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John Tsunis

On Aug. 23, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook hosted a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament with local fire departments, including Setauket, Centereach and Selden, competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems,” which are personal escape kits, for fire departments in need all over the country.

The winners of the $1,000 prize money were members of New York City Fire Department’s Watkins Station Engine 231/Ladder 120 — Darren Fenton, Patrick Tulley, Connor Norman and Anthony Edrehi. The tournament winners and John-Paul Sabbagh, from the Terryville Fire Department who won the event’s 50/50 raffle, donated their winnings back to the foundation.

The event cost $20 to enter, and the tournament was judged by John Tsunis, owner of the hotel; Joe DiBernardo Sr.; and Leah Dunaief, publisher of Times Beacon Record News Media. Dan Keller from Stony Brook University’s athletics department served as referee.

Tsunis said the hotel hopes to make the tournament an annual event, adding, “It was a lot of fun to have all the firefighters there and all the community members we recruited to play.”

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An Aug. 23 volleyball tournament will help raise funds to buy bailout systems for firefighters through the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. DiBernardo, right, is pictured with his father Joseph DiBernardo Sr., left. File photo

Local firefighters are training to serve up some fun and to help members of firehouses around the country.

On Aug. 23, a 4-on-4 volleyball tournament will be held at the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook with fire departments competing to win and raise money for the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation. The money raised will help to buy “bailout systems” for fire departments who lack the vital equipment. The personal escape kits are used when rescue workers find themselves in fires that are difficult to escape, like when they are a few floors up, a building collapses or there is a backdraft.

Joseph DiBernardo after recovering from shattering both his feet and breaking bones below his waist. File photo

Tanya Lee, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing, said she came up with the idea for the fundraiser when DiBernardo’s father, Joseph DiBernardo Sr., stopped by the hotel to book a workshop. Lee, who is a volunteer with the Centereach Fire Department along with her son, said she was looking for a way the hotel could give back to the community and saw DiBernardo’s visit as a sign. She said she discovered while talking to him that many fire departments in the country don’t have the funds to pay for bailout systems and the training required to use them, which together can cost up to $1,000 per firefighter depending on the manufacturer.

“It was kind of like that ‘Aha’ moment,” Lee said. “Like he walked right in when I was looking to do something for the community.”

DiBernardo Jr., who was a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, was one of three New York City Fire Department firefighters injured during a tenement fire in the Bronx in 2005. Three firefighters also died in the blaze, and the tragedy was called “Black Sunday.” During the fire, DiBernardo Jr. helped his fellow firefighter Jeff Cool escape the building using a rope and then secured it to a child safety guard to lower himself from a window. The rope broke, and DiBernardo Jr. fell four stories, breaking practically every bone from his waist down and shattering both feet. During his recovery in the hospital, he suffered respiratory arrest and
developed pneumonia. While DiBernardo retired as a firefighter due to his injuries, he traveled the country and assisted in safety trainings for firefighters despite the physical pain he continued to suffer, according to his father. In 2011, the firefighter died from the injuries he sustained in the 2005 Bronx fire. In 2013, the DiBernardo family, members of the Setauket Fire Department and Cool established the foundation.

“We decided to [start] the foundation, so no other firefighter would have to die due to lack of personal safety ropes,” DiBernardo Sr. said.

Lee said the 4-on-4 tournament will consist of eight teams that will compete in a 15-point game until one team is left standing. For teams that are eliminated earlier in the tournament and for spectators, there will be a Cornhole toss, raffles, food and beverages. Attendees who stay overnight at the hotel will also receive a discount on their room.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers,” Lee said.

“I just want them to feel good about helping their brothers, whether they’re a fire department in Schenectady or they’re a fire department here, they’re all brothers.”

— Tanya Lee

So far there are five teams consisting of firefighters set to participate — FDNY, Hicksville, Jericho, Selden and Centereach. Kevin Yoos, fire commissioner with the Setauket Fire District and vice president of the foundation, said volunteers in Setauket are currently organizing a team. Lee said there will also be a team consisting of Gold Coast Bank employees.

The tournament was one that John Tsunis, the owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, said he was on board from the moment he heard about it. The hotel donated $1,000 to the tournament, and it will be awarded to the winning team, according to the hotel owner. Tsunis, who is also CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank, said he believes in giving back to the community the hotel serves.

“We’re not big hotels in Las Vegas or international banks in New York City,” Tsunis said. “We’re neighbors and friends, and we work together, and we live together.”

DiBernardo Sr., who is a retired FDNY firefighter, said his son wanted to fight fires since he was a kid. He would play with fire trucks as a child, and when he was a bit older, would visit his father at work at his station house in Brooklyn.

When he was 18, DiBernardo Jr. became a fire alarm dispatcher on Long Island, and the next year he became a volunteer with the Setauket Fire Department, according to his father. During his tenure with the department, he became a lieutenant and captain. In 1993, DiBernardo Jr. became an FDNY fire alarm dispatcher, and in 1995, his dream of becoming a firefighter in the city was achieved.

“That’s what he always wanted,” the father said. “It’s nice to see your son achieve his dreams.”

The father said he was touched when he heard about the volleyball tournament and the $1,000 donation.

“Someone would care in the community to do something for us like that … it’s fantastic,” he said.

The Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook is located at 3131 Nesconset Highway, Stony Brook. Entry donation is $20 for players and spectators and includes food and beverages. For more details about the event, contact Tanya Lee at 631-471-8000. Or visit www.facebook.com/HIExpressSB/ for a link to sign up. For more information on the Lt. Joseph P. DiBernardo Memorial Foundation, visit www.joeydfoundation.org.

Former New York Mets player Ed Kranepool, at podium, discusses the importance of organ donation at a June 12 rally in Setauket organized by John Tsunis, right. Photo by Anthony Petriello

By Amanda Perelli

For one sports legend, life has thrown him a curveball, but he’s not sitting it out on the bench.

Former baseball player Ed Kranepool, a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets, is rallying for New York state residents to bring miracles to the 10,000 state residents beside him on the organ transplant waiting list. Kranepool is in need of a kidney transplant due to diabetes-related kidney issues. He’s lived with the disease for the last 40 years.

To help him with his mission, John Tsunis, CEO and chairman of Gold Coast Bank and the owner of the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, organized a rally June 12 at the Gold Coast Bank in Setauket. Community
business leaders of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, representatives from the Suffolk County Legislature and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization came together for the rally, where those in attendance vowed to sign donor registration forms.

“It’s time for us to act and enroll as organ donors. One organ donor can save up to eight lives.”

— John Tsunis

“It’s time for us to act and enroll as organ donors,” Tsunis said. “One organ donor can save up to eight lives. One organ donor can change the course of history for a child in need or a New York Mets legend, like Ed Kranepool. So today many of us are filling out a form, a simple form, committing to do one thing. That’s to donate life.”

Tsunis said the donor registration forms can be found at all of the Gold Coast Bank branches.

“If I understand the statistic correctly, we are 50 out of 50 states to donate organs, and I don’t want to live in a state that is selfish like that,” Tsunis said. “If we have the opportunity to fill out this form and donate an organ when the time is appropriate — we could help somebody else in our lives and in our community.”

Based off the percentage of population registered, New York state is ranked 51 out of 52 registries in the country for participation, according to Aisha Tator, New York Alliance for Donation executive director.

“The awareness, that’s the whole key,” said Kranepool, who attended the rally. “People need to be aware of the programs that are available.”

The 73-year-old’s procedure will take place at Stony Brook Hospital if a match is found.

“Not everybody has to go to Manhattan,” said Kranepool — who lives in Woodbury — about the hospitals Long Island has to offer. “The biggest and the finest and whatever, you know they are certainly out on Long Island, so it’s right in your own neighborhood.”

Forms can also be downloaded at www.donatelife.ny.gov/register.

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Charlotte Plagainos, center, receives a check for $100 from Gold Coast Bank Chairman and CEO John Tsunis, second from right, after finding the oldest penny among Three Village students. Charlotte’s mother Rebecca, fourth from left, administrators from the bank and the school district were on hand for the presentation. Photo from Rebecca Photo from Rebecca Plagainos

A Three Village kindergartner recently turned a penny into $100.

The East Setauket branch of Gold Coast Bank announced Charlotte Plagainos was the first prize winner of its Oldest Penny Search after she found an 1802 penny. Bank representatives awarded her $100 for her discovery during a March 23 ceremony at Arrowhead Elementary School.

The 1802 penny that Charlotte Plagainos found while going through her great-grandfather’s coin jar. Photo from Rebecca Plagainos

The kindergartner said she found the winning penny while going through her great-grandfather’s jar of change on a rainy day with her mother, Rebecca Plagainos. Charlotte, who just turned 6 years old, said when she found the penny she had a feeling it was old enough to win the contest.

“I was really excited,” she said, adding that she noticed the head of the coin featured a Native American and not President Abraham Lincoln.

Her mother said when Charlotte received the news that she won from Gold Coast Bank, the family was screaming, and the kindergartner did her happy dance.

“I started to jump up and down, up and down,” Charlotte said.

John Tsunis, Gold Coast Bank chairman and CEO, said he was surprised a student found such an old penny.

“I thought we would get something maybe somewhere in the early 1900s, but not in the 1800s,” Tsunis said. “That’s awesome.”

Rebecca Plagainos said the win turned into a counting lesson for Charlotte, who can count up to 1,000.

“We took it out all in [dollar bills], so it was super exciting because it was a huge stack of bills,” Plagainos said. “We could lay it all out and count them.”

After winning the contest, Charlotte’s parents treated her and her sister, Daphne, to a celebratory dinner at Slurp Ramen and then to Roger’s Frigate in Port Jefferson for ice cream. Charlotte said at the Frigate she bought herself and her sister stuffed animals — a parrot for her and a bunny for Daphne.

“I thought we would get something maybe somewhere in the early 1900s, but not in the 1800s. That’s awesome.”

— John Tsunis

Tsunis said the contest kicked off during an assembly at Arrowhead Elementary School Feb. 12 during the school’s spirit week, where bank representatives challenged students to find the oldest penny in the Three Village area. They chose the penny due to the event falling on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. The prizes offered were $100 for first prize, $50 for second, and the winner’s school’s PTA would receive $500.

“We were looking for a way that we could communicate with the young kids in the Three Village community,” Tsunis said.

The chairman said each student received a piggybank and shiny new penny. He and other bank representatives met with the student council to introduce the contest and discussed the importance of establishing a pattern of savings. Tsunis said savers would be surprised with their results with compound interest.

“No matter how small you save, save that amount on a regular basis,” Tsunis said. “Get something that’s comfortable, whether it’s 10 cents, 50 cents, a dollar.”

It’s advice Charlotte is taking to heart. She is saving the remaining prize money for something special in the future, according to her mother.

At the March 23 ceremony, James-Henry Parkinson, a fourth-grader who found a penny dated 1847, was named runner-up and received $50. As arranged, Arrowhead’s PTA was the recipient of the $500 prize.

One of the 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

George Washington and the Long Island Culper Spy Ring continue to make history on the North Shore.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. One of the signs, unveiled at the end of the event, is located in front of the Brewster property.

A press conference was held May 18 on the lawn of the Brewster House in East Setauket after the installation of 26 signs along the Route 25A corridor from Port Jefferson To Great Neck, which now designate Route 25A as the Washington Spy Trail. Photo by Rita J. Egan

The installation of signage and the designation comes after almost two decades of work on the part of the North Shore Promotional Alliance. The state road was chosen because President George Washington once traveled it to thank the patriots for helping him win the Revolutionary War, and it was also a route that spy Austin Roe used to pick up and deliver secret messages to military officer and spy Benjamin Tallmadge in Connecticut.

Gloria Rocchio, President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotional Alliance, said that during the days of the Culper Spy Ring in the 1700s the Brewster House was one of only a few homes, and at the time of the American Revolution, the area was occupied by 300 British troops.

“Our community was divided between Loyalist and Patriots who supported the revolution in secret,” she said. “This history is the very history of America. Our efforts over the past 17 years have been to shine a light on our American Revolution and to encourage people to visit those important sites on the North Shore where history was made — the George Washington Spy Trail, Route 25A.

In addition to thanking her fellow members of the NSPA and others for their work, Rochhio acknowledged State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for introducing a legislative resolution in both the New York State Senate and Assembly that recognizes the dedication of the trail as well as the service of the spy ring members. On the same day, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were presenting a similar resolution in congress.

Flanagan thanked those who gave up their free time to dedicate themselves to the project. The senator said he and the other local legislatures who were on hand for the event are proud of their towns.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and Supervisor Ed Romaine present a proclamation to President of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Gloria Rocchio, making May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“We brag about the places that we come from,” he said. “We like telling people about these types of things.”

Flanagan said he hopes that residents, as well as those who travel to the area will take advantage of the educational experiences the signs call out along the way.

When Englebright stepped up to the podium, he asked State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) to join him and said he appreciated the partnership with his neighboring assemblyman as well as Flanagan when it came to the legislative resolution that recognizes the area’s historical significance.

“This is a special place,” Englebright said. “Patriots lived here. People put their lives on the line as the first espionage ring for service to our nation.”

Englebright echoed Rocchio’s sentiments of the importance of the signs that pay tribute to the area’s history.

“The memorialization of that through this signage that Gloria referred to, is a chance for us to celebrate that reality, that wonderful beginning of our nation, the role that we played in it,” the assemblyman said. “It’s also important to give a sense of place and sense of context for this and future generations.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) presented a proclamation to Rocchio, which made May 18 North Shore Promotion Alliance Day in Brookhaven. Romaine also reflected on the historical importance of the day.

Local politicians following the enveiling of the Washington Spy Trail sign along 25A. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“Today we remember our history,” he said. “Today we remember ordinary people, living ordinary lives, who were called upon to do extraordinary things.”

John Tsunis, Chairman and CEO of Gold Coast Bank and owner of Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, introduced Harry Janson, Sr., who was wounded in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart, a medal that originated from Washington’s Badge of Military Merit. Janson, who is on the board of the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University, said he believed the members of the Culper Spy Ring — Tallmadge, Roe, Robert Townsend, Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Anna Smith Strong — were worthy of the award as well.

“The difference is the example of their bravery,” Janson said. “They performed their bravery in covert, and they took their secrets to their graves.”

Before unveiling the Washington Spy Trail sign in front of the Brewster House, Janson had the same wish as others who worked on the installation of the signage.

“We hope that many of you drive the trail and learn about these brave men and women, and what they did for our country,” Janson said.

Additional Washington Spy Trail signs include ones located on the westbound side of Route 25A at West Broadway in Port Jefferson, by the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, before the Smithtown Bull in Smithtown and at Lawrence Hill Road in Huntington Station.

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Gold Coast Bank’s Setauket branch, at the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road. Photo by Donna Newman

By Wenhao Ma

In little more than eight years, John Tsunis’ Gold Coast Bank has gone from one location in Islandia to a publicly-traded company with six branches on Long Island, and another opening in downtown Brooklyn.

Now he’s contemplating the bank’s first branch in Manhattan, because many of the customers and stockholders on Long Island are also residents of New York City.

“I don’t want to build a wall between us and New York City,” Tsunis said.

Tsunis, 65, has multiple business interests. He is not only the chairman and chief executive officer of Gold Coast Bank, but is also on the board of directors of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, and the founder and CEO of Islandia-based Long Island Hotels. He opened the first Holiday Inn Express franchise on Long Island in Stony Brook in 1991, which was the first in the United States.

According to Gold Coast Bank’s 2016 second quarter report, its net income reached $573,000, a 178 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year. Its assets, deposits and loans have all increased compared to 2015.

The bank also reported year-to-date net income of $991,000.

Gold Coast Bank went public in June, issuing about $9.5 million in shares.

“We are encouraged by our original investors who continue to support our community bank, as well as new investors who have come aboard,” Tsunis said in a statement.

John Tsunis is chairman and CEO of the bank. File photo.
John Tsunis is chairman and CEO of the bank. File photo.

After his first bank, Long Island Commercial Bank, was taken over by New York Community Bancorp in 2005, many clients felt the new, larger bank no longer offered a personal touch. So Tsunis created Gold Coast Bank.

“We used the same model [as we did for Long Island Commercial Bank], almost like a private bank, where we could meet with our neighbors and help them,” Tsunis said. “The bank has a tremendous opportunity to help the development of the growth and the success of the neighbors in our community.”

He said Gold Coast Bank reinvests clients’ deposits right into the community where they are located.

“You deposit money here and we don’t send it to Europe, China or South America like a multinational bank,” he said.

Tsunis remembers when he and his bank helped a Stony Brook restaurant that had trouble funding an expansion.

“That’s not a big enough fish for them,” he said, explaining why the big banks wouldn’t lend money to the restaurant. “For small banks like ours that are in our community, every fish is a big fish.”

Tsunis said he was familiar with the owners, who had been in business for a long time.

“We took that as an opportunity to support the community and a local merchant,” he said, adding that he responded right away.

Tsunis said his father worked in a restaurant in Manhattan. When the son was 12 or 13 years old, he used to go to work with his father every Saturday. His job was to bring coffee and egg sandwiches to the customers, which helped him develop a good work ethic.

Growing up, Tsunis always wanted to be a lawyer and get into the real estate business. He graduated from New York University with honors in banking and finance in 1973, and earned his doctor of law degree from Syracuse University College of Law two years later. Before long he started his own law firm with a personnel comprising himself and a secretary.

“By being a lawyer, I thought I would understand the language of the real estate world and legal world,” he said. “I have tremendous passion for whatever I did. I didn’t want to do anything just for the sake of doing it. I enjoy law, I enjoy practicing land use and I enjoy developing real estate.”

A blueprint for a happy life is what Tsunis would most like to pass on to the next generation.

“Whatever it is that you want to do,” he said, “make sure that you have a smile on your face and the passion for what you want to do because you are going to spend an awful amount of time at work.”

Tsunis is establishing a scholarship at the College of Business at Stony Brook University to help young people who want to enter the business world. He is personally donating $25,000, and the bank will add to that.

Andrew Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said that Tsunis, who is a very active board member in the chamber, likes to get the community involved, recalling that two years ago Tsunis spent $1,000 on tickets to a barbecue at West Meadow Beach, and gave them out free to guests at the Holiday Inn Express.

“Currently, he wants to get all parts of our community, including the faculty, staff and maybe students of our great Stony Brook and Three Village community together to do a huge New Year’s celebration — maybe centered at the new sports arena on campus,” Polan said.

Cris Damianos, vice chairman of the bank, said that Tsunis is a charitable person and a big donor to charitable organizations, adding that he understands doing business is not a one-way street.

To help the community, Damianos said that the bank lends money not only to businesses, but to religious institutions as well.

Tsunis said he believes that his and the bank’s efforts to help the community will pay off.

“I think if we germinate those seeds, those young students, the residents of the New York metropolitan area and international students as well, will help this economy, this county, this state and country to be a better place to live,” he said.

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Gold Coast Bank’s East Setauket branch is located at 690 Route 25A. File photo

Gold Coast Bank, which calls Route 25A in East Setauket one of its homes, is cashing in with a new branch in Southampton.

The Islandia-based bank filed an application with the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to expand its sixth Long Island branch in the eastern Suffolk community since its launch in 2008.  The new spot is slated for 97 North Sea Road in the Southampton Village business district, adjacent to the Southampton post office.

“We are extremely pleased to announce our plans to open our sixth branch,” said John C. Tsunis, Gold Coast Bank’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Gold Coast has been highly successful since it opened for business, and this new branch serves to confirm our standing as a bank that continues to strengthen its roots in the communities we serve across Long Island.”

Tsunis said the bank recently reported its fourth consecutive year of profitability, making the move to expand an easy decision. The new Southampton location will join the Gold Coast branches across the island, including Mineola, Huntington, Farmingdale and East Setauket. And looking ahead, Tsunis said the bank had big plans for the far eastern end of Suffolk.

“With the opening of this branch, we are certain we will play a very active role in the growth in the Hamptons,” Tsunis said. “Southampton has always had a very large role to play on Long Island, serving as a beacon for business, tourism and the arts. We are excited to further extend the Gold Coast Bank footprint into this vibrant community.”

The announcement of the bank’s expansion came just weeks after another milestone announcement, when the state Department of Financial Services and the Federal Deposit Insurance Program promoted Gold Coast Bank past its new bank, or “de novo,” status. The reclassification moved the bank beyond certain state banking regulations that are typically put in place for newly formed banks.

James P. Johnis, president and chief operating officer of Gold Coast, said the bank’s $323.8 million in total assets as of the end of 2014 propelled the bank into becoming one of Long Island’s premier banking locations.

“This solidifies us as a major part of Long Island’s banking industry, and going forward, we will continue to provide customers with superior personal service while exceeding customer expectations,” he said in a statement when the bank was promoted past new bank status. “This is a major step in our history and a most positive sign of our growth and success.”

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