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Setauket

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.

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Route 25A in Setauket looking east from Woods Corner Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Following public forums, the future of the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area is coming into focus.

More than a year ago, the Brookhaven Town Department of Planning, Environment and Land Management was authorized to create a land use study and plan regarding the state highway from the Smithtown town line heading east to the Poquott Village line. This was after town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D–Port Jefferson Station) co-sponsored land use resolutions at the Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, 2016, town board meetings.

the inconsistent architecture of buildings located at Woods Corner. Photo by Rita J. Egan

After the go-ahead from the town, the Citizens Advisory Committee was formed with co-chairs George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, and Jane Taylor, assistant head of The Stony Brook School. The committee organized a number of community meetings to give business owners, store tenants and residents in Stony Brook, Setauket and East Setauket the opportunity to discuss their concerns and hopes for land use along the state road.

The meetings, led by consulting firm BFJ Planning, culminated with a wrap-up session at The Stony Brook School earlier this month, and the result will be a document that will guide business and landowners when it comes to building and renovating in the future.

Hoffman said he found the process over the past year rewarding.

“We really made a lot of progress pulling together all the groups that make up our community, and I think we have a clearer vision of what we like about it, and what we’d like to enhance as we go forward,” Hoffman said.

At the March 4 meeting, residents were given a summary of the community’s visions for the hamlets based on previous visioning meetings. Frank Fish, Noah Levine and Graham Cavanagh of BFJ Planning informed those in attendance both unique and shared elements along the Route 25A corridor as well as recommended goals and objectives for the future.

Romaine, Cartright and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were among elected officials who attended the visioning meetings. Englebright said he was impressed at how constructive the meetings were, and how Cartright and Romaine made themselves accessible during the process.

The assemblyman said he wasn’t surprised by the concerns and desires raised. Many residents said they did not want to see the road widened, but instead would like it to include more green space. Another hope of many residents is to make the road safer by adding a continuous sidewalk and creating lanes for bicyclists.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here.”

— Steve Englebright

“I look forward to doing everything possible to add a sidewalk — the walkability aspect of this and [a lane] for bicycles,” Englebright said.

Both Hoffman and Englebright said Woods Corner at the southeast corner of Route 25A and Nicolls Road was another concern brought up by many at the meetings. Hoffman said people would like to see the buildings located on the corner updated with some sort of consistent architecture “because it’s the gateway to the Setaukets.”

The architectural consistency in all the hamlets was an additional topic raised at the meetings.

“The historic architectural style and character of the Three Village area is something that is a constant reminder of why a lot of us live here,” Englebright said. “We love the architecture. … People indicated how much they value it, and that for any reconstruction or new construction, that should be a benchmark of expectation to be compatible with who we are architecturally.”

According to BFJ Planning’s March 4 visioning report, the flow of traffic where 25A variously intersects Stony Brook Road, Nicolls Road and Main Street were also discussed at hamlet meetings. Roundabouts were suggested for both Stony Brook Road and Main Street, and the New York State Department of Transportation is considering a traffic light at the soft right turn onto Nicolls or removal of the soft right altogether. 

While other transportation issues and wants were discussed, including creating pullover areas for buses and supporting a trolley bus service for Stony Brook students and residents, recreation areas were another concern. The talks included improved civic space for gatherings, picnics and similar recreational activities as well as maintenance of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-administered Patriots Hollow State Forest.

Hoffman said some of the proposed guidelines have already been a help to Parviz Farahzad, who is constructing Stony Brook Square located across from Stony Brook train station. Development of the shopping center was approved at the March 6 town planning board meeting. Farahzad has agreed to add more trees to the final site plan, will require tenants use signage that consists of wood-base signs with gooseneck lighting among other concessions.  The developer also hopes to install a low nitrogen septic system if he receives a waiver from the county for the new system. According to Hoffman, such systems help to protect the water in local harbors.

Hoffman said BFJ Planning is compiling a final document and, in a few weeks, the CAC will present a report to the town board. The ultimate goal is for the town to take into consideration the suggestions and incorporate them into future land use changes in the area through zoning changes.

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Kate Strong sits on her front porch on Strong’s Neck in December 1899. Photo from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Kate Wheeler Strong was born in Setauket March 21, 1879. She was the daughter of Judge Selah Strong and a descendant of Revolutionary War spy Anna Smith Strong, as well as of Setauket settler William “Tangier” Smith. As Dr. Percy Bailey wrote in October, 1977, “As a historian, ‘Miss Kate’ has probably done more than any other in popularizing and humanizing the history of this beautiful Long Island which she loved.”

Kate Strong wrote local history articles for the Long Island Forum from 1939 through 1976. Most of these articles she had published in small booklets which she sold or gave away to friends over the years. These booklets, called “True Tales,” have provided a special look into the past for many generations of Three Village residents. Kate Strong died at her home The Cedars on Strong’s Neck July 22, 1977. In 1992, William B. Minuse (1908-2002) wrote about Kate Strong in the 1992 Three Village Historian:

A photo of Strong taken in May of 1897. Photo from Bev Tyler.

“Miss Kate Wheeler Strong was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever known … Miss Kate loved young people. For many years, she told stories to groups of children at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library. When the Stony Brook School opened, she organized a stamp club there.

“Her chief interest over the years was local and family history … She wrote extensively, most of her articles being based on family papers and information gathered from older residents … Even after she lost her sight she persisted. We will always be in her debt for the wonderful anecdotes and the invaluable accounts she left us of our Long Island communities and people.

“From time to time she gave me artifacts for the Three Village Historical Society. Among them were a pair of snow shoes her father had used during the blizzard of ‘88.

“Toward the end of her life her neighbors celebrated each of her birthdays, and I was always invited. I shall always remember her most fondly. She was kind and generous.”

After Kate Strong’s death, her personal papers and her family papers going back to her second-great-grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. The Strong collection contains more than 3,000 papers of the Strong family of Setauket, dating from 1703 to 1977. Included in the collection are deeds, diaries, 224 handwritten pages of court cases by State Supreme Court Justice Selah Strong, letters about their daily lives, politics, travels, farm matters, business records, school records, payments, receipts, Setauket Presbyterian Church records and weather bureau records. There are approximately 2,250 photographs of families, friends, relatives, places
and scenes.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, I was the editor for yearly publications of The Three Village Historian: Journal of the Three Village Historical Society. The issue of 1992 included nine of Kate Wheeler Strong’s “True Tales,” and a complete listing of the 38 years of “True Tales” booklets she produced between 1940 and 1976. This 24-page publication is still available for $1 at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and Gift Shop.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information on the society’s exhibits and gift shop hours, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

A free prekindergarten class will replace SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

In the not-so-distant past, budget season meant looking for places to trim. Now, as the Three Village school district looks ahead to the 2017-18 school year, it actually is making plans to add new programs.

Though the current projected increase in state aid, according to the governor’s proposal, is very small — $247,000 — Three Village will not need to cut programs to stay within the 3.40 percent cap on the tax levy increase, Jeffrey Carlson, the assistant superintendent of business services, said.

2017-18 Budget Facts

  • 3.40 percent tax levy increase cap
  • $247,000 in additional state aid
  • Additions include junior high math centers, drug alcohol counselor, free pre-k
  • 7th through 9th graders will receive notebook computers to use at home and at school

Junior high math centers and a certified drug and alcohol counselor are among the additions for the new school year, along with a free district-run prekindergarten that will replace the current SCOPE preschool at Nassakeag Elementary School.

However, not everyone is on board with the preschool. Three Village resident and parent Christine Segnini said during last week’s school board meeting that she was perplexed by the district’s decision to use “taxpayer money to support a non-mandated grade like pre-K.”

“We are not a district of low socio-economic status,” Segnini said. “We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said that though preschool is not currently mandated, she could see both kindergarten and prekindergarten being mandated in the future. She also added that there are students in the district who enter kindergarten without preschool.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to catch those children and bring them in so that they will have a level playing field and opportunity to get the early intervention that is critical for them to be successful,” Pedisich said.

While the administration has budgeted for five preschool teachers — three would be reassigned from the elementary level due to declining enrollment and two would be hired — the district would only need all five teachers if the program hits capacity at 200 students. With only 53 students signed up so far, Pedisich does not anticipate the need for a lottery. Each teacher will instruct a morning session and an afternoon session with 20 students per class.

The decision to hire a certified drug and alcohol counselor was made to address an “issue of highest importance,” the superintendent said.

“We are not a district having our incoming kindergarteners ill-prepared and lacking in preschool experience. I fear that this high-ticket, non-state mandated item will indeed sink your budget.”

—Christine Segnini

“I’m not going to be one of the superintendents that says we don’t have a drug problem in Three Village,” she said, noting that drugs are a problem across the country.

The district will be prepared to offer help to students and their families, even providing services in the home, if necessary, Pedisich said.

The only addition to the administrative staff will be a supervisor of technology and information systems, Pedisich said. With the $3.4 million in Smart Schools Bond Act money that has been awarded to Three Village, the district will introduce one-to-one devices in the junior highs. It means that students in grades 7 through 9 will receive their own notebook computers to use at home and at school. The new technology supervisor will oversee the pilot program, which would eventually expand to the high school, Pedisich said.

Including the possible two new preschool teachers, the district could add a total of 3.05 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions at the elementary level for the coming year. Art would decrease by .15 because of declining enrollment, but .1 FTE would be added to both physical education and health. One FTE will be added for special education, based on individualized education program (IEP) enrollment. Fourth grade chorus will be added, but without an increase of staff,  Pedisich said.

The secondary schools will see a net increase of 1.15 full-time equivalent positions to cover a new math center during lunch, daily band and orchestra at the junior highs. New electives such as public speaking and local history will be introduced at the junior highs. The high school math department will introduce differential equations to follow multivariable calculus, which students take after completing AP calculus.

The budget vote will be on May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. For security reasons, all voting will take place at the secondary schools, Carlson said. Since state election law prohibits screening, it is easier to keep voters contained to polling areas at the secondary schools, he said.

Residents who usually vote at W.S. Mount Elementary School will vote at R.C. Murphy Junior High. Those zoned for Arrowhead, Minnesauke and Nassakeag elementary schools will vote at Ward Melville High School. Setauket Elementary School voters will vote at P.J. Gelinas Junior High.

Nikki Yovino, above, accused two men of sexually assaulting her at an off-campus party outside Sacred Heart University, below. Photo from Bridgeport Police Department

By Rita Egan

South Setauket native Nikki Yovino turned herself into the Bridgeport Police Department last week after a warrant for her arrest was issued. The 2016 Ward Melville graduate is accused of filing a false police report and tampering with evidence involving a case where she reported two men for sexual assault, according to the Bridgeport Police Department website.

“As the investigation continued, the case detective received more information that contradicted Yovino’s statements to police.”

— Bridgeport Police Department

After attending a party Oct. 15, Yovino reported that two black males sexually assaulted her. The Sacred Heart University student said she was at an off-campus house party in Bridgeport when the assault occurred in a bathroom of the home. One of the alleged assailants was also a student at the university, and a football player, and the second was a former student. According to the police department’s website, “BPD detectives conducted a thorough investigation and met several times with SHU administrators. Initial statements from witnesses and evidence recovered from the scene suggested that a sexual assault had occurred. As the investigation continued, the case detective received more information that contradicted Yovino’s statements to police. This new information included new witness accounts, text messages and cell phone video. Yovino was confronted with this evidence, and admitted that she, in fact, did have consensual sex with both males.”

The police department’s website also states that with this admission, probable cause existed to charge the woman with a false report and tampering with evidence. A warrant was issued, and after being informed of the warrant, Yovino turned herself into the police Feb. 21.

Sacred Heart University. Photo from Facebook,

Yovino’s attorney, Mark Sherman, expects his client to plead not guilty at a March 3 arraignment. According to the Stamford-based criminal lawyer, he would not be able to comment further about the case until he was provided with police reports and video footage.

“The details of what happened here will come out at the appropriate time during the court process,” the lawyer wrote in an email.

Kimberly A. Primicerio, assistant director of media relations for Sacred Heart University couldn’t confirm whether or not Yovino is still enrolled at the school, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and  Privacy Act that prevents providing information about specific students.

“I can say that some of the early information that was released is inaccurate,” she wrote in an email. “Sacred Heart never expelled the two students nor was any student stripped of scholarships because of any allegations. Whenever there is any kind of incident at Sacred Heart University, we go to great lengths to ensure due process for all parties involved. The way that this particular case is playing out certainly demonstrates the validity of our procedures.”

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

North Shore residents on both sides of the political spectrum made their voices heard during a local iteration of the nationwide “Not My Presidents’ Day” protest Monday, Feb. 20.

Those driving down Route 25A in East Setauket between 3 and 5 p.m. on Presidents’ Day found themselves caught in between the country’s most heated debate.

On one side of the road, a large crowd of diverse protesters rallied against President Donald Trump (R) and his policies, holding up signs that read “Trump is toxic to humans” and “Not my President,” and on the other side, a smaller but just as passionate group gathered to support the commander-in-chief, holding signs that read “Liberal Lunacy,” with an arrow pointed toward the group on the other side, and “Pres. Trump Will Make America Great Again.”

“Not My Presidents’ Day” rallies took place across the country including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia, with thousands of Americans taking to the streets to denounce the president, just one month into his term.

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

The main group involved in East Setauket’s rally was the Long Island Activists for Democracy, an offshoot of MoveOn, which, according to its website, is the largest independent, progressive, digitally-connected organizing group in the United States.

Activists for Democracy founder Ruth Ann Cohen, from Lake Grove held a sign that asked “Why Is Not My President Adolf Trump in love with Putin?” She said she started the meetup in an effort to “uphold democracy” and stand up to the president, who she called a traitor.

“He refuses to show his taxes, he’s been monetizing the presidency left and right, he’s denigrated our country, he’s a coward, and a misogynist,” Cohen said.

Referring to those on the other side of the road, she said, “Those people don’t believe in anything, their minds are full of hatred…build a wall? We’re for a free shake for everybody. Everyone here is the child or grandchild of a refugee and they want to pull up the drawbridge and keep everybody out.”

Those on the anti-Trump side voiced their concerns of several issues regarding the 45th president, including his now overturned executive order to ban those from Muslim-majority countries, controversial cabinet nominations and what some called “a rise of fascism in this country.”

“I think there’s a general belief the man [Trump] is not competent to be president and that’s what’s brought all these people out,” Stony Brook resident Craig Evinger said.

Bill McNulty, a Setauket resident and Army veteran who served between 1957 and 1964, said he’s been rallying on behalf of anti-war and anti-violence for decades but with “the coming of Trump, it’s much more than that now.”

“We have to stand in opposition in every way, shape or form,” McNulty said. “With my military background, if I were serving today, I would not obey this commander-in-chief. I would say ‘no.’”

Across the road, American flags waved in the wind and patriotic songs played through a speaker, as members of the North Country Patriots — a military support group formed after the Sept. 11 attacks that meets at the corner every weekend in support of soldiers young and old — stood their ground with signs that read “God Bless American Jobs” and “Trump: Build The Wall.”

The group’s founder, Howard Ross of East Setauket, said he and the group “believe in our country, believe in serving our country and doing the right things for our country.”

Protestors at the Not My President Rally in East Setauket Monday, Feb. 20. Photo by Kevin Redding

Ross said those on the other side of the road remind him of the people who spit on him when he returned home from serving in Europe during the Vietnam War.

“I’m never giving my corner up,” he said. “I love to see that flag fly and those people don’t like that. I’ve never heard Obama in eight years get beat up like the press beats up Trump.”

A Tea Party member in the gathering, who asked not to be named, said he was there to support the current president, adding “the resistance to him is unprecedented everybody’s against him…this is an existential threat to our democracy to not let the man perform his duties.”

Jan Williams from Nesconset, wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat and held up a sign that read “We Support The President, The Constitution, The Rule of Law.”

“We’re here because it’s Presidents’ Day and the election’s over and this is not the way to get anything done, to get the points across,” Williams said. “You’ve got to support the president, the Constitution and rule of law. We’re here to show support, that’s all.”

The anti-Trump side chanted “this is what democracy looks like” and sang “This Land is Your Land,” while the Trump side chanted “Build the wall” and “God bless America.”

Throughout the rally, drivers passing the groups honked their horns and hollered out their window to show support for the side they agreed with.

Free pre-K will replace fee pre-K at Nassakeag in September. Application deadline March 31. Stock Photo

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school district announced last week that it will launch a free prekindergarten program in the fall to replace the current fee-based program housed at Nassakeag Elementary School.

The school board meeting also brought up-to-date news about the tax cap and the district’s STEM program.

Speaking about the new, free prekindergarten program, Jeff Carlson, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, explained that it will remain at Nassakeag. He also said the program will be taught by Three Village teachers and only be open to district residents. For the past two years, Three Village has been partnering with SCOPE Education Services to run a preschool for 4-year-olds at Nassakeag.

Under the new district-only program, there will be 200 spots for 4-year-olds in 10 classes — five in the morning and five in the afternoon. Carlson said both the morning and afternoon sessions will meet for two-and-a-half hours, five days a week. Children must be potty-trained to attend and must turn 4 by Dec. 1, 2017. If there are more applicants than spaces, students will be selected by lottery, Carlson said. The current kindergarten enrollment stands at 339.

While the preschool playground and classrooms are in place, the district would still have to cover the cost of staffing the program.  Carlson estimated it would cost about $450,000 in teaching salaries and benefits. However, because of declining
enrollment in the elementary schools, Three Village would have had to lay off three
elementary school teachers next fall. Now, though, the district will shift three teachers with early childhood education certifications over to the preschool. Two additional teachers will be hired.

The deadline for application is March 31, and the lottery drawing will be held April 21.

The budget

With new numbers in from the state, Three Village has a clearer picture of its finances for the coming school year. With those figures in place, Carlson said the new projected limit on the tax levy increase is 3.40 percent. That is up from an initial projection of 1.46 percent in January.

The baseline for what is commonly referred to as the tax cap is set at 2 percent, or the consumer price index — whichever is lower. In addition, each district’s maximum allowable levy increase is calculated using a formula that includes criteria such as a district’s tax base growth factor, capital projects and bond payments, Carlson said.

Three Village can expect an increase in state aid of about $247,000, based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive budget for 2018. The amount does not include building aid. Last year, the district received a $3.5 million bump because of the end of the Gap Elimination Adjustment — funds taken from school aid packages to assist the state in balancing its budget. The district will not need to cut any programs for budget reasons.

Computer science

With STEM careers growing at a rate of 17 percent — compared to 9.8 percent for other fields — according to a report from the district’s computer science faculty, Three Village students have the opportunity to stay abreast of a rapidly changing field.

Stan Hanscom, a math and computer science teacher at P.J. Gelinas Junior High, said because district students are exposed to coding through the elementary STEM program, the district’s junior high computer classes offer a bridge between early exposure and offerings at the high school. Hanscom’s students learn Scratch and TI Basic for calculators, which introduce code sequencing, trouble-shooting and problem solving.

In grades eight and nine, students focus on logical thinking and learn programming using Python. Ward Melville High School offers AP computer science A, an introductory, college-level course in Java programming. Next year, students will also be able to take AP computer science principles, which focuses less on programming and more on the foundations of programming, with an interdisciplinary approach, said Katelyn Kmiotek, who teaches eighth- and ninth-graders at Gelinas Junior High. She will teach the new course in the fall.

Barbara and Herman Lee with Barbara’s mother Ethel Lewis. Photos from Geral Lee.

By Geral Lee

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is unquestionably synonymous with Black History Month. He courageously confronted social inequities and racism in the midst of an adverse anti-black administration largely due to J. Edgar Hoover who had been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. Few could compete with Hoover’s power and he went virtually unchallenged for half a century.

Hoover opposed making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. His smear campaign attempted to label Dr. King as a communist and a homosexual. He ordered illegal wire taps of Dr. King’s hotel room to try to justify his stance and used the power of government to satisfy his own bigotry toward blacks. Dr. King persevered.

Herman Lee in his Navy days (circa 1941). Photo from Geral Lee

There were many other individuals way before Dr. King who challenged the system in the name of justice. I am certain their actions helped define his political strategies. These people — and God bless them — were not just slaves, demonstrators or rioters.    

I must include Glenn Beck in this article. I am not suggesting he is an authority on black history. As the colorful conservative that he is, his question as to why the many contributions of black people continue to remain hidden from the mainstream is a legitimate one — and yet another reason to celebrate Black History Month.

In one of his tapings, “Glenn Beck Founders’ Fridays Black American Founders” (Fox News), that I listened to on YouTube, he mentioned Peter Salem, a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill who saved scores of American lives. During the Battle of Lexington, white and black parishioners who worshiped together were commanded to fight. James Armistead served as a double spy. And is that Prince Whipple, the black crewman, in the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? I am not so sure because many blacks fought in the American Revolution. Freedom was not an automatic option.       

There have been unsung black heroes making all kinds of contributions throughout American history. The members of the 333rd Battalion, for example. The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of the largest and most successful black businesses in America in the 1870s.   

“Dirty Little Secrets About Black History: Its Heroes & Other Troublemakers” by Claud Anderson reveals that in the late 1800s, blacks invented and filed for patents on a number of transportation-related devices. Andrew J. Beared invented an automatic train car coupler. Albert B. Blackburn invented a railway signal. R.A. Butler invented a train alarm. Although many inventors were fresh out of slavery and the literacy rate among slaves was 50 percent, black inventors filed hundreds of patents for transportation devices. The Safe Bus Company was a black-owned city-chartered bus line in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1930 to the 1960s.   

Black history celebrates regular people engaged in positive activities. Here are some examples:

My father Herman Lee resided at 34 Christian Ave., Setauket, between 1956 and 2011. He was employed at the Setauket yard of the Brookhaven Highway Department in the 1960s and promoted to foreman in the 1970s. He did carpentry/home improvement projects for Three Village homeowners; among his regular clients, the Windrows and the Strongs. In World War II he served on the USS Hornet CV-12. After he became a chaplain for the VFW along with his wife Barbara Lewis Lee who was a practical nurse and historian in her own right. They sent all of their four children to college: Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter.

Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter Lee. Photo from Geral Lee

Uncle Sherwood Lewis was an employee of Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). He came up with an idea that saved the company more than $100,000 a year according to a Newsday article dated April 23, 1977. He, too, was raised on Christian Avenue and now resides in Massachusetts.

Grandmother Ethel Lewis, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, resided at 32 Christian Ave. with her husband Howard Lewis. They subdivided their property so my parents could build their house on Christian Avenue.

Aunt Hazel Lewis, salutatorian of her graduating class, was employed at Peck & Peck in New York City back in the day — a high-end boutique clothing store for women.   

Aunt Pearl Lewis Hart received an associates degree in accounting in her 40s, was promoted to supervisor of the payroll department at SUNY Stony Brook and, until her death last month at age 92, was living in her own home on Christian Avenue.

Uncle Harry Hart, Pearl’s husband, owned his own excavation and contracting business from the 1940s to the 1980s. He acquired land on Christian Avenue and rented to many local folks.   

Remembering a few of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence can help provide the foundation for a healthy society: “Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; attack problems, not people; know and do what is right even when it is difficult.”     

I know there are many individuals who believe in these principles.

Black History Month means different things to different people, but if it can fill in the gaps, identify injustice, encourage positive dialogue and provide a platform for people to work toward understanding one another, it is a valuable ongoing process.

Geral Lee returned to her Setauket home in 2013 to be with her father after living in Rhode Island for 12 years. She taught physical education and health in Hempstead early in her career and received a personal invitation from her primary school coach Jack Foley, who later became athletic director for Three Village schools, to teach at Ward Melville. She served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, loves dogs and cats and currently relieves stress as a reflexologist.

The Dalys smile looking back on 60 years of marriage

Bill and Angie Daly with their wedding photo. Photo by Donna Newman

Angie and Bill Daly are months away from celebrating 60 years of married bliss. Well, maybe it wasn’t all bliss, Angie said, but they must know how marriage survives, because they are still happily together.

The two met at a church dance in Brooklyn in 1956. Angie’s brother Vin knew Bill from their days together at the Vincentian seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. So when they encountered each other at the coat check, Bill noticed Vin’s armful of coats.

“Where’re you going with all those coats?” Bill asked. To which Vin explained he brought seven girls to the dance. “I said, you’re just the guy I want to talk to.”

Angie was the first girl he asked to dance.

“I was attracted to guys who were fair with blue eyes,” Angie said. “It was those blue eyes. And I thought he was suave.”

At the end of the evening, Bill asked Angie if he could drive her home.

“I thought everything about her was terrific,” Bill said. “She was so bright and cheerful and outgoing — and cute.”

She said yes, but only if some of the other girls could come along. So they piled into his yellow Olds 98 convertible and on the way home, the car broke down.

“It just died,” Angie said. They were alongside a big cemetery. It was around midnight; no houses or stores were nearby. It started to snow. Angie and Bill left the others in the car and went to find help.

They finally reached some stores, but only the bar and grill was open. They went in and called Vin, who had been home for some time, got dressed, picked them up, drove all the girls home and dropped Bill off at the train station.

“So the first night we met, we had problems,” Angie said.

They got engaged in 1957, married in 1958, and the babies started coming in 1959. By 1969, the couple had four sons and two daughters. Bill taught algebra and business at John Adams High School in Queens. The family lived in Brentwood. He moved into sales with State Farm insurance company and operated his own agency for 28 years. The pair moved to Smithtown, where they resided for 25 years before moving to Jefferson’s Ferry in South Setauket a little more than four years ago.

They still enjoy spending time together.

“We have a lot in common: walking, dancing, visiting friends. We’re on the same page,” Angie said, as she turned to Bill to says “Is that a good answer?”

“Yes,” he replied, adding, “listening to a little music … we try to outdo each other in kindness.”

Asked what she thought were the main factors in a good marriage, Angie said she thought that having animals helped a lot.

“Our loving, therapeutic animals kept us together,” she said, adding that she believes they had a calming influence and can reset your feelings when emotions occasionally get out of hand.

And, of course, there is their faith.

“I remember in elementary school the nuns saying ‘marriage is not just a man and a woman. It’s God, man and woman,’” she said. “And I think we both felt that. We always forgave.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He also gave advice to pet owners in the area.

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

Ingram said he was devastated by the loss.

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

Additional reporting by Kevin Redding.

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