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American Legion

Boats cover Northport Harbor during last year’s event.Photo from Bob Slingo

Centerport Yacht Club will be hosting the second annual Let’s Take a Veteran Sailing event on Saturday, July 30. The event was created by SailAhead, a nonprofit organization that works to support and heal wounded veterans.

Sailboats will come from near and far to join the fleet of 45 boats. With the support of American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244, 140 registered veterans, mostly from Long Island, will attend this event. The purposes of the event is to spread post-traumatic stress disorder awareness throughout the community, as well as spread awareness of the SailAhead program so that more wounded veterans can be helped.

The sailing event will last four hours and the flotilla will sail on the Long Island Sound.

Maureen Pouder, third from left, poses for a photo with Town of Brookhaven officials and members of the American Legion after receiving recognition for her artwork. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

From a flower to an old barn, artist Maureen Pouder draws her inspiration from the simple things in life.

The Miller Place resident was honored during the Town of Brookhaven’s last meeting on for her work on an old mailbox for the American Legion Arthur H. Clune Post 1533 in Mastic Beach. Pouder, a recreation specialist for the Town of Brookhaven, met members of the post around four months ago through Marcel Van Orden, a post member and one of Pouder’s art students at the Mastic Recreation Center.

Van Orden was originally tasked with reinventing the post’s mailbox. Pouder came on board after Van Orden mentioned it in conversation. In a couple weeks, the duo transformed the old rusted delivery mailbox into an American-inspired mural depicting the American flag and a bald eagle. The mailbox will help collect unserviceable flags, which the legion burns every Flag Day, said past post commander, George Barnes. He added that the mailbox mural was so beautiful that he hates to put it outside.

Maureen Pouder stands to the right of the American Legion Arthur H. Clune Post 1533’s new flag depository mailbox she painted. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven
Maureen Pouder stands to the right of the American Legion Arthur H. Clune Post 1533’s new flag depository mailbox she painted. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

“Painting [it] like a mural brings attention,” Pouder said. “People will walk past a mailbox and not take a second look. But when it’s painted like a mural they really look at it and they’ll see it’s a flag depository.”

Receiving town recognition is an honor for Pouder, who started working for the municipality in 2008. For the past several years, she’s held art classes at the Blue Point, Shoreham and Mastic recreation centers where she teaches watercolor, oil and acrylic painting skills. The artist also runs Brookhaven’s annual art shows, which are held in Port Jefferson.

Pouder has painted murals for the Cedar Beach Nature Center, among other places on Long Island. Last year, the artist decorated a bra to help raise $2,000 for breast cancer. She used wool roving and barbed pin to create flowers and butterflies on the bra.

She’s a very talented artist … she’s also a very hard worker,” said Kurt Leuffen, superintendent of Brookhaven’s parks and recreation department. “She’s been teaching art for the last couple of years [and] she’s done a very good job. I would say all participants really enjoy her as an instructor — she’s very good, she’s very thorough and she’s very helpful.”

Leuffen has known Pouder for nearly 25 years. He added that town employees and those at Pouder’s recreation centers are proud of her and lucky to have her as an employee.

While Pouder knows various art media, she said she loves painting with watercolor, acrylic and oil paint the most. Although she can finish a watercolor painting in a couple of days, oil paintings take her several weeks, as they need more time to dry. Pouder added that she gets more joy when she donates her time to work on a painting like her mailbox mural, because she knows her work is truly appreciated.

“Maureen’s artwork and volunteerism is very well known throughout the community,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “We are all grateful that she shares her time and talent so generously.”

Bruce Blanco smiles with other members of the riders. Photo from Blanco

For one man, riding isn’t just a way of life — it’s a way to honor his son.

Bruce Blanco, president of the American Legion Riders Chapter 1244, first got involved with the American Legion in 2010, after his son Michael Edward Blanco, a lance corporal in the United States Marines, passed away on Feb. 15, 2010.

“I am living in the eyes of my son,” Blanco said in a phone interview. “He is my hero.”

Blanco, a Commack resident, said that whenever his son was on leave he would lend a hand to local organizations like the American Legion, so Blanco “took over the things he would do,” once his son passed.

Michael Blanco served in the U.S. Marines. Photo from Bruce Blanco
Michael Blanco served in the U.S. Marines. Photo from Bruce Blanco

The American Legion Riders started in 1993, when American Legion members decided they wanted to create an environment where members could come together to share their love of motorcycles. Blanco described the American Legion Riders as “riding billboards for veterans,” that help bring attention to and raise money for veteran events.

Blanco, who has been president for the past year, said that through the organization he has been able to spend time with veterans, play bingo or share a meal, stood in as family for burial services when a veteran had no other family left, and raised money to provide veterans and their families with meals for the holidays. According to Blanco, in the last year alone, the riders were present at more than 100 military funerals. They also participate in local celebrations like the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parades in Huntington and King’s Park, and organize welcome homes from the airport.

According to Blanco, his chapter only has 24 members, but provide at least 150 different missions each year for veterans. They are one of only three rider posts in Suffolk County, and he said they are the most active chapter in New York State.

One of his fondest memories with the riders thus far, was fulfilling a wish of a veteran in his early 90s, who had always wanted to ride a motorcycle.

“We had all of his family and friends out to see him,” he said. “It was just a really nice day.”

Blanco said he thinks the organization is so important because it reminds veterans that they are not alone.

Blanco poses with Post American Legion Post 1244 Commander Dennis Madden. Photo from Bob Santo.
Blanco poses with Post American Legion Post 1244 Commander Dennis Madden. Photo from Bob Santo.

“We show vets love and give them the support they deserve,” he said. “When you have veterans who think they’re alone and then we can be there for them, that makes my day.”

He said he has seen some American Legion posts lose support and membership in the past few years. Some were even forced to close their doors.

“I never want to see this disappear,” he said. “The riders are trying to bring attention to what the American Legion does, and help to try and make it grow.”

The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund recently honored Blanco for the $1,000 donation he and the riders fundraised for in 2015. The scholarship fund gives money to children of fallen post-9/11 service members.

Mario Buonpane pays respects at a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Heckscher Park last year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Mario C. Buonpane, Jr., a staunch local veterans’ activist, avid golfer and a family man, died on Monday after losing a vicious battle with prostate cancer. He was 83.

Buonpane, best known for his work with Huntington Town’s veterans — having served as a charter member and chairman of the Huntington Town Veterans Advisory Board and a past commander of the Northport American Legion Post 694 — is credited with spearheading the rehab of the Northport Veteran Administration Medical Center’s golf course, which brought golfers to the grounds and proceeds to the hospital, according to his son Mark Vincent (Buonpane).

Mario Buonpane speaks at last year’s town remembrance of 9/11. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Mario Buonpane speaks at last year’s town remembrance of 9/11. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“That’s his legacy,” Vincent said. “That will remain and serve the community for years and years to come.”

He received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army and he joined the town’s veterans advisory board as a charter member in 1987. He became chairman in 1993, and since its inception, the group enhanced Veterans Plaza at Huntington Town Hall with the completion of a number of memorials honoring veterans of all wars fought by the U.S.

“Our Veterans Plaza is one of the finest on Long Island and we still have plans to improve it,” he wrote in a list of his accomplishments.

He was also the chairman of the legion’s Veterans Affairs Golf and Tournament Committee, through which he helped negotiate a contract to take over the golf course in 1996. When the group took over, the course hadn’t been mowed in five years, the greens were diseased and there were no facilities, according to Buonpane. Since then, the course touts a clubhouse with a deck, new fairways and more.

Buonpane was instrumental in getting the Northport American Legion’s Boys State and Girls State programs up and running. The programs select girls and boys off to participate in a model governments to teach them how they work, and under Buonpane’s leadership, the number of candidates the legion has sponsored has grown, from one in 1982 to about 20. The program, “teaches you how to be a good citizen,” Vincent said.

Aside from his many community contributions, Buonpane was, at heart, a family man, The father and husband, who worked for Grumman as an electrical engineer and designed electrical harnesses on the lunar module always had time for sports with the kids, Vincent said.

“He taught us great values, he taught us how to earn things the honest way, play by the rules, tell the truth and have great integrity,” Vincent said.

On his work at Grumman, Vincent said, “he contributed to the greatest journey humans had ever done.”

Buonpane’s dedication and never-give-up attitude was his trademark, the son said. He took up running in his 50s and could only run a few laps around the track but ultimately trained until he completed the New York City Marathon. He still went to the gym, even with stage 4 cancer.

“He was tough,” Vincent said. “He was a trooper.”

Others in the Huntington Town community were touched by Buonpane’s contributions, too. Supervisor Frank Petrone issued a statement on Buonpane’s death.

“He worked tirelessly to support efforts ensuring that we all remember, honor and respect our veterans and that veterans got the services and benefits they earned by serving our country,” he said. “We will miss his presence as the master of ceremonies at our wreath ceremonies and other veterans’ events.”

Joe Sledge, communications director at the Northport VA, also spoke highly of Buonpane’s contributions. Sledge said he had known Buonpane since he first started working the VA 23 years ago.

“It was he who sponsored my entry into the American Legion over 14 years ago,” he said. “He made many significant contributions to Northport VA Medical Center through his time, talent, and countless generous acts.  All who knew him would agree that Mario was a thoughtful, hard-working man whose life’s mission was to brighten the lives of others, especially hospitalized veterans. He will be sorely missed.”

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AMVETS Post 1998 in Port Jefferson Station is hosting a fundraising barbecue to support aging and otherwise needy local veterans.

The nonprofit’s annual BBQ will fire up on Saturday, Sept. 12, at 1 p.m. at the American Legion Post, 1450 Hallock Ave., Port Jefferson Station. There will be chicken, hot dogs, burgers, clams, drinks and dessert, as well as a Chinese auction and a raffle.

Tickets are $25 for adults, and kids under 12 are free. They can be purchased through AMVETS Post Commander Barbara Alt at 631-509-4151 or Post Historian Ed Bednarek at 631-331-3853. The tickets will also be on sale at the American Legion on the day of the barbecue.

Contact Alt or Bednarek for more information about the event.