salvaging what he could, removing what was unrecoverable and stabilizing the situation enough that he could leave around midnight and return six hours later to continue the cleanup effort.

To hear his friends tell it, Hoerger’s response, which included coordinating more than 50 volunteers and prioritizing a way to get the theater back in action just a few days later, is typical of a man committed to the community.

Hoerger has “an unparalleled devotion to helping others,” said Mollie Adler, who attended high school in Port Jefferson with him. “He’s always been extraordinarily helpful.”

In response to the devastating water in the building, Hoerger “worked nonstop,” said Jeffrey Sanzel, executive artistic director of Theatre Three. “He was physically cleaning, he was supervising the things that had to be thrown out and he was dealing with a lot of the main stage electrical stuff.”

Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson, recalled how she and Hoerger were “knee deep in the water,” and that he “goes above and beyond” with his lighting expertise.

“You call him, and he’s always there for you,” she said.

Hoerger was involved in setting up the rental for the replacement of the dimmer rack, which provides the stage lighting.

“He put the theater first, and he put the needs of the staff and the cast that was running in ‘The Addams Family’ first,” Sanzel said. “He stayed positive the whole time. He was always available.”

Hoerger wasn’t involved in much theater. A friend from when the two of them were 5, Eric Cherches, who was then a board member at Theatre Three, suggested that Hoerger give the theater a chance when he returned to Long Island in 2014.

Hoerger said he was hooked, especially by the production of “Sweeney Todd.”

“It was a great show, and the talent was amazing,” recalled Hoerger, who has helped with lighting, carpentry and building sets. While the Theatre Three cast and crew appreciate all he does to support them, he has also built up a reputation as a cook.

Beyond his work with Theatre Three, Hoerger has contributed in numerous other ways.

He pitches in with prom decorations.

The downstairs of Theatre Three after the flash flood. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Little kids will accompany their parents to work on the prom for older siblings or cousins,” said Cherches, a lawyer at the Law Offices of Eric D. Cherches in Port Jefferson. “Everybody knows [Hoerger]. He has a way of making everybody a friend.”

Hoerger has been helpful to Adler, who has had three surgeries for breast cancer and is a single mom dealing with significant financial challenges.

“My house was falling apart,” Adler said. “He helped organize a group of guys we went to school with” to come repair holes in the deck, to paint her door and to repair other problems.

Adler bakes Miss Mollie’s Brownies to support herself and her family. Hoerger brought her brownies into Theatre Three, which shares in the profits for the baked goods.

In addition to the many roles Hoerger has played at Theatre Three, which also include serving as a photographer, the organization has offered him a chance to stand in front of the lights he ensures are working. Sanzel asked Hoerger if he’d be willing to play the role of Mr. Fusco, the hardware store owner in “Saturday Night Fever.”

“That’s not my thing,” Hoerger said. “I enjoy watching the shows and being behind the scenes.”

Hoerger’s colleagues at Theatre Three appreciate his preparation and contributions in the moments when torrential rains don’t hit.

“Any time there’s a chance of heavy rain, he is out there with his pump and hoses snaked around the parking lot,” said Vivian Koutrakos, managing director at Theatre Three. “I’m more impressed with that” in those moments “when we’re not calling on the world to come help us.”

Bringing his childhood friend to the group was “the best thing I did during my almost 10 years on the board,” Cherches said.

Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 attend a wake for Andrew McMorris where they stood as honor guard. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Melissa Arnold

All across Long Island, as Boy Scout troops gather for regular meetings, they reaffirm their commitment to the organization’s oath and law. Time and again, they promise to be loyal, trustworthy and brave and to “help other people at all times.”

Whether it’s running fundraisers, washing cars, visiting seniors or fixing up neighborhood points of interest, the Boy Scouts in local troops are often the driving force behind Suffolk County community service efforts.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said they believe that all Scouts, boys and girls alike, stand as a positive example to our community, and that everyone should strive to join them in living a life of respect, leadership and helpfulness.

“The town always has a ‘wish list’ of projects we’d love to take on, but simply don’t have the funding for,” Bonner said. “The Scouts really complement the work that we do, but even beyond that, they make a tremendous impact in so many different areas of our community.”

Many of the organization’s service projects are dreamed up and implemented by the most senior Scouts, boys approaching their 18th birthday who are striving to obtain the highest rank: Eagle Scout.

Troop 204 uniform

In Miller Place’s Troop 204, anywhere from six to eight boys make Eagle Scout each year. The process is rigorous, and the Scouts run every aspect from initial planning and fundraising to completing the project and writing a final report. According to Scouting Magazine, less than 10 percent of all Boy Scouts go on to become Eagle Scouts.

“It’s great watching the boys come in as novices and grow and mature and become good citizens,” said Joe Argento, scoutmaster of Troop 204. “It’s special to see kids I’ve known since they were young go on to make Eagle.”

This year, the troop’s newest Eagle Scouts from Troop 204 protected wildlife at Cedar Beach with the installation of fishing line receptacles, made massive repairs to a large storage facility at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rocky Point and spruced up the Miller Place signs and Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven, among several other projects.

While the Boy Scouts are known for serving their neighbors, they are also fiercely loyal to one another. The strength of those ties was on display this fall when Andrew McMorris, a Scout from Troop 161 in Shoreham, was struck and killed by an alleged drunk driver during a day hike in Manorville Oct. 1. Several other Scouts were injured in the episode as well. In the days after Andrew’s death, Scouts from across the region banded together to hang hundreds of red ribbons from Riverhead to Wading River and beyond. 

On the day of Andrew’s wake, they came out in force to stand vigil for their brother. Troop 204 served as an honor guard.

“No matter what kind of Scout you are, it’s all one big family,” said Ann Colletta, membership coordinator for the Benjamin Tallmadge District of the Suffolk County Boy Scouts. “Troop 161 is very dear to Troop 204, and we all wanted to show them that we have their backs. It could have been any of us.”

The Scouts would go on to raise more than $20,000 for a memorial fund in Andrew’s memory that went to support Troop 161. In addition, the troop is raising funds to build a 3,200-square-foot Adirondack cabin at Baiting Hollow Scout Camp in Wading River, which will be named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. 

Scoutmaster of Troop 161 Matthew Yakaboski said the troop is only just beginning to heal after the tragedy in October, but they still have a long way to go. 

“To have that life cut short like that is awful,” Yakaboski said. “We’re just trying to celebrate his life and do what we can.”

Along with the effort to build a cabin in Andrew’s honor, Troop 161’s scoutmaster said a number of their Scouts are planning several Eagle projects in the upcoming year, all of which will honor Andrew and the other Scouts injured on that day. One Scout is doing his Eagle project at the Robert S. Reid Community Center in Shoreham creating a paved brick patio and garden around a tree the troop originally planted in honor of Andrew. Yakaboski’s son, also named Matthew, is going to work on a project in conjunction with nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving at the Jones Beach Theater. He will be renovating the area around a flagpole to create a brick path in the shape of a ribbon with each brick engraved with the name of people who have been killed or injured during DWI incidents. 

Anker was quick to note that troop leaders and parents are also worthy of praise for the time, effort and support they contribute to the organization.

“We have to give the scoutmasters credit, too — they’re more than just leaders or supervisors. They’re true mentors and role models that challenge the Scouts to grow not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And when you have strong leadership in Scouts, it perpetuates strong leadership for the next generation.”

With additional reporting by Kyle Barr.

Angeline Judex stands with New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright at the 2018 Eastern Long Island Mini Maker’s Faire. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com

At a glance, the Long Island Explorium building looks like an old-school log cabin compared to the great glass facade of the neighboring Port Jefferson Village Center and the rustic townhouses or surrounding businesses.

Angeline Judex

If anything, both the building and the Long Island Explorium program, which brings in school-aged children from all across Long Island in education programs, stand out. They have stood out in no small part thanks to Angeline Judex, the executive director of the explorium.

Judex has been a part of the Port Jefferson program for close to two years. “She has a great desire to work with people, and she’s very honoring of other people’s perspectives,” said Jacqueline Grennon Brooks, the president of the Long Island Explorium. “Through that dialogue with people is how we can achieve these goals.”

Every year the explorium welcomes close to 10,000 young students through its doors. Inside is a number of puzzles and interlocking machinery, all part of a teaching philosophy called constructionism, which asks young people to use ingenuity and logic to solve problems on their own.

“She’s made her program very successful, and she’s brought in students from all over Long Island,” Port Jeff trustee Bruce D’Abramo said. “She’s one of the reasons that Port Jefferson is a place for learning and life sciences.”

The explorium has become a lightning rod for STEAM education and creativity in Port Jefferson since it was created in 2004, then bearing the name The Maritime Explorium. Since then, programs have expanded outward from Port Jeff, but the most sizable events still happen within Port Jeff Village, often spilling out from its log cabin building and onto Harborfront Park. In November the explorium received $43,626 in grant funds to install native plant rain gardens in high visibility areas such as in front of its building on East Broadway and the corner of East Broadway and Main Street.

While the Mini Maker’s Faire had its fourth year in 2018, under Judex, the event gained official status with the larger Makers Faire organization. The past two events brought thousands of people to the village who experienced many things from amateur DIY robotics to Colonial-era cooking and blacksmithing. Now expanding on the idea, the executive director has brought in past faire participants for “makers spotlights,” which show guests at the explorium their projects and explain to them how they created them.

“I have found her to be very personable, very organized and very focused,” said village administrator Robert Juliano. “She has a sunny disposition and always looking to make things better for the explorium and the community.”

Angeline Angeline Judex receives a grant from Edward Palleschi of the Long Island Community Foundation. Photo by Kyle Barr

In August 2017 the explorium hosted a watching party for the total eclipse of the sun. Even then, with so many heads turned to the sky, the explorium was pushing the scientific impact of the event by having those who attended help to accumulate scientific data to be used by researchers across the country. Children of all ages charted the temperature, percentage of the sky covered by clouds, the color of the sky and the visibility of the sun every five minutes until the conclusion of the eclipse. All the data was collected and sent to NASA.

Brooks said since Judex has become the executive director, the explorium has focused more and more on outreach outside the Port Jeff community. The explorium hosts outreach programs for public school teachers called Educate the Educators that sends explorium staff out to school districts such as William Floyd to help those teachers embrace problem-based education techniques, often on a small budget. In the past instead of simply teaching kids about earthquakes with pictures and PowerPoints, Judex used gelatin and had kids build houses that could resist the constant trembling.

“Because of economics, going out on field trips is being done much less than it has been done in the past, so what we do is we bring our program to school,” Brooks said. “This takes the explorium model to other aspects of their teaching program.”

Judex and the explorium are not slowing down either. The Mini Maker’s Faire will return next year, and the executive director already has plans to make additions to the building interior, working with a local Girl Scout to create a programmable robotic hand.

If anything, Judex and the explorium have become much less of a hidden gem, and more of a shining jewel in the Port Jefferson community.

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