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Suffolk County Executive presents Setauket pet with proclamation

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone presents Storm, an English golden retriever, with a proclamation for rescuing a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor. Photo by Kevin Redding

A local English golden retriever has earned a lifetime of “Good boy!” declarations and belly rubs, but Suffolk County recently threw him another bone to add to the accolades.

Suffolk County’s newest hero Storm, the brave, 6-year-old dog, who became a national celebrity last week after a video of him pulling a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor Sunday, July 16, spread like wildfire online, rolled around in the grass outside the Save the Animal Rescue Foundation in Middle Island July 19 as he and local animal rescue members were honored for their efforts to save the baby deer.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) presented proclamations to East Setauket resident and injury attorney Mark Freeley, Storm’s owner who captured the heroics on his cellphone, Strong Island Animal Rescue League co-founder Frankie Floridia, who aided in the rescue, and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation Director Lori Ketcham, who is rehabilitating the 3-month-old male fawn now referred to as Water. He is currently in stable condition.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite an attempt to present an official proclamation to the man’s best friend of the hour, Storm seemed much more interested in a large bone provided by the county executive’s staff.

“We’re here to talk about some of the heroes we have here, both canine and human, for what they’ve done to really remind us of the importance of compassion and giving to others and helping others,” Bellone said, acknowledging the selfless initiatives of the animal rescue groups.

Looking down at Storm, he said, “And this dog here is no ordinary golden retriever. He really did something important and special for us. The inspiration that Storm has given to all of us should inspire us to support the work of people like this that is happening each and every day. If that happens, then what Storm did will not only help save one fawn but will help save countless other animals here and others that will be here in the future.”

It was just another normal Sunday morning walk out to Pirate’s Cove for Freeley, 53, and his dogs, Storm and Sarah, a rescued Border collie, when he said the golden retriever suddenly got ahead of him on the empty beach.

The next thing Freeley knew, Storm was paddling out into the water about 100 feet offshore toward “a brown head bobbing” he quickly realized was a drowning fawn. As captured in the video seen around the world, Storm held the deer in his mouth and carried it towards the beach “like a lifeguard would with their arm,” Freeley said.

After the fawn got on the sand, it ran around wildly before collapsing. Storm gently nudged the deer’s face and belly and pawed his leg.

“He won’t even play fetch with a tennis ball,” Freeley said, laughing. “I just feel like he thought he had to do something for this deer. Storm’s a very well-adjusted and socialized dog. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and he gets along with all animals. People on Facebook were saying he was going to kill the deer, but if you meet this dog, you know that was not going to happen. He’s not prey-driven.”

Freeley quickly posted the video to his Facebook and then called the nonprofit Strong Island Animal Rescue League to inform its members of the fawn.

Floridia, the group’s leader, said when he and his colleague Erica Kutzing tried to approach the deer with leashes and nets, “it totally went AWOL” and ran back into the water and paddled more than 200 feet out. Floridia said it was a do-or-die situation and it didn’t take long before he was swimming out to save the deer.

“He went into the water and followed the example that Storm set earlier and brought that fawn back in and brought it to safety,” Bellone said of Floridia, who he called the animal rescue cowboy.

Storm, an English golden retriever from East Setauket, became famous for saving a drowning deer from Port Jeff Harbor last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The deer was then transported to the Middle Island animal rescue center.

“The deer was saved and that’s really the best part of the whole thing,” Floridia said. “It’s wonderful that this is bringing awareness to what really happens behind the scenes. Of course I want to thank Storm for helping us ride this wave to get awareness for what we do every day.”

Since the video was posted, the courageous canine’s heroics has accumulated nearly 5.5 million views on Facebook, has been the top story on several talk shows, including ones overseas.

“We’ve been going from one interview to the next and Storm’s been a champ at everything,” Freeley said. “Yesterday, a lady out of the blue called me to tell me just how much of an impact the video had on her, and I could hear her crying a little bit. It’s just amazing and I think people just want to see a simple, basic act of kindness by a dog because news is so hostile today.”

Ketcham said she appreciates the attention her center has been getting from this, which she admitted she isn’t used to.

“It’s been a crazy couple of days since the fawn came here,” Ketcham said. “We have several hundred animals here in our care all being taken care of by a dedicated bunch of volunteers. We hope to get the fawn outside with the rest that are there in a couple days and then back out into the wild in September.”

Freeley, who fosters rescue dogs, provides pro bono legal work for a local animal rescue group, and runs adoption events every Saturday with his daughter, reiterated the biggest takeaway from this.

“It’s really important to support people like Frankie and [these foundations] because they’re the front lines of animal rescue and everybody wants animal rescue, but without your support, there can’t be animal rescue,” he said. “So if Storm has one thing to ask you today it’s to donate to Strong Island and Save the Animal Rescue Foundation to help them continue to save the lives of animals in Suffolk County and on Long Island.”

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Smithtown and fellow firefighters stop to salute 9/11 hero Lawrence Stack, whose remains were honored during a service at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in St. James. Photo from FDNY

All of Smithtown came to a stop on Friday as the community said a final goodbye to one of its own.

FDNY Battalion Chief Lawrence T. Stack of Lake Ronkonkoma was laid to rest at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church of St. James nearly 15 years after his death on Sept. 11, 2001. The North Shore native, who died helping others in the horrific terrorist attacks of that tragic day, was never recovered from the rubble, forcing his family to hold out hope for a proper Catholic funeral ever since.

A bizarre twist of fate made Stack’s funeral and burial possible on Friday, on what would have been his 49th wedding anniversary with his wife Theresa. While his remains were never found, two vials of blood he donated to a bone marrow bank nearly six months before his death allowed his family to orchestrate a final goodbye in Smithtown.

Lawrence Stack, 58, received a full line-of-duty service on Friday as Smithtown shut down several streets surrounding the St. James church to accommodate the number of people who stopped to honor him, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and countless more distinguished guests. It wasn’t until a year ago that his wife Theresa Stack said she remembered she and her husband donating blood about six months before 9/11 with hopes of matching a Long Island boy who was fighting cancer. Upon remembering and pursuing that blood, Theresa Stack said she found it in a Minnesota blood bank. That blood was buried on Friday.

“We’ve always honored him, respected him, loved him, and we never forgot him. But now he will rest with the members of the FDNY and the military at the Calverton National Cemetery,” wife Theresa Stack said. “I’m happy, and my family is happy, that we finally have some place to go to. I want Larry’s story to be out there so people don’t forget that there are families still suffering from that terrible day.”

Lawrence Stack’s son Michael, who is a lieutenant with the FDNY with Ladder 176, said he would remember his father as someone dedicated to helping others at any cost. In a statement to the FDNY’s Facebook page, Michael Stack detailed the accounts he received of his father’s last day.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, he was at the safety battalion at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, putting the finishing touches on the [fatal] Father’s Day fire report, when he heard about the plane hitting the north tower,” he said. “He went on the roof, looked through his binoculars, and saw the south tower get hit with the second plane. He put his binoculars down, looked to the other chiefs and firefighters and said, ‘Guys, I think they’re going to need us over there.’”

Brian Stack of Ladder 123 was 30 years old when his father died in the Sept. 11 attacks. He said he was thankful to have been able to spend as much time as he did with his father, and felt for the younger children of other heroes who died that day.

“I understood what happened on September 11 because it’s work, it’s the fire department. Danger is always right around the corner. It’s part of the job. I was 30 years old when he died, and I know that I’m lucky that I got more time with my father than some of the men and women coming on the job now,” Brian Stack said. “They were much younger when they lost their fathers. We were fortunate to have so many years with him in our lives.”

In a statement, the New York Blood Center said it was an honor to help bring peace to the Stack family.

“To every member of the FDNY, NYPD and to every rescue worker: We honor you all,” the center said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We honor those fallen in the line of service and those who serve. You protect life in our communities with determination, vision and courage every single day.”

Lawrence Stack worked with the FDNY for 33 years and was one of 343 FDNY members who died on Sept. 11th. He joined the department in 1968, first assigned to Ladder Company 107 and then Ladder Company 175 in Brooklyn. In 1981, he was promoted to lieutenant and assigned to Ladder Company 35 in Manhattan. Three years later, he was promoted to captain and assigned to Division 7 in the Bronx, and in 1990, he was promoted to battalion chief, working in Queens at the Bureau of Operations and the Safety Battalion. Prior to joining the FDNY, he served in the United States Navy for six years, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

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Above, the Northport Historical Society. Photo from Heather Johnson

By Eric Santiago

Over the last year, a group of Northport-East Northport teachers and students have worked to preserve an overlooked piece of Long Island’s history.

Eaton’s Neck was home to a leading patriot, forgotten except by a few local history buffs. Yet the biography of John Sloss Hobart (1738-1805) reads like the résumé of a Revolutionary War hero. Born in Connecticut, Hobart went on to graduate from Yale University, join the American resistance, help draft the New York State Constitution, briefly becoming a U.S. senator and eventually accepting a federal judgeship.

Unlike Revolutionary War-era icons like Nathan Hale or Paul Revere, Hobart’s name largely faded into obscurity.

“For some reason his name didn’t stand out the way theirs did,” Peter White, a retired social studies teacher who taught at Northport Middle School, said.

But there are pieces of Hobart’s legacy that survive. After his death in 1805, a close friend of Hobart’s, the judge Egbert Benson, commissioned a marble tablet in Hobart’s honor.

Bearing an inscription that praised his work in life, the Hobart tablet spent about the next 150 years in the basement of New York City Hall, according to a letter White co-wrote to the Northport-East Northport school board. This was until Richard Streb, a teacher at Northport High School, discovered the tablet in 1963. He convinced then-Mayor Robert Wagner’s administration to sell the tablet to the Northport-East Northport school district for $1.

A view of the tablet honoring John Sloss Hobart. Photo from Kathleen Cusumano
A view of the tablet honoring John Sloss Hobart. Photo from Kathleen Cusumano

It’s bounced around Northport-East Northport schools ever since, most recently embedded in the wall of the auditorium at Northport Middle School. When Streb retired in 1981, he asked White, his close friend and protégé, to look after the tablet.

It gathered dust in the back of the auditorium until last December when music department chairperson, Izzet Mergen, considered dedicating the space to former music department chairperson, Robert Krueger.

Realizing that moving the tablet would be a sensitive issue, Mergen contacted White, who then contacted Kathleen Cusumano, a permanent substitute teacher at Northport Middle School. A former student of White’s and a local history expert, Cusumano and the others formed a group to decide the tablet’s fate. The goal was to find somewhere the tablet could be seen and appreciated.

“We had the task of trying to figure out what to do with it,” White said.

Sensing this could be a valuable learning experience, Cusumano started recruiting students to help with the search.

“We have middle school students who are living on Hobart land,” Cusumano said. “There’s always that connection when you’re trying to teach history — that tangible connection of actually seeing something that really existed and didn’t just come out of a textbook.”

Now with a dozen students in tow, the group began exploring possible homes for the tablet. Several places were considered, with the Northport Historical Society, Northport Library and Huntington Town Hall as some of the most popular contenders. The students visited these locations before voting on where they would recommend the tablet be placed. Ultimately the school district, which owns the tablet, had the final say.

Heather Johnson, the director of the historical society, remembers when the students visited. She was particularly impressed with their thoughtful questions.

“For somebody who works in a historical society, we’re always trying get people involved of all ages interested in history,” she said. “There’s nothing more heartwarming and positive to see — really any group — but certainly a young group who are trying to make a difference.”

After the visit, the students started to lean toward the historical society, but they were reluctant to declare a permanent home for the tablet, Cusumano said. What if no one came to the historical society? Could they guarantee that some place like the library wouldn’t guarantee more visibility?

But the students managed to come up with a compromise, according to Cusumano; they decided to ask that the tablet only be loaned for a year. If the historical society turned out to be a poor fit, the tablet could be moved elsewhere at the end of the year.

The school board approved this recommendation at a recent meeting. According to district clerk, Beth Nystrom, the tablet will be moved to the historical society once the attorneys from both parties draft the formal agreement to loan the tablet.

For their part, Johnson said the historical society was proud and excited to add the tablet to their collection.

“When we found out we were the top choice, we were delighted and honored,” she said. “[The students] did their research, and that made it even more meaningful to be chosen.”

Cusumano also praised the students’ dedication. She stressed that some of the best learning can only be done outside of the classroom.

“I think when you experience — when you have experiential learning — it stays with you,” she said. “More things like field trips where [the students] can get involved, I believe, makes for a lifelong learner.”