Tags Posts tagged with "Kevin Redding"

Kevin Redding

Greg Drossel outside Holtsville Hal's pen. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Ever since Greg Drossel was young, he’s had a love for the great outdoors. The 64-year-old Ridge resident grew up in Three Villages when it was still a largely wild area and spent most of his days reveling in and examining nature. Whether it was flipping rocks over for in-depth analysis or chasing animals through the woods, Drossel’s upbringing on Long Island laid the foundation for his career as a naturalist, an animal caretaker and, ultimately, the permanent handler of Holtsville Hal, the North Shore’s cherished groundhog and meteorologist, for 21 years.

Greg Drossel with the great prognosticator Holtsville Hal on Groundhog Day this year. Photo by Kevin Redding

From 1979 until 1997, Drossel crossed his passion for nature with a desire to get more kids to appreciate the outdoors as general manager of the Long Island Game Farm, a family-owned wildlife park in Manorville that currently features hundreds of animals and has been a frequent destination for school kids for decades. He currently serves as assistant director of student life at Ross School in East Hampton, where he holds lectures and mentors students on all things nature related and started an archery program, for which he is the instructor.

Drossel also served as a consultant for many zoos across the country and was involved in a lot of animal-related confiscation work with the federal government, retrieving illegally kept mountain lions and alligators from people’s homes. The naturalist has even handled animals for films, like Woody Allen’s “Alice” and the 1993 drama “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and TV commercials and has appeared on “The Today Show” and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” with renowned zoologist Jim Fowler.

I had the opportunity to speak with Drossel right before Holtsville Hal made his famous Groundhog Day prediction at the Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville on Feb. 2.

Have you always loved animals?

Absolutely. My dad was brought up on a farm in East Setauket up off Sheep Pasture Road, and I’ve always been around the outdoors, grew up hunting and fishing and camping and having a respect for the natural world and it’s just stuck with me all these years. I hate to use the word, but that’s my drug. My kids say “put dad out in the middle of the woods with a pocketknife and a rock and he’ll be fine for the rest of his life.”

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Stony Brook-Setauket-Port Jefferson area and then moved to Lake Grove and now I live in Ridge out in the Pine Barrens.

Did growing up in that area make you the person you are today?

Definitely. Like anything else, I get to go back there quite often because I still have some friends and relatives that still live there. I remember grouse hunting with my dad as a kid where Stony Brook University is now … that was all wild, there was no Nicolls Road [back then]. I remember riding down Nesconset Highway when it was two lanes, one going, one coming, and it’d be nothing to see deer and fox standing on the side of the road in Setauket.

How did you become Hal’s handler?

Just being here. I’ve always enjoyed coming to the Wildlife and Ecology Center. Years ago when I ran the Long Island Game Farm, I used to handle the groundhog Malverne Mel and then when I left the game farm, I was able to spend more time here. This is such a great jewel in the Town of Brookhaven.

Where did Hal come from?

I believe Hal was rescued after being hurt and so that’s why he’s here now. And he’s permanently here [at the Ecology Center.] He’s got his own pen that he lives in.

What’s the life expectancy of a groundhog?

Well, there are understudies and I don’t want to give it all away. Of course, he’s the original Hal and always will be — he’s immortal.

Do you only see Hal on Groundhog Day?

No, I bring my grandkids here a lot and I have a summer camp at the Ross School and twice throughout the six weeks I make a trip out here with a bunch of little five, six and seven-year-olds.

What’s Hal’s personality like?

It depends, we all wake up in the morning in different moods and we’ll find out [today on Groundhog Day] how he’s feeling.

Do you think the little guy enjoys the festivities?

How could he not? I think he does, yeah, but you’d have to ask his agent. I’m just his lowly handler.

Does Hal get any special treats after the Groundhog Day event?

Actually no, he just wants to go back to sleep [like the rest of us], so they bring him back to his pen.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn about wild animals and nature?

It’s part of who we are. We all come from nature and we’re all caught up in technology, and I’m not saying that technology is bad but you got to get outside and really appreciate the outdoors. There’s a book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv about kids having nature-deficit disorder. You want to learn about geometry? Let a kid look at a pinecone. You want to learn about physics? Let them float a stick down a stream and see where it goes and how it gets there. It’s all out there.

by -
0 1907
Sasha and Wookie enjoying their years in Setauket. Photo by Holly Leffhalm.

Two large German shepherd dogs attacked and killed a pet alpaca and severely injured a llama in a pen at the back of a home on Main Street in Setauket Feb. 5. It happened at about 2 a.m., according to Bob Ingram, a neighbor who witnessed the aftermath and found the dogs still at the scene.

“I heard barking coming from the pen,” the next-door neighbor Ingram said. “It was pitch black out and the barking was aggressive. Then I heard a shrill sound and knew one of the llamas was in distress.”

He drove his car onto the grass, toward the pen where he saw the two black-and-brown dogs menacing the llama. It was barely 10 minutes from the time he was awakened to the time he viewed the scene, he said. Ingram said he honked the horn, but the dogs just ignored it. Finally, he rolled down the car window and yelled and the dogs took off. Ingram called 911 and awaited police response. Upon arrival, an officer determined it necessary to euthanize the surviving animal.    

The animals, 17-year-old Sasha the llama and Wookie, the alpaca, rescued eight years ago by Kerri Glynn, were beloved by many in the neighborhood.

“Llamas are such lovely animals,” Glynn said. “There’s not an aggressive bone in their bodies. We’d let them out [of the pen] in the backyard and they would never leave the property. They were the easiest animals to care for that I’ve ever owned.”

Ingram reached out on social media to alert Three Village residents of the danger posed by the dogs. The pen abuts the field at Setauket Elementary School, so he called to alert administrators there. He called his veterinarian, to spread the word.

In the wake of vicious maulings in Brookhaven Town last summer, the board unanimously approved a new policy Jan. 24, effective immediately,  intended to keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, it’s to dog owners: Watch your dogs, protect them … and be a responsible owner … if you’re not, the town is putting things in place as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said at the meeting.

Under the new town code amendment, which reflects stricter state law for dealing with “dangerous dogs,” the definition has been expanded to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

Owners of a dog deemed dangerous, who do not properly house their pets, will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100; third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000 and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

After the Sunday attack, on social media people who travel along Mud Road, Quaker Path and Christian Avenue reported sightings of the two dogs dating back to January.

Save-a-Pet founder Dori Scofield said she had not received any calls about the dogs at either Save-a-Pet or Guardians of Rescue.

“German shepherds are super smart dogs,” Scofield said. “They’re going back to where they’re from.”

Area searches done since Sunday by local residents have not located the dogs.

Roy Gross, who heads the Suffolk County SPCA, said the organization had no knowledge of the Sunday morning incident.

Gross recommended a course of action should anyone see the dogs.

“Do not approach the dogs,” he said. “Dial 911 immediately, tell them you’ve sighted dogs matching the description of the ones that killed the pets on Main Street in Setauket, and give the location. If you are driving and can safely see where the dogs go, do so. A second call should be made to Brookhaven Animal Shelter (631-286-4940) to inform them of the location.”

He also gave advice to pet owners in the area.

“All animal owners should keep tabs on them — do not leave them out alone unattended,” he said, adding that is always good policy.

Ingram said he was devastated by the loss.

“I know these llamas really well,” he said. “They’ve been to my children’s birthday parties. Sasha was here when I moved in … [Those dogs] really scared me. A single person couldn’t handle those two dogs.”

Additional reporting by Kevin Redding.

Stony Brook students from around the world attend an informational forum regarding President Trump's executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations at the Charles B. Wang Center Feb. 1. Photo by Kevin Redding

Stony Brook University students, many of them international, poured into the Charles B. Wang Center on campus last week to voice their concerns and seek guidance following President Donald Trump’s (R) controversial executive order signed Jan. 27 which put a temporary freeze on travelers entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations.

A 19-year old student from Yemen, one of the seven countries targeted under the ban, said he’s afraid of being detained if he were to travel through John F. Kennedy International Airport for spring break. He asked not to be identified because of safety concerns.

A 24-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh wanted to know if she’d be able to see her family this year.

A 22-year old student from Pakistan said he’s no longer interested in finding a physics job in the United States because, as he put it, “it’s just not an environment I want to be in.”

On Feb. 1, less than a week after Trump signed the order to ban citizens of the seven nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and all refugees for 120 days —the order has since been temporarily halted by a federal appeals court, though the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal of the ruling — the university hosted an information session with two New York City-based immigration lawyers, Alexander Rojas and Eric Lorenzo of Barst Mukamal & Kleiner LLP.

According to Dr. Jun Liu, SBU’s Vice Provost for Global Affairs and Dean of International Academic Programs and Services, the session was organized by SBU President Dr. Samuel Stanley to affirm the university’s “commitment to diversity, strong values of inclusiveness, and campus environment that welcomes all.”

The legal experts addressed and interpreted the immigrant reform, which Rojas described as “startling,” as it stood on the day, and fielded questions from those in attendance. Representatives from the offices of Visa and Immigration Services and Dean of Students were also on hand to offer support and answer questions.

Rojas repeatedly advised students currently holding visas from any of the seven affected countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — to remain in the U.S. until the end of the 90-day period, April 27, because, as he said, “there is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed re-entry into the [U.S.].”

The three main student visas are F-1, H-1, and J-1, nonimmigrant visas for those studying, those in “specialized occupations,” and those wishing to take part in work-and-study-based exchange and visitor programs, respectively.

According to Lorenzo, the only type of visa excluded from the executive order are G-1, or diplomatic, visas, which are typically for representatives of foreign governments within the United Nations or foreign embassies within the U.S.

But Rojas, who acknowledged there’s still plenty of uncertainty hanging over the ban in terms of its function and development, said those within immigration law anticipate Trump might extend the 90-day period and implement considerations with regards to the countries listed, something the order already laid out as a possibility.

According to the lawyer, an unconfirmed draft with additional countries for the travel ban list had been circulating. The rumored additional countries, Rojas said, are Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines, and Mali.

“It would be prudent to not travel until there’s further guidance with regards to what the White House is going to do with respect to these additional countries proposed on that [supposed] list,” he said. Rojas added he’s not sure of the rationale behind any of the nations currently on the list, or the ones speculated to be in danger of being placed under similar restrictions.

The student from Bangladesh, who would only identify herself as Adrita, was told by Rojas that since her native country is not currently on the travel ban list, she should have no concerns about traveling back home to see her family.

While the 24-year-old genetics student admitted she’s glad to know she won’t be affected by the ban, she called the whole situation unfair.

“Even though I’m not from any of the affected countries, the ban seems to apply to Muslims…so obviously I’m concerned,” Adrita said. “Pakistan is one of the [possible] countries, and Pakistan is right next to Bangladesh. My parents told me ‘forget it, don’t travel, what if you’re told to come back to us?’ I’m doing a PhD here; I can’t just leave.”

Trump has insisted since the roll out of the order it’s not a Muslim ban but a security measure to prevent threats of terrorism.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” the President said in a statement. “We will keep it free and keep it safe…to be clear, this is not a Muslim ban…this is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

Daud Khan, 22, from Pakistan, said he anticipated this sort of situation upon Trump’s election.

“I was just home [in Pakistan] in December for my brother’s wedding and I made it a point to return before Trump’s inauguration so I arrived Jan. 19 to be on the safe side,” he said. “Because you don’t know what he’s going to do.”

A beware of dog sign outside Peter Connelly’s home in Rocky Point. He was the owner of the pit bulls involved in last summer’s attacks. Photo from Matt Tuthill

In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.

Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”

—Matt Tuthill

The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.

The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.

Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.

Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”

He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”

Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.

“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”

“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

—Emily Pines

Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.

He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.

“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”

Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.

“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”

While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.

“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”

In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”

The new policy will be in effect immediately.

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”

by -
0 949
Above, the author behind the bar at Mario’s in Setauket with a copy of his book

Reviewed by Kevin Redding

In writing his first book “Wednesday Night Meeting,” a large novel of connected short stories tackling a wide range of topics from religion to baseball to surrealism to poetry to minor traffic violations, East Setauket resident Louis L. Lasser IV set out to create something unconventional and personal, wanting to, in his own words, “write a book I always wanted to read.” It’s clear when speaking to the 38-year-old North Shore native that the unconventional route has always been his preferred one, and his book, made possible by a Kickstarter campaign and available now on Amazon and at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, is for those looking for something different.

The tap dancer-turned-math teacher-turned-bartender-turned-author, who grew up in Mount Sinai, got inspired in New York City, and spends his mornings writing and his nights serving drinks at Mario’s Italian Restaurant in East Setauket, recently spoke with me in the darkly lit, cozy restaurant about his upbringing, his complex relationship with religion, how film directors informed his narrative style and the influence Long Island and Manhattan have had on the book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Mount Sinai going to dance classes, tap and ballet, because my mom was a ballet teacher. I would hide it for a long time and didn’t want to tell my friends. I actually ended up studying a lot, started playing [sports like baseball and football] less and dancing more … I quit football in high school just to tap dance, which my coach didn’t really understand or like very much. He was like “what are you kidding me, Lasser?”

I started at Cheryl Rich Dance Studio in Nesconset and then when I went to Adelphi University, they didn’t have tap programs so I had to take the train into the city to Broadway Dance Center and started taking classes from the world’s greatest tap dancers, Savion Glover, Omar Edwards, and it ultimately led to me dancing on stage with Gregory Hines several years later, so that was a big part of my life and it still is.

What did you study in college?

I was a math major. Then I taught math for 12 years in the private school system. I taught in the city (La Salle Academy), Southampton and then in Sayville at Prince of Peace Regional School.

What got you interested in writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I liked writing poetry and I learned that I could save a lot of money on mom’s presents by writing her a poem, putting it in a frame, and then she’d cry — which I knew was an accomplishment for a gift.

What did you like to write about?

Everything from appreciation for life and the crazy chance that we even exist to seeing the good and bad in things. A lot of it came to question religion and the role it plays and whether people really think about their religion or whether it’s a religion of convenience. A lot of my life has been about religion. My grandfather was a pastor, my mom taught me to question things and be very accepting, and my own readings led me to be very skeptical about a lot of stuff, so a lot of my life has been trying to figure out what religion means and the book tackles that.

When Prince of Peace closed, a lot of teachers got reassigned to other schools or private schools and I liked teaching but I didn’t love it and I always wanted to write and wanted to take on something bigger than poetry. I wanted to actually put a novel together.

What is your writing process?

I treat it like a job. Every morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. is writing time. The pen wasn’t on paper at 6 but I woke up, made the coffee, opened the laptop, started taking notes. For three hours, I had to “show up.” Sometimes it would be really productive, and sometimes you’d regret it. Sometimes I’d wake up and say ‘this week this chapter has to be done or I’m gonna punch myself in the head’ or force myself to take a cold shower for an hour. Set some punishments, which isn’t a bad way to actually motivate yourself. I’ve heard a good way is to take a terrible picture of yourself and give it to someone else and, if you don’t meet that deadline, they post that picture on social media, so you better get it done.

Tell me about ‘Wednesday Night Meeting.’

There are four main characters and they all start out with their own short stories that alternate throughout the beginning and then become a cohesive novel halfway through, and the story arcs of each character are based on math equations where they eventually will start separately and meet in the middle and then their lives are altered from there. That’s kind of the math teacher background playing a part.

One of the main characters is a poet questioning what’s going on with religion and the book takes place about five years from now and it’s after a big breach where everything embarrassing — any sexual history that you’ve had, search history, keystrokes — is out there and no one knows exactly who knows everything but it, in turn, makes most of America become religious to at least publicly atone to say “I’m not that bad, I’m not that terrible, I’m gonna correct my life.”

There’s this Mafia-like group [in the book] going after people that question God because people don’t like when you have questions in this fictional world [2020]. So the secret group DOC (Defenders of Christ) is going after artists, writers, and will do anything it takes to kill or suppress someone who has influence in raising other people to question their superiority. They’re going after the main characters, who are openly questioning it and don’t know they’re being targeted.

A majority of the book takes place in Manhattan. What is your relationship with the Big Apple?

Living out here on Long Island I’d see the city as a big beacon basically, the center of the entire universe. You have all the skyscrapers and all these things. My grandmother, who was an opera singer who sang for a radio station in Chicago, would take me in all the time to see Broadway shows and go shopping.

Every once in awhile she’d wake up and want to go to the city and have no one to go with, and my mom would say “Lou, do you have any tests in school today?” and I’d always say “no, never, of course not, I don’t even think they want me there today.” And she’d say “I was thinking it would be good for your grandmother to go with someone” and I’d say “I can make that happen.”

So I skipped out on several days of school to go out into the city, and had a really great picture of the city and I wanted to just keep going there. I’ve always held it in high regard and I frequently go there, for dance or just to go out to dinner.

Has Long Island influenced the book?

Oh, a lot. I could argue this area is one of the best places to live anywhere — we have beaches five minutes from us to drive down and do some writing, it’s a short train ride to the city if you need further inspiration. Bartending here you meet a lot of locals [and] they’re very encouraging. I think Setauket gives you the space to really think, it’s a great town to live in. I use Setauket as a place to write. Before I started working [at Mario’s], I was writing here at the bar. If I go anywhere, the locals will expect me to have a laptop and a book and a beer just doing my thing.

Who are your influences?

Outside of writers like E.E. Cummings and David Foster Wallace, I like the way Quentin Tarantino puts a story together. He doesn’t stay in the same timeline. Spike Lee also does some really cool things and tells things differently.

The book was self-published thanks to Kickstarter. Tell me about that.

I didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route because I have no following … I’m a new author, and no publisher’s gonna say “let’s take on some guy from Setauket and bet on a book that’s really weird in layout with a lot of weird fonts.” I knew I had to do it myself and I figured Kickstarter would be a way to raise some capital for doing everything myself like editing, illustrating the cover, etc. There’s a lot of behind the scenes things that you don’t really think of that require money. I met my goal in about two weeks.

What’s next for you?

I have a really broad outline of what my next book will be about. The main character will probably be a tap dancer. I think I want to call it “Sky Ride Tap,” which is the name of a bar in Chicago under the Skyride, a World’s Fair exhibit. It’s just a dive bar but I want it to take place there so I’m anticipating going to Chicago in a few months and staying for a week, going to that bar everyday, talking to people, and figuring out how I can do it.

 

A six-year-old James meets Hillary Clinton in 2008. Photo from Anne Shybunko-Moore

On Friday, Jan. 20, about 900,000 people are expected to be gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness Donald Trump being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president.

Among the crowd of thousands will be selected future leaders from schools across the country, including James Moore, a sophomore at Ward Melville High School, who will represent Long Island in a five-day program surrounding the historic event.

The Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit, held between Jan. 18 and 22, gives students like James the opportunity to take part in a series of workshops, seminar discussions and presentations that coincide with the inauguration, listen to world-renowned speakers — some of this year’s honored guests include General Colin Powell, the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai via video satellite, renowned filmmaker Spike Lee, former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley (D) and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson — and gain a perspective on local, national and global issues facing their generation.

Ward Melville High School student James Moore will attend the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20. Photo from Anne Shybunko-Moore

James was invited to participate in the exclusive experience as an alumnus of the Junior National Young Leaders Conference, which he was chosen to join by his elementary school teacher when he was entering seventh grade.

He served on the student council and Junior Honor Society while at Gelinas Junior High in East Setauket, received Triple C Award upon graduating sixth grade for demonstrating outstanding “Courage, Character, and Commitment throughout the school,” has volunteered at Island Harvest packaging food for the homeless and received the New York State Scholar-Athlete Team Award in 2015 as a varsity-level track runner who maintained a GPA of 90 percent or better during the season.

Additionally, James volunteers at Setauket Presbyterian Church by helping to teach Sunday school.

“Being part of history is a big part of why I wanted to go,” James said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to hearing the other side of politics, how people are seeing things from around the country, and just getting to be with people who are similar to me … it’s cool to be able to think and be part of this [moment] together.”

He said the 2016 presidential election was “surprising” and “interesting to watch.”

“I remember waking up after the election was over going ‘wow, that happened?’” he said. “[But] I’m not upset with it and I’m not going to go out and complain about it but it threw me off.”

While he said he’s excited about learning more about the political process, and hearing Yousafzai’s speak in particular, the 15-year-old from Setauket is no stranger to interacting with major politicians and voicing his thoughts on social, environmental and community issues in public forums.

In fact, as the son of two presidents of major defense and trade manufacturing companies on Long Island whose event guest lists frequently include Hillary and Bill Clinton, James has been politically engaged practically since birth.

“He’s met Bill and Hillary a few times, Congressman Steve Israel, Congressman Tim Bishop; he’s met these folks and he’s very confident and comfortable in speaking with people in leadership roles,” his mother, GSE Dynamics President Anne Shybunko-Moore, said. “James has grown up in a very aware environment … because of what I do, we’re always watching the news and talking about the issues.”

“I remember waking up after the election was over going ‘wow, that happened?’”

— James Moore

James even participated in Hillary Clinton’s campaign last February and is interested in an internship position at Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) office.

His mother said her son has a “sincere realness” that makes him a natural leader.

“He’s always been very thoughtful,” she said. “He’ll see a situation and be like ‘what can I do to help or change that?’ That’s just who he is.”

James’ father, Manufacturing Consortium of Long Island President Jamie Moore, said he hopes his son gets a “fire lit” and obtains an understanding of what he can do with his life from his experience in Washington.

“I see so many of these kids just kind of floating through, and playing Pokemon Go or whatever, and there are so many opportunities they could be doing to increase their knowledge, help out other people, help other communities and this is one of those things that will hopefully help open his eyes and give him some ideas,” he said. “We try to craft that by giving him enough experiences to get out there and try new things.”

While in D.C., James said he’ll be following his program itinerary by day and studying for his school midterms by night.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, present proclamations to Ann Becker, Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato at the Mount Sinai Civic Association's 100th anniversary dinner. File photo by Desirée Keegan

In October, the Mount Sinai Civic Association celebrated its 100th anniversary and further cemented its role in providing the look, helping with the maintenance and ensuring the overall quality of life of the community. Considering its century-long list of accomplishments, the civic association is still going strong.

“The success of the civic association in terms of its longevity is a reflection of how much residents of Mount Sinai care about their community,” Mount Sinai Civic Association Vice President Brad Arrington, a member since 2004, said. “It’s a mechanism to have an input in the future of my community and a place I plan to stay in for quite a long time.”

For their tireless efforts and infinite contributions, the more than 180 members of the Mount Sinai Civic Association have been recognized as Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

“The success of the civic association in terms of its longevity is a reflection of how much residents of Mount Sinai care about their community.”

— Brad Arrington

Made up of volunteers, the organization has been, and continues to be, built on local residents stepping forward and having a voice in shaping the place in which they live.

It all began on Oct. 5, 1916, when the civic association was founded as an offshoot of the Mount Sinai Taxpayers Association for the main purposes of obtaining better roads, improving conditions in Mount Sinai Harbor and figuring out ways to protect against fires, which would ultimately lead to the establishment of the Mount Sinai Volunteer Fire Department standing today.

The original officers elected at the first organizational meeting were Jacob Schratweiser, president; Philip C. Scherer, first vice president; William R. P. Van Pelt, secretary and Lorenzo H. Davis, treasurer.

They paved the way for decades’ worth of major civic issues that include successfully stopping the dredging of Mount Sinai Harbor in the 1960s, suing Brookhaven for overdevelopment to reduce the number of housing units built in 1996 and working with state, county and town officials to purchase and preserve “The Wedge” property as Heritage Park. Developers initially planned to construct a Home Depot where the park is today.

Members of the civic association work toward improving their community, protecting its coastal environment and, perhaps most importantly, protesting against overdevelopment to keep their hamlet quaint and suburban.

“We want to [continue] protecting the open space Mount Sinai has,” Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker said. “The woodlands, beach areas … preventing overdevelopment is [crucial] because that can also have negative impacts on taxes, quality of life and even things like crime.”

Becker, an active member since 1984, said she joined the organization because of the direct impact its work had on quality of life and families in the area.

Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker at a recent meeting. Photo by Kevin Redding

What initially prompted her involvement was the proposal for a giant commercial shopping center on the corner of Plymouth Avenue and Canal Road, right behind her home, which would have been inconsistent with the aesthetic of the primarily residential neighborhood. Naturally, there wasn’t a lot of support for the planned development, and so the public — through the civic association — rallied against it and the shopping center never came to be.

Becker said the civic association is always on the lookout for problems and concerns residents might have with the ultimate goal of working on behalf of everyone to reach the best possible outcome and make a difference.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), whose office is currently working closely with the civic on two developmental projects, called Becker “a force to be reckoned with.”

“She’s exactly what a civic leader needs to be,” the councilwoman said. “The Mount Sinai community is very fortunate that Ann and the group continue to step up to the plate. They are a great group of volunteers and it’s an honor and a privilege to work with them.”

Fred Drewes, one of the civic’s long-serving members, joined in 1970, feeling it was important to be an active participant in the community and give constructive suggestions to help develop the quality of it.

Drewes, with the help of fellow civic member Lori Baldassare, projected his vision of a “central” park to help bring people together and have a location for community activities. It didn’t take long before the civic purchased the almost-a-Home Depot parcel and developed Drewes’ “Ivory Tower” idea.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the development of our hamlet,” he said, “has benefited from the input of members of the Mount Sinai Civic Association.”

Students high-five Michael Brannigan as he holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

One of America’s fastest mile runners has a habit of shattering not just records but expectations both on and off the track.

Mikey Brannigan is coming off a monumental year at just 20 years old. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, he said the odds were stacked against him, forcing him to work twice as hard as anybody else. But in 2016, the odds didn’t stand a chance as Brannigan continuously knocked them down on his way to the finish line.

For his athletic achievements and for inspiring so many people, Mikey Brannigan is a 2016 Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

In August, Brannigan ran a 3:57 mile at the Sir Walter Miler meet in Raleigh, North Carolina — becoming the first person with an intellectual disability to break the 4:00 record —and a month later, competed in the Special Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under the T20 Paralympic classification, where he took home the gold after a dominating 3:51 mile in the 1500 meters.

“He’s Mozart on the track,” Sonja Robinson, his coach at the New York Athletic Club, said in a phone interview. “When it comes to running, he’s a genius, and it’s mind-boggling what he’s accomplished and how far he’s come. He does not let the autism define him. I say to him all the time ‘you have autism, autism doesn’t have you.’”

Mike Brannigan smiles and holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

He came home from Rio not just a hero in Northport, where he’s always been celebrated, but around the country, serving as inspiration for any kid with special needs. Brannigan even participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year with his fellow New York Olympians.

“It’s been a crazy roller coaster,” Brannigan said in a phone interview. “I accomplished a lot of my goals and achievements.”

When he’s not running, Brannigan and his mother, Edie Brannigan, speak to parents and educators in Northport about autism, bullying and accepting people with disabilities.

According to Edie Brannigan, his message to students is to “follow your dream, give it your all, and do well in school.”

“He’s doing autism awareness through the sports world,” his mother said. “People with autism see they can be elite athletes because somebody’s done it now. They have autism in their lives and see Mikey … he’s doing it for them. It’s incredible. He moves people.”

She said her son has had to work through a lot of disappointment and rejection, but he’s come out on top.

Brannigan was just 12 months old when his parents knew there was something different about him. At 2 years, he was diagnosed with autism, and when he turned 3, his parents were advised to start looking at group homes for him, as she said he wasn’t able to speak in a communicative way until he was 5, and struggled to keep up academically.

“He does everything he can to engage and he’s got the best outlook … but to have a conversation, unless you’re talking about running, is difficult for him,” his mother said.

When he was in fourth grade, his parents signed him up for Rolling Thunder, a not-for-profit running club aimed at kids with special needs. The club gave him structure and provided an outlet for his natural ability to run fast. He’s been hooked on the sport ever since.

It was the running that helped him become a better student, Edie Brannigan said. By sixth grade, he was capable of doing age-appropriate work in the classroom.

“The autism serves the running and the running serves the autism,” she said. “He can focus like nobody else can in running. It’s not just about feet and legs, it’s about your head. He has that intense focus and that serves him well. [From there] he was able to absorb information and process it in a way that he never had before. He just kept amazing everyone and excelling.”

So much so that Brannigan was running for the Northport High School cross country team when he was still in eighth grade.

Students high-five Michael Brannigan as he holds his gold medal. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Under Jason Strom’s coaching, Mikey would become the two-mile record holder in the state with a time of 8:45, and by senior year he was recognized as one of the 10 best high school runners in the country.

“It’s been tremendous to see everything he’s gotten to do and experience over the last year,” Strom said in a phone interview. “[I] root for him every step of the way. He’s always been a really good kid and always been very focused and hard working toward his goals, so it’s nice to see that come to fruition.”

Strom said when Brannigan was on the team and went to meets, students from other schools would come up and ask to take pictures with him.

“Mikey transcended the ranks and was a rock star among high school track kids,” he said.

Even though dozens of colleges were interested in scooping him up, Brannigan was unable to attend any of them because his autism makes taking standardized tests like the SATs and ACTs near impossible.

Instead, Brannigan’s been training professionally with the New York Athletic Club under Robinson and going to Suffolk County Community College part-time.

In the last year, he’s trained all over the world, from Berlin to Saudi Arabia to Doha to Toronto and, of course, Rio.

“He’ll have a long career,” Robinson said. “This is what he wants to do. It’s his chosen career. When he has a passion for something he’s going to master it … and he loves the sport of track and field.”

His mother said everything the family was afraid of when Brannigan was a kid — that he wouldn’t be independent or have a job — has been put to rest, but she can’t take any credit for that.

“People say ‘oh you did such a good job [with him]’ to me and I think ‘yeah I don’t think I did that,’” Edie Brannigan said. “I think his success is his alone. He’s so dedicated and gives his all every single day.”

Jack Smith at his home in Terryville. Photo by Kevin Redding

When it comes to preserving local history, Jack Smith has paved the way — literally.

After he retired from his teaching job of more than 30 years, Smith was free to do whatever he wanted.

But rather than just relax at home and take up a hobby, the passionate 66-year-old founded the Cumsewogue Historical Society instead, which has been integral in keeping the vast history of its surrounding communities in the forefront.

“I started to research the history of the area and realized there was quite a bit here,” Smith said in an interview. “So why not start a historical society? There’s a lot here and I thought it would be a fun thing to do.”

Smith even maintained the original Algonquin spelling of Comsewogue for the society; Cumsewogue loosely translates to “the place where many paths meet.”

For all his work in bridging the gap between the past and present for the Port Jefferson area and beyond, Smith is a 2016 Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

Mike Eiermann, the Cumsewogue Historical Society treasurer, called Smith a true “mover and shaker” in the community during an interview.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Jack Smith, Ed Garboski of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine examine the Gentleman’s Driving Park. File photo by Elana Glowatz

“We have to try to keep up with him,” Eiermann said. “He’s very dedicated, very knowledgeable and is fully invested in what he does.”

As president and founder of the historical society, which was formed in 2008 and has about 30 members, Smith has accomplished a lot.

He and the group went to great lengths to preserve the old Terryville Union Hall as their main headquarters in the time following the society’s inception. Built in 1887, the union hall stands as the last historical building in Terryville, and Smith convinced local legislators to buy it and obtain funding for interior restoration. Now several showcases dedicated to local historical industries are inside the building, for example, the Porter automobile factory.

There are also roughly 120 vintage photographs of the community on display.

Smith established Heritage Day, a beloved event that exposes students from Comsewogue elementary schools to historical artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and demonstrates what life was like in the community then.

Smith said the program helps give students the unique opportunity to not only learn about the community’s history but also to see, touch and experience what life was like “before all the housing developments and shopping malls.”

But perhaps Smith and the historical society’s greatest achievement so far came in October when the Gentlemen’s Driving Park — the last Victorian-era harness racing track on Long Island where Terryville bettors once gathered to watch horses “race in heats” — officially opened to the public after several years of work to resurrect the nearly forgotten historical site.

The opening was attended by more than 100 people and served as a testament to Smith’s dedication to his cause. He discovered a faint outline of the horse track from a satellite image on Google Earth after hearing about its existence off Canal Road, visited the leaf-covered path in the woods with his wife Pam, and ultimately reached out to then Brookhaven Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and other council members about acquiring the entire 11-acre plot, clearing the overgrown path, and actively working to restore the track as close to the original 1880s footprint as possible.

“I am proud that our society has been able to preserve so much of our history that came perilously close to being lost,” Smith said.

He also uncovered various artifacts surrounding the track, including a pair of field glasses where the finish line was on the track, as well as a ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park on July 4, 1892, which is now on display at the historical society’s headquarters.

A ticket from a race day in 1892 was among Smith’s discoveries; and Smith at his home in Terryville. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Without Smith, the horse track and its history would certainly have been erased, according to Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell.

“He was very diligent in doing the research and finding all the information he could on the track and he’s been that way with all of his endeavors,” she said.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who worked alongside Smith to restore the track, said in an email statement Smith’s work in the community makes him more than deserving of the Person of the Year honor.

“His passion, meticulous care and diplomacy are appreciated by all who know him,” Cartright said. “His efforts to create and implement the annual Heritage Day, his comprehensive background and the lectures he gives at the library and his work and research to preserve the track are all done to celebrate the history of our community. I’ve had the privilege of knowing [him] both personally and professionally for many years.”

Smith said his love of history can be traced back to when he was in fifth grade, where his younger self first took an interest in consuming maps and all things geography related. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in history and master’s in special education, which would be utilized at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, where he taught high school students from 1974 until 2005.

It was there he met his wife Pamela, a secretary at the school. She said they didn’t realize it at first but the two actually grew up around the block from one another in Centereach and even went to the same high school.

She said her husband is “very caring and extremely interested in helping the community.” History, including his own personal history, is a part of his daily life.

Social

9,202FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,119FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe