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Les Paldy, 84, takes on the Marine’s Leadership Reaction Course in Quantico. Photo from Jefferson's Ferry

As told to Cathy DeAngelo, vice president of sales and marketing, Jefferson’s Ferry.

Les Paldy is not your average 84-year-old. The Jefferson’s Ferry resident and distinguished service professor emeritus at Stony Brook University has spent more than 50 years teaching in the departments of technology and society, physics, political science and the university’s Honors College. While Paldy has retired, teaching only one class each semester and living with his wife Judy, a retired Three Village Central School District science teacher, in a two-bedroom cottage at Jefferson’s Ferry, he keeps a busy schedule.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive. Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy, a former Marine infantry and intelligence officer and Korean War veteran, was recently invited to the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia, to observe current Marine officer candidate training during the Marine Corps Recruiting Command’s 2018 Educators and Key Leaders Workshop. He wound up participating at a level he hadn’t anticipated.

“I had trained at Quantico in the 1950s when training methods were relatively primitive,” Paldy said. “Today’s training is more rigorous, designed to challenge the motivated college graduates competing to become Marine officers. On this visit I was assigned to a four-member team given the opportunity to attempt the Leadership Reaction Course involving a set of physical obstacles. The team leader must make a team plan and execute it within a time limit. Marine officer instructors observe to rate the leader and team.”

Paldy said the goal was to retrieve a wounded Marine supposedly held captive by hostiles.

“The physical obstacles consisted of two 8-foot-high platforms separated by a 5-foot gap,” Paldy said. “The team had to scale a wall to the first platform, crawl through a section of conduit pipe, bridge the gap to the second platform and climb down to retrieve the stretcher-borne Marine. Then the team would have to reverse course, re-cross the gap with the wounded Marine on the stretcher, and then lower him to the ground from the first platform. The team had only an 8-foot plank and a short length of rope to work with.”

Paldy volunteered to lead.

“With a separated shoulder and replaced knee, I had planned to stay at the base of the first platform to help lower the casualty to the ground,” Paldy said. “I had no intention of attempting the climbs and gap traversals but one of my teammates was clearly hesitating. It was obvious that we needed three persons to climb up and over to retrieve the wounded Marine. Someone else would have to be the third climber and that person would have to be me.”

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us.”

— Les Paldy

Paldy scaled the first wall, bridged the gap between platforms with the plank, and had almost crossed it before losing his balance, falling 8 feet to the ground and becoming a real casualty.

“Probably poor judgment to try it,” he said, “but I didn’t see any alternative.”

He said he gave himself a C-minus for the effort. Course instructors told him he may have the distinction — “dubious,” he said — of being the oldest person to have tried to run the Marine Corps Leadership Reaction Course.

When Paldy is not climbing walls in Marine officer training, he consults with Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Nonproliferation and National Security Department and volunteers as a professor in the Department of Pathology, working to connect Stony Brook medical and engineering researchers with their counterparts at national laboratories and the Naval Submarine Medical Research Laboratory at the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut.

“This Navy lab is the world’s premier research center for submarine medical research, focusing on ways to maintain the health of submarine crews, dedicated men and women whose submarines may stay submerged for months,” Paldy said. “Navy and Stony Brook researchers have exchanged visits and gone aboard attack submarines to discuss possible collaboration.”

He also makes a study of nuclear weapons proliferation and other global concerns and this fall will lead a senior seminar in Stony Brook’s Honors College.

“I’ll try to share the excitement of acquiring new knowledge with a younger generation that will have to deal with issues and problems that have eluded us,” Paldy said. “The university gives me the freedom to work on interesting things with the support of faculty colleagues and professional and civil service staffers who make the university run. No one could ask for more. With some luck, I’ll keep doing it.”

William Belanske sketches while waiting with his luggage to embark on a journey with William K. Vanderbilt II. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum archives

William E. Belanske already had an enviable job as an artist and taxidermist for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he got a call from William K. Vanderbilt II.

The year was 1926 and Vanderbilt was preparing for an expedition on his yacht Ara to collect animal and marine life. The voyage would take him to one of the most scientifically diverse and remote places on earth — the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator off the coast of Ecuador. He needed an artist to record the live specimens he would bring back to his private museum in Centerport. To Belanske, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, which marked the 65th anniversary of its official opening on July 6, has created a new exhibit honoring Belanske’s work.

On display in the Memorial Wing of the museum, the installation features a recreation of Belanske’s studio on the Vanderbilt Estate and includes some of the detailed paintings of the numerous marine specimens Vanderbilt collected from the oceans of the world. Large illustrated panels detail Belanske’s work, on the expeditions and at the museum.

Kirsten Amundsen and Brandon Williams of the curatorial staff came up with the exhibit concept and design.

“The ship’s artist, Mr. William E. Belanske, has been with me since 1926,” Vanderbilt wrote in 1932. “He makes accurate paintings of rare fish. With every scale carefully drawn, every shade, every nuance of color exactly portrayed, his reproductions are true, lifelike, and of value to science.”

In 1927, following the Ara expedition, Vanderbilt requested Belanske’s services full time at his museum, and Belanske chose to resign from the AMNH. He served as Vanderbilt’s curator and lived in a cottage on the estate from 1928 to 1945. His work included taking part in around-the-world cruises on the Ara in 1928-1929 and on the Alva in 1931-1932.

Notably, Belanske collaborated with the renowned painter Henry Hobart Nichols (also of the AMNH) to create the Vanderbilt Habitat in 1930, nine stunning dioramas that depict animal life from several continents. The centerpiece of the room is a 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish, caught off Fire Island in 1935.

Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs for the Vanderbilt Museum, said, “On the Ara, they placed fish in holding tanks with saltwater to keep them alive. Belanske would paint the catches immediately in order to record the colors accurately.”

Before color photography, Gress said, the beauty and vibrant hues of the collected marine specimens could only be captured with an artist’s hand. Belanske’s perfect color images of the specimens were displayed in the Marine Museum next to the faded, fluid-preserved specimens.

When he returned to his studio, the artist began the time-consuming task of creating his final images. He used his notes, measurements and rough sketches to create fully accurate, detailed fish prints worthy of scientific publication, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Through Sept. 6, the museum will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Councilman Neil Foley, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine stand by the jetty where a Selden man allegedly crashed his boat and then fled the scene. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Town and county officials aren’t taking boating safety lightly, and are urging residents to take precautions while out on the water this summer.

Boating safety was the topic of discussion at a press conference held at the Sandspit Marina in Patchogue Thursday, following a hit-and-run incident on May 24.  Mark Tricarico, 31, of Selden, was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a boating accident involving injury, according to a Suffolk County Police department press release.

Tricarico allegedly crashed a 23-foot boat into the west jetty at the entrance of the Patchogue River on the night of the 24th. One passenger was treated for minor injuries. Tricarico could not be reached for comment.

“If everyone follows safe boating procedures, most accidents can be prevented,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said on Thursday, just yards away from the site of the incident.

June and July are typically the busiest boating months of the year on Long Island, and Romaine along with Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale urged boaters to be aware of boating laws in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of the events of May 24.

From left, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini; Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale; Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine; and Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley at a press conference on boating safety. Photo by Alex Petroski
From left, Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini; Police Marine Bureau Deputy Inspector Ed Vitale; Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine; and Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley at a press conference on boating safety. Photo by Alex Petroski

Romaine and Vitale also reiterated some general boating safety precautions, like avoiding alcohol while operating a boat, being aware of weather forecasts and following paths set by buoys.

“Stay in the navigable channels,” Romaine said. “Understand what the buoys are for.”

Operating boats while intoxicated was a point everyone touched on.

“You don’t see it that often until you see a boat up on the rocks,” Jesse Mentzel, a bay constable, said in a one on one interview.  “It happens, and they could hit another boat just as easily.”

Assistant Deputy County Executive Tim Sini attended the press conference on behalf of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“We want to make one thing clear—boating while intoxicated will not be tolerated in Suffolk County,” Sini said.

Sini added that there would be checkpoints and patrols to monitor the waterways and ensure that everyone remains safe this summer.

Some additional safety precautions suggested by Romaine and Vitale included a boating course approved by the U.S. Coast Guard as well as a swiming and first-aid course, operating at safe speeds, and designating an assistant skipper in case you are injured or otherwise unable to assume command of the vessel.

“The water can be a very hostile environment,” Vitale said.  “It’s a beautiful looking place and it is truly, but it can be very hostile to people.  You have to pay attention.  You have to be aware of the weather.  You have to be aware of the currents.  This is something that every now and then people get out on the water and they just don’t get it.”

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum has received a grant of $135,000 from The Robert D. L. Gardiner Foundation to support the restoration of the museum’s extensive marine collection, the largest privately assembled collection of sea specimens from the pre-atomic era.

William Vanderbilt (1878-1944) created his Marine Museum, which he called The Hall of Fishes, in 1922. He stocked it with marine specimens collected during voyages to the Galapagos Islands and opened it to the public for a few hours a week. He added to the collection after his circumnavigations of the globe in 1928-29 and 1930-31.

Jennifer Attonito, executive director of the foundation, said, “The Vanderbilt Museum is a Long Island gem and a major anchor of local history. We are proud to help preserve this valuable collection to benefit museum visitors and to help raise awareness of Long Island’s heritage.”

The Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987 in Hampton Bays, supports the study of Long Island history, with an emphasis on Suffolk County. The foundation was inspired by Robert David Lion Gardiner’s personal passion for New York history.

Stephanie Gress, the Vanderbilt’s director of curatorial affairs, said, “The Gardiner Foundation grant will help us to restore and preserve many rare specimens in our Marine Museum that have long needed critical attention. Our marine collection is the foundation for several key Vanderbilt education programs that serve Long Island schools.”

The Vanderbilt marine collection of 13,190 specimens is housed in the Marine Museum, Habitat and Memorial Wing. Of these, she said, 919 are invertebrates in fluid (displayed in “lots” — from two to many in a single display container); 719 dry fish specimens; 1,746 wet fish specimens in lots and 9,806 dry marine invertebrates (shells and corals). Dry specimens are exhibited on the first floor of the Marine Museum, wet specimens on the second floor.

The two largest marine specimens are a 32-foot whale shark — caught in 1935 and restored in 2008 with a federal Save America’s Treasures grant — and an imposing manta ray, caught in 1916 and restored many years ago, with a 16.5-foot wingspan. William K. Vanderbilt II called it the “Sea Devil.”

Gress said cartilaginous fish, such as sharks and rays, which have spines of cartilage instead of bone, are the most difficult to preserve. Another problem is the age of the collection — many of Vanderbilt’s earliest specimens are nearly 100 years old. When preservation fluid (ethanol and distilled water) in specimen containers degrades the wax seals, comes in contact with air and evaporates, specimens can decompose, she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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