Tags Posts tagged with "Port Jefferson"

Port Jefferson

James D. Schultz as Peter Rabbit and Tazukie Fearon as Benjamin Bunny in a scene from 'The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.' Photo by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions, Inc.

I always know that spring is right around the corner when Theatre Three presents its adorable annual musical production of “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit.” Written by Jeffrey E. Sanzel and the late Brent Erlanson, suggested by the characters created by Beatrix Potter, this show is a personal favorite of mine and seems to get better every year. Directed by Tazukie Fearon for the second year in a row and accompanied flawlessly on piano by Steve McCoy, it follows the adventures of Peter Rabbit (played by James D. Schultz) and his cousin Benjamin Bunny (played by Fearon) as they sneak into Mr. McGregor’s garden to steal his vegetables.

Like two peas in a pod, Schultz and Fearon work very well together. They know their target audience well and draw the most laughs. Amanda Geraci plays Mrs. Rabbit and charms the audience with her beautiful rendition of “Morning.” Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, played by Marquéz Catherine Stewart, Jenna Kavaler and Caitlin Nofi (who has a fondness for Trix cereal), respectively, are a terrific supporting cast. Dan Brenner and Sue Anne Dennehy return as Mr. and Mrs. McGregor and shine in their duet, “A Friend.”

Of special note is the constant interaction with the audience — asking them what to do next or answering a child when she asks a question. While being chased by Mr. McGregor, the cast runs up and down the aisles, sitting in chairs to hide, much to the delight of the young theatergoers. A nice touch.

The set is minimal, with just a few props including a scarecrow and a basket of vegetables, allowing your imagination to run wild. Listening to the dialogue, one can envision a garden full of carrots, broccoli, tomatoes, string beans and parsley and understand how two little rabbits could find this forbidden bounty irresistible. Utilizing a trap door on the stage as a rabbit hole is very effective.

Masterfully choreographed by Stewart, the musical numbers, arranged by Kevin F. Story, are all showstoppers, especially “One More Time Around” and “Peter’s Socks,” and the audience is treated to an encore performance of all the songs in a finale mega mix.

Sophie Jeong, 4, of Coram, came prepared for the show by wearing a pretty pink shirt with a bunny sewn on it and by bringing her favorite stuffed rabbit along. She sang along to all the songs, and, when asked who her favorite character was, she replied without hesitation — “Peter Rabbit.” Her favorite scene? “When the bunnies were eating their lunch [of blackberries, milk and toast].”

Don’t forget to take a picture with the cast in the lobby after the show. Bunny stuffed animals will be sold before the show and during intermission, and booster seats are available. Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, will present “The Adventures of Peter Rabbit” through April 11, perfect for spring break. Up next is “The Littlest Pirate” followed by “Puss-in-Boots” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Tickets are only $10 each. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

School building has lasted through ups and downs in Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street, above, was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

A lot has changed in the last century, but Port Jefferson’s Spring Street school building still stands.

BOCES social worker Christian Scott, special education teacher Patricia Dolan and Principal Chris Williams wear period clothing to celebrate the Spring Street school building's 100th birthday. Photo from BOCES
BOCES social worker Christian Scott, special education teacher Patricia Dolan and Principal Chris Williams wear period clothing to celebrate the Spring Street school building’s 100th birthday. Photo from BOCES

Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which leases the school building from the Port Jefferson school district, recently celebrated the building’s 100th birthday, with festivities that included period costumes and popular music from the era — the 1914 hit “By the Beautiful Sea” and a World War I marching song from 1915, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.” There was also a ribbon-cutting ceremony and lots of cake at the school at Spring and High streets, which is now officially called the Jefferson Academic Center.

Though the mood was light that day, the road leading up to the 100th birthday bash was a rocky one.

Another building, the original Port Jefferson High School, once stood in that same place, but it burned down on Independence Day in 1913.

According to the village’s historical archive, it is still a mystery what caused the fire, which started the night before. At the time, many believed that some young people broke into the building so they could ring the bell at midnight to celebrate July 4. They believed the kids started the fire by accident while using matches to light their way in the dark building.

The Spring Street school building went up in 1914. Photo by Barbara Donlon
The Spring Street school building went up in 1914. Photo by Barbara Donlon

There was also a theory that an arsonist lit up the wooden building, according to the archive. A suspect was presented to a Suffolk County grand jury, but he was not indicted.

The current Spring Street building was erected the following year, with the community laying its cornerstone on May 2.

According to Eastern Suffolk BOCES, $75,000 went toward the new brick and stone structure, which had separate entrances for boys and girls on opposite sides of the building.

“The genders may have been separated by doorways, but their education fell under the doctrine that knowledge is power, a phrase carved into the front of the building for all to see,” a press release from BOCES said.

Though the building was once home to all the grades in the school district, the district expanded and it eventually housed only middle school students. When those kids were moved into the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School building on Old Post Road, where they remain today, the historical building was left behind.

Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Eastern Suffolk BOCES stepped in during the late 1990s. Sean Leister, Port Jefferson’s assistant superintendent for business, said the school district began leasing the building to BOCES in March 1997. And according to BOCES, it has been providing special education services at the Jefferson Academic Center since 1998.

In 2007, the deteriorating Spring Street building got a little lift — district voters overwhelmingly approved a $5.2 million bond to renovate the building, which came with a renewed 10-year lease, the yearly rent of which covered the cost of the improvements. Those included replacing the gym floor, piping and the boilers; improving site drainage; doing work on the electrical system and the foundation; and making the building more handicapped-accessible with additional toilets, a wheelchair lift and an elevator.

The renovations have kept the Spring Street school going strong — it is the oldest school in Suffolk County that still operates as such.

To 100 years more.

Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos observes the water from his patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson Harbor Complex is just that — a complex cluster of waterways that needs diligent eyes watching over it.

Those eyes belong to Brookhaven Town Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos and the others in his department, who are all working to keep the water safe this boating season.

The harbor complex includes Port Jefferson Harbor at its center, where Koutrakos is based, as well as Setauket Harbor and the adjacent Little Bay; Pirate’s Cove; Conscience Bay and the Narrows that lead into it; and a small section of water immediately outside Port Jefferson Harbor on the Long Island Sound that is bookended by Old Field Point to the west and Belle Terre’s Mount Misery to the east. Between these sections, the complex has more than 2,000 acres of surface water, and that area sees thousands of boats every season.

Peter O’Leary, the town’s commissioner of public safety, said between moorings and slips in the area, there are more than 1,200 spaces for boats, and that doesn’t include the ones just passing through.

On any given summer weekend, “the place is bedlam,” O’Leary said. “It creates quite a bit of traffic.”

With heavy traffic comes risk.

For Koutrakos, who has been harbormaster for 14 years and has jurisdiction in all town waters, it was the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — an al-Qaida suicide attack in Yemen in which a small vessel next to the U.S. Navy ship was blown up, killing 17 Americans — that made him realize boats could be used as weapons.

Things also changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Officials became aware of the harbor’s vulnerability, as possible targets for terrorists include power plants, oil terminals and ferries — and Port Jefferson Harbor has all of them. Long Island has also been a concern in national security discussions because it is close to New York City and at the same time is remote: Ferries would be the only way off the island if an emergency event were to shut down transportation into the city.

The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster's patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz
The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster’s patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

To keep the complex safe, the harbormaster works on a number of security exercises. One program, Operation Shield, involves coordinating with other agencies to randomly check foreign vessels for travel documents.

Though Operation Shield only runs on certain days, Koutrakos said he regularly does checks on his own. If the vessels do not have the proper documentation, he calls in customs officers to board and search them.

Another exercise he occasionally works on is search and rescue training with the U.S. Coast Guard, which helps prepare for an emergency situation, for instance if the ferry were to sink due to a mechanical problem or a bomb.

Koutrakos explained that the exercise group determines how to respond to an incident and who would take command of the scene. In the case of the ferry, officers also talk to the captain to learn how he would respond under certain circumstances and discuss a strategy for saving as many lives as possible, “before something really happens.”

The harbormaster also meets every few months with a Long Island security committee whose members range from the local to the federal level.

To boost security all over, O’Leary said, the town is working to install security cameras on its properties, and Port Jefferson is slated to receive some of that surveillance.

However, one of O’Leary’s concerns in protecting town waters is linked to the economy. He said budget cuts have meant cutbacks on seasonal employees, so there are fewer bay constables on both shores and they are working a shorter season. There are also fewer workers to pump out waste from the boats so it is not discharged into the water.

On Koutrakos’ end, he has an assistant harbormaster year-round and two seasonal harbormasters during the summer.

Most summer days, Koutrakos spends his time patrolling the waters and helping people who call him for assistance.

‘The place is bedlam. … It creates quite a bit of traffic.’
— Peter O’Leary

Born and raised in Port Jefferson, Koutrakos has a name people might recognize — his family owned the Elk Hotel and Restaurant on Main Street before it went out of business. He wife, Carol, works for the Port Jefferson ferry.

He has been around long enough to see security at the harbor change over the years. Before 9/11, if someone were to leave a bag at the ferry terminal, an employee would grab it and ask if anyone had left it behind. Now there are security protocols in place to handle such a situation. Before, there weren’t any restrictions on taking photos or video of the harbor. Now officials keep an eye out for people capturing the ferry terminal or other sensitive areas.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ “only gripe with the job” — he isn’t permitted to carry a sidearm while he is on duty, though he is licensed to carry.

Other marine law enforcement agents carry a sidearm, including those from the Coast Guard, the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The harbormaster said he never knows what situation he will find himself in and “should we get put into a lethal force situation, the fact of the matter is we have no way of defending ourselves or the public.”

Despite this sticking point, another thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ playful personality and his passion for all things marine.

He has said he enjoys his job because he gets to be on the water and he gets to help people: “At the end of the day, tired or not, it makes you feel better.”

by -
0 599
Hugh Campbell in his plane, The Swoose. Photo from the veteran

One served in the Naval Air Force in the Pacific, a second on the ground in Europe and another in its skies, but all three put their lives on the line during World War II to protect their country. Several decades later, the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson honored the three village residents for their service at their meeting Tuesday for Veterans Day, to show them that their sacrifices would not be forgotten.

From left, Hugh Campbell, Fred Gumbus and Walter Baldelli a few years ago on an Honor Flight, in which veterans are brought on a free trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Fred Gumbus
From left, Hugh Campbell, Fred Gumbus and Walter Baldelli a few years ago on an Honor Flight, in which veterans are brought on a free trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Fred Gumbus

The three men, Walter Baldelli, Hugh Campbell and Fred Gumbus, are all still active in their community, as they are three of the longest-serving members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department.

Baldelli, 95, was a tech sergeant in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. He recalled in a phone interview “the one that damn near got me”: He was standing guard in a city in Belgium and the Germans sent bombs over “every night so we couldn’t sleep.” When one came close one night, he ran for cover on one side of a church, and the bomb went off on the other side.

“I lost my hat, my coat went over my head; I dropped my rifle.”

When Baldelli walked around the building, “there was a mess of dead people.” He said that was the closest he came to being really hurt.

Fred Gumbus, bottom row, second from right, was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Fred Gumbus, bottom row, second from right, was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran

The tech sergeant also spent time during the war in Iceland, England, France — in Paris, he walked underneath the Eiffel Tower — and Germany. His last stop before returning stateside was Frankfurt.

Baldelli said, “It was quite an experience,” and when he finally arrived home one day at 3 am, he woke up his parents and “we started drinking wine till daybreak.”

Campbell also served in Europe, as a tech sergeant in the Army’s Ninth Air Force from 1942 to 1945. The 89-year-old former flight engineer said he remembers most of it like it was yesterday, and there was one point when he was going into battle every day.

“After a while, you begin to wonder, how many times can I do this, you know?” he said. There were “people shooting at you every darn day with everything they got.”

Hugh Campbell served in the Army’s Ninth Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Hugh Campbell served in the Army’s Ninth Air Force. Photo from the veteran

Campbell also shared that one day after a raid, so many men had been lost that he was sent out on a second raid in the afternoon. The commanding officer had said, “I hate to send you out again but we don’t have anyone else,” Campbell said.

He described the feeling of not knowing if he was alive or dead.

“Everybody you had breakfast with before you went wasn’t there, they’re gone.”

One interesting experience that Campbell had came after the war, when a longtime friend asked if he remembered any of his 44 missions against the Germans. Campbell told the story of a small city where a bridge went diagonally across the Rhine — which was unusual — and “they wanted to bomb and take the bridge out to cripple the German supply system.” He was about 19 years old at the time.

The friend replied that it was his village, that he had been there on the ground with his brother when it happened and saw the whole thing. The man recalled seeing big yellow triangles on the rudders of the bomber representing the insignia of Campbell’s group.

Campbell said his friend would not have known about the triangles unless he had, indeed, been there: “Here is a guy that was an enemy and now he and I are friends.”

Fred Gumbus was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Fred Gumbus was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran

Gumbus was an aviation ordnanceman in the Naval Air Force from 1943 to 1946, with Patrol Bomber Squadron VPB-118. The 89-year-old former tail gunner, who goes by “Pop” in the PJFD because he is the most senior Gumbus in the department, served on the Pacific front.

While returning from one mission, Gumbus said, he called the pilot from the tail to warn that there were five Japanese fighters following theirs and another American plane. Though Gumbus’ plane made it out of the skirmish, the Japanese had taken out one of their engines and another one was in flames. He said they put out the fire but were losing altitude, and had to get rid of any weight they could. He tossed out toolboxes, parachutes and the insides of the guns.

The pilot released a bomb bay tank, but it tipped and got caught, and was hanging partly out of the bottom of the plane. Gumbus said he had to get rid of it, because if the plane were to land like that, the gas tank would have scraped the ground and exploded.

“Here I am trying to kick this thing” out of the plane, he said, and he was hanging over the plane’s open bottom above the Sea of Japan without a rope or harness.

Eventually the tank was loosened and fell out — and the plane, though sputtering, landed safely on Okinawa.

When he found out the Rotary was planning to honor him, Gumbus said, he thought, “Well that’s wonderful … because lots of times you’re forgotten.”

A modest Campbell said about being honored for his service, “I guess I appreciate it and it never occurred to me that anyone would ever say anything about it.”

Director pulls 15 felines from condemned home, waiting on adoptions to help more in cat colony

Three cats emerge from the bushes at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food Monday for the numerous cats living on the property. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Erica Kutzing has already pulled 15 cats from a condemned house and its surrounding property on Oakwood Road in Port Jefferson, but she said there are between 20 and 25 more left.

“And that’s of the ones that we can see.”

There could be more hiding — the property has a lot of foliage and the house is a mess. There are flies and cobwebs all over the junk inside, the ceiling is coming down in some places and there is a strong smell, partly of cat urine.

Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing, director of operations at Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, would like to continue taking the friendly cats back with her to the shelter, but it is full. Her operation on Oakwood Road is partly on hold until some people start adopting the animals and free up space. Until then, with the permission of the owner, she visits the site every day to deliver food and clean water, and to help the cats that need it the most.

The first day she brought food to the house, she said, “they swarmed us,” and the cats tried to chew through the bags of food. “They were starving.” In the roughly three weeks since she started feeding them — with donations from the community — she estimates they’ve each gained about five pounds.

On Monday, Kutzing brought the usual five cans of wet food and full bag of cat food to Oakwood Road. A couple of cats watched as she cleaned aluminum trays filled with muddy rainwater from a storm the night before and replaced the dirty water with the food, with the help of volunteers Frankie Floridia and his son Dylan Inghilleri. Then other felines started to emerge from bushes and windows and below a dumpster on the front lawn.

Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Most of the animals, Kutzing said, are the property owner’s pets. While he loves them and his pet ownership started with the best intentions, “cats can breed faster than you can stop them.” Some of those still at the house are friendly, but they have become wild because of their living situation.

The Port Times Record reported in November that there once also were four Alaskan huskies on the property, but they were removed when firefighters investigating smoke found unsafe conditions inside the house. That’s when it was condemned.

According to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, four misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty are still pending against the owner.

Dori Scofield, director of the Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter and Adoption Center and founder and president of Save-A-Pet, said there are many houses like this all over the town and the country, where people have good intentions that “go haywire,” and their properties are overrun with animals. “They get in over their heads.”

Scofield was the one who first received a call, in her role with the town, about the house and went to investigate.

She was also at the site Monday, and netted a 6-month-old gray kitten that Kutzing said had a broken tail and possibly a broken pelvis.

A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing explained that it was painful for the kitten to walk and “with every step her lower end drops to the floor.” She added when the kitten eats her daily deliveries, usually she will lie down in the aluminum tray.

Monday, the cat ate from outside the tray, but she sneezed multiple times throughout her meal. Kutzing explained that the kitten also has an upper respiratory infection.

After Scofield quickly threw the net over the gray kitten, Kutzing and Floridia helped her put the kitten into a carrier to take back to Save-A-Pet for treatment. Afterward, she will likely be released back at the house.

Scofield said she didn’t want to see the cats stay at the condemned house permanently, and it would be ideal for someone with a barn to take in the feral cats.

Kutzing stressed the need for adoptions and that the cats at Save-A-Pet that had been pulled from the Oakwood Road house have been medically cleared and are good with other cats “because it’s all they know.” The organization needs homes for both the young cats and the older ones, she said, adding that older cats can be positive because they know how to use a litter box and owners will already know the cats’ personalities.

Scofield also stressed that people who find themselves with a large number of animals “shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help,” either from Save-A-Pet or Brookhaven Animal Shelter. “We’ll do whatever we can to help them.”

Kutzing urged against concerned residents visiting the Oakwood Road property on their own. She said it would be trespassing and she doesn’t want anyone “to hinder our trapping by scaring the cats,” because they are now comfortable around the volunteers.

In 125 years, Port Jefferson Fire Department has seen many changes to firefighting and the village

Volunteers from Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 of the Port Jefferson Fire Department assemble on East Main Street in 1892. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Fred Gumbus still remembers the time he burned off his eyebrows, decades ago in a brush fire.

“The wind changed” and the flames “came across a big field of grass,” Gumbus said. He goes by “Pop” at the Port Jefferson Fire Department, where he is an honorary chief and a member since 1948.

Port Jefferson firefighters work at the Sinclair bulk storage plant during a 1964 fire. The blaze kept igniting because the fuel lines had not been turned off. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Port Jefferson firefighters work at the Sinclair bulk storage plant during a 1964 fire. The blaze kept igniting because the fuel lines had not been turned off. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

He and Hugh Campbell, a former chief who joined the same year, were running from the fire, but realized it was gaining on them and they couldn’t outrun it. “We have to go through,” Gumbus said, and they covered their noses and mouths with their hands.

Campbell said, “We were going to burn to death if we stayed there.”

They made it out, coughing and choking.

Gumbus said his buddy was laughing at him and when he asked what was so funny, Campbell told him he didn’t have any eyebrows. He responded that Campbell didn’t either, “and we busted out laughing.”

The pair, who were once in the first grade together in Stony Brook, were in their 20s then. Now they are in their late 80s, and still members of a department that has since seen great changes.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department marks its 125th anniversary this year, and equipment and techniques are drastically different from the days these men first joined.

Fred Gumbus, James Newcomb, Walter Baldelli and Hugh Campbell, at the Port Jefferson firehouse, talk about the toughest and most memorable calls they went on in their many years with the department. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Fred Gumbus, James Newcomb, Walter Baldelli and Hugh Campbell, at the Port Jefferson firehouse, talk about the toughest and most memorable calls they went on in their many years with the department. Photo by Elana Glowatz

James Newcomb, an honorary chief who joined almost 69 years ago, said firefighters once used something called an “Indian can,” which was a metal backpack that held five gallons of water and squirted with a hand pump. Firefighters also used to just wear a rubber coat.

Campbell said those coats would burn or melt. He also noted changes to the way firefighters work — “in the old days we had more surround and drown,” but now firefighters attack the flames, and put them out where they are. They no longer “stand outside and watch it burn.”

One fire Walter Baldelli remembers was at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street. Baldelli, a 93-year-old honorary chief and a member since 1948, said the department fought flames through the whole night at the old wood-floored building, and found the body of a night watchman the next day.

Campbell said he was on the stoop next door taking a break and saw the man’s toes sticking up in the bathroom of the scorched building. The watchman was flat on the floor and his body “was like it was boiled” because the water shooting in from the hoses turned to steam. The firefighters knew the man was in there somewhere because he had left his hat at the back door of the building.

Firefighters battle flames at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street in 1960. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Firefighters battle flames at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street in 1960. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Another large fire was at the post office when it was on Main Street. It was 1948, and Baldelli said hoses drafted water from the harbor to put out the flames. He could taste the saltwater in the air.

The fire had started in the cellar, Baldelli said, and when the blaze was put out and he went down there, the water came up high and it was warm. He added that an employee on the scene when the fire broke out saved all the first class mail.

At one brush fire, Newcomb was on Norwood Avenue and the fire was jumping through the treetops on both sides of him. Newcomb said it was his scariest fire and when the flames came over his head, he stuck his nose in the dirt and the explosion “sounded like a jet coming down.” He said he couldn’t breathe for about 30 seconds.

Newcomb will be the grand marshal of the department’s 125th anniversary parade, which is on June 9 at 5:30 pm. The fire department, which was established in 1887, is also holding a block party on Maple Place that evening, with a display of antique apparatus.

Louise Brett explains a painting of a ship called the Enchantress. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Louise Brett often paints and draws scenes from the past — a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate, ships in Port Jefferson Harbor, a buggy on East Main Street and the cottages at West Meadow Beach.

The area “is changing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to show everyone what it looked like when I was here.”

Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Some of Brett’s works are on display in Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, in the same room the Board of Education uses for its meetings. At the last session, the district presented Brett, who attended the high school but did not graduate, with a certificate of recognition and she received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Brett said in an interview at her home that the acknowledgement was exciting.

It isn’t the first time her work has been displayed — her paintings of a Victorian Port Jefferson appeared on the covers of the Charles Dickens Festival guides for 2006 and 2007. Under sunset skies, she included characters found in both Dickens novels and the village.

Brett, 83, was born in Old Field and moved to Port Jefferson 10 years later. She said she has always been able to draw well, but didn’t always have the resources — including pencils and paper. When she was growing up during the Great Depression, if she saw her teacher throw away a piece of chalk, she would take it home and — with her twin sister, Gussie — draw on the sides of their piano.

Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She got some help when she was in her teens while working as a soda jerk, operating the soda fountain at a local shop. On paper bags in the shop, “I would sketch anybody that walked in,” she said. The owner bought her a paint set and she took art lessons in Mount Sinai. At the Board of Education meeting, while presenting the certificate of recognition, elementary school principal Tom Meehan said Brett would walk to the lessons with her brushes in her boots.

While she was learning, she got in trouble with her mother for keeping dead birds under her bed to draw. “I had to know what they looked like,” Brett explained.

Years later, she still paints almost every day, even with her cats, Bonnie and Clyde, wandering around the room that holds her easel and past works. She said art is an outlet for her. When her husband of 54 years, Nicholas, had health problems a few years ago, she painted the Roe House using descriptions in letters former village historian Rob Sisler collected. Brett used details such as the fact that the Roes owned two oxen and carts — which led her to paint a barn with a thatched roof — to determine how to illustrate the scene. “You have to use your imagination,” she said.

Louise Brett's first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.
Louise Brett’s first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.

Brett signs all her paintings “Lou Gnia,” for her maiden name Gniazdowski. Her father, who died when she was 3 years old, came to the United States from Poland just before World War I. Brett once took a trip to her family’s village in Stare Miasto, in Poland’s Leżajsk County, a few hours southeast of Warsaw. The village name means “old city,” and she took photographs of various scenes to paint once she got home. In her Reeves Road house she has a “Polish room,” in which there are paintings of houses, cattle drinking from the San River and wagons with rubber wheels, like those on cars.

Paintings also line the walls of the rest of her home, including depictions of ships and beaches and a mural of grazing horses on the far side of the living room.

The artist said painting calms her, to the point where she can forget she is in the middle of cooking dinner. “I just go into a different world,” she said. “I love to paint. It’s just like a sickness.”

by -
0 605

Dancer Linda Sorel to celebrate 100th birthday in Port Jeff

Linda Sorel, a resident of the Port Jefferson Health Care Facility, turns 100 Nov. 28. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Linda Sorel was supposed to go to school. Instead, without telling her mother, she took her practice clothes and went to the Capitol Theatre on Broadway. “They played music and I danced and I got hired, and from then on I never went back to school.” She said she has been a dancer her entire life, and that audition landed her with the dance troupe Chester Hale Girls. She was later one of the Rockettes at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932. But the view from the stage only begins to scratch the surface of what she has seen.

Sorel has lived through both World Wars, the advent of refrigerators and electric lightbulbs, raising 10 cats, decades of inflation and, more recently, laryngitis. She will celebrate her centennial Nov. 28, marking 100 years of spirit and adventure.

“I’m a mere hundred,” she said. “I don’t feel any different now than I felt when I was 35.” The five-foot woman gestures with almost every word, her silver nail polish sweeping through the air.

James Ciervo, the director of therapeutic recreation and community relations at Sorel’s nursing home, said the new centenarian is still as “sharp as a tack.”

Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel
Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel

Sorel spends much of her time feeding birds outside Port Jefferson Health Care on Dark Hollow Road and writing poetry. One of her poems, about a cat named “Gigi,” she can recite by heart. Another describes how it felt to be a Rockette: “The overture is over, the curtains tightly drawn, as we await in the wings, the signal to go on.” She said she also writes poems for people she cares about, such as the nurses who take care of her.

Although she often finds herself busy, Sorel set aside time to reminisce and talk about how different things were when she was younger. She was born and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, after her grandparents emigrated with their two little girls to the United States from Bialystok at a time when it was part of the Russian Empire. She was raised by those two little girls, her mother and Aunt Ada.

When Sorel was a kid, the family wouldn’t go to supermarkets for food. She said there were merchants with horse-drawn carts who would go along the cobblestone streets and sell them groceries, which they would store at home in an ice box, not a refrigerator. There were also no electric lights. Sorel remembered that people would light outdoor lamps on posts using a long stick, and when one of her older sisters died at 11, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, a gas light in the hallway was turned low for mourning.

One of the things she misses most about those days was the cheap candy. Sorel recalled spending only a penny to get a piece of chocolate-covered jelly, and said she enjoyed going to a local ice cream parlor, sitting on a tall chair and buying an ice cream soda, which was served in generous portions.

But she has memories from that time that are not as happy. Sorel said during World War I, she was “a tiny little girl and the sirens would go off” in Manhattan to warn of a possible air raid. The family would close the blinds, turn out the lights and get away from the windows. “Oh, the Germans are coming over here,” she remembered fearing. But they never did and the sirens would stop.

When she was older, in her early 20s, Sorel got her big break dancing with the Rockettes, although she said she enjoyed ballet more. With the Rockettes, she had a strict routine. “I loved to put my own feeling into it, and you had to do what everyone else did.”

After her professional dancing days were over, in the late 1960s, she moved to Patchogue, where she had spent weekends as a kid, and remained there until relocating to the nursing home. With her 100th birthday approaching, Sorel revealed her secret to longevity. She said she has been on a diet her entire life, never touching any food between meals and staying away from fats and starches. However, she has a weak spot: chocolate, and the darker the better.

In advance of her centennial celebration, Linda Sorel remained focused on her great-nephew Danny and politics — the only thing she said she would miss “Dancing with the Stars” to watch.

As for Danny, Sorel said she received a letter from her great-nephew recently and wanted to show everybody. She talked about how grown-up he is now. But when he was little, the centenarian remembered, the boy would call out, “‘Look, Aunt Linda!” “And he would do these crazy things,” Sorel said, flailing her arms. “And I would look.”

Social

9,203FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,119FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe