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Anniversary

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Steven and Wayne Rampone Jr. hold images of the Ford dealership when they opened the Route 347 location. Photo By Leah Chiappino

By Leah Chiappino

With a vintage Ford planted in the showroom, the Ramp Ford Dealership in Port Jefferson Station evokes a feeling of nostalgia right as you walk in. Founded in 1944 by Alfred Rampone, the dealership is celebrating 75 years in business. As the oldest family-owned Ford dealership in Suffolk County, it has seen four generations of Rampone family ownership. Currently, Steven and Wayne Rampone Jr., are partners along with their father, Wayne Rampone Sr.

Alfred Rampone during the original founding of the dealership. Photos by Leah Chiappino

“I guess you could say [the business] is in my blood,” Wayne Rampone Jr. said.

The story goes that Alfred worked as a sales representative for Chevrolet, who denied his request to open his own dealership. However, when he reached out to Ford they came through on his request. They offered him a spot in Quogue or Port Jefferson. He chose the latter to make it easier to commute from his New Hyde Park home.

Originally, the dealership was located in lower Port Jefferson village at what is now the Chase Bank building. It operated with a handful of vehicles with a single salesperson and mechanic. The Rampones expanded to their current location on Route 347 in the mid-1960s. Today, they employ 45 people, who call themselves the “Ramp family,” and sell both vehicles and parts, as well as service vehicles. 

Rampone Jr. says their business model has remained the same all this time. 

“We are a customer-focused and customer-centered dealership,” he said. “We take pride in me being able to say we are a family-owned business and we literally treat our customers like family. When they walk in the door, we know them by name. We take care of each other.” He added their bond with the community has been instrumental to their success.

As part of their business model, owners said the dealership attempts to give back to the community in place of traditional advertising. They sponsor Little League teams, contribute to church organizations, and are deeply involved with Hope House Ministries. 

 “We spend a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of energy in the community,” Rampone Jr. said. “We believe if we give back to the community, they will give back to us.”

The cover of the first issue of The Village Times in 1976 by Pat Windrow

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This is a week of celebrations, and it gives me great pleasure to share them with you, our readers. First is the delightful news that Times Beacon Record newspapers won 12 awards for outstanding work over the past year from the New York Press Association this past weekend.

The convention was in Albany, and we loved hearing our names called out before a group of more than 300 attendees from weeklies and dailies, paid papers and free, representing communities throughout New York state. The prizes are listed elsewhere in the paper, and I am particularly pleased that they span the two primary responsibilities we carry: good editorial coverage and attractive advertising. Those are our two masters, and we need to serve both well in order to survive.

Speaking of surviving, a major part of the convention and its workshops was concerned with just that. As most of you know, newspapers — and the media across the board — are engaged in a gigantic struggle. Small businesses, long the backbone of community newspapers like ours, are falling by the wayside. Consumers are buying from Amazon and Google. It’s so easy to toddle over to a computer in one’s pajamas and order up Aunt Tillie’s birthday present, have it wrapped and delivered in no time at all, and perhaps even save some money in the transaction. Only small stores with highly specialized product for sale can compete. Or else they offer some sort of fun experience in their shops, making a personal visit necessary. And it’s not only small stores that are disappearing. Stores like Lord & Taylor — “a fortress on Fifth Avenue,” according to The New York Times — are also gone, directly impacting publications like that esteemed paper.

But that is only one existential threat to media. The other is the drumbeat of fake news. The internet and social media have been significantly discredited as news sources. Cable television hasn’t done much better in the public’s regard. Print, which has always been considered the most reliable source of fact-based news, mainly because it takes longer to reach the readers and is vetted by editors and proofers, can be dismissed with a wave of the hand and the accusation, “Fake news!” 

On the other hand, polls show that print is still the most trusted source. And that is particularly true for hometown newspapers, where reporters and editors live among those they write about and have to answer to them in the supermarket and at school concerts.

Which brings me to my next cause for celebration. Monday, April 8, marked the 43rd anniversary of the founding of The Village Times, which began the Times Beacon Record expansion. We were there in 1976, we are here in 2019, and I believe a good measure of success is simply survival. We are still just as committed to the high ideals of a free press — carrying those ideals and passion to our website and any other of our other platforms and products — as we were that day of wild exhilaration when our first issue was mailed to our residents. We will remain so in the future with the support of the communities we serve.

There is one other happy occasion this week. My oldest grandchild, Benji, is celebrating his birthday. When Benji was born, 24 years ago, I became a grandmother. This is, as we know, a club one cannot join on one’s own. One needs a grandchild to be admitted to this lovely existence. And in addition to the joy of watching him grow up into an honorable and talented young man, I have the exceptional pleasure of working with him as he goes about his chosen career of making quality films. It was he who directed and helped write our historical movie, “One Life to Give,” and now its sequel, “Traitor.” It is he who will be the first of our family’s next generation to graduate from college next month.

I am writing this column on the eve of your birthday, Benji. Happy Birthday, Dear Grandson! And I salute your parents for letting you follow your heart. 

Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said, opening up about his feelings following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded. “I was horrified of coming out because all I see in the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be [identifying as] straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

Much of the Port Jefferson Station community, and all of the Comsewogue Public Library’s past director’s were on hand Saturday for a day of celebration to commemorate the facility’s golden anniversary.

As part of the event, the library’s community room was dedicated to its first director, Richard Lusak, who served in that position from 1966 to 2002. In its 50-year history, the Comsewogue Public Library has had just three directors. The 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 14 also featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face-painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour and a new gallery exhibit.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day, with the community,” the third, and current Director Debra Engelhardt said during the event. “We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations.”

Engelhardt’s predecessor, Brandon Pantorno, who served at the helm of the library from 2003 through 2012 and is a Port Jefferson Station native, is a lifetime member of what they each referred to as the library family, as they all worked in several different capacities in the library’s hierarchy before becoming director.

“I remember when Blockbuster video came into the neighborhood right on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station and people would say ‘videos, they’re going to be the end to libraries,’” he said. “Well, libraries started circulating videos in addition to books, in addition to library coordinated programs, and guess what? Blockbuster video is no longer here, but Comsewogue library and other libraries — the library world — is still stronger than ever. We have evolved; we have very cleverly metamorphosed into different things for so many people.”

Lusak was brought on to lead the library in its infancy in 1966 by its board of trustees at the time. During the summer of 1966, the Comsewogue School District board of education petitioned the community in 1966 to schedule a vote, in which five trustees would be elected and establish a budget of about $68,000. In November 1966, Lusak was hired, and the library’s original grounds were established in a portable classroom at the southern end of Terryville Road, which still exists today. By November 1967, the community overwhelmingly voted in support of funding the building of a 16,000-square-foot facility at 170 Terryville Road, where the library remains today, though it has grown exponentially over the years.

Lusak said he was honored and humbled to have the community meeting room dedicated in his honor.

“I think the community decides whether or not we did a good job,” he said. “I can say this: the community has always been supportive of the library. The board of trustees here has always been dedicated to this institution — totally dedicated.”

The library’s first director tried to sum up what his time at the community institution meant to him.

“The people just love this library for the community, and I take a tremendous amount of pride in being associated with that,” said Lusak, who is still a resident of Port Jefferson. “It made my life a pleasure.”

Lusak’s wife Rosalie also attended the ceremony to celebrate her husband’s lifelong work.

“It was never a job to him, it was just his passion,” she said. “It’s very, very moving that something would be dedicated to him and I’m glad he got to see it.”

The Cumsewogue Historical Society was on hand during the event to share stories of the library’s history. Historical society Vice President Joan Nickeson said the very first library card issued in 1967 was to Thomas E. Terry, the grandson of Edward Terry, who was one of the Terry brothers who founded Terryville.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 Stony Brook University invited the local community, employees, friends and neighbors to experience CommUniversity Day and celebrate its 60th anniversary. The free event was filled with exploration, food, hands-on activities and performances highlighting the many things the university has to offer. Attendees visited a variety of themed campus “neighborhoods” to discover more about Stony Brook University.

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Bob Policastro smiles with Ella, a young girl with a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding

For 25 years, Hauppauge resident Bob Policastro has made it his mission to give medically fragile children and their families a place to turn to — not just for specialized nursing care but love and normalcy.

As founder and executive director of Angela’s House, a nonprofit organization that offers an extensive array of services for families to support children with severe medical conditions, the 57-year-old has worked tirelessly since 1992 to address the gap in New York’s health care system when it comes to helping chronically ill kids.

He said he was determined to be a voice for these parents and kids in the community after experiencing firsthand just how underhelped they are.

A view of one of the kid’s bedrooms. Photo by Kevin Redding.

When his daughter, Angela, was born in August 1989, Policastro said everything went wrong.

“She lost a lot of blood and oxygen, and suffered severe brain damage, that left her very frail,” he said.

As there had been no permanent place on Long Island equipped to handle the technological and medical needs of frail children, Policastro and his wife, Angie, had a tough time finding a specialized home or facility to provide their daughter the nursing care she desperately needed.

They ended up finding a specialty hospital two and a half hours away in Connecticut, but the long drive just to see his daughter left an emotional and physical scar on Policastro.

After Angela died a little after her first birthday, a grief stricken Policastro got to work.

Now there are three large group homes that look and feel more like cozy resorts to choose from, with Angela’s House locations in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook.

Each location contains 24-hour nursing, local therapists and doctors on hand, and houses up to eight kids between the ages 6 and 16 with varying conditions. The residences offer top-of-the-line medical and monitoring equipment hidden within the warmth and beauty of a caring home.

And although the children that inhabit it are those who have suffered accidents, disease, developmental delays and more, Angela’s House helps provide them the freedom and opportunity to have a simple childhood.

During a walkthrough of the large Stony Brook house, which opened in 2013 and is dedicated to kids who rely on ventilators, Policastro pointed out one of the children’s bedrooms.

It looked like a kid’s paradise, with a bed covered in stuffed animals, the floor littered with toys, Nickelodeon on TV and a window that gives a beautiful view of the property’s nearby woods — a far cry from the hospitals and institutions in which many of the children at the house had been living.

Bob Policastro smiles with Torren who suffers from a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding.

“For me, it’s about the kids and giving them a safe and loving life,” he said. “I feel really blessed that these kids who have been given a limited lease on life can make the most of it in ways the average person could never dream possible, or can touch people in ways that change them forever. It’s remarkable to see a nonverbal kid, [many of house’s children can’t talk], that has a smile that can light up a room. It’s a great responsibility and I feel honored to be put in a position where I can try to help as much as I can.”

Deborah Church, nurse manager at the Stony Brook location who does everything for the kids from providing medical stability to planning birthday parties to giving them a hug when they need it, said Angela’s House is the best place for these children to be if they can’t be home.

“It’s nice to have the parents smile and know they can go out and have a life, and come and visit their children and see they’re so happy, safe and well taken care,” Church said. “This is a happy home for them to live. These kids can be as normal as possible and always have a smile on their face.”

Gathered around a kitchen table, Policastro and Church talked with 15-year-old Torren, who had been confined to a hospital and nursing home for the first 12 years of her life because of a respiratory illness, about her Sweet 16 next month. Torren will wear an extravagant dress, dance to her favorite band, OneRepublic, and eat nachos with her friends at the house.

Torren, who wheels her ventilator around inside a travel suitcase in order to feel less self-conscious about her condition, said her favorite parts about living in the house are the staff and outings — which include trips to the bank and local stores, as well as pumpkin patches in the fall.

Stephanie Caroleo has been working at Angela’s House for six years.

“The most rewarding aspect is when you come to work and you truly feel like you make a difference every day,” she said. “Every day we make a difference in the lives of these kids, and you see it in their face, in how they speak with you and the relationships we develop.”

When asked what’s kept him motivated for the last 25 years, Policastro pointed to Ella, a little girl in a wheelchair smiling from ear to ear. “That,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, if you bump into one of these kids and you see that smile, oh man, that’s golden.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, present proclamations to Ann Becker, Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Mount Sinai Civic Association isn’t just a local organization — it’s an institution that has become part of the community’s fabric for the last 100 years.

On Oct. 6 at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club, the civic association celebrated its anniversary with its board, community members and local politicians.

Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s an amazing milestone,” Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker said. “We’re impressed with how dedicated people have been, always stepping up in Mount Sinai. It’s been a concerted effort. We’ve had strong leadership. It’s a community that pulls together when there are problems and tries to resolve those issues.”

Incorporated Oct. 5, 1916, as an outgrowth of the Mount Sinai Taxpayers Association, its initial objective was to construct better roads, improve the conditions of Mount Sinai Harbor and adopt means to protect against fires.

“Over 100 years, some of those principles remain,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “The civic works hard to protect this community, to ensure that the zoning, the look of this community stays as a majority of the people in this community wants it to. They work hard to protect the harbor, the environment, and they do a tremendous job.”

Over its history, the civic association has worked tirelessly on quality of life issues for the residents of Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town. It worked to protect the area’s coastal environment, establish community parks and preserves and maintain a balanced level of development — including recreational facilities, privately owned housing, residential opportunities for seniors and support for schools. A completely volunteer-based organization, the civic has always depended on local residents to step forward and actively work toward improving the community, protecting the environment and protesting against overdevelopment.

With Becker now at the helm, the civic association continues to strive to better the community, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Becker is perfect for the job.

“Ann and her civic board are wonderful advocates for the tiny little hamlet of Mount Sinai,” she said, adding that her husband, John Sandusky, was born and raised in the area. “People like Ann, and others in this community, keep a watchful eye, are paying attention and have the best goals for Mount Sinai — to maintain its quaint look and charm.”

“Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success.”

— Lori Baldassare

During the 1960s and ’70s, the major civic issues included working to successfully stop the dredging of Mount Sinai Harbor, which was accomplished in the late 1960s, followed by the planning and management of Cedar Beach.

With a grant received from New York State with the help of Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), 355 trees were planted along Route 25A the same year to beautify the community.

“The work that they do in the community and the difference that they make in the quality of life in Mount Sinai; the civic sets an example for all other communities,” Englebright said. “This is a shining beacon of civic activism and accomplishment. The association has continuity, initiative and history. I go to other hamlets in my district and I tell them to visit Mount Sinai and its park to see what a hamlet and a community can do when it comes together.”

The grant was also used to help purchase the nearly one-acre property that is known as Heritage Park. Preventing the sale of “The Wedge” to developers who planned to construct a Home Depot was also made possible with the help of Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who persuaded the owner to donate the balance of the property.

In the 1990s, the civic started many of the community activities still supported through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Heritage Trust Inc., though many have since expanded.

Honored at the anniversary ceremony were Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato, who were and are all still involved in Heritage Trust and Heritage Park.

Baldassare, eight-year president of the Heritage Trust, is a founding director who has also been a civic member for decades.

The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I do not think that anyone thinks that they are signing on for 20 years or more, it just happens one small project at a time,” she said. “Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success — planting trees along 25A, placing welcome signs, constructing an ambulance building to serve the community, start a Christmas Tree lighting event, influencing the aesthetics and naming for the Heritage Diner, and so much more. There is always just one more thing to do and I am so proud to live in a place that has a real sense of community.”

For Drewes, who landscaped Heritage Park, which Baldassare referred to as a community treasure, the evening turned out different than he’d envisioned.

“I thought the evening would focus on recognizing and celebrating 100 years of community work of the Mount Sinai Civic Association,” he said. “I felt thankful and honored to be recognized as part of the history of the civic association’s efforts to develop into a hamlet we could be proud to live in.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the hamlet needs to keep up the good work, making sure that the residents protect each other and address the worries and concerns of the community.

“We have to keep up the inspiration,” she said. “There’s so much more that we can do, but what’s most important it that we take care of what we have.”

Above, the Stony Brook Village Center in the 1940s. Photo from the WMHO

By Ellen Barcel

It’s been 75 years since the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (originally the Stony Brook Community Fund), under the direction of philanthropist Ward Melville, constructed the Stony Brook Village Center. It was planned as a “living Williamsburg” recognizing the historic importance of the village “where culture would blend with natural beauty as a part of everyday life — the first planned business center in the U.S.”

Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO
Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO

Interestingly, the selection of Stony Brook as the site for this center came about by accident. The Melville family was on its way to the South Fork when, taking the wrong train, they found themselves in Stony Brook. “[Frank and Jenny] fell in love with the area,” noted Stephanie Ruales, special events coordinator at the WMHO. They vacationed in the area and finally, son Ward Melville planned the Stony Brook Village Center.

The WMHO has mounted a special exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” which will run now through Sept. 7, to display the memorabilia associated with the history of the center.  “We started to look for a couple of pictures and found so much,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO and exhibit curator.

“What’s very interesting to me, what I didn’t know, was that Jenny Melville [Ward Melville’s mother] was Canadian and that she bought up property here in the early 1930s, the Depression. When she died, Ward Melville picked up the gauntlet. She was the one who started the garden club — the tea house (later becoming the Three Village Inn) at the old homestead,” said Rocchio.

Co-curated by Ruales and Rocchio with help from Karen Kennedy, the exhibit consists of dozens of enlargements of historic photos, showing the village before, during and after the construction as well as the original blueprints for the village center and letters documenting the purchase of the land. In addition, there’s the original model of the proposed village center used by Melville to present the proposal to the village back in 1940. The exhibit also includes some items from the 1940s, representative of the time.

Just a year later, July of 1941, the new village center was completed. Over the years, various businesses have come and gone, including a four-lane bowling alley in the basement of one of the buildings. In the early 1940s, the automatic pin setting machine didn’t exist, so pinsetters, usually young men, stayed down by the pins, ready to reset them after each bowler’s turn.

The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO
The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO

When searching out the historic photos and documents, Ruales noted that they found an eight-millimeter film of the grand opening of the center, “something we didn’t know that we had. We had it converted” to a DVD and it is running on a loop at the exhibit.

One of the unique features of the village center is the mechanical eagle on top of the Stony Brook Post Office, which flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Noted Marie Gilberti, communications manager at WMHO, Ward Melville himself, “planned and instituted,” the eagle.

But, the eagle was installed for a few years, with its wings flapping up and down, when Melville decided he didn’t like the way it looked. The eagle was taken down and reconfigured, so that the wings flap back and forth now.

Melville also had the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheater constructed opposite the bank in Stony Brook. Concerts were held there through the 1950s and 60s. “Big name” entertainers performed at the concert, noted Rocchio. They included Liberace, Ferrante and Teicher, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Victor Borge, the Clancy Brothers and Lionel Hampton. “Mr. Melville paid for it himself,” Gilberti added. But, unfortunately, the concerts outgrew the venue and were stopped in 1970.

The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Today, live concerts are still held, but in front of the post office, sponsored by the WMHO. “We’re going to have a concert from each decade this summer,” said Rocchio. She noted that a history of Dogwood Hollow will be on display at the Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., in a building (originally the fire house) owned by the WMHO.

The Jazz Loft will be a center for music education. It is open through Saturday, May 28, from noon to 5 p.m. Beginning June 2, it will be open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. For details, events and performers, go to www.thejazzloft.org. Beginning in September, Swing Dance Long Island is schedule to hold its dances there.

According to Ruales, the whole idea for the exhibit came from Rocchio. “She was in charge of the exhibit.” It was her idea “to celebrate [the anniversary] and … for people to come and see the history,” of the area.

The name for the exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” came about because “we are honoring a lot of people who were involved in constructing the center. It’s a huge village center,” added Gilberti.

Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO
Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO

Future events connected with the 75th anniversary include a ceremony on July 9 recreating the 25th anniversary celebration. “We’re going to have antique cars from each decade in the village,” said Rocchio. A talk by her is also planned for the future. “There are so many things I’ve been taught by Mrs. Melville [Dorothy Melville, Ward’s wife] that no one knows. I worked for her for 10 years. She was the president” of the WMHO. “I was the Administrator at that time.” Rocchio added that putting together the exhibit and various events connected with it “has been a labor of love.”

The exhibit is currently on display at WMHO’s Educational and Cultural Center, 97P Main Street, Stony Brook through June 19 (Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and June 20 through Sept. 7 (daily, 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.) — closed Memorial Day and July 4. There is no admission charge, but donations are suggested. For further information, call 631-689-5888 or visit www.wmho.org.

A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO
A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO

Mather President Kenneth Roberts (left) and former hospital administrator Arthur Santilli watch as Joanne and Ray Wolter cut a cake for their 40th wedding anniversary. Photo from Mather Hospital

What was supposed to be a special day for a Sound Beach resident and her husband-to-be 40 years ago took a sudden turn with little time to spare. Thanks to the efforts of her community hospital, the day became arguably even more memorable.

On May 14, 1976, a day before Ray and Joanne Wolter were supposed to be married at Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Port Jefferson, a giant monkey wrench was thrown into their plans. Her father, William P. Strauch Jr., walked into the family’s home and told the bride and her relatives, who were beginning to assemble for the wedding the next day, that he had just been in a car accident a few blocks away, and he had walked home.

“He was a tough guy,” Wolter said of her father at a 40th anniversary celebration at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, where members of the Wolter family and hospital administration from then and now gathered to remember that unusual day.

After some convincing, Strauch boarded an ambulance to Mather Hospital, where it was found he had a punctured lung and a few broken ribs as a result of the crash. Doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to attend his only daughter’s wedding the following day. The hospital’s staff quickly sprung into action.

“I didn’t even have a chance to think beyond ‘oh my goodness,’ and somebody was there at my side offering me assistance and offering me a solution,” Wolter said.

Ray and Joanne Wolter’s 1976 wedding was the first at Mather Hospital. Photo from the hospital
Ray and Joanne Wolter’s 1976 wedding was the first at Mather Hospital. Photo from the hospital

Nurses from the emergency room spoke to then-Associate Administrator Arthur Santilli, who has since retired but made a surprise appearance at the celebration Tuesday.

“When she came to me and talked to me about this, I said, ‘Let’s offer them Mather,’” Santilli said Tuesday. “The wedding was an uncommon thing but anytime our community had a need, we stepped forward — as they still do.”

The wedding took place in a conference room at Mather the next day. A few weddings have occurred at Mather since, but the Wolters’ marriage on May 15, 1976, was the first time the hospital served as a wedding chapel. Nurses prepped Strauch, dressing him in his light blue tuxedo jacket with black pants, white shirt and black bow tie. When it came time for his daughter to be married, Strauch walked her down the aisle, and Joanne Wolter said there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“The party I hardly remember, but the wedding piece I remember crystal clear and it was thanks to you folks and your compassion and your quick action,” the wife said Tuesday, as she thanked hospital administration for helping to make her wedding day happen.

Ray Wolter said his wife frequently comments on her favorite photo of her and her father from that day, which is displayed in their current home in Farmingville.

“Thanks to the leadership in this place, we were able to celebrate a day that could have been very difficult, especially for my wife who remembers that day — of course I do, too — being able to walk down the aisle with her father,” he said.

Joanne Wolter remembered the craziness of those 24 hours, and the difficulties of contacting 150 guests to let them know about what was going on in an era before cell phones. The reception went on as planned at The Wagon Wheel in Port Jefferson Station, which is now The Meadow Club.

“Our bond with Mather Hospital is a strong one … even now,” she said in an invitation to Tuesday’s anniversary event. “It’s our community hospital. It always will be. Every year we remember this day and how Mather went the extra mile for my family.”

Santilli downplayed the importance of his quick decision-making and accommodating actions: “We fix what we can,” he said.