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Ward Melville Heritage Organization

Photo by Richard Rocchio

Learn the importance and fragility of a wetlands ecosystem, enjoy the beauty of a salt marsh moraine and be amazed at the untouched beauty of Long Island’s North Shore this summer aboard the Discovery Wetlands Cruises beginning May 16.

 The Ward Melville Heritage Organization has been offering wetlands cruises since 1995 aboard its 27-passenger pontoon boat, carrying guests from the calm waters of Stony Brook Harbor into the wetlands at West Meadow Creek.

 A naturalist is on board to guide passengers through this exceptional experience embracing ecology, geology and history, including information on how Native Americans first settled in the area. Adventurers and sightseers are encouraged to bring their binoculars for a close-up view of plant and animal life and their cameras to preserve cruise memories. Special Photography Cruises are also offered on board with an expert from Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions discussing techniques to capture the best landscape and wildlife images on the water.

Cruises leave from Stony Brook Marine Services parking lot at 51 Shore Road in Stony Brook, across from The Three Village Inn, and run through Oct. 31. Individual rates are $28 for adults, $25 for students and seniors and $18 for children under 6. Photography cruises are $50 per person. Reservations are suggested to secure your spot but walk-ons are accepted, with cash payment at the boat, when space is available. For additional information or to make a reservation, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

Stony Brook Grist Mill

The Stony Brook Grist Mill, circa 1751, 100 Harbor Road, Stony Brook opens for the season on Saturday, April 13 and will be open weekends from noon to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 31.

Long Island’s most completely equipped working mill, it is listed on the National and New York State Register of Historic Places. Visit the Country Store and watch the only female miller in the U.S. grind grain into flour just as it was done during the Revolutionary War.

Admission is $2 adults, $1 children 12 and under. For additional info, call 631-751-2244.

Photo from WMHO

BEST BAKER IN THE LAND

Congratulations to Priscilla Kirch of Hauppauge, the winner of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s first Irish Soda Bread competition. Held during the St. Patrick’s Day celebration at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook on March 3, the contest drew eight delicious entries. Above right, Kirch receives her prize, a $150 gift certificate to the shops and restaurants at the Stony Brook Village Center from Kristin Shea, the director of the Educational & Cultural Center.  

By Rita J. Egan

When the weather outside is chilly, a night out on the town is better when it’s celebrated inside. With this in mind, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization will hold A “Taste” of Stony Brook Village … Ladies Night In on Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center.

The event, which will benefit breast cancer research at Stony Brook Medicine, will feature a fashion show celebrating Chico’s 25th anniversary in Stony Brook Village Center, according to Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO. The clothing chain’s Stony Brook location was the first Chico’s to open in New York.

Shelagh Stoneham, senior vice president of Chico’s marketing, said in an email that boutique associates, store managers and the district sales manager would be in attendance Feb. 26.

Roberta Fabiano

“Chico’s is thrilled to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Stony Brook location at the upcoming A ‘Taste’ of Stony Brook Village event,” Stoneham said. “The support for Chico’s in local communities like Stony Brook is both remarkable and critical to the longevity of our brand. We look forward to celebrating with all of the friends we’ve made over the last 25 years.”

Helene Obey, Chico’s multi-unit general store manager, who leads the Stony Brook and Southampton stores, said she’s been working at the village location for more than a year. Obey said she loves hearing about the location’s history from former Stony Brook employee Jennifer Vasta, who is now a general store manager in Merrick, including how the staff opened the boutique 25 years ago during a blizzard.

She said the idea of holding a fashion show with vintage and new clothing came up during a casual chat with Rocchio and her husband, Richard. “It ended up being very organic, and then all of a sudden turned out to be this really large event which we’re so excited about,” Obey said.

She said finding past outfits was easy as many longtime employees have held on to special pieces, and Chico’s Stony Brook team and former employees will participate in the fashion show. The day of the event, the store will offer refreshments, free gifts, raffles and will have a wheel that will be spun every half hour where winners will receive gift certificates from community businesses.

Rocchio, who will be wearing a vintage outfit, said the event is all about being interactive and the goal is to raise $5,000 for breast cancer research. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy food samples, demonstrations, raffles, giveaways and raffle baskets. There will be ’90-themed music; Roberta Fabiano, who has performed worldwide, will sing; and dancers from Roseland School of Dance will teach attendees how to dance the macarena. Virtual reality equipment will also be available.

The Three Village Inn, Sweet Mama’s, the Country House, Pentimento’s, Fratelli’s Italian Eatery, Robinson’s Tea Room, Crazy Beans, Brew Cheese and The Crushed Olive will have representatives on hand with food samplings including mac and cheese, hors d’oeuvres, scones, veggie wraps and more. Chocolate Works will present a seven-tiered display of chocolate samples, and Blue Salon & Spa will have a minispa, minimakeup demos and a raffle for a free cut and blowout.

Admission for the Feb. 26 event is $35 per person. The WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center is located at 97P Main St. in the rear of the Stony Brook Village Center. Reservations are required and can be made via PayPal at www.stonybrookvillage.com/tsbv/ or by calling 631-689-5888.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, above, sits in her office in Stony Brook Village Center.

By Donna Deedy

An old, darkened portrait of George Washington hangs on the wood-paneled wall behind her desk. Abraham Lincoln’s words are inscribed on an office vestibule plaque. She fills a seat once occupied by philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville. She’s Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization. And for the last 38 years, she’s been successful at a job that she never imagined for herself.

“It’s impossible to describe all that we do here in one sentence,” she said.

Gloria Rocchio plans cultural events with staff members Kim Hernandez, Gabrielle Lindau, Anna Macukas and Patricia Dilucca.

As a landlord, Rocchio oversees the Stony Brook Village Center and 41 other commercial and residential properties in the Three Village area. She’s on constant lookout for good tenants. Her ultimate goal, however, is community enrichment. With a background in Long Island tourism, she and her staff of 12 develop educational and cultural events related to history, science and the arts.

It’s all part of the Melvilles’ legacy. The affluent discount shoe retailer and his wife ushered in an enterprising plan in the post-Depression era to create a socially viable business district with a nearby university at the headwaters of Stony Brook Harbor. Originally called the Stony Brook Community Fund (founded in 1939 and renamed The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1969), its mission celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019.

“People may not realize it, but Rocchio took on an organization that was not in the best fiscal condition and with the board turned it around to resurrect a community,” said Dr. Richard Rugen, the organization’s chairman of the board. “She’s been able to draw in big names and corporations, and our endowment has improved tremendously.”

Its net assets today are valued at $37 million, state filings show, up from a reported $2 million in 1980. Thanks to rental revenue, the company reportedly contributed $626,000 last year to the tax roll.

With an improved bottom-line, its programs now touch many lives.

The nonprofit business offers $l-a-year leases to three charitable organizations: The Long Island Museum, The Jazz Loft and Lending Aids for the Sick. Some of the region’s most celebrated chefs cook at the Three Village Inn and the Country House Restaurant, also part of the group’s holdings.

“We see familiar faces, business travelers and many new people in our dining rooms, and it’s all very rewarding,” said French chef Guy Reuge, who relocated his Mirabelle Restaurant to Stony Brook hamlet 10 years ago.

The organization’s programs on the Underground Railroad and the Culper Spy Ring have earned national acclaim. Performances at its historic sites reach virtual audiences near and far — from schools in Setauket to classrooms in Louisiana, Quebec and Panama. A new event in 2019 entitled The Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War will showcase the unsung stories of four women involved in George Washington’s spy ring.

When Rocchio sees a social concern, she said she looks for people who can take it on.

Stony Brook University is co-sponsor for an annual walk/run that has raised to date more than $1.4 million for breast cancer research. Its Youth Corp initiated last summer a farm-to-table event that fed the needy.

To promote regional tourism, Rocchio in 2017 recruited support from elected officials to designate Route 25A from Great Neck to Port Jefferson as a national historic trail. The roadway is now prominently marked Washington Spy Trail on 26 brown stagecoach signage.

Overall, an estimated 18,000 people of all ages attend each year more than 70 sponsored events in the village of Stony Brook. Activities range from summer concerts, wetland cruises and kayak rentals to luncheon theater and cultural seminars. December’s tree lighting ceremony culminated the year’s events

Rocchio lives in town with her husband of 43 years, Richard, and their shih tzu Muffin. Residents since 1977, she’s often greeted with warm hellos and suggestions as she walks through the village.

“It’s a 9 to 5 job with 24/7 responsibilities,” she said as she encountered a jammed door in need of immediate repair at the old post office.

“I suppose Lincoln’s words sum it all up,” Rocchio said, trying to explain her organization’s purpose. Ward Melville, she said, made sure Lincoln’s quote was prominently displayed throughout the village: “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.”

All photos by Donna Deedy

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Deborah Boudreau, WMHO’s education manager, center, with Troop 2907. Photo from WMHO

STONY BROOK: Girl Scout Troop 2907 of Setauket was recently given a Bronze award by Girl Scouts of America for their creation of a hydrologic model, the water cycle at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Ernst Marine Conservation Center at West Meadow Creek. 

Using all recycled materials, their creation demonstrates the movement of water from Earth’s surface to the atmosphere and back again, providing living organisms with the water they need to survive. Troop leaders were Gina Gamez and Lorri Saverese.  

To educate the public about the importance of protecting our water resources, the model will be used in WMHO’s educational programs including The Coastal Ecology Program, Electronic Explorations:  The Salt Marsh Ecosystem and Summer of Science. 

For full information on these on-site and distance learning programs call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

WMHO to host 6th annual talent show contest

Attention Long Island students! Can you carry a tune? Or is a musical instrument your specialty? If so, get your audition DVD or YouTube video submitted now for Long Island’s Got Talent 2018, hosted by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO). Created by WMHO’s Youth Corps, the event gives Long Island students the opportunity to showcase their talents this spring.

The competition is open to students 10 to 17 years of age in Nassau or Suffolk County who must still be in high school at the time final awards are given in October of this year. Talent must be non-professional vocal or musical instrument performances. The entry deadline is April 6 and there is a $25 entry fee. Those who are contacted after submitting their audition will be asked to perform at the first round competition on Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. at WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main Street in the Stony Brook Village Center. Finalists chosen will also be given the opportunity to perform at WMHO’s Sunday Summer Concerts series in July and August.

For full details and Official Entry Form, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.stonybrookvillage.com/what-to-do-events/.

Olivia Newton-John
Celebrating the lives of Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John

By Ed Blair

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona. “They were polar opposites in fashion style, song content and personality,” said Sal St. George, longtime creator of productions chronicling the lives of popular stars of the past and present. “And yet,” he continued, “Olivia and Linda had very similar beginnings and successes.”

Thus the reason that St. George has paired the two iconic songstresses in a Living History Production titled Tribute: Linda Ronstadt & Olivia Newton-John, a heartwarming holiday show that will run from Nov. 19 through Jan. 10 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village.

“Country, pop, opera, rock, Broadway — they successfully conquered all music genres and became music legends,” he added. The celebration of the lives of the two internationally famous singers focuses on their incredible stories, and audiences will thrill once again to their classic songs.

The show’s motif will be familiar to St. George fans. “The program will follow the same format as in the past,” he explained, “except we have two of the most popular singers of the seventies as our stars. We are in the year 1978. Olivia is riding high with the success of ‘Grease.’ Linda is astounding New York audiences in ‘The Pirates of Penzance.’ Both shows will be discussed in the program, and, along with the songs of the stars, seventies’ fashions will be highlighted.”

Linda Ronstadt’s singing career was quite diversified. Beginning with her work as lead vocalist for the folk-rock group Stone Poneys in the mid-1960s (“Different Drum” scored high on the ratings charts), Ronstadt pursued country, alt-country, country rock, pop rock, Latin and classic jazz genres. Along the way, she put together the band that became the Eagles, won a dozen Grammy Awards and was christened the “Queen of Country Rock.”

By the mid-1970s, Ronstadt’s image became just as famous as her music. In 1976, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was also featured on a TIME magazine cover in 1977. She was the top-selling female vocalist of the 1970s and produced a succession of platinum albums on into the ’80s. Ronstadt’s popularity continued into the ’90s, and beyond.

In a 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, Ronstadt announced her retirement and sadly, in August 2013, she revealed to AARP that she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, saying “I can no longer sing at all.” In an April 2016 interview, Ronstadt is quoted as saying, “I can’t sing anymore. That’s that. I can still sing in my brain but I can’t sing. It’s just the way it is. If you’re going to have Parkinson’s you’d better have a sense of humor.”

Actress Emily Tafur, who portrays Ronstadt in the WMHO production, noted, “I feel challenged and appreciated and honored to be portraying one of the great music legends of our time.”

Olivia Newton-John was known in the UK and Australia for her performances on television and in clubs, but her fame grew further when she came to the United States. Her hit recording “I Honestly Love You” (1974 Record of the Year) garnered a Grammy Award, and more successful albums followed. Newton-John really rocketed to international stardom, however, for her role in the 1978 film “Grease,” in which she co-starred with John Travolta.

Although she received another Grammy in 1981 for her hit, “Let’s Get Physical,” Newton-John’s musical career waned somewhat in the 1980s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and underwent a partial mastectomy. She has since donated portions of the proceeds of her appearances to cancer research and has recorded songs she designed to provide hope and courage to cancer patients and their families. Continuing her advocacy, Newton-John organized a charity walk along the Great Wall of China with other cancer survivors to raise funds to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne. During the past year, the singer learned that the cancer had returned, and she is currently undergoing treatment.

Cierra Ervin, who portrays Olivia Newton-John, offered these comments: “This is a daunting and exciting experience! To portray such an identifiable entertainer has been a dream come true. We think audiences will have a wonderful holiday experience at the show.”

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present Tribute: Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on the following dates: Nov. 19, 25, 26, 29 and 30; Dec. 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20 and 21; and Jan. 3, 4, 6, 7 and 10.

Partially sponsored by the Roosevelt Investment Group, admission is $48 adults, $45 seniors and children under 15 and $40 groups of 20 or more. Performances are followed by a luncheon, tea and dessert. Reservations must be made in advance by calling 631-689-5888. For more information, visit www.wmho.org.

This post was updated Nov. 17 to correct pricing for seniors and children.

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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization presented its 27th annual Halloween festival at the Stony Brook Village Center Oct. 31. Children were able to trick or treat from shop to shop, enjoy pumpkin painting, games and crafts.

OUR REVOLUTIONARY STORY The weather cooperated as the community came out in droves for the 3rd annual Culper Spy Day on Sept. 16. Ticket holders were able to visit 15 locations in the Three Village and Port Jefferson area and learned how people lived during the Revolutionary War with blacksmithing and colonial cooking demonstrations, and about the infamous Culper Spy Ring which originated from Setauket. Historic churches and the oldest home in Brookhaven, the Brewster House, opened their doors to tours on this rare occasion.

All photos by Greg Catalano

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