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Gloria Rocchio

Photo from WMHO

By Leah Chiappino

From now through Sept. 29, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization is turning back the clock with Journey Through Time, a summer exhibit at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center that highlights the national, regional and local events and inventions of each decade, from the 1940s to the 2000s, that have had impacts on our lives.

The exhibition, which took several months of research, was culled from the collections of 16 contributors including Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, the Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum, Long Island state parks and the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, as well as WMHO’s extensive archives and seven private collectors. Newsday also provided notable news covers from each time period.  

Visitors to the exhibit can enjoy a game of hopscotch.

“It was a collaboration of nine staff people, and trying to secure these items from all over Long Island,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, during a recent tour. Kristin Ryan-Shea, director of the Educational & Cultural Center, came up with the idea for the exhibit to have national, regional and local events highlighted. “That crystallized what we should do,” said Rocchio.

 Though major national somber events such as 9/11 and World War II are highlighted in their respective decades, most of the exhibit is bright and fun-loving, giving it a feel of nostalgia, with a focus on early technology and entertainment. Visitors can even partake in an I Spy worksheet and be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to use at the many shops, restaurants and services offered at the Stony Brook Village Center. “It makes them look a little closer and remember a little more,” said Ryan-Shea.

Items on view include a wooden score chart from the bowling alley that used to be in the basement of what is now Sweet Mama’s in the 1940s, fashionable outfits from the 1950s, a 1977 Mercedes Convertible, a newspaper announcement of the World Wide Web in 1990 and a 1997 Moto-Guzzi motorcycle. Visitors can also experience a blast from the past with vintage telephones and radios, dolls including Barbies and Betsy Wetsy and the spring toy Slinky. 

Play a game of Minecraft

Children can particularly enjoy an interactive Nintendo game along with Minecraft, and the pool full of sand collected from Jones Beach, a symbol for which showcases the Melville family’s closeness with Robert Moses. “It is educational without being boring,” Rocchio explained. 

 Much of the exhibit focuses on the history of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and its reach, from which the original idea for the exhibit came from. “It’s our 80th anniversary and we wanted to show what we do and what has been done over the years” Rocchio said, adding that she wanted to highlight how far the organization and the world has come. 

For instance, the 1940s panel includes plans that Ward Melville had to transform Stony Brook Village, followed by the 1950s panel that includes photos of the old Dogwood Hollow Amphitheatre, an auditorium that was located where the cultural center stands today that showcased concerts with the likes of Tony Bennett and Louis Armstrong. The display also features a map of plots of land Ward Melville presented to New York State in order to build Stony Brook University in the late 1950s which Rocchio said wound up being 600 acres. 

Check out a 1977 Mercedes Convertible

The exhibit also showcases information on the Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center at West Meadow Beach, where they conduct educational programs, and own the wetland side of the beach. Additional renovations and improvements to the village throughout the decades are also on view.

Ryan-Shea said the exhibit, which opened in mid-July, is creating multigenerational enjoyment. “Recently there was a family here that spanned four generations. The great-grandfather was born in 1940, so the great-grandchildren were teaching him how Minecraft works and the father was teaching his children how a record player works; the family was criss-crossing the room teaching each other things,” she laughed. 

The director also recounted how she witnessed a 77-year-old man playing hopscotch, a game from his childhood; a grandmother was telling her grandson stories about World War  II; and a little boy walked out begging his father for Battleship, a game he had not seen before. “I feel like kids nowadays don’t even think about history, and this makes it real and a conversation. The exhibit is connecting all the generations together,” she said.

WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook will present Journey Through Time through Sept. 29. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tickets are $5 general admission, $3 for seniors and children under 12. Call 631-689-5888 for further details. 

The WMHO is also conducting Walking Through Time walking tours on Aug. 10, 21, Sept. 14 and 15 for $15 per person, children under 5 free. There is the option to purchase a premiere ticket, for $20, which includes admission to both the exhibit and a walking tour. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

All photos courtesy of The WMHO

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

Ward Melville at the Stony Brook Village Center in the 1970s Photo from WMHO

By Heidi Sutton

I’m sitting on a bench on the Village Green at the Stony Brook Village Center. I’ve come to see the sun set over the harbor. It’s mid-June and there’s still a slight chill in the air. Behind me are the quaint New England style shops and restaurants; across the street Hercules sits in his Pavilion, tall and regal with a lion’s pelt wrapped around his shoulders while kayakers and paddle boarders row silently behind him.

Down to my right I spy the little stream that I used to play in as a child and beyond that the Three Village Inn, the spot for so many family gatherings. I hear a familiar sound and turn to catch the mechanical eagle on the post office flap its wings. It’s 8 p.m. and the chimney swifts above me make their last rounds in search of insects as the sky turns orange and purple and pink. The scene is peaceful and beautiful; a community treasure.

One man’s vision

According to Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, this exact spot was the focal point for Ward Melville’s vision to build the nation’s first planned business community. Originally Melville’s mother, Jennie, came up with the idea of rebuilding the village after the Great Depression and started purchasing properties in the area. When she died in the summer of 1939, “Mr. Melville took up the gauntlet” and envisioned opening the whole village to the harbor. 

After establishing The Ward Melville Organization (then known as the Stony Brook Community Fund) on Dec. 31, 1939 the philanthropist presented his grand plan, a crescent-shaped Village Center with connected shops grouped around a Federalist-style post office, to the community in January of 1940 at a special dinner at the Three Village Inn. The project was well received.

“He officially opened [the Stony Brook Village Center] on July 5, 1941 but the last tenant, the hardware store, opened on Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day,” said Rocchio during a recent interview, adding that the mechanical eagle was there from the first day. “The idea of attaching buildings together and having the road network where the deliveries went in the back – all of it was very unusual and unique,” she said.

Now known as the Harbor Crescent section, the shops featured big show windows with identical signage. Full-size trees were planted in the grassy area in front of them (probably to keep them from blocking the storefronts as they grew, theorizes Rocchio), with green metal garbage cans inscribed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives,” placed next to them.

Melville then turned his attention to restoring historic properties in the area dating back to the Revolutionary War, including the Stony Brook Grist Mill and the Thompson House and Brewster House in Setauket. “Each time he did that he deeded it over to the Stony Brook Community Fund, now the WMHO, and here we are,” Rocchio explained.

In the 1960s, Melville saw that the community was changing, and to go along with the times, he built the second section of the Stony Brook Village Center, Market Square, which featured a Bohacks.

When he passed in 1977, his wife Dorothy became president of the board and headed up the third phase of the Village Center with the addition of the Inner Court. Rocchio worked for Dorothy Melville from 1979 until she died in 1989. “I worked very closely with her and she taught me a lot; I learned how [the Melvilles] thought and that was very important.” The final phase, the Educational & Cultural Center, located behind the Inner Court, was completed in 2002.

According to Rocchio, the Stony Brook Village Center was part of a larger vision. “[Ward Melville] loved history – American history. He bought all these properties as it relates to the history of this area,” she explained, adding that Melville’s goal was to have Stony Brook look similar to Colonial Williamsburg.

“[Melville] saw it as a master plan, the Williamsburg concept,” which included donating 400 acres of land for the development of Stony Brook University. “This [shopping area] was supposed to be the road that leads to [The College of] William and Mary,” Rocchio explained, and a lot of the homes on Main Street were purchased by Melville who removed all the Victorian architecture and brought them back to the Colonial style. Slate sidewalks were installed to complete the look.

“This was a place that you lived with history … So you just lived with the Grist Mill where it always was, you lived with the Thompson House where it always was – and to think that this one man had the vision to save all of this and to create this for the residents is such a treasure,” said Rocchio. “The legacy and the foresight that he had is just amazing to me, amazing.”

Continuing the legacy

Today, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization continues its mission to protect and preserve historic and environmentally sensitive properties deeded to it by Ward Melville including the Stony Brook Grist Mill, Thompson House, Brewster House, the 11-acre T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park and two-acre Upper Pond, the Hercules Pavilion, and the Ernst Marine Conservation Center and 88-Acre Wetlands Preserve.

The organization also leases WMHO land and buildings to the Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and the Three Village Society Lending Aids for the Sick for $1 per year with the stipulation that they are responsible for maintenance and operations. This was Ward and Dorothy’s vision of creating a community where art, music and history are an integral part of daily life.

Every year the organization offers free summer concerts in front of the post office, a scarecrow contest in October, a holiday festival and Promenade of Trees in December, educational programs for children, Master Classes for adults, cultural exhibits, musical theater luncheon and Wetlands Discovery Cruises. In addition, the WMHO hosts the Long Island’s Got Talent competition and Walk for Beauty.

The Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main St., Stony Brook is a  lifestyle shopping center with specialty shops and services, restaurants and year-round events including its annual outdoor summer concerts, Halloween Festival and holiday tree lighting.

 

 

The Brewster House, 18 Runs Road, East Setauket was built in 1665 and is considered the oldest house in the Town of Brookhaven. Home to six generations of Brewsters, it was operated as a tavern and general store during the American Revolution by Joseph Brewster. Open on Culper Spy Day every year and by appointment.

 

 

The Stony Brook Grist Mill, 100 Harbor Road, Stony Brook is Long Island’s most completely equipped working mill. Listed on the National and New York State Register of Historic Places, it is open to the public for guided tours with a miller on weekends April through mid-October from noon to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children.

 

Hercules Pavilion on Main Street, Stony Brook, houses the figurehead and anchor from the U.S.S. Ohio, the first ship launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1820.  Sharing the Hercules Pavilion with the historic figurehead is the Polaris whaleboat, thought to be the only surviving artifact from the Charles Hall expedition to the Arctic in 1870.  

 

 

 

Discovery Wetlands Cruises depart from Stony Brook Marine Services across from the Three Village Inn through Oct. 20. The 27-passenger vessel cruises through the organization’s 88-acre wetlands preserve for a 1½-hour tour. A naturalist on board will highlight and describe the wildlife and flora that the passengers will see. Visit www.wmho.org for full schedule.

 

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook is a state-of-the-art venue that offers a wide variety of events throughout the year including cultural exhibits, musical theater performances and children and adult programs. Home of the Heritage Gift Shop.

 

 

The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook offers a treasure trove of memorabilia from some of the greatest jazz musicians of their day and even an orchestra stage that was constructed from the original Roseland Ballroom dance floor. The venue includes a full calendar of musical performances, as well as sensory-friendly programs. 631-751-1895, www.thejazzloft.org.

 

The Mechanical Eagle at the Stony Brook Post Office, 129 Main St., Stony Brook, was hand carved and has a wing span of 20 feet. It flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. as it has done since 1941, welcoming visitors to the Stony Brook Village Center.

 

 

The Thompson House, 91 North Country Road, Setauket is one of the largest houses in the Town of Brookhaven. Built in 1709, this five-room saltbox farmhouse was home to five generations of Thompsons, including patriot, farmer and physician, Dr. Samuel Thompson.  WMHO education programs are held here by appointment and the house is open for tours on Culper Spy Day

 

Time to celebrate

In honor of its 80th anniversary, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization plans to celebrate with a series of exciting family events kicking off with its Summer Concerts on the Green from July 7 to Aug. 18. Titled Music Through Time, every concert will represent a different decade. “We’re going to be counting down backwards so we’re going to start off with today’s music and work our way right down to the 1940s,” said WMHO Director of Development Gabrielle Lindau.

From July 14 to Sept. 29 the WMHO will present an exhibit at the Educational & Cultural Center titled Journey Through Time. Working in collaboration with Newsday and the Kings Park Heritage Museum, the exhibit will show how society has changed since 1939 because of national, regional and local events and the advancements in technology. “Each panel will represent a different decade,” explained Rocchio. “Newsday is giving us national news, then we have Long Island news and then we have what’s happening here. It’s been a big project.”

The celebration continues from July 20 to Sept. 14 with Walking Through Time, one and a half hour walking tours that will feature costumed actors from St. George Productions portraying historic figures performing in the first person. 

“For this tour we are specifically featuring local women … and you’re going to get to meet people who really lived here and owned some of the properties,“ said Lindau, explaining that participants will meet “Mrs. Devereux Emmet” who owned the Stony Brook Grist Mill and built All Soul’s Church and then head over to the Hercules Pavilion with “Mrs. Jonas Smith” who will speak about the U.S.S. Ohio as well as the legend behind Hercules. The group will then walk over to the Three Village Inn to learn about Captain Jonas Smith, Long Island’s first millionaire. Next the group will meet “Miss Louise,” Dorothy Melville’s longtime driver who will move the group to The Jazz Loft to discuss the history of the building. The tour will conclude in front of the Stony Brook post office just in time to see the eagle flap its wings.

See below for additional details on these special anniversary events.

On Sept. 28 the organization will present The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War. “[Participants] will have the opportunity to visit the Educational & Cultural Center, the Brewster House, the Thompson House, the Hawkins-Mount House and the Stony Brook Grist Mill,” explained Lindau. “In each of the houses there is going to be a living history performance and you’ll meet ‘residents’ who actually lived in those houses during the Revolutionary War,” she said. “There will be things revealed during this tour that most people have never heard before.” Transportation provided by WMHO to all sites. 

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will also team up with The Jazz Loft to present the John Monteleone Art of the Guitar Festival from Sept. 11 to 14 and the Harbor Jazz Festival from Sept. 25 to 29 and collaborate with the Long Island Museum to present a program titled William Sidney Mount & the Sounds of the 19th Century on July 20 from 2 to 5 p.m.; Hawkins-Mount House tours on Sept. 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and a Carriage Show and Ride Demonstration on Oct. 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

The community gathers for free outdoor concerts at the Stony Brook Village Center every summer.

MUSIC … ART … HISTORY, 1939–2019

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization is celebrating a milestone in its history with a variety of events for the entire family.  Mark your calendars for these not-to-be-missed happenings throughout the summer and fall that will literally take you on a historical and musical journey.

MUSIC THROUGH TIME

Music Through Time free summer concerts will take place each Sunday evening 7 to 9 p.m. in front of the Stony Brook Village Post Office from July 7 through Aug. 18. 

Take a musical journey through the decades:

July 7: Sound Chaser Band (2000s-today)

July 14:Tom Manuel & Guests (’90s/Motown)

July 21: Six Gun (’80s/’70s country rock)

July 28: Left Jab Band (’70s/’80s)

Aug. 4: Just Sixties (’60s)

Aug. 11: NY Exceptions (’50s)

Aug. 18: The Jazz Loft (’40s)

JOURNEY THROUGH TIME

Journey Through Time summer exhibit will open July 14 and run through Sept. 29 at WMHO’s state of the art Educational & Cultural Center daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. See how our lives have changed since 1939! Enjoy vintage items such as a WWII Army helmet; a fire engine red T-Bird; Marilyn Monroe, Popeye and Wizard of Oz dolls; a rotary phone as it compares to an iPhone; and so much more! General admission is $8 per person; seniors and children under 12 are $5 per person. Call 631-689-5888 for more info.

WALKING THROUGH TIME

Walking Through Time historic walking tours will begin at the Stony Brook Grist Mill at 1 and 3 p.m. and introduce visitors to a variety of historic figures performing in the first person. Enjoy fun facts and historical happenings from the 18th to the 21st centuries! “Mrs. Devereux Emmet,” c. 1940s, an Astor orphan, who was from Stony Brook, will tell you about why All Souls Church stands here in Stony Brook Village.  “Mrs. Jonas Smith,” c. 1850s, will tell you about how her husband became Long Island’s first millionaire through shipbuilding; and “Miss Louise,” c. 1980s, will talk about Dorothy Melville and her interests and activities during this period.

Tour dates are: 

July 20 (rain date July 21)

July 31 (rain date Aug. 1)

Aug. 10 (rain date Aug. 11)

Aug. 21 (rain date Aug. 22) 

Sept. 14 (rain date Sept. 15)  

Regular admission is $15 per person; a Premium Ticket is available for $20 per person, which includes the Journey Through Time exhibit and refreshments; children ages 5 and under are free. Reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888 or 631-751-2244. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, center, with this year's honorees

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

By Rita J. Egan

When the weather outside is chilly, a night out on the town is better when it’s celebrated inside. With this in mind, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will hold A “Taste” of Stony Brook Village … Ladies Night In on Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center.

The event, which will benefit breast cancer research at Stony Brook Medicine, will feature a fashion show celebrating Chico’s 25th anniversary in Stony Brook Village Center, according to Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO. The clothing chain’s Stony Brook location was the first Chico’s to open in New York.

Shelagh Stoneham, senior vice president of Chico’s marketing, said in an email that boutique associates, store managers and the district sales manager would be in attendance Feb. 26.

Roberta Fabiano

“Chico’s is thrilled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Stony Brook location at the upcoming A ‘Taste’ of Stony Brook Village event,” Stoneham said. “The support for Chico’s in local communities like Stony Brook is both remarkable and critical to the longevity of our brand. We look forward to celebrating with all of the friends we’ve made over the last 25 years.”

Helene Obey, Chico’s multi-unit general store manager, who leads the Stony Brook and Southampton stores, said she’s been working at the village location for more than a year. Obey said she loves hearing about the location’s history from former Stony Brook employee Jennifer Vasta, who is now a general store manager in Merrick, including how the staff opened the boutique 25 years ago during a blizzard.

She said the idea of holding a fashion show with vintage and new clothing came up during a casual chat with Rocchio and her husband, Richard. “It ended up being very organic, and then all of a sudden turned out to be this really large event which we’re so excited about,” Obey said.

She said finding past outfits was easy as many longtime employees have held on to special pieces, and Chico’s Stony Brook team and former employees will participate in the fashion show. The day of the event, the store will offer refreshments, free gifts, raffles and will have a wheel that will be spun every half hour where winners will receive gift certificates from community businesses.

Rocchio, who will be wearing a vintage outfit, said the event is all about being interactive and the goal is to raise $5,000 for breast cancer research. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy food samples, demonstrations, raffles, giveaways and raffle baskets. There will be ’90-themed music; Roberta Fabiano, who has performed worldwide, will sing; and dancers from Roseland School of Dance will teach attendees how to dance the macarena. Virtual reality equipment will also be available.

The Three Village Inn, Sweet Mama’s, the Country House, Pentimento’s, Fratelli’s Italian Eatery, Robinson’s Tea Room, Crazy Beans, Brew Cheese and The Crushed Olive will have representatives on hand with food samplings including mac and cheese, hors d’oeuvres, scones, veggie wraps and more. Chocolate Works will present a seven-tiered display of chocolate samples, and Blue Salon & Spa will have a minispa, minimakeup demos and a raffle for a free cut and blowout.

Admission for the Feb. 26 event is $35 per person. The WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center is located at 97P Main St. in the rear of the Stony Brook Village Center. Reservations are required and can be made via PayPal at www.stonybrookvillage.com/tsbv/ or by calling 631-689-5888.

Delegation members, above, with The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio, front center, in front of the historic Stony Brook Post Office. Photo from WMHO

Mobile payment platforms have connected the Stony Brook Village Center to China.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the shopping center, recently hosted a government delegation from Anhui Province, China. The group consisted of government officials and higher education professionals who were in the United States to visit New York and Michigan State University. Their mission was to learn best practices in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Delegation leader Guang Hu, left, completing an Alipay transaction with Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions

Last year, the Stony Brook Village Center became the first community on Long Island to adopt Alipay and WeChat Pay, which is estimated to have one billion users worldwide. The QR code point of sale terminal systems account for 90 percent of the Chinese mobile payment market, according to the WMHO. The platforms enable Stony Brook village merchants to serve travelers from China better by allowing consumers to purchase goods and services in yuan before then being settled in U.S. currency for merchants.

Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO, met with the delegates in her office and then took them on a tour of the village where they were able to shop and experience the mobile payment platforms firsthand. She said it was a whirlwind trip, but the visitors had the chance to shop in many stores including Chocolate Works, Madison’s Niche and Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions.

“We were happy to host this delegation because they were sincerely impressed with our concern for Chinese customers who are accustomed to using Alipay and WeChat Pay,” Rocchio said.

Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions, said when the delegates came to his store, one of them wanted to buy a pair of binoculars, but he decided to pay cash instead of Alipay. When he approached the store’s register, Norwood said he realized his point of sales system was offline, and he couldn’t open the register drawer to give the customer change. Another person came over and paid using Alipay, and Norwood said it took two seconds to complete the transaction. It was then that the delegate decided to use Alipay, too.

“I gave him back the fifty, and I said, ‘Look at that, you see, Alipay is easier than cash,’” Norwood said. “It was like the perfect commercial for it.”

The business owner said he’s only had the opportunity to use Alipay once before and said it’s easier to use than the store’s credit card machine. All he has to do is put in the amount, and then the customer has an app on the phone that comes up with a bar code. The sales associate scans the bar code and the store’s machine prints out a receipt.

Twelve government agencies, including the School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, along with the Science, Technology and Intellectual Property Bureau, were represented.

Guang Hu, delegation leader and director of the Division of International Exchange and Cooperation, Anhui Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, thanked the WMHO for hosting the visit in a statement.

“It is very impressive to know that Alipay and WeChat Pay has been implemented by the shops of the village,” Hu said. “Those two are widely used in China, and it shows the technology and innovation offered here. I believe there is great potential to work with [the] Ward Melville Heritage Organization on all levels of collaboration between Anhui and Stony Brook.”

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

Line shows the route of new sidewalks in Stony Brook village, which will travel west off of Shore Road, north of the traffic circle and curl around to connect to the edge of Stony Brook Yacht Club’s pier. Image from The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

St. James and Stony Brook will be giving their downtowns a small face-lift thanks to a recent Suffolk County grant.

The two projects, one for the St. James business district along Lake Avenue and the other near the harbor front of Stony Brook village, were part of 11 recipients of a $500,000 county pool to partially fund downtown capital projects. Seven other municipalities who applied did not receive any grant funds.

“As we move full steam ahead with our economic development agenda, we will continue to make quality investments to create the robust, vibrant downtowns that make Suffolk County the ideal place to work, live and raise a family.”

— Steve Bellone

“Our downtowns are essential to keeping our region competitive and attracting the high skill, high knowledge workers we need to grow our local economy,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “As we move full steam ahead with our economic development agenda, we will continue to make quality investments to create the robust, vibrant downtowns that make Suffolk County the ideal place to work, live and raise a family.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization secured a $20,400 grant that should facilitate new sidewalks in Stony Brook village, which look to travel west off of Shore Road, north of the traffic circle and curl around to connect to the edge of the pier of the Stony Brook Yacht Club.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said the funds will help complete the “harbor walk” project started several years ago. The original plans were to create sidewalks and streetlights with decorative plaques starting at The Long Island Museum continuing down to the harbor. She added that this new sidewalk, which travels down to the water’s edge, should go a long way toward making the area a more walkable destination.

“This is a highly used area for walkers and runners and people watching the sunsets,” Rocchio said. “Now the path is worn. This concrete sidewalk will make it a defined area for all to walk or run on by the harbor.”

The Community Association of Greater St. James received by far the largest amount of revitalization funds equaling more than $60,000. The funds will be used for the installation of crosswalks along Lake Avenue between Moriches Road and Woodlawn Avenue. This will also include 22 new pedestrian-activated LED crossing beacons at 10 separate crosswalks. Locals have long complained about speeding along oft-congested Lake Avenue and the safety of pedestrian trying to cross the road.

“As much as it will be pleasing to the eye, it will be safe for our kids and people to be using these crosswalks.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“Even though this is going to be great for the look of the area, we still need everyone’s cooperation to take control and know what’s around them,” association president Kerry Maher-Weisse said. “As much as it will be pleasing to the eye, it will be safe for our kids and people to be using these crosswalks.”

The grant funds will also go toward new gateway signage at the entrance to Lake Avenue along Moriches Road along more discernable and stylized street signage, which Maher-Weisse said should have a homely, rustic “Nantucket” kind of feel.

The association president said she expects the funds to cover the construction, but if it doesn’t, she said her association could work with the town to help find additional funds. Both Maher-Weisse and Rocchio expect construction to begin shortly after they receive the grant funds.

Plans for the revitalization of Lake Avenue have continued for more than a year, which includes road reconstruction and new amenities like new sidewalks and $2.9 million in bond funds to replace water mains. The Town of Smithtown has recently had an appraisal done of the Irish Viking pub along Lake Avenue to hopefully turn it into more municipal parking. Also, in the pipeline are plans for dry sewer mains and pump station around the Lake Avenue business district, which could cost the town approximately $7 to $10 million. Revitalization plans were originally slated for May 2018 but were pushed back a year to coincide with these sewer projects.

Madison's Niche will be a part of the festivities on April 19.

Grand Openings Stroll

The Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main Street, Stony Brook, in conjunction with The Three Village Chamber of Commerce, will present a Grand Openings Stroll on Thursday, April 19 (rescheduled) with a noon kickoff.

Five new businesses, beginning with Madison’s Niche (owner Karen McAvoy) at noon, Camera Concepts (owner Jeff Norwood) at 12:15 p.m., Cervo Design (owner Andrea Cervo) at 12:30 p.m., Village Florist (owner Amanda Haggquist) at 12:45 p.m. and ending with Sweet Mama’s Restaurant (owner Marios Patatinis) at 1 p.m., will celebrate their grand opening with a ribbon cutting. 

The community is invited to join Stony Brook Village Center President Gloria Rocchio; Chairman Richard Rugen; trustees and town officials including, Legislator Kara Hahn, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright; Supervisor Ed Romaine; and Andrew Polan, president, Three Village Chamber of Commerce in wishing all the businesses good luck in their new venture. 

The afternoon will conclude with free champagne and pub bites in Grandpa’s Shed Lounge located at the rear of Sweet Mama’s. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.stonybrookvillagecenter.com.

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Tom Manuel, left, owner of The Jazz Loft, and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, third from right, along with local musicians look forward to the Swing into Spring! jazz festival to take place in Stony Brook village March 27 to 31. Photo from Kara Hahn's office

Mother nature may disagree, but the calendar shows spring has arrived, and Stony Brook village is planning to help Long Islanders celebrate.

Swing into Spring!, a jazz festival scheduled for March 27-31, is where Long Islanders can enjoy the music at village restaurants. Tom Manuel, owner of The Jazz Loft, where some of the concerts will be held, said the lineup of talent ranges from solo artists to two 17-piece big bands. He said a variety of styles and genres of jazz will be presented, including traditional, bebop, folk and emerging fusion. The festival was made possible by a county grant secured by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket).

“It’s just exciting to think about spring and getting out,” Hahn said.

The legislator obtained the grant in the fall when there was extra money for cultural arts in the county’s hotel and motel tax fund. She said the cultural arts category of the fund is to enable ways to spur economic development through the arts. The project was included in the adopted 2018 Suffolk County operating budget.

“I had wanted to help The Jazz Loft and Stony Brook village,” Hahn said. “I’ve been trying to think of ways from an economic development perspective of using grant money that could help the businesses in the community.”

“The idea was to showcase musicians from varied points of the Island from both Suffolk and Nassau County.”

— Tom Manuel

Manuel said he was excited about the news of the grant, and after a few phone calls and a meeting with Hahn, presented the legislator with the idea of the five-day festival featuring jazz musicians from all over the Island.

“The idea was to showcase musicians from varied points of the Island from both Suffolk and Nassau County, and also to offer an educational component which will be our Wednesday workshop on jazz improvisation,” the venue owner said, adding the workshop would be followed by a jam session for all musicians of all ages and abilities.

Manuel said the festival will include performances by guitarist Steve Salerno, trombone player Ray Anderson, accordion player Rich Dimino, the Eddie Balsamo Quartet and more. In addition to appearing at The Jazz Loft and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, the musicians will play at Pentimento, Sweet Mama’s Family Restaurant, Lakeside Emotions Wine & Spirits and Three Village Inn.

Hahn hopes once jazz lovers visit Stony Brook for the festival, they’ll want to come back in the future to the shops and restaurants, and more Long Islanders will become familiar with The Jazz Loft and Manuel.

“I grew up in Stony Brook village so seeing what Tommy was able to do with The Jazz Loft — I know it’s been good for the village,” Hahn said.

Gloria Rocchio, president of WMHO, said she enjoys working with Manuel on projects and believes the festival will be good for the village.

“We do things with Tom all the time, and this is just another extension of how we collaborative so well together,” Rocchio said.

The WMHO president said on the night of March 28, barring no weather setbacks, there will be plenty of different things for visitors to do and see.

“People can actually stroll from one location to the other,” she said.

Manuel considers Stony Brook village a hidden gem, and said he believes collaborations like this festival bring out the best of what the area can offer.

“I hope that this event introduces people to our town that will not only enjoy it, but will come back again and again to experience all we have to offer,” Manuel said. “I am thrilled that Legislator Hahn has reached out to collaborate with The Jazz Loft, and that we can bring live jazz into so many of our restaurants and businesses.”

For more information on Swing into Spring!, visit www.thejazzloft.org or www.stonybrookvillage.com.