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Andy Polan

Honorees Katharine Griffiths, Andy Polan, Leah Dunaief, Anna Kerekes

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted its annual Jewels & Jeans Gala at Flowerfield in St. James on June 19. This year’s event honored Katharine Griffiths, Executive Director, Avalon Park & Preserve; Leah Dunaief, Editor and Publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media; Anna Kerekes, WMHO Trustee; and Andy Polan, President, Three Village Chamber of Commerce “for their outstanding achievements to the community.” The evening featured music by Tom Manuel and The Jazz Loft All Stars, cocktails, dinner and a live and silent auction. 

Photos by Ron Smith, Clix|couture

Brewster House
Katharine Griffiths

This year is a special one for the Ward Melville Heritage Organization. Based in Stony Brook Village, the not-for-profit organization is celebrating its 80th anniversary of protecting and preserving historic and environmentally sensitive properties deeded to it by Ward Melville, whose philanthropic works and foresight are legendary.

Melville’s visions for the Stony Brook area included the establishment of a world-renowned education institution, Stony Brook University (to which he donated 400 acres of land as well as personal funding); the protection of environmentally sensitive areas; educational and cultural programs; and the preservation of historic properties, dating back to the Revolutionary War, for present and future generations to experience.

Leah Dunaief

The celebration with kick off with its 11th annual Jewels & Jeans Gala at Flowerfield in St. James on June 19 from 6 to 10 p.m. honoring Katharine Griffiths, executive director of Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook; Andy Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce; WMHO trustee Anna Kerekes; and Leah Dunaief, editor and publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media.

Andy Polan

The evening will feature a cocktail hour with entertainment by Tom Manuel and The Jazz Loft All Stars. An exciting night follows with dinner, meeting this year’s honorees, raffles, a silent auction and a live auction. Prizes include a Lessing’s Fine Dining Experience for three $300 gift certificates at Mirabelle Restaurant at the Three Village Inn, Sandbar Restaurant and the View Restaurant; dinner for eight by personal Chef Lance; a four-night stay for 10 at The Dome; a VIP stargazing experience at Avalon Park & Preserve; and one night ocean view room at Gurney’s Montauk.

The fundraising goal for this 80th anniversary of the organization will be a net of $80,000. All proceeds will be used for much needed restorations to three of WMHO’s historic properties, each of which is on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.

Anna Kerekes

The Brewster House, c. 1665, is in dire need of siding and chimney repairs; the Thompson House, c. 1709, needs extensive restorations to its chimney; and the Stony Brook Grist Mill, c. 1751, the most complete working grist mill on Long Island, requires repairs to the very intricate mechanisms that are still in use today.

Funds are needed as well to continue producing WMHO’s 70-plus award-winning educational and cultural programs each year.

Tickets are $195 per person and sponsorships are also available. For more information, please call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org/jewels-jeans/.

Sheldon Polan, above center, with his son Andy Polan, left, and Fred Sganga, executive director of the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, during one of his weekly visits to the home. Photo from Andy Polan

One World War II veteran’s weekly visit to the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook is not about using its services — it’s about his passion for helping.

Sheldon Polan in uniform. Photo from Andy Polan

Sheldon Polan, who retired from his career as a full-time optician in 1987, visits veterans at the home every Thursday to measure and fit patients for glasses and adjust the spectacles when they come in.

The Selden resident, who turns 91 Nov. 10, said he’s been helping out at the home for seven years through his son Andy Polan’s business, Stony Brook Vision World, which is an affiliated practitioner of the veterans home.

“One day Andy says to me, ‘Dad, I can’t get over there — maybe you can help to bail me out,’” Sheldon Polan said.

The number of patients the optician sees varies from one or two to seven or eight depending on the day. When it comes to interacting with his fellow veterans, Polan, who served his time at West Point, said he enjoys talking to them about their military experiences.

“It gives you a common ground,” the optician said. “It kind of relaxes them too. It’s not ‘What are you going to do next.’”

Recently, the elder Polan took 20 examinations to renew his license, which is now valid for three more years. Through the decades, he’s seen a lot of advances in eyeglasses, including eyewear going from thick glass, where eyeglass wearers felt like they were wearing Coke bottles, to lighter plastics.

Polan said he occasionally helps his son out at Stony Brook Vision World, relieving some of the rigors of business ownership. Andy Polan is the president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and a former president of his synagogue.

Being an optician wasn’t the veteran’s original career plan though. He said he was making a good living working for a large gas station in Brooklyn after the war, but freezing temperatures in the winter made it difficult to work sometimes. His brother, who was an optician, suggested he go to college to learn to become one.

“I went into the school, I liked what I saw, and I persevered,” he said.

“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents.”

— Fred Sganga

Polan went on to work for 30 years with Dr. Norman Stahl in Garden City, who was the founder of Stahl Eyecare Experts, one of the first ophthalmologist offices in New York to use LASIK surgery when it became available in America in the ’90s.

Andy Polan said his father is a big help to him not only assisting at Stony Brook Vision World and at the veterans home but also making house calls when he can’t.

“I’m honored to have that,” the son said. “I’m luckier than a lot of people that my father at this age is able to still be very vital and helpful.”

Father and son both said they feel residents are fortunate to have the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook nearby.

“My dad is proud of what he sees over at the vets’ hospital,” Andy Polan said, adding that while many other veterans homes receive negative publicity, Long Island State Veterans Home executive director, Fred Sganga, goes above and beyond to make sure his patients are taken care of properly.

The respect is mutual. Sganga said it’s clear Polan loves to work with his fellow veterans.

“He is incredibly passionate about his work and is highly regarded by our residents,” Sganga said. “Sheldon’s optometry skills combined with his caring personality make him a welcome addition to our home. We salute him for his ageless abilities and his passion to serve his fellow veterans.”

Sheldon Polan said visiting veterans, where even a simple greeting means a lot to them, is important.

“Once I saw what I was giving to them and what I was getting back, I was hooked,” the optician said. “You got to feel for these people.”