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Obituary

Selden residents lay out candles to spell Jenna’s name on the Newfield High School football field. Photo by Kyle Barr

On the green turf football field at Newfield High School, the Selden community, also swaddled in different shades of green, laid out candles in the grass. The crowd came together like a tide. As they stepped back, the candles spelled out the name “Jenna.” Underneath her name, the flickering yellow and green electric candles and tealights also framed a heart.

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Jenna Perez, 17, a Selden resident who worked at the Five Guys in Port Jefferson Station was killed Aug. 24 while crossing Route 347 southbound at around 9:25 p.m. She crossed around 300 feet west of Terryville Road, police said. The driver who hit her sped off, and police said they are still searching for that person.

“She was one incredible kid from the day I met her,” said Scott Graviano, the Newfield High School principal. “A very quiet spirit, but always with a smile on her face, always saying hello. And with that sweet, soft quiet personality, she gained the love of support and respect of this entire community.”

For the hundreds of community members looking for ways to heal, remembering Perez as the loving and outgoing high schooler was the best way to deal with their pain. Wearing green, Perez’s favorite color, friends, family, faculty and more from the community held glowing electric candles while the sky slowly darkened Aug. 31. Several friends spoke for her, talking and remembering her fun-loving personality.

“She lived a short life but clearly left a significant imprint,” said Asia Austin to the crowd gathered at the vigil. “As someone who has been grieving recently, I want those to understand that we should not follow down that road in thinking we have no purpose … with support from family and friends, you will find yourself and you will be OK.”

Community members hold candles at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

Donna Austin was her guardian for the past three years, taking care of Perez and her twin sister Janell in Selden. She had met the twins in 2008 when they were 8 years old living in the Bronx as she went there to take care of one of their relatives. Austin would eventually run a community center out of the building where the Perez family lived, and the twins would always be there to decorate her offices for whatever holiday came up. When their grandmother died, she took both sisters in to live with her back in her hometown of Selden.

“Jenna’s face would have lit up, and she would have been smiling, looking at all of her friends who had come to her like this,” Austin said.

Their caretaker said Jenna thrived in Selden, making innumerable friends and rising higher at Five Guys. She was set to take up her first supervisor training sessions at Five Guys on her birthday Sept. 6. Austin said she had been extremely excited and proud. 

Naziyah Dash, one of Perez’s high school friends, said she has been heartbroken since she learned of her friends death.

“Your story will always be cherished,” she said. “I will keep you alive in my heart.” 

The community is helping monetarily with three separate GoFundMe pages that have been set up in  Perez’s name. The first, which is donating funds to twin sister Janell, has reached close to $9,500. The other two GoFundMe pages are for funeral expenses.

Newfield High School Principal Scott Graviano speaks at the Aug. 31 vigil. Photo by Kyle Barr

“The Newfield community is an amazing place — deep rooted, full of love and support, and that’s evident here tonight,” said the principal. “Janell, we love you very much as a community, I hope you know that. We will continue to love and support you.”

An additional memorial service will be held Sept. 14 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Church on the Sound, 335 Oxhead Road in Stony Brook.

A funeral for Perez will be held at Ortiz Funeral Home, 524 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx Sept. 11 from 4 to 9 p.m. Burial will be at St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx Sept. 12 with a time still to be determined.

Eleanor Kra

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week’s column is dedicated to courage, the particular courage of one person. That person was one of my closest friends, and she died last week. Even though she suffered for five years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and we all knew that the end was coming, it is hard to imagine life without her.

And isn’t that the height of selfishness, to think of her death as my loss? What about her loss? Never again on Earth to hug and kiss her husband, her children and grandchildren, to cheer when they enjoy victories and to commiserate when things don’t work out as they had hoped. Never again to join friends for an evening at the opera. Never again to enjoy cooking delicious dinner for those lucky enough to be her guests. Never again to exchange insights about the political turmoil through which we are living. Never again to share a deep belly laugh. For her, it has ended.

We met as freshmen at college. She was impressive for her strongly held viewpoints during classroom discussions of world affairs, asserting that the Cold War was not just about two superpowers but also included a third bloc of underdeveloped and uncommitted nations. She was also delightfully funny, laughing at the incongruities of life. When we were both assigned dorm rooms on the same floor of the same dorm, I got to know that she was born in Poland in the Warsaw ghetto in 1941, hardly a choice time and place, that she had escaped from the ghetto with her mother and another woman and child thanks to her father’s resourcefulness, and that she had lived out World War II in Warsaw with false papers, both mothers being under extreme duress.

My friend went on to be elected editor in chief of the college newspaper, and she sometimes wrote about my actions as class president. We laughed about how it was a microcosm of the fourth estate, that is the public press, commenting on the executive branch. We served on the student council together and became close friends.

After graduation, when my husband and I were looking to settle somewhere in the New York area, it was she who I called from Wichita Falls in northern Texas to ask if Stony Brook, where her husband was a mathematics professor, was a good place to live. Little did I know that this one night she and her husband had decided uncharacteristically to retire early to bed, and with the one-hour time difference between Texas and the East Coast, I would wake them up with my question. But she waved me on. “It’s home,” she responded in her usual direct fashion, telling me all I needed to know. That is how we happened to move to the North Shore of Long Island.

After my husband died and my children all left for college, she stepped in with a surprising offer: How about joining them with an opera subscription? “Where?” I asked. “Why at the Metropolitan Opera, where else?” she smiled. “We would drive into NYC each time?” I responded disbelievingly. “Yes, and have dinner beforehand,” she said with a gleam in her eye. And that is how I discovered one of my great passions.

But before she died, here is her most important gift to us. She was the embodiment of courage. Even as the quality of her life deteriorated, she fought to maintain normalcy, for her sake and the sake of those around her. She went from a cane to a walker, accompanied by her husband, then to a wheelchair, then to a scooter wheelchair that she drove at breakneck speed down Broadway from their West End apartment to Lincoln Center for her subscription performances and more. And as her muscular ability to verbalize diminished, she used the internet and her computer keyboard to stay connected to the rest of us as long as she could control her hands.

Watching her struggle was a gut-wrenching anguish. It was also an inspiration. She was not going into that dark night easily. She fought for every inch of the life her parents had saved and she and her husband had made together, and in so doing she showed us not only how to die with valor but especially how to live life to the max.

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Melissa Marchese proved herself in sports, was set to graduate June 28

Shoreham-Wading River senior forward Melissa Marchese battles in the paint Feb. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

A community that has become much too familiar to tragedy was left reeling June 14 as Melissa Marchese, 18, a Shoreham resident and senior at the high school passed from her injuries received in a car crash the day before.

Shoreham-Wading River senior Melissa Marchese During an April 22 Softball game. Photo by Bill Landon

Suffolk County police confirmed her death Saturday,  June 15.

Marchese’s father Charlie Marchese posted a lengthy eulogy on his Facebook page. He called his daughter “… brilliant, she was magnetic,” and said she fought long enough in order for doctors to donate her organs, something she had always wished to do.

“She would light up the room with her smile and make everybody burst with laughter,” Marchese’s father wrote. “Melissa was a remarkable athlete. Fierce, determined, and focused. Just try to slide into her at home plate or try to battle her for a rebound. She did not lose. She was a born leader in all facets of her life. Whether barking instructions on the softball field or leading her friends in a dance or a song, everyone would follow her. She did not lose.”

Marchese was in the backseat of a car turning left onto Route 25A from Miller Avenue June 13. The high school was having its senior honoring ceremony. Another vehicle, driven by Ridge resident Michael Troiano, 34, went through a red light and struck Marchese’s vehicle. The two other students in Marchese’s car, Evan Flannery, 17, and Caroline Tyburski, 18, both of Shoreham, were transported to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with non-life-threatening injuries. Marchese was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she died a day later.

The Shoreham-Wading River school district released statements Friday and Saturday.

Melissa Marchese battles Mount Sinai senior Gabby Sartori for a loose ball under the boards Jan. 22. Photo by Bill Landon

“We extend our deepest condolences to the individual’s family and friends, and we continue to keep all those involved and impacted by this tragedy in our thoughts during this very difficult time,” the district wrote on its website.

Marchese was well known in the district for her work on the basketball court and the softball field.

Adam Lievre, Marchese’s basketball coach, said he would watch Marchese move around the court and be awed at her tenacity. It was that tenacity, he said, that had her fighting death until the time they could donate her organs.

“She was willing to throw her body anywhere and everywhere to get every rebound,” he said. “I’ve never coached a kid who wanted rebounds so badly, and she went after every ball with this relentless effort. It was contagious when the other kids saw how hard she worked, was an example she led on the court.”

He remembered two cases of her caring personality. One was on the court where she saw eighth-grader GraceAnn Leonard get knocked over, and she “sprinted” over to help her up. The other was in the locker room after the team’s heartbreaking playoff 42-41 loss against Sayville Feb. 12. 

“She was sitting right in front of me in tears, so emotional about losing but so thankful, she said how thankful she was to be a part of the team and how great it was,” Lievre said.

Marchese was known as a standout softball player in SWR, having been recognized as All-League in the Scholar-Athlete Team in March and was committed to the University of Hartford for softball.

Once it became known of Marchese’s hospitalization, a GoFundMe page was started, and within a day raised nearly $20,000. By Tuesday, June 17, the site had raised over $60,000.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melissa and the Marchese family,” Joseph Dwyer, the GoFundMe organizer, wrote to the page. “Thank you all for your generous donations during this time of unthinkable sadness and utter despair. God Bless.”

The school district canceled senior finals June 14 and made mental health staff available. The district also invited students to the high school library Saturday for staff to support them.

Melissa Marchese. Photo from SWR School District

Shoreham has become well known for tragedies of this kind. In 2014 the community grieved for Tom Cutinella, who died due to a head injury on the football field. In 2018, the community wrapped hundreds of red ribbons on flagpoles to memorialize Andrew McMorris, who was killed by a drunk driver while out on a hike with his Boy Scout troop. 

The Andrew McMorris and Tom Cutinella memorial foundations both shared their condolences on their Facebook pages.

“No one should ever have to go through this,” a post to the Tom Cutinella Memorial Foundation Facebook page read.

Marchese’s wake will be held at Branch Funeral Home, located at 551 Route 25A in Miller Place, on June 20 from 7 to 9 p.m. and June 21 from 2 to 5 p.m. and at 7 to 9 p.m. Marchese’s funeral procession will leave the funeral home at approximately 9:30 a.m. on June 22. A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at St. Mark’s R.C. Church, located at 105 Randall Road in Shoreham.

This article has been updated to reflect the name of the eighth-grader who Marchese helped up.

Jon-Michael Lasher, of Selden, died of brain cancer April 22. He was 45.

Lasher, Connetquot Central School District’s director of fine arts and music, began his tenure in the district, his alma mater, as a band teacher in 2003 and was promoted to director in 2009. Right before his time at Connetquot, he was the band director at Newfield High School. From 1998 to 1999, he was band teacher at Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park.

Jon-Michael Lasher

Dean Mittleman, assistant superintendent of Connetquot schools, notified parents and students of Lasher’s passing in a letter posted to the district’s website. He described the director as “the type of educator that instilled a love of learning in so many, and surely has helped to develop some of the world’s emerging talents.”

Mittleman credited Lasher with spearheading many initiatives and encouraging “young artists to pursue their passions.”

“A graduate from Connetquot, Mr. Lasher worked in the district for many years and was known to many as a champion for music and fine arts education,” Mittleman wrote. “As a young student, he possessed a true love of the subject, and therefore it was only a natural progression that he became an educator and worked to help shape the lives of the next generation of student-musicians and artists. His tenacity for a fine arts education resulted in elevating our robust programs to new heights and his unmatched dedication to his colleagues and students is one that stemmed from the heart — the best sign of a great educator.”

Mittleman’s sentiments were echoed by many on the Connetquot High School Band Facebook page, including John Leddy, Stony Brook University Athletic Bands director emeritus.

“Jon was a gifted and dedicated student, an inspirational teacher and an innovative administrator,” Leddy wrote. “He served the music program, a program that thrived under his guidance. He was a leader of consequence and significance. Connetquot is diminished with his passing as it was elevated with his presence. This is a sad day for our community.”

Leddy was a music faculty member when Lasher was a student at Connetquot, and later the two became colleagues. Leddy said in an email, when he retired, Lasher asked him to be an artist in residence for the jazz program at the high school for a week, something that meant a lot to Leddy. 

Lasher grew up in Bohemia and earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from SUNY Potsdam, where he met his wife, Susan. He earned a master’s degree in music performance from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and a certificate in school district administration from Long Island University.

Ten years ago, Lasher began showing neurological signs and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, according to his wife. He was the founder of Tumor Tacklers, which raises funds at the Long Island Brain Tumor Walk. Tumor Tacklers has raised more
than $30,000.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, Maggie, 16; son, Thomas, 12; parents John and Lucille Lasher of Bohemia; and siblings Laurie Tramuta of Fredonia, Jacqueline Rizzuto of Bohemia and James Lasher of Hauppauge.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. A funeral Mass was held at St. Margaret of Scotland R.C. Church in Selden April 27. Visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Photo by Phil Corso
Patrick Vecchio, the longest-running supervisor for the Town of Smithtown, died on April 6 at the age of 88. The former supervisor served from 1977 until 2017. Funeral services will be held this week.

By Donna Deedy

This photo of Patrick Vecchio hangs in the Smithtown Town Hall’s boardroom

It was a life well lived. A first-generation American, the child of Italian immigrants, born during the Great Depression and dedicated to public service.

“At the end of the day, I’ve done something for people. And that’s the guiding principle of my life,” said former Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio in a 2015 interview with The Times of Smithtown. 

Patrick Vecchio died Sunday, April 7, at age 88. For a record 40 years — nearly half of his lifetime — he held the Town of Smithtown’s highest office. During his tenure, seven different presidents held office, while the residents of Smithtown reelected the same man to represent them again and again for 13 terms.

………………

December 12, 2017, was Vecchio’s last board meeting as Smithtown supervisor. The occasion drew a crowd that filled the board room and trailed through the hallways and down staircases. People bid farewell and thanked the supervisor for implementing his vision on their behalf. Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) noted during the tribute that Vecchio was leaving Smithtown with a budgetary surplus rather than debt.

“This town is in such good financial shape, it is all because of you,” Trotta said. “You should be a model for every other town in the country, the nation, the state and certainly the county.”

Read the full article and view photos that commemorate some of the former Supervisor’s local accomplishments in this week’s paper and on our website on April 11.

 

A photo of Jacob Donaldson from his baseball days. Photo from Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Jacob Donaldson died this past weekend, leaving an incredibly rich legacy filled with public service and family memories. 

A Huntington Station resident, Donaldson, 90, served as a staff sergeant in the Army during the Korean War, and later as a fireman for the New York City Fire Department. He left his mark in other significant areas as well, including on the baseball diamond, getting signed by the Boston Red Sox organization straight out of high school at age 16 and raising nine children in Huntington with his wife Grace.

Known by most as Jake, Donaldson was born Monday, October 1, 1928 on a crisp, fall Brooklyn day. His parents, George and Helen, raised him and his younger brother George in the borough until Donaldson turned 16 and left Newtown High School in his hometown and was signed as an outfielder to the Milford Red Sox, a Boston Red Sox minor league affiliate which played in Delaware. 

In Donaldson’s first season in 1946 he hit .316 with 14 home runs in 116 games. For the next seven years he played for six other minor league teams, including several seasons with the Albany Senators. During his time on the ball field Donaldson rubbed shoulders with many prolific baseball players, including one hall of famer. 

Left fielder and Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inductee Ted Williams had to borrow Donaldson’s glove once, after someone broke into the locker room and stole Williams’. Donaldson faced off against pitcher Don Newcombe when he was still in the minor leagues. 

After Newcombe struck Donaldson with one of his pitches, Donaldson told him to meet in the tunnel after the game. When they did, Newcombe said the only reason he hit him was because he was unable to get him out and asked to take the outfielder out for a beer, according to Donaldson.

While Donaldson was excelling on the baseball diamond, he could have fielded his own team at home. He and Grace first welcomed son Jim in 1954, followed by Bob, Kathy, Terry, Patty, Mary, Eileen, John and Joe completing the family of 11 in 1967. The family lived in Huntington Station where the children attended school in both the South Huntington district and Holy Family. 

Donaldson’s baseball career was interrupted after playing 113 games in 1950. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, departing in October 1950. He eventually rose to the rank of staff sergeant.

In 1955, the father of nine joined the FDNY as a firefighter. He worked as a motor pump operator and chief’s driver in his nearly 30-year career with the department, mostly working at Engine 3 in Chelsea. He was recognized for his bravery on multiple occasions by the fire department and once appeared on the cover of the New York Daily News on Nov. 23, 1961 following an incident in which a five-alarm blaze did damage to a building in Times Square. On the cover, he is pictured emerging from the building after battling a fire that claimed the lives of two fellow firefighters.

Even though his baseball career came to an end, Donaldson’s days on the field were not over. His daughter Terry said one of her favorite memories was attending an Albany Senators Old Timers Nostalgia reunion game at Hawkins Stadium in the summer of 1985. 

“It was so nice to see the old timers honored and it made my dad’s baseball days come to life for me!” she said. 

When his wife Grace suffered from a stroke in 1997, she was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer use one of her arms. Donaldson ensured his wife was taken care of and stayed right by her side until she died in 2017.

Donaldson was the proud grandfather to 11, and great grandfather to six. He loved spending time with his grandkids, whether it was sharing the sport he loved with them and teaching them how to throw a ball, or playing in the family’s beloved backyard and inground pool. Andrew Mayrick, one of Donaldson’s grandsons, said when he went to the local pub that his grandpa had frequented earlier this week, several people approached him to talk about how much they enjoyed getting to know his grandfather.

“There were a ton of people I had never met who were all upset, and the owner John said, ‘Jake was like a grandfather to everyone,’” Mayrick said. “He loved everyone he met and lived a life worth talking about, so much that strangers would just sit down and love listening to him.” 

Donaldson will be remembered by many as a larger than life personality, a friend to all who knew him, and someone who truly got the most out of life.

“Grandpa Jake had his own special language — a language of love reserved only for our family,” said granddaughter Mary Grace Donaldson. “He let us know ‘what a crew’ we were and had a number of other one-liners that will live on for years to come.”

Visitation will be held at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station on Thursday, March 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral service will be held Friday evening at the funeral home. Interment will be at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.

Dr. Edmunde Stewart had a passion for riding horses. Photo Courtesy of the Steart family

By Vicky Stewart

Dr. Edmunde Andrew Cameron Stewart, 80, died Dec. 6 in St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, surrounded by the love of his family. Stewart had been fighting pneumonia. For the past several years, after being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his lungs were compromised.

The Stewart family is most known for living on Old Field Road for many years, where he and his wife, Norma, raised their three children. Stewart was an orthopedic surgeon working at St. Charles Hospital and Mather Hospital, serving as the chief of orthopedics at Mather, for many years, and as a past president of the medical staff at both St. Charles and Mather. He had a private practice on Elm Street in Port Jefferson.

Stewart was also an exceptional equestrian and had a passion for foxhunting. He was the master of the Smithtown Hunt Club and a president of the Smithtown Hunt Horse Show. He is remembered affectionately by fellow foxhunters as “Doc” as he would often help injured riders, during a foxhunt. For many years, he moderated the hunt breakfast, to benefit the museums at Stony Brook. He also served three terms as a trustee for the Village of Old Field.

Although medicine and horses were his passions, his greatest love was his family. Right until the end, with family by his side, he was letting them know how much he loved them.

His legacy will live on through his loving family, who adored him. He leaves behind his wife of 56 years, Norma; his son Greg; daughters Victoria and Gillian; and son-in-law Juan. He was a loving grandpa to his four grandchildren, Olivia, Cameron, Benjamin and Emilia, all who affectionately called him “Deda.”

Stewart was a native of Dundee, Scotland. He was predeceased by his father Andrew Stewart, mother Winifred Byrd Lennox and sister Winifred Lennox Govan.

Stewart entered St. Andrew’s University Medical School in Scotland at the age of 17. Upon graduation in 1961, he did two specialty residences in Scotland: internal medicine and orthopedics. In 1962-63, he taught anatomy at St. Andrew’s University. He came to the United States in 1963 and served his residency in orthopedics at Nassau Hospital, Meadowbrook Hospital and here at St. Charles. He became a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in 1971, and the following year he received his fellow of American College of Surgeons. He also served in the Army Reserve, as a reserve commissioned officer  for the United States Army.

The doctor was a man of many talents. His children remember him playing the trumpet and the piano. Prior to entering medical school, he had spent many years on the stage, as a member of the Dundee Repertory Theatre, with starring roles in productions of “Oliver Twist” and “Great Expectations,” to name a few. At the same time, although busy on the stage and with his studies, Stewart managed to find some time to participate in one of his favorite sports. For two years, he was the junior champion of the West End Lawn Tennis Club, a prominent private tennis club in his native Dundee.

While at St. Andrews, Stewart was a member of the university’s fencing team, touring England, Ireland and Scotland and in the process obtaining his “full blue” for the university.

He was laid to rest Dec. 10 at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven in Setauket, on a beautiful sunny day, with a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” in the distance.

“Every man dies, not every man lives” is a quote he was fond of, by William Wallace, a freedom fighter from Scotland near the end of the 13th century. This quote is a great testament to the fact that Stewart truly lived and lived with passion, until the very end. His fighting spirit and love for life will live on in all who knew him.

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Jack Schaedel with students through the years at Norwood Elementary School. Photo from Joanne Grzymala

Comsewogue School District is widely regarded as a haven for quality education and its community feel by those on the inside and outside. One of the people who played a role in fostering that reputation died Oct. 10, but his spirit won’t be vacating the schools’ walls, or broader community, any time soon.

Jack Schaedel, 78, was a teacher at Norwood Elementary School from 1969 to 1999, though his influence was not confined to his classroom. Schaedel ran the school’s store for years, conditioning the students to raise money to fund class trips or donate to worthy causes. Years of holiday gift sales and other fundraisers paid for trips to Washington, D.C., foreign countries and donations to UNICEF drives, thanks to Schaedel’s leadership.

Schaedel is honored during a chamber of commerce celebration. Photo from Joanne Grzymala

He also spent three decades as an active participant and board member on Port Jefferson Station’s chamber of commerce, on Theatre Three’s board of directors, served as the teachers union’s representative, and as a trustee on Comsewogue Public Library’s board from 1974 to 2000 — a time period that saw the public pillar grow exponentially in size.

Through all of his community involvement and duties as a teacher, the 1999 Port Times Record Man of the Year raised a family with his wife Anne of 58 years, and his family members speak as glowingly of him as his colleagues and students do.

“He was the most positive, happiest person you could meet,” said his daughter Joanne Grzymala, who went on to become a teacher herself. “Within minutes of meeting him he would already be cheering you on, inspiring something inside of you to feel good about yourself. His presence was felt the second he walked into a room. His enthusiasm for life was contagious.”

Comsewogue’s Joe Rella took over the role of Superintendent shortly after Schaedel retired, though the two maintained a relationship. The district’s head said Schaedel’s influence was felt long after he left.

Rella has led the way instituting a problem-based learning curriculum in the district, a method that closer resembles a college thesis format than the standardized teach-to-the-test model characterizing education in recent years. The curriculum is offered to all Comsewogue students this year following a small rollout last school year, which saw PBL students score higher in most cases on state tests than their peers learning in traditional classrooms.

“Long before problem-based learning was on the radar — I’m talking 25 years ago — Jack was doing [the same thing] with his fifth-grade class,” Rella said. “He was a master, he was like the Pied Piper. He got children excited about learning. While they were excited he snuck in the learning.”

In the 1999 Man of the Year feature written about him, then Norwood principal Andrew Cassidy praised Schaedel as a completely dedicated teacher, and board of education member Peter Cario called him singularly focused on the betterment of education.

During his years as a Comsewogue library trustee he worked closely with trustee Ed Wendol, who said as a pair their goal was to craft programs for residents of all age groups aimed at enjoyment and educating.

Jack Schaedel with students through the years at Norwood Elementary School. Photo from Joanne Grzymala

“I found him to be a true professional, really interested in educating, and making sure Comsewogue Public Library become the educational cultural and social center of our community. We felt that to be very important,” Wendol said.

Richard Lusak, the library’s first director who shepherded the facility through major expansion to the community hub it is today, called Schaedel a unifier on the board of trustees relentlessly dedicated to the Port Jeff Station area. “Jack worked very hard with us on all of our programs,” Lusak said. “He was a good man and a good trustee.”

Schaedel is survived by his wife Anne; sisters Cindy Davis and Dixie Schaedel; daughter Joanne Grzymala (Chris) and son Jack (Jackie); five grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

A December tribute is being planned in his honor, and those interested can email Joanne at setrlingjo61@yahoo.com for more information.

The family is also asking to consider donating to help in Theatre Three’s recovery from a devastating September flood at P.O. Box 512 Port Jefferson, New York 11777, attention Vivian Koutrakos.

Jill Nees-Russell during a debate for village board. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson is a tight-knit community with a small-town feel, which is probably at the top of the list of reasons why people love it. A byproduct of that fact is that when a community member is lost, the impact reverberates quickly and intensely. When the person is also widely beloved, the reverberations can feel seismic.

“She was the epitome of beauty, inside and out, loved by all who had the pleasure of knowing her and she touched us all with her grace, her smile, her spirit and her optimism and pure joy for life.”

— Margot Garant

That’s what Port Jefferson Village is going through right now with the loss of Jill Nees-Russell. The village’s longtime public relations representative and general Swiss Army knife died June 18. She left behind her husband Fred and kids Henry and Lily.

Jill was as kind and generous of a person as I’ve ever met. Two years ago this week, I was promoted at TBR News Media to the editor of The Port Times Record. My predecessor, Elana Glowatz, had covered Port Jeff for nearly a decade, establishing relationships and getting a feel for the ins and outs of the community to a degree that left me feeling overwhelmed and intimidated to say the least. How could I possibly maintain the
connections she’d taken painstaking hours, days, weeks and years to craft — let alone forming new ones on top of that?

I wasn’t on the job for more than a day or two before I was alerted that I had a call from Jill.

She reached out to introduce herself and invite me to join her for breakfast and coffee that week at Local’s Café. Somehow she must have sensed my head spinning a few miles down Route 25A at our Setauket office, and was immediately looking to offer a helping hand. She sat with me for more than an hour sharing names, contacts, future programs and events — and even insisted that I try the avocado toast she had ordered. I returned to work from that meeting with a fresh outlook on my new position. I felt like a skydiver who had just been gifted a parachute. Throughout the time that our career paths intersected, I always knew I could count on her for support, be it photos from an event I wasn’t able to attend or suggestions for who might be best suited to answer my questions.

Jill’s time in Port Jeff was so far-reaching that there are likely people who never met her that were still impacted by her talents and dedication. She was one of the driving forces behind so many of the most popular events the village has to offer, putting in hours of work to make the Charles Dickens Festival and Heritage Weekend seminal occasions.

Jill Nees-Russell during a past Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photo from PJV

Testimonials about her impact on people who did know her have flooded social media in the days since her passing.

“We here in the Village of Port Jefferson were so very lucky to have worked with her, loved her and spent these last 10 years with her,” Mayor Margot Garant wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post. “Jill loved life and her family so much. She was the epitome of beauty, inside and out, loved by all who had the pleasure of knowing her and she touched us all with her grace, her smile, her spirit and her optimism and pure joy for life. I will miss her more than words can ever express and I know I speak for so, so many when I say we were so truly blessed to love her and have her call Port Jefferson her home.”

Many took to a Facebook group comprised of village residents past and present to also bid Jill farewell.

“Jill Nees-Russell loved our village and bled purple,” Brenda Eimers Batter wrote. “She will absolutely be missed.”

“It’s people like her that make our village the beautiful community it is and the community it will always be,” Steven Muñoz said. “She will never be forgotten. Her passion and love for Port Jeff will live on forever.”

Rest in peace Jill, and thank you for your unwavering kindness. The way you treated people should be an example to all.

Stony Brook ophthalmologist and Port Jeff resident Aaron Wigdor. Photo from the Wigdor family

“The eye is like a camera,” was the ophthalmologist’s favorite expression.

Aaron Wigdor, an eye doctor with a practice in Stony Brook who lived in Port Jefferson since the 1960s, died in April at 82. He was among those who led the charge for Port Jefferson Village to purchase Harbor Hills Country Club from the late 1960s through the ’70s, an asset the municipality still owns today, and was the first men’s tennis singles champion at the club. He is survived by his son Douglas; daughter Caren Skutch; daughter-in-law Catherine; son-in-law, William; and four grandchildren, Jacob, Simon, Julia and Carly.

Wigdor was born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey. He attended Princeton University as an undergraduate and went on to medical school at New York University. He served in the United States Army Medical Corps in Texas at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He was also President Lyndon Johnson’s on-call ophthalmologist for a time.

“The eye is like a camera.”

— Aaron Wigdor

In 1968, he and his late wife Ellen moved from Texas to Port Jefferson, where the couple remained until relocating to Florida in 2016, reluctantly, according to his son.

“He really did love Port Jefferson,” his son said.

Both of his parents played a part in organizing the senior prom at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, which was a long-standing tradition in Port Jeff, for parents of the senior class to help pick a secret theme unveiled only on prom night and organize the over-the-top event.

Wigdor had many close friends in Port Jefferson, and as a young man enjoyed spending time out from of Darling’s Stationery, where many from the community would gather in what probably would resemble a social media chat group today.

“You would never know he was a gossip,” his daughter said. “After my mother passed away, he got very sad. As a couple, they had a lot of friends in Port Jefferson. They were always going out. They were really pillars in the community.”

Skutch described her father’s sense of humor and intellect as “acerbic,” a trait she said she loved. She said he enjoyed reading the dictionary as a hobby, and it was a favorite response of his to instruct his kids to “go read the dictionary” when they complained of being bored.

They were always going out. They were really pillars in the community.”

— Caren Skutch

“He was just an all-around good dad,” she said, adding that as a grandfather Wigdor taught her kids how to swim and play ball.

Wigdor’s son said he hoped people who knew him would remember how caring and dedicated he was as a doctor at his practice on Nesconset Highway, which he established in 1969.

“In this day and age when people go to see their doctor and are rushed in and out, I know that my father and his practice spent time with patients in caring for them and I believe his patients really respected that,” he said.

Longtime Port Jeff residents Anita and Arthur Spencer, who knew the Wigdors, traveled to Puerto Rico and Atlantic City among other destinations regularly together.

Anita Spencer called Wigdor a very sociable guy who had many friends and talked to many people during his days in Port Jeff.

“He was very friendly,” she said. Anita Spencer said the two couples avidly followed the Kentucky Derby and the other triple-crown horse races, though Wigdor was also a huge fan of the New York Knicks. “He had loads of friends. He was very concerned about what was going on in the village, being part of the village.”