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Joe Cognitore

Renée, Zachary and Glen Cote are the 11th family to receive a home from Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch through their veteran program. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cotes are home for the holidays.

On Dec. 14, the owners of the 11th home for returning veterans, Glen and Renée Cote, received the keys to their new home, just in time for 7-year-old Zachary Cote to enjoy his first Christmas in Miller Place.

The house would not have been made possible if it wasn’t for Rocky Point VFW Post 6429 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties Mark Baisch.

The Cote family moved into their new home in Miller Place last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cote family was chosen after Baisch heard Zachary was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria. His mother suffers from the same rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

If that wasn’t enough, Zachary’s father, who was a U.S. Army combat medic from 1988 to 1992 and specialized in deployment training and immunization for a bulk of army medics in the Gulf War, suffered an on-the-job injury that disabled him.

The family had lived in a home in Sound Beach, until March, when the Cotes were told they were being evicted because the landlord had let the home fall into foreclosure.

The goal was to get the Cotes into the home on Helme Avenue before Christmas.

“To make this happen in the four months that we had is pretty monumental,” Baisch said before handing over the keys. “This house is complete. It isn’t like we have to come back and still do some stuff. The flooring is finished, everything’s done, it’s painted. This house is ready for them to move in. In fact, I intend for the Cotes to sleep here tonight.”

The family did sleep there that night and have been enjoying their new home. Especially Zachary, who was already making use of the small crawl space under the stairway in the basement. He said he’ll turn it into a play room for his new friends.

“It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
—Glen Cote

“It’s an incredible feeling; it’s overwhelming to know that this day is here upon us,” Glen Cote said during move-in day. “It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The family is excited to celebrate its first holidays in the new home, but Zachary’s parents are even more thankful for the fact that their son will be able to remain in the school district that they said has taken such great care of him.

To be able to do that for the Cotes warms Baisch’s heart.

“What we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this,” he said. “Nobody feels happier than me right now. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

At the end of the celebration, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) just had one final thing to tell the family as it walked through its new front door: Welcome home.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

Rocky Point dedicated the square at the corner of Broadway and Route 25A, formerly the blighted Oxygen Bar property, to a Veterans Memorial Square. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Once an eyesore to the community, Rocky Point’s corner of Broadway and Route 25A is now a place that honors those who fight for our freedom.

On Oct. 17, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) along with other members of local government, dedicated the former Oxygen Bar property as a new veterans memorial square, with a flag-raising ceremony.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner helps members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 in the flag raising ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner helps members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 in the flag raising ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“The members of the community have been so supportive of this project and have a vision for a greater, better downtown,” Bonner said at the event. “We all appreciate the sacrifices every veteran has made and honor them today as we dedicate this veterans memorial square by raising the flags of our armed forces. This beautiful green space will also serve as the gateway to a revitalized downtown Rocky Point for years to come.”

Bonner visited the formerly blighted property back in March, and said it excites her now to see how it’s transformed in seven short months.

“A source of problems is gone, and a source of pride has taken its place,” she said.

The square wouldn’t have been made possible if it wasn’t for the help of VFW Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore.

“This piece of property will be here much, much longer than I will, and that’s where the return on this investment is going to come,” Cognitore said of the square. “We should do this to all counties and municipalities throughout our area. We must make sure that our younger generations know about our military, what they go through and what they do for our country.”

Bonner helped to formally present the colors to the playing of the National Anthem. All of the flags raised were donated by Rocky Point resident Roland Jackson.

“Roland Jackson is one of those people who never says ‘if you need anything, let me know,’” Bonner said. “He just does it. He called me up and said he was getting the flags and he’d like to donate them.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, speaks during the dedication ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Joe Cognitore, commander of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, speaks during the dedication ceremony Oct. 17. Photo by Desirée Keegan

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was also at the ceremony, and told a story of how he visited troops in Iraq last Christmas, meeting a Command Sgt. Major on his 11th deployment, and a young teenager on his first.

“Eleven deployments later he was still serving and loving ever minute of it,” Zeldin said of the Major. “When that Command Sgt. Major signed up for the military there was no Sept. 11 on his radar. But when that teenager signed up, that’s all that he had ever known. He knew exactly what he was signing up for. But he loved the flag, he loved our country and he cherished our freedoms and liberties, and he’s willing to lay down his life in defense of it.”

Zeldin said the new parcel in Rocky Point proudly displays its support for its veterans like the ones he’s met.

“For that teenager who signs up, it’s not just about the flag, it’s not just about his freedoms and liberties, but it’s out of deep admiration and respect for those who have come before him or her,” he said. “We get to live in the greatest nation of the world, and for those veterans, we salute you and we thank you for your service.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the memorial square is not just a wonderful thing for the Rocky Point community, but for all members of the nation.

“Our freedoms that this nation was based on are always under assault, and always will be, and that’s why we’re the greatest nation in the world,” he said. “Today, we are saying to the world we are alive, we are America and we are proud to be Americans.”

Renée, Glen and Zachary Cote at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Rockt Point Post 6249 ninth annual gold outing on Sept. 26. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

The Cote family is overwhelmed.

After Glen, a Gulf War veteran, and Renée found out that they would be receiving a new home for veterans in Miller Place, they got a phone call that some of the proceeds from Joe Cognitore’s VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 ninth annual Veterans of Foreign Wars Rocky Point Post 6249 annual golf outing at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai, on Sept. 26, will go toward their new home.

“People keep asking us about the process with the house,” Renée Cote said. “I’m still trying to absorb everything — and then we get a call about this — there’s so much love here and to be on the receiving end of that, it’s a blessing.”

The Cote family will be receiving a home built for returning veterans and their families, on Helme Avenue in Miller Place. Photo by Glen Cote
The Cote family will be receiving a home built for returning veterans and their families, on Helme Avenue in Miller Place. Photo by Glen Cote

The Cotes have been through several hardships, from Renée Cote being diagnosed with a rare and painful metabolic disorder called acute intermittent porphyria, which requires expensive biweekly treatments that she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, to her 7-year-old son Zachary being diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in 2014.

Most recently, the family was told they were being kicked out of their home because the landlord had let the rental fall into foreclosure.

“It’s awesome to see this much love for somebody from out of town like myself, that they don’t know, it’s incredible,” Glen Cote, who’s from Texas, said. “Everyone is so supportive and friendly.”

The family recently met with Cognitore, Rocky Point’s post commander, for the first time when Landmark Property owner and developer Mark Baisch chose the family to receive the 11th home for returning veterans. The two are still looking for a family for the 12th home.

“It’s a good feeling, especially given their circumstances,” Cognitore said of helping the family. “We’ve been doing things over the phone, and it helped me in the hospital. I felt very good. It was a big relief to know that we’re helping this family out.”

The Cotes said they’ve begun meeting their new neighbors and community members and they’re excited to make the move. Their previous rental home was in Sound Beach,

“They are the nicest people,” Renée Cote said. “I like the fact that — because, we kind of stalked the house — they came out and they were saying hello to us, they’ve been in the community for 30 to 40 years, they were very welcoming and we’re excited. I’m excited to have little BBQs with them and stuff like that.”

“When Mark [Baisch] heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, [Mark Baisch and Joe Cognitore] are our local superheroes.”

— Sarah Anker

At the golf outing, where more than 160 golfers hit the course to help support veterans, Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) came out to meet the family and commend Cognitore and Baisch for all of their work helping local veterans.

“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”

LaValle was glad to seewho have helped him remain in the Miller Place school district, which was most important to his family.

“It all comes together very, very nicely,” he said. “We can’t do enough for our veterans to say thank you, and this is one of many ways that we can appreciate their service that they have made to our country.”

Renée Cote said she is also teaching her son to give back, and said she feels thank you will never be enough.

“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”

The Bonacasa family and members of the North Shore Jewish Center get together after the ceremony. Photo by Donna Newman

When Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station learned of the passing of a North Shore resident in Afghanistan, he knew he wanted to help, he just wasn’t sure how at the time.

“Some events bring the news home to you in a personal and direct way,” Benson said. “This one struck me personally.”

Benson recalled learning of the death of Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa while attending Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) inauguration Dec. 30. Bonacasa was a local hero from Coram who left behind a widow and 5-year-old daughter when he was killed by a suicide bomber four days before Christmas last year. Benson wanted to do something to help the family.

He called upon congregant Doris Weisman, chairperson of military support services at the synagogue, to form a plan of action. Weisman, is a member of a military family and became widowed young.

“Having had so much military around me all my life, it was natural for me to reach out to Deb,” she said of contacting Bonacasa’s wife Deborah. “I will do everything I can to help her and [their daughter] Lilianna find their way, which they are doing. They have a lot of good support.”

A fundraising effort began thanks to the efforts of Benson and Weisman.

At a ceremony held Aug. 19 at the Jewish Center, Benson welcomed Bonacasa family members, and led a prayer for Louis Bonacasa, lit a memorial candle for him and presented a check to his widow.

Benson gave Lilianna a hamsa, which is a palm-shaped amulet popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

“[It] is meant to represent the hand of God as a source of protection and blessings as a reminder of our love for your family and respect for your father, whom we all admire very much,” he said to the child.

“It’s a way to show concern, to bring something good to the lives of others, to increase the love in the world.”

—Aaron Benson

Members of the congregation had little trouble getting behind such a worthy cause.

“I have never been so proud of our North Shore Jewish Center congregation for reaching out to someone in the community who needs our support,” congregant Beverly Kasper said. She also brought a gift bag for Lilianna.

Benson echoed that sentiment in a telephone interview. He recalled his Jewish New Year sermon last fall in which he challenged members of the congregation to go above and beyond at tikkun olam, a Hebrew phrase that refers to performing acts of kindness in an effort to perfect or repair the world. He asked people to make an effort on the 18th of each month to do something positive beyond what they’d normally do. The 18th was symbolic because in Hebrew, 18 spells “chai,” which means “life.”

He named this effort Team Malachim, the Hebrew word for angels, with the intent to encourage people to reach out to someone they didn’t know, someone who might not be looking for help but could use some.

Helping the Bonacasa family clearly fit his outreach plan to go beyond the synagogue and into the greater Long Island community, and he was proud of the response he got.

“It’s a way to show concern, to bring something good to the lives of others, to increase the love in the world,” he said of the fundraising effort and the desire to help.

Other North Shore communities also reached out to the Bonacasas.

The Sound Beach community welcomed the family into their new neighborhood in June, after Rocky Point VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and Landmark Properties owner Mark Baisch helped build a home for the family, which came with a reduced, more affordable mortgage.

There was a local outpour from neighboring hamlets, which came bearing welcome home gifts for the Bonacasas, such as gift cards, toys and a new bike for Lilianna, when they received  keys to the home.

North Shore Jewish Center president Andy Polan agreed that Jewish values need to extend beyond the walls of synagogues and homes.

“It’s very important for all [religious] denominations to encourage members to do things for our country as a whole,” he said. “We learn tolerance, to embrace others and to be sensitive to other people’s tragedies. It really shows what the United States is all about.”

Glen, Zachary and Renée Cote are receiving a new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo from Renée Cote

By Desirée Keegan

After a series of unfortunate events, a string of fortunate ones led the Cote family to their soon-to-be new home in Miller Place.

Glen and Renée Cote, and their 7-year-old son Zachary, were chosen to be the receivers of the 11th home for returning veterans, a program put in place by Rocky Point VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point Mark Baisch.

Renée Cote said to be chosen for the home on Helme Avenue is a dream come true.

“It’s extremely overwhelming — we feel extremely blessed,” she said. “I’m just happy that my son is going to have a home and that my husband and I are going to be able to live in a community that’s done nothing but support us.”

The framing is up for the new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place, which the Cote family will receive as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The framing is up for the new home on Helme Avenue in Miller Place, which the Cote family will receive as part of the homes for returning veterans. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The family has, until recently, lived in a rental home in Sound Beach, but found out in March that it was being evicted because the landlord had let the home fall into foreclosure. But that’s not where the hardships began.

Glen Cote, who was a U.S. Army combat medic from 1988 to 1992 and specialized in deployment training and immunization for a bulk of army medics in the Gulf War, met and married his wife following his service. In 2002, Renée Cote was diagnosed with a rare and painful metabolic disorder called acute intermittent porphyria, which requires expensive biweekly treatments that she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital. As a result of her illness, which there is no known cure for, she has suffered three strokes.

In 2009, the couple welcomed Zachary into their lives, who in June 2014 was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, and has since endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy. His treatment had to be halted when he was also diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria.

“We’ve had the most horrific circumstances happen to us, but in every event there’s been such a huge blessing that’s come out of it,” Renée Cote said. Two years ago, the family was chosen to be recipients of a fundraising effort during Shoreham-Wading River’s Lax Out Cancer fundraiser, which supports local children with cancer. The family was chosen again as the beneficiaries of this year’s event.

“This isn’t a free movie ticket or a handbag. This is a home that we otherwise would not have been able to afford. We’re still trying to process it.”

—Renée Cote

“We’ve mad a lot of friends, a lot of contacts,” Zachary’s mother said. “There are so many people in this area that genuinely want to help people, and it’s so amazing to be on the receiving end of it. It’s awkward, but it’s very humbling. My husband and I just look at each other and feel extremely blessed.”

Due to his illness, Zachary had to start kindergarten a year late, and his parents were worried about how he would manage school, but Miller Place school district has also been supportive of the family, and their fears melted into appreciation.

“The way that the teachers and faculty have personally taken to Zachary on a whole different level, it’s just incredible to see the love, and it’s a very humbling feeling to know that strangers are so willing to help,” his father said. “It was tremendously important that we stay in the district, and for this to become available, so we can set roots here and Zachary can be stable and make friends in the neighborhood. I couldn’t ask for much more at this point in time.”

Glen Cote also suffered a serious incapacitating injury on the job, to the point where he qualified for Social Security disability. Testing showed that his injuries led to a diagnosis of degenerative disk disease and shoulder and knee arthritis.

Following the eviction notice, the Landmark Properties owner was connected with the family when a friend of the Cote family contacted the vice president of Bridgehampton National Bank, who sent out an email to the chain. The manager of the Rocky Point branch knew what Baisch does for veterans, and immediately contacted him on their behalf.

That’s when Baisch asked to meet them.

Zachary Cote enjoys a day at the beach. Photo from Renée Cote
Zachary Cote enjoys a day at the beach. Photo from Renée Cote

“When they came in her, I didn’t know them from Adam, but they were very forthcoming and told me their story. It was a little overwhelming to take in,” he said.

He told them he’d contact Cognitore and get back to them, but the family wasn’t going to get their hopes up.

“We left thinking that there was just no way that we’ll be able to get this to go in our favor,” Renée Cote said, but the following week they were asked to come back to his office and were told the good news. “I honestly never thought something like this would happen to us. This isn’t a free movie ticket or a handbag. This is a home that we otherwise would not have been able to afford. We’re still trying to process it.”

The family will be moved in by Christmas, which Baisch is thrilled about, after he found out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation couldn’t send Zachary to LEGOLAND until next year.

“The happenstance of this is incredible,” he said. “Can you think of anyone else more deserving? I feel privileged to do what I do. It’s been a very good year for me. I’m on cloud nine.”

Knowing that they’ll never have to move again is what excites the family most.

“My son will make marks on the walls and I’ll tell him you did that when you were 8, you did that when you were 9,” the mother said. “Now knowing that no one is going to come knocking on my door telling me ‘you need to get out’ because of somebody else is mind blowing.”

For one of two veteran families, receiving a new home is bittersweet.

Deborah “Dee” Bonacasa and her daughter Lilianna entered their new home on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach Monday morning as part of a new chapter, but it wasn’t without great grief because husband and father Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa wasn’t there to join them.

Following what was his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, Bonacasa, a Coram native, wanted to settle down, have a second child and buy the family’s first house with a Veterans Affairs home loan that the couple had been approved for.

But that was taken from them on Dec. 21 when a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan, killing Bonacasa and five others in his New York Air National Guard Unit.

“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family,” said Bonacasa, who is also an Air Force veteran.

The widow said she was thankful for Landmark Properties owner Mark Baisch, Rocky Point’s VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore and all of the other locals who have made the new home possible.

“Everybody has been supporting us since the beginning. I just want to thank everybody.”

The house, which would normally go for $350,000, was sold to Bonacasa for $200,000, Baisch said. He and his employees at Landmark Properties donated $50,000 to Bonacasa. The families got to pick out the flooring, fixtures and décor to help personalize the home, and Baisch even had a surprise for 5-year-old Lily, painting her room blue, her and her father’s favorite color.

“My husband is not here to share this wonderful gift we’ve been given, but at the same time they fulfilled a dream that he’s always wanted to be able to do for our family.” —Dee Bonacasa

The second house, just next door, was sold for $250,000 to Joshua and Megan Johnson. Joshua Johnson will have 14 years of military service this July. He too deployed four times, serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and is currently in the Air National Guard. Megan Johnson’s father and older brother are also in the Air National Guard, with her brother being in the Marine Core. Her husband, who the Sound Beach native met three years ago, works in the same base as them, and the two met during her friend’s going away part for deployment.

“We were awestruck,” Megan Johnson said of finding out they were chosen to receive the second house. “Then, when we found out we were going to be neighbors with an amazing family. We just felt so honored.”

Because of the lot’s size, existing town laws only permitted one house to built there, but county and Brookhaven officials agreed to allow two houses to go up for this cause. The neighbors did not object, but actually supported the idea, which Baisch said would not have been possible without the help of county and town governments, private industry and neighbors.

More than 30 subcontractors worked with Baisch, donating material and services to help construct the houses, furnish them and even gave contributions like store gift certificates and a new bicycle for Lily.

The community outpour of welcoming and support was also felt by the families, as over 100 people packed down the small street to say hello to their new neighbors, bring flowers and gifts and show their gratitude for all the families have sacrificed.

“I felt a little worried actually, because to see something happen like this, I couldn’t imagine it, so when it actually did happen to us I felt blessed and just amazed to have this opportunity,” Joshua Johnson said. “I couldn’t imagine it being this huge.”

Megan Johnson said there aren’t words that could adequately express her family’s gratitude and say thank you in the appropriate way, but said it’s been a humbling experience. And they hope to be able to pay it forward.

“To see the outpouring of love, support and generosity from such a small community, it hits it home,” Megan Johnson said. “This is where we’re meant to be and this is why. We still can’t believe that we’re getting our dream home in our dream place, and it feels so great to have all of these people supporting us.”

Director of Suffolk County's Vetereans Service Agency's Human Services Divison, Thomas Ronayne; Rocky Point VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore; Brian Fabian, executive of Four Seasons Sunrooms & Windows; Landmark Properties owner Mark Baisch and Councilman Kevin LaValle teamed up to help build a new home for a veteran in Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County has a rich stock of heroes, and lawmakers this week were making special moves to say thanks.

“Of 62 counties nobody has more veterans who call their county home then we do right here,” said Thomas Ronayne, Director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency’s Human Service Division.

So with boasting so many veterans should come a big way of thanking those who return from their huge acts of service. And Rocky Point continues to do just that.

Mark Baisch, a developer and owner of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, first met VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore at a fundraiser that Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) hosted. Baisch said he didn’t know anyone in the room except for Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden).

While speaking, Baisch said Cognitore lamented to him that he’d like to do more for returning veterans.

Mark Baisch, owner of Landmark Properties, thanks all those who have helped make building homes for returning veterans possible. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Mark Baisch, owner of Landmark Properties, thanks all those who have helped make building homes for returning veterans possible. Photo by Desirée Keegan

That’s where the idea of building homes came about, after Baisch mentioned a small piece of property in Sound Beach back in 2009. Since then, the two have partnered to build 10 homes for returning veterans, and will soon break ground on the 11th and 12th houses, the next being on Helm Avenue in Miller Place.

“It just shows you how little things can happen and can foster themselves into things like this,” Baisch said of his “crazy, chance meeting” that he and Cognitore had. “We are delivering homes nine and 10 on June 6. ‘D-Day’ is going to be delivery day for us this year.’”

It was no small undertaking, and Baisch mentioned that besides Cognitore’s help, he couldn’t have done it without the help of his employees who work tirelessly to get the job done, and the county and town for taking care of permits, entitlement of land and sanitary flow credits.

“Everyone seems to use me as the catalyst or the lightening rod, but the county and the town do the best that they can to make sure that this program goes off without a hitch,” he said.

LaValle said that what he does working with those like Baisch and Cognitore is important to the community.

“What started with a humble beginning — this is what we have to do for our veterans — government working with the private sector to put our veterans first and make sure we take care of the people that take care of us and put their lives at risk for our freedoms here at home,” he said.

And others have followed suit.

Four Seasons Sunrooms in Holbrook donated 22 windows and a sliding glass door toward the completion of the next home in Miller Place. LaValle went to high school with Cammie Manganello, marking manager for the company, who reached out to him because she wanted to get involved.

“I gave Mark a call and everything played out from there,” she said. “I think the work they do is excellent. These are people that protect us and they give us the life that we have, so if we can give back in any way, absolutely we should be doing it.”

Windows like the one scene here are being donated by Four Seasons Sunrooms & Windows in Holbrook toward the construction of a home for a veteran in Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Windows like the one scene here are being donated by Four Seasons Sunrooms & Windows in Holbrook toward the construction of a home for a veteran in Miller Place. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Baisch said the company has never received a donation of windows before, which is a big purchase. Manganello and others hope the donation, and the program that Baisch and Cognitore have created, serve as a model to show others what they can be doing.

“It’s amazing on Long Island to see how much they care,” LaValle said of companies like Landmark Properties and Four Seasons Sunrooms. “It’s not always about the bottom line to many of our builders here and Mark is a prime example of that. He gives back.”

Ronayne said he agrees, adding that even the veterans working tirelessly, almost entirely behind the scenes for what veterans deserve and have earned.

He pointed out most specifically, the work Cognitore has done.

“We are able to be a part of something so important and so incredibly unique here on Long Island,” Ronayne said. “Don’t underestimate Joe Cognitore. I always look to see if his wings are visible under his jacket because he really has become a guardian angel to countless veterans. He’s a presence in the community, on Long Island, as a national advocate — every step he takes is intended to serve veterans of this great nation.”

Baisch said that all those involved are just good people doing the right thing, and added he is honored to be involved in the process.

“I will keep doing this … I’m not going to stop,” he said. “I love this program and I have no plan to stop doing it. It’s turned out to be something much more than I ever envisioned when Joe and I started talking about doing this.”

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Deborah Bonacasa signs the deed for her new home in Sound Beach. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

When Louis Bonacasa was to return home from his fourth deployment to Afghanistan, he told his wife he’d make it his last. He wanted to settle down, buy a home, become a dietician technician, open a business, give his 5-year-old daughter Lilianna a sibling and finally begin his life.

But Bonacasa didn’t return home.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner presents Deborah Bonacasa, who is fighting back tears, with a certificate of congratulations. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO
Councilwoman Jane Bonner presents Deborah Bonacasa, who is fighting back tears, with a certificate of congratulations. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

To honor him and his wife Deborah, also a veteran, the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 chose the Bonacasa family to receive one of two homes being built on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

“I don’t have the words,” said Deborah Bonacasa, whose husband was one of six killed in a suicide bomb attack on Dec. 21. “It’s an honor and I’m just very happy and overwhelmed with joy for their support in fulfilling this dream, because it’s something that my husband always wanted to do for the family — to provide the home for us. So it’s quite an honor.”

VFW Post Commander Joe Cognitore held the contract signing at the Fischer/Hewins post last Wednesday, and said it was a moving moment to be a part of.

“It was one of the best days I’ve had in all my time here at the VFW,” he said. “It was very cathartic. To know that we’ve helped Deborah out, and not only was her husband a veteran but she is too, it’s that much more gratifying to be able to honor both for their service.”

This is the ninth home that Cognitore and the VFW have partnered with Mark Baisch on, of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Baisch said. “The Bonacasas are fantastic. It couldn’t be a better selection.”

Landmark Properties builds the houses from the ground up, and Bonacasa was able to pick out some of the finishing touches to make the house special to her.

Lilianna Bonacasa, 5, holds up a photo of her family's new home given to them by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO
Lilianna Bonacasa, 5, holds up a photo of her family’s new home given to them by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249. Photo by Ron Pacchiana/JPA STUDIO

“I was able to pick out cabinets, flooring, what type of granite I wanted,” she said. “I was able to personalize it and able to pick certain colors that my husband would have liked to have in the kitchen and bathroom, so that was a special time.”

Bonacasa currently lives in California and lived with her husband in Coram for nine years after leaving the U.S. Air Force in 2006, and said that being able to move into the new home in two-and-a-half months is even more special because she’ll be able to be closer to him.

“We’ll be 20 minutes away from Calverton, so we’ll be on the Island with my husband,” she said, fighting back tears. “It’s bittersweet. I wish he were here to see and experience all of these wonderful things. It’s a beautiful home.”

Through tragedy, Bonacasa has been brought closer to her husband and to the new community she will be a part of. A home next door to hers will also house a veteran family. It has not yet been determined who will receive that home.

“I just want to thank everyone involved for all the love and support that they’ve shown our family,” Bonacasa said, sobbing. “I’ll never forget my husband and the sacrifices that he made. Not only did we lose a hero, but a wonderful man.”

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Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249, dedicates much of his time to helping veterans and his local community. File photo

“He’s a gentle giant.”

That’s what Rocky Point High School social studies teacher Rich Acritelli had to say about Rocky Point’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Fischer-Hewins Post 6249 Commander Joe Cognitore.

“He’s always got the community at his heart,” said Acritelli, who first met Cognitore in 2005 when he asked the post to come down and do a color guard for one of his programs. “He’s such a gentleman, a good guy and he has a good combination of common sense, leadership and also humor.”

Cognitore, who has lived in Rocky Point since 1983, served in Vietnam from April 1969 through March 1971, where he held the ranks of acting platoon sergeant and acting platoon leader. He earned the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge, as well as the National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign, and Air medals.

He first became active in the VFW in 1991, where he sent packages to troops overseas.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) first met Cognitore right after Sept. 11, 2001, when she was working with the North Shore Beach Property Owners’ Association on a planned blood drive. She said he donated cases of water and soda to the event.

“He’s one of the nicest men that I’ve ever met in my whole entire life,” she said. “He’s a very active participant in all things that make Rocky Point great, but he’s also a really big asset to us in Brookhaven. Joe’s always my first phone call for anything veteran-related.”

Since his start at the post, his role in the VFW and in the community has only continued to grow. The commander also raises money for the Joseph P. Dwyer peer-to-peer group and helped fund the building of two houses for returning veterans in Sound Beach.

Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, met Cognitore five years ago, when she reached out to him for help with the hamlet’s Veteran’s Memorial Park. Ruberto said the plans stalled because of a loss of funding.

“He sat down with us and spoke for hours,” she said. “He’s great. He’s very, very generous with his time. Had it not been for his input I’m not sure we would’ve gone in the direction we did and got the funding for the park.”

Cognitore also worked with Acritelli on the 9/11 memorial at the Diamond in the Pines Park in Coram, helping raise more than $40,000. The two are also working on helping to plan the ninth annual Wounded Warriors golf outing.

“We raised a lot of money for local guys,” Acritelli said. “Joe personifies everything that a citizen should be. He is always working for the betterment of his community. He’s going to be a tough guy to replace at the VFW post and in the state because he does so much.”

Cognitore said he was passionate about not only doing what he can for veterans but the community at large. He has used Post 6249 to host several other events including senior, Cub Scout and Girl Scout meetings, local soup kitchens, and to raise money for local families in need of assistance and for scholarships at Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River high schools.

“It’s contagious,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of effort, and we’re all volunteers here at the post.”

This dedication earned him induction into the New York State Senate Veteran’s Hall of Fame in 2005. He received this honor from New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

“I was floored,” he said of the nomination. “It was nice, and a great feeling. It recognized a veteran for their service and being a veteran, but also, for what you’ve done outside the veteran realm, and we help the community. The post is opened to mostly everybody.”

Frank Tepedino, of Saint James, who is a former MLB player for the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, has worked with Cognitore on several fundraisers and spoke with him at different events.

“It’s unbelievable the work that he does,” he said. “A man that takes that much time to ensure that nobody is left behind — he’s always out there to help any cause. He knows a lot of people and he’s surrounded himself with good people and he can get a lot done because of it.”

Ruberto said Cognitore opened her eyes to the countless returning veterans that struggle, realizing that helping returning vets should be more of a concern that honoring fallen soldiers.

“He made me aware of the number of homeless vets that are out there, or the home in Yaphank that feeds and houses vets, so it’s because of those conversations with him that made a light go off,” she said. “He’s very passionate about doing whatever he can for veterans.”

Cognitore said he gets so much enjoyment out of what he does that it doesn’t matter how much time he puts into it, as long as the final outcome is helping someone in need.

“It’s like a full time job,” he said. “Getting everything set up and running around takes a lot of time, but it’s well worth it.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine breaks ground where the two homes are being built for returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Local officials joined Mark Baisch, president of Landmark Properties in Rocky Point, and Joe Cognitore, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, to celebrate the groundbreaking of two homes Baisch is building for returning veterans and their families.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) attended the groundbreaking event, which took place on Aug. 20 in front of the property on Tyler Avenue in Sound Beach.

“We as a nation — we as a country, as a state, as a county, as a town owe them our thanks,” Romaine said.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Joe Cognitore, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico pose for a photo before tying a ribbon around the oak tree that will rest between two homes being built and given to returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Joe Cognitore, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico pose for a photo before tying a ribbon around the oak tree that will rest between two homes being built and given to returning veterans. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Bonner also commended Baisch for his efforts.

“Kudos to Mark for having the creative brain to come up with an idea and push the envelope, as you will, to create an opportunity to build houses for veterans,” Bonner said.

Baisch purchased the property two years ago and wanted to give back to the veterans by building two homes. These are Baisch’s ninth and tenth homes for returning veterans. The first home he built was also in Sound Beach, and was given to a veteran who earned a Purple Heart for his services.

“This is not something for the faint of heart,” Baisch said during the press conference.

Cognitore joined Baisch to help him execute his idea. As Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he took on the responsibility of selecting candidates for the two $249,000 homes.

In order for the veterans to qualify for the homes, they must be first-time homebuyers making less than $200,000 to $300,000 annually. The amount of time a vet served in either the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the size of the vet’s family and whether they received awards for their service are determining factors in deciding which applicants will receive the homes.

It is still unknown which veterans and their families will receive the homes.

“If you all go away with one thing, I want you to go and find me two veterans for these houses,” Baisch said. “That’s the most important thing.”