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'Sicilian Blue' by Stan Brodsky

By Tara Mae

Bold colors, rich compositions, lush imagery. Gallery North invites individuals to immerse themselves in the resplendent renderings and impactful art by late contemporary artist Stan Brodsky with Recastings: Stan Brodsky, a memorial retrospective on view from Aug. 11 to Sept. 18. An opening reception will be held on Aug. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. 

“Stan is a very influential artist to many artists practicing right now in our area. We felt it was important to show his work, keep it being viewed by the public and continuing to influence other artists. He has a great collection of work that is still available. The work itself is timeless and it’s important for it to be out there,” said Curator Kate Schwarting. 

‘Edge of Summer’ by Stan Brodsky

Brodsky, who died in 2019 at the age of 94, was an artist and educator based out of Huntington. Recastings, the third solo exhibit at Gallery North of the artist’s work, is a cultivated exploration of Brodsky’s more abstract art. 

Through his 75 year career, Brodsky created both representational and abstract art. The 1960s and 1970s were mainly periods of representational art, but by the 1980s, Brodsky was incorporating different texture, tones, and styles — developing the abstract techniques he would continue to cultivate for the next 40 years. 

Recastings primarily highlights the pieces he created during this era. The exhibit includes approximately 15 oil on canvas paintings of various sizes as well as large framed works on paper, unframed works on paper, oil on paper, and mixed media pieces, reflecting three hallmarks of his career: a powerful command of color, a profound connection to nature, and the support he provided to other artists. 

Color is a dynamic and defining character in Brodsky’s art, recognized by each individual interviewed for this article, while nature is a recurrent catalyst and muse.

“Stan Brodsky was renowned for his use of color. One critic called his colors ‘unnameable.’ The paintings change with the light, and so provide endless fascination,” Jeanne Hewitt, Brodsky’s widow and Trustee of the Stan Brodsky Trust, said.  

‘Sun and Soil’ by Stan Brodsky

The artist’s distinct use of color showcases the power of his brushstrokes and indicates the impression of the natural world on his work. According to Schwarting, these traits allow a larger audience to relate to Brodsky’s art and are part of what drew her and Gallery North’s Executive Director Ned Puchner to the art that they chose to display. 

“There are all different ways to connect with [Brodsky’s] work His use of color is really incredible —  the color just vibrates, it is so vibrant and electric; his inspiration from nature; and his mark making is exquisite. There are so many details in his pieces, the push and pull, the layering, each one is very complex,” Schwarting said. 

The exhibit is the continuation of a nearly 50 year relationship between Brodsky/his estate and Gallery North. Brodsky exhibited his work nationally and internationally but always maintained and nurtured his ties to the local artistic community of Long Island, including acting as teacher and mentor to many working artists in the area. 

“He encouraged and taught other artists up until a few months before his death…Stan was beloved for the encouragement he offered to other artists, and for the help he offered,” Hewitt said.   

Delving into Brodsky’s imprint on artists, “Stan Clan: Discussion on Brodsky’s Influence,” a panel talk with six of Brodsky’s former students reflecting on how he affected their creative development, will be held on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. 

When asked about this event, Puchner said he was most looking forward to the stories about Brodsky and his philosophy.  

“It seems like he was such a charismatic, emotional person. When watching some of the videos of his previous talks, you see he was not afraid to talk about things like love and the more heightened emotional aspects of the creative process. What elements of his creative process have been picked up by the next generation of his students? How that was imparted to his students and how they and whether they continue to do that themselves will be really interesting,” he added. 

Artist Doug Reina, who recently had a solo exhibit at Gallery North and will be one of the guests at the panel discussion, views Brodsky’s roles as artist and educator to be lasting gifts. “For those who know and appreciate his work, Stan Brodsky will always be remembered as a great painter who combined gorgeous colors, shapes, and compositions in a truly unique way,” he said. “For those lucky to have been his students, he will be remembered for his deep knowledge of painting that he always shared so generously. Perhaps the most important part of his legacy is how he helped so many artists grow, to take chances, to push beyond their limits.”

Reina will be joined at the discussion by fellow artists Susan Rostan, Peter Galasso, Marceil Kazickas, Ellen Hallie Schiff, and Alicia R. Peterson, each of whom studied and/or worked with Brodsky. 

As a complement to the exhibit, on August 24 at 6 p.m., Art of NYC and Long Island, in conjunction with Brodsky’s estate, will provide a presentation at the gallery about art conservation techniques: identifying and treating condition issues in paintings, works on paper, and also sculptures. The exhibit, panel discussion, reception, and presentation are free and open to the public. A photo catalogue with a short essay about Brodsky and his art will be available to visitors. 

Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket, is open Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. Recastings: Stan Brodsky is sponsored by Nancy Goroff, Jefferson’s Ferry, bid Architecture, and Suffolk County’s Department of Economic Development and Planning. For more information, call 631-751-2676 or visit www.gallerynorth.org.

Observing Dogwood Hollow documents at East Hampton Libarry, from left, Deborah Boudreau, WMHO Education Director; Mayra Scanlon, East Hampton Library Archivist Librarian; Andrea Meyer, East Hampton Library Archivist Librarian, Collection Chair; and Sean Brass, WMHO's Young Gardiner Scholar, funded by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation. Photo from WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) has announced the digitization of over 500 records of Dogwood Hollow and the development of Stony Brook Village Center in conjunction with the East Hampton Library’s Long Island Collection. These records are available to the public free of charge on a “next generation” interactive platform. The archives can be found online on the East Hampton Library website, easthamptonlibrary.org.

In November of 2021, East Hampton Library announced a new virtual research platform for their Long Island Collection. The research platform was customized for the East Hampton Library, which is the first public library to use this next generation digital archives software, called TIND. 

Ward Melville at Stony Brook Village Center’s Harbor Crescent in the 1950s. Photo from WMHO

Unlike other archive platforms being used in New York State, this digital archive is entirely interactive—contributor accounts can be created, higher resolution images can be downloaded and links are embedded to enable viewers to comment and share archived items on social media platforms. To learn more about Digital Long Island, the East Hampton Library’s new digitization platform, visit their website at digitallongisland.org.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) was created in 1939 by businessman and philanthropist Ward Melville. Ward Melville was President of the Melville Corporation—the third largest retailer in the country at that time. WMHO owns and manages historic and environmental properties deeded to the organization by Ward Melville. These properties include Stony Brook Village Center, Thompson House (c. 1709), the Brewster House (c. 1665), the Stony Brook Grist Mill (c. 1751), the Erwin Ernst Marine Conservation Center and the 88-acre wetlands preserve at West Meadow.

The WMHO archives on this platform include the creation of Stony Brook Village Center and Dogwood Hollow. Considered the first business community in the United States, Stony Brook Village Center was created in 1941 by Ward Melville. In addition, in honor of his mother, Jennie, who loved dogwood trees, Ward Melville created Dogwood Hollow, a 2,000 plus seat amphitheater in Stony Brook Village that hosted greats such as Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and over 100 other musicians. 

Other subjects that will be digitized are Mr. Melville’s history of bringing Stony Brook University to Stony Brook, the creation of the Long Island Museum campus, the restoration of historic properties, the housing developments built by Ward Melville, the creation of the West Meadow Preserve, and the creation of the Three Village School District and its buildings. To learn more about the WMHO, visit wmho.org.

Maria Hoffman, above center, receives a proclamation from the Town of Brookhaven from Supervisor Ed Romaine, left, and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich at the Three Village Community Trust gala last year. Below, Maria spending time on the water. Photo by Patricia Paladines

The Three Village community is mourning the passing of Maria Hoffman, who was chief of staff to New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright for nearly three decades.

Maria Hoffman enjoys some time on the water. Photo from George Hoffman

According to her husband, George Hoffman, the Setauket resident died April 29 of metastatic breast cancer, which she bravely battled on and off since being first diagnosed in 2010.

Maria and George married in 2009 in Frank Melville Memorial Park. It was the second marriage for both. “When Maria and I married, I moved to Setauket from the South Shore,” he said. “She was Assemblyman Englebright’s chief of staff and had an extensive network of friends and colleagues. She loved the Three Village community and was involved with every aspect of it. I always tell people that she gave me an express ticket to the front of the line with all of the leaders of the Three Village community.” 

In a November 2019 Village Times Herald article, Maria shared advice for a successful relationship: “We also make time for things that are important, whether it’s walking or in the summertime boating — being on a sailboat. We make time to balance all the busyness.”

Born on Oct. 14, 1958, Maria was a 40-year resident of the Three Village community. A graduate of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she received a Human Ecology degree, Maria was familiar with busyness. In addition to being Englebright’s chief of staff, she was also an avid photographer of landscapes and wildlife, a writer, beekeeper, birder, sailor, naturalist, a co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and a lover of wolves, whales, elephants and bees.

She was an illustrator of field guides on seashores, wetlands and woodlands. In a collaborative effort with Stony Brook University’s Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences, her illustrations can be seen in “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Woodlands,” “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Freshwater Wetlands” and “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Seashore.”

Maria was also a wonderful, helpful friend and frequent contributor to The Village Times Herald. Whenever a reporter was unavailable to cover a local event that she attended, she would always be willing to send in her own photos. Her nature photography also appeared in the Arts & Lifestyle section of TBR News Media papers.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, left, and Maria Hoffman, center. Photo by Patricia Paladines

Colleagues and friends honor Maria

Englebright and Maria’s working relationship goes back to when he was director of the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences in the 1960s. He secured a state grant to develop a water resources curriculum for Long Island schools, he said, and Maria interviewed for a position to help develop the curriculum. Englebright said she was a standout due to her photography, illustrating and writing skills. Once the project was completed Maria continued to work with the museum and Englebright. For the museum, she illustrated public education pamphlets, booklets and newsletters and also would write.

“I had the great, good fortune of being able to hire her, and I was able to retain her,” he said. “She was extraordinarily productive in public service in the preelected office capacity, too.”

Maria continued to work with Englebright when he became county legislator and then assemblyman, and he said even though she wasn’t originally from the Three Village area she made a point to learn about the community when he was running for legislator.

“She began to realize what a wonderful part of Long Island we live in, and she really enjoyed learning about the legislative reach of the office, and it opened a new vista of capability of serving,” he said.

Englebright added that Maria’s skills were based “on how she cared for everyone she met.” He said he will miss how genuine she was, and that many related to her which enhanced everything his office was involved in.

“It’s not possible to replace her,” he said. “Certainly, we can continue to do the work that she invested so much of her life into, as long as we remember and honor the work that she has done.” 

Laurie Vetere, chair of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, described Maria as “an integral and founding member” of the task force, along with George.

“She loved taking pictures of the harbor and its marine life and waterfowl which were compiled into our annual calendar that we gave as a thank-you to our donors,” she said. “Her photography was stunning. She also loved going out on the water at daybreak to do the water testing that we do for Save the Sound, and she would spend hours the night before calibrating the scientific equipment that we utilized. She was one of our most ardent volunteers and she was an activist who lived her life trying to protect the environment both locally and around the world.”

In November, Three Village Community Trust honored Maria at its annual Fall Fundraising Gala at the Old Field Club. TVCT recognized her contributions as an artist, photographer and naturalist, and called her “everybody’s best friend.”

TVCT president Herb Mones said Maria touched countless people during her lifetime

“It was heartwarming to see so many people come together on that evening to honor Maria,” Mones said of the gala. “It was a who’s who of elected officials, community leaders, friends and neighbors that praised Maria as a unique figure in guiding, directing and helping in ‘all things Three Villages.’ Maria never wanted the spotlight on herself — but, thankfully on that night, Maria lit up the room. She was involved in everything and anything that touched our community — historical preservation, open space protection, environmental issues. There was no issue too large or small that Maria wasn’t part of — and always with a smile on her face. Her involvement was done with a quiet style and grace, and while her voice was soft and light — her influence was great. Anyone who enjoys West Meadow Beach, the Greenway, the cultural, historical and art institutions in the area — they all need to give thanks to Maria’s legacy.”

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich also commented on Maria’s influence on the community. 

“She was a beautiful and gentle person, humble and kind and wise and funny, and her life touched so many in the community who were lucky enough to know her,” he said. “She gathered beauty through her eyes and through the lens of her camera, and shared kindness and compassion to everyone she met. Although she has taken her last breath in this world, her warmth remains. Goodbye, Maria — you are loved, and you will be missed.”

Patricia Paladines, naturalist and environmentalist, said sometimes, while Maria was waiting for treatment at Sloan Kettering, she would text her photos of fish swimming around the waiting room fish tank. Paladines described her as “a beautiful sprite, friend to all.”

Photo by Robert Reuter

She said she had texted Maria after the TVCT gala: “Thank you for all you have preserved in this community because you were sensitive to its beauty and historical importance. Sleep well dear friend knowing you are loved and appreciated by so many.” 

“I repeat now, ‘Sleep well dear friend knowing you are loved and appreciated by so many.’” 

Paladines’ husband, Carl Safina, author and environmentalist, also remembered Maria fondly.

“In the forty-plus years that I knew Maria, she was always devoted to helping other people do their best work in the world,” he said. “She never wanted the credit that was due her. But a lot of good work by many people would not have been as good if Maria hadn’t laid the foundation and built the frame.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn remembered Maria for her community as well as worldly contributions.

“In spirit, Maria was a photographer, who intently focused on capturing the essence of a moment while ensuring her presence wasn’t a distraction from it,” she said. “In life, Maria was a humble leader who embraced the approach she used behind the camera throughout her professional career to serve her neighbors and improve our community. Maria’s compassion for all creatures from the bees, which she tended, to the advocacy for the protection of elephants and elimination of big game hunting in Africa. She approached all things with a quiet tenacity and gentle hand. Maria will leave a legacy of friendship and generosity that will be cherished by all those whose lives she touched.”

An outdoor gathering for Maria’s friends and colleagues is being planned for Saturday, May 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Three Village Community Trust grounds at The Bruce House, 148 Main St., Setauket. Attendees are welcome to share their stories about Maria.

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Nick Wolber surroundedd by friends at the first Support The Kid Founder’s Event fundraiser before he passed away from cancer. Photo from Anna Wolber

Before Nicholas Wolber passed away, he had a major goal — to create a nonprofit that would help children and their families who are experiencing the stresses of cancer. 

Wolber was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma — a rare form of soft tissue childhood cancer — in December 2005 at the age of 22. 

After going through chemotherapy and radiation he lived his life for almost five years cancer free, unfortunately returning in his chest with a fatal diagnosis. 

But according to his mother, Anna, Nick knew he wanted to create an organization that would help the children he met while staying at Cohen’s Children’s Hospital. 

“He was always in the children’s ward,” she said. “He was the big brother and loved the kids there.”

Anna said that before he died, he raised money, planned and got everything together to establish “Support The Kid,” a completely volunteer-based nonprofit where money goes directly to families in need. 

“He wanted the money to go directly to the families,” she said. “They can use it for travel or whatever is not covered by insurance … We know what they’re going through.”

Wolber passed surrounded by loved ones in 2011 at the age of 28, but luckily was able to see the organization come to fruition officially in 2010.

The first year, they hosted what would become an annual fundraiser where people could gather, eat, drink and buy raffle tickets for different baskets. 

“He was there at the first one,” Anna said. “It was good — He got to see it and he knew everything was going to be okay.”

The 11th annual Support The Kid Founder’s Event fundraiser will be held this week on Thursday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. People are welcomed at Miller’s Ale House in Lake Grove to raise funds and help those suffering from cancer. 

According to Support The Kid, since its inception, the nonprofit has donated over $700,000 to more than 180 children across the country. Originally founded here in Port Jefferson Station, they now have teams in New York, California, Oklahoma and Texas spreading the word. 

Thursday’s event will be the first fundraiser in-person for the group since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Anna said that she knows her son is looking down smiling at what his family has accomplished in his name for others. 

“I think he’s very happy,” she said. 

JoJo LaRosa, #18, takes to the field with his fellow Ward Melville High School lacrosse players in 2017. That year, the lacrosse team won the state championship. Photo by John Dielman

The memory of a young man from Stony Brook has inspired a lacrosse jamboree that will raise money for scholarships for Ward Melville High School student-athletes.

Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa

Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa graduated from WMHS in 2017 and left behind an impressive sports legacy, and in the few years after high school, he taught the community about courage.

This past August, LaRosa died after a battle with the cancer desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma. The form of cancer started soon after he graduated from WMHS. While he had beaten DSRCT,  before his passing, LaRosa went in to have surgery that would have involved a full abdominal transplant due to complications caused by radiation treatment he had received. He didn’t survive the surgery.

David Ratner, whose son Dylan has been friends with LaRosa since early elementary school, is part of a five-person committee that is organizing the JoJo Strong Jamboree that will take place Saturday, Nov. 27, at the high school. The proceeds from the benefit lacrosse tournament will go toward the Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Memorial Scholarship Foundation at WMHS. The goal is to assist scholar-athletes for years to come, according to Ratner.

Lacrosse was chosen for the benefit as LaRosa was part of the 2017 state champion lacrosse team at WMHS. The day will include a tournament and clinic for young athletes as well as Ward Melville alumni competing against teams from Adelphi University and Smithtown. The day also will include an “Old Skool” men’s tournament and fastest shot competition.

Ratner said the relationship that he, his wife Julie and son had with LaRosa and has with his mom Gina Mastrantoni could be described as unbreakable ever since the two moved around the corner from the family.

“He basically lived in my house for the last 17 years, so he was almost like my adopted son,” Ratner said.

For a while, Ratner’s son played lacrosse with LaRosa, until Dylan Ratner switched to tennis. The boys used to play lacrosse on the family’s driveway and street, too.

“The neighborhood was a field of dreams for these kids,” the father said. “They would run around and play in the dark, and it was like the old times.”

In addition to lacrosse, LaRosa was a kicker for Patriots football after playing soccer for years. Ratner described LaRosa as a great sportsman.

“It was really a great role for him, and it really showed his leadership character,” Ratner said. “You can win or lose a game based upon your one kick and nothing got him down — nothing would faze him.”

Mastrantoni said her son’s first word was “ball.”

“He tried every single sport there was to try,” the mother said, adding in addition to lacrosse, football and soccer there was swimming and wrestling.

She said after he started treatment he took up golf, and it became his passion.

“You name the sport he tried it,” she said. “This kid was all about sports and competing, and as much as he’d love to win, he was a good sportsman as well. He was very kind and respectful. The best kind of kid and a very good son, very caring.”

After graduating from Ward Melville in 2017, LaRosa headed to Adelphi University on a scholarship. Ratner said during Christmas break that year, the college student felt stomach pain and went to Stony Brook University Hospital. It was determined he had some type of cancer, even though it couldn’t be ascertained what type at the time. After various tests between the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan Kettering in Manhattan, he was diagnosed with the deadly cancer.

Ratner said LaRosa always stayed positive and talked about future plans, including one day getting married and having a family.

“He was ready to get back to his life,” Ratner said.

“He did not entertain sadness because he thought of it as negativity.” 

Gina Mastrantoni

His mother said he also considered going into health care and contemplated becoming a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

“He did not entertain sadness because he thought of it as negativity,” she said.

The mother added that he had hoped to go to Adelphi for another semester and then go to James Madison to be part of its football team as a kicker.

This will be the first lacrosse tournament that the committee hopes to make an annual event to help students, according to Ratner. He said fundraisers were held in the past to support LaRosa and his family during his battle, and the support from the community as well as all over Long Island was tremendous.

Mastrantoni said the tournament is exciting, and she plans to attend. She has been touched by the support of family and friends as well as the community.

“It’s amazing how many people he touched in the last 22 years,” the mother said.

From being on the traveling lacrosse team, LaRosa’s life also touched many in rival school districts, including Smithtown, and former members of the town’s traveling team will be at the tournament to play.

“They’re coming out to show solidarity,” Ratner said.

He added members of the Three Village school district and board of ed have been helpful in making the event happen. Kevin Finnerty, school district executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics, said his heart broke for the former student-athlete’s family and friends when he heard of LaRosa’s passing a few months ago. The decision to have the event at the school, he said, was an easy one.

“JoJo was an amazing student-athlete with a heart of gold and a great perspective on life,” Finnerty said. “As his family would say, he was the bravest warrior. During JoJo’s battle with cancer, he inspired so many of his peers, family members and the community with his strength, resiliency and positive attitude.”

Finnerty said the organizers have been putting a lot of work and effort into the event.

“I know it will be a great success and a great way to rally our community to remember and honor JoJo,” he said.

After the games on Nov. 27, an awards ceremony will be held at The Bench in
Stony Brook.

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Matthew Brophy as a newborn with his father Tom. Photo from Rita Brophy

He was only 3 years old when his father passed away.

Matthew Brophy in a recent photo. Photo from Rita Brophy

Matthew Brophy, of Smithtown, is now 19 years old and has no personal memories of his father Thomas Brophy. His dad was a New York City police officer for 16 years and was also a first responder at Ground Zero. His father died in 2005 at the age of 36 after a battle with metastatic colon cancer. Doctors believed Tom Brophy’s cancer stemmed from his work at Ground Zero during the days after September 11.

Matthew Brophy, now a sophomore at Adelphi University, has the memories that his mother Rita and loved ones have shared with him through the years. The stories have left him with a loving impression of his father.

“I would describe him as a valiant, strong and charismatic individual,” Matthew Brophy said.

Among those in his life who knew his dad are old friends, including Tom Brophy’s police partner Rich Seagriff and training buddy Matt Fagan.

“His old friends treat me like I am their own son,” he said.

The son said one of his favorite stories is hearing how his father lost sight of him for a brief moment at Best Buy when he was 2. The then-toddler had a SpongeBob DVD in his hand and started walking out of the store only to set off the alarm.

Like his parents, Brophy grew up in the Hauppauge school district. He graduated from Hauppauge High School in 2020. When it came time to learn about 9/11 in class, he said the information was nothing new to him.

“I really haven’t learned anything particularly new in the school system about 9/11 and Ground Zero due to me being a child that was involved with it,” he said. “If anything, I knew more than the teachers about it. For the most part, it is taught just to be taught in history in the first week because the first or second week of high school in America usually falls on 9/11, at least in Suffolk it does.”

Brophy added it’s not a subject teachers delve into that deeply and usually students are shown a video of the planes crashing into the towers.

“It gets to a point where it’s so routine I genuinely feel offended, especially when everyone in the class knows that they’re in a class with a kid whose dad died from 9/11,” he said. “Needless to say, I don’t think it’s something that needs to be taught as of now, but in the future, yes. If people are still suffering physically from an event, that means that it is still undeniably relevant enough to be known.”

Brophy was recently awarded a scholarship from the First Responders Children’s Foundation and is currently pursuing a degree in psychology. He also has been juggling three jobs.

His mother said she is proud of him and “the man he is becoming.”

Rita Brophy said her son’s biggest quality is loyalty, just like his dad.

“He is exposed to many friends with many cultural beliefs and he respects them,” she said. “Hopefully, his view in the world will continue to be open-minded and loving of everyone he meets.”

David Gianopoulos, Robin's son and Hollywood actor, with his dachshund, Chance, on the last night the family owned their house after 62 years. Photo from the Gianopoulos family

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

The first time I saw the “dachshund sign” that lead the way up the gravel driveway to the charming Stony Brook cottage perched high on a hill was late March 2012.

The welcome sign depicting profiles of two dachshund pointing the way to the enchanting house gave me a sense of hope even before meeting the owner, Robin Gianopoulos.

I discovered this renown dachshund breeder by researching the Dachshund Club of America and AKC. Both sites named her as an honorable, excellent breeder of dachshunds and that was exactly what I was looking for — someone who loved the breed as I did and cared about breeding so that her puppies grew into healthy, strong dogs.

Author Barbara Anne Kirshner surrounded by Robin Gianopoulos’ prize winning dachshunds including Brownie, the number 1 long-hair standard in the country in 2013. Photo from B. Kirshner

We had just lost our beloved Madison who suffered from degenerative back problems. She went through two major back surgeries, but on January 27, 2012, at only 7 years 3 months old, the light was snuffed out of my life when my beautiful Madison passed away. She had gone through so much pain; then in the end while she was in my arms, she closed her eyes and she was gone. She took with her all the joy that once filled my life. In its place was a deep sadness that not even her sister or brother could fill. That’s when I started my relentless research for a dachshund of fine breeding in the hopes that we would not experience such tragedy again.

On that fateful day when I met Robin, I was still distraught. Robin understood my sadness and welcomed me into her home that was Disney World for this dachshund lover. At any one time, she housed at least 7 doxies — long-hair, smooths, minis and standards. I was immersed in dachshunds and loving it! Robin became my treasured friend and teacher.

She was a well-known breeder for over 55 years and her dogs were show dogs. She frequented Westminster and a host of other dog shows with her doxies, always coming away with ribbons. 

At that charming Stony Brook house, Robin introduced me to a host of other dachshund admirers — people like myself  who love the breed and sought her out in hopes of getting one of her prized dogs.

I had no intention of being a breeder, nor showing my dachshund; I was looking for a healthy dachshund whom I could love and welcome into our family. Robin knew that and still she offered me the pick of the litter when my turn came to have one of her dogs.

It was one year almost to the day that I first met Robin, March 13, 2013, when our beautiful Melissa Tulip was born. 

The commemorative plaque given to the Gianopoulos family by the new owners of their Stony Brook house. Photo from the Gianopoulos family

Robin made a point of keeping in touch with the people who received her puppies. The first time I brought Melissa Tulip for a visit, I got a quick lesson on the connection Robin had with her pups. As we pulled into that gravel driveway, Melissa Tulip, who had been curled up in her car seat fast asleep, became alert, sniffing the air. When I took her out of the car, it registered where she was and excitement ensued. Robin met us at the front door and Melissa Tulip jumped into Robin’s arms, smothering her with kisses and hugs. I was so happy to see their special connection.

At the time the pups were born, Robin learned that she had cancer and on December 11, 2014, she passed away. Her sons kept their family’s Stony Brook home for seven more years and all the dogs still lived there, being cared for by a dear friend and the sons who commuted from their homes in Arizona and Los Angeles. The sons and daughter became our dear friends.

After 62 years, on May 28, 2021, the Gianopoulos children reluctantly sold their childhood home to people who understood the legacy of the Stony Brook dachshunds. The new owners even presented the Gianopoulos family with a celebratory plaque featuring the house, an inscription and a photo of Robin with one of her beloved doxies. I got chills when I saw that special plaque because the photo that they chose, out of all the photos they could have chosen, was one I had taken of my Melissa Tulip hugging her Granny Robin.

Though the magical house on the hill has found new owners, the legend of the Stony Brook dachshunds lives on through Melissa Tulip and all the wonderful dachshunds that Robin brought into this world.

Miller Place resident Barbara Anne Kirshner is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee —The Different Dachshund.”

Peggy Loucks holds up photos of her late father, Allen Ulmer, and his creation, Micro-Face. Photo by Julianne Mosher

A character who ended up in the public domain is now being resurrected, given a new life. 

Photo from Peggy Loucks

Peggy Loucks, of Port Jefferson, received a call last month from a co-host with NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast — a show that tries to find creative and entertaining ways to make sense of big, complicated economical processes — asking for her blessing regarding her late father, a comic book artist.

One time, the podcast made a T-shirt, tracing the supply chain from the cotton source to the factory. It purchased and followed the travel of 100 barrels of crude oil from ground to gas, and even launched a satellite. 

In February, the podcast decided it wanted to purchase a superhero. 

Kenny Malone, a co-host with the show, said that “Planet Money” wanted to investigate the superhero entertainment economy. He was joined by fellow host Robert Smith.

“Superhero movies had become the highest grossing movies — the merchandising around superheroes was also incredibly large,” Malone said. “So, we wanted to understand this.”

Malone noticed that characters who were making tons of money were not new — they were all characters that were between 40 to even 70 years old — and they are part of the two major superhero conglomerates, Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

“We had this idea,” he said. “What if we tried to buy a superhero off one of those companies? What if we tried to buy one of their older characters that is just not very well known? And then we could try to figure out how to build a mini-superhero empire.”

In need of a hero

The three-part series, which aired on Feb. 12, 19 and 26, dove into the team’s attempt to buy a superhero off Marvel — originally asking to bid for Doorman, whose superpower is to turn into a door. He never had his own movie for obvious reasons. 

After several attempts to contact Marvel for interviews and to purchase the unhinged superhero, they declined and eventually stopped responding. 

“We think they declined for an interesting economic reason,” Malone said. “Even the silliest unknown character has the potential to become a $10 million, $100 million piece of intellectual property.”

In its first episode of the series, “We Buy a Superhero: Origins,” the duo mentioned “Guardians of the Galaxy” character Groot who was once deemed undesirable, but who is now a pop-culture icon. 

The guys behind “Planet Money” had to find a new tactic. They were on a mission. They began looking into copyright law and what happens to a creative entity when it gets moved to the public domain. 

“Every piece of copyright eventually falls out of copyright and gets put into the public domain where it is fair game for anybody to do something with,” Malone said.

Photo from Loucks

Part of it is to incentivize creativity, he added, where the creator can get exclusive rights to it, and make a profit. But the other part of it, is as a country when copyright law was established, was that if people hold onto that copyright forever, it could stifle creativity. 

“A second phase of creativity can be spawned, and people can do things with those characters, songs, books,” Malone said. “And much to our delight, we learned characters fall into the public domain. Superheroes will eventually fall into the public domain.”

Malone and Smith began delving into the world of public domain superheroes, going through hundreds upon hundreds of characters who once graced the pages of books. 

“We stumbled across this character that we could not believe was real,” he said. “We couldn’t believe it was not custom made for us.”

That character was from the golden age of superheroes, created in the 1940s featuring a mask and giant microphone upon his face as his power. His name was Micro-Face, who appeared in Clue Comics from Hillman publishing. 

A podcaster of the past

“This is basically like a 1940s podcaster, even though they didn’t know what a podcast was yet,” Malone said. “We loved it.”

Micro-Face was in the public domain — so he was fair game to do anything with — but the guys at “Planet Money” wanted to find out more about this lost superhero. That’s when they found out that the artist who created him, Allen Ulmer, had a daughter who was still alive and living right here in Port Jefferson. 

According to Loucks, Ulmer, who passed away in 1984 at age 64, was an artist back in the golden age of comic books. Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he studied at the Pennsylvania School of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, but always loved creating his own comic characters. 

“So, he moved to New York City and joined the art league there,” Loucks said. 

Ulmer began working for several different comic book companies, including Marvel, DC and Hillman. He took a break from drawing when he served in World War II, but then came back from the war and continued his artistry until the 1950s. 

But during that time, there was an attack on the superhero industry that no one could help save. Between the McCarthy era, plus the backlash among parents who blamed comic books for their children’s delinquency, comic books became censored and hundreds of artists and publishers lost their jobs. 

“My father was on that blacklist,” she said.

Photo from Peggy Loucks

Now 83, and a retired librarian from the Middle Country Public Library, Loucks was just 5 when her father initially created the superhero now getting a facelift.

“Micro-Face was one of his favorite characters [who] never had the chance to take off,” Loucks said. 

When Ulmer lost his job, he moved his family to Long Island where he was a founder of the Port Jefferson Arts Festival and a member of the Art League of Long Island of Dix Hills. He began focusing on fine art and educational film, never doing comics again.

For whatever reason, the publisher decided decades ago not to renew the copyright for Micro-Face, leaving the character to fall into the public domain. 

Malone and Smith knew they didn’t necessarily have to ask Loucks for her permission to use the character, but they felt it was right to talk to her, find out more about his creator and keep that legacy alive. 

“My father would have loved this,” Loucks said. “You know, who would have thought that after all these years? Here comes this character back into the public eye again.”

The future of Micro-Face

Malone said that now that the three-part series is completed — and available for streaming online now — they will continue working toward actually creating a comic book based on Micro-Face. 

Working alongside comic book industry leaders, the team plans on writing a book based on the grandson Tom Wood — the alter ego of Micro-Face originally drawn by Ulmer in the ’40s.

“This person is our new character and he works in radio like us,” Malone said. “So, this is going to allow us to write in some plot points about business and economics and have a little bit of learning … but this is fundamentally still a comic book and is inspired by the direct heritage to the character Peggy’s father created.”

Malone said he does not know the exact release date of the comic book, but it is currently being worked on by the new Micro-Face team at “Planet Money.” Joining the podcasters are Alex Segura, co-president of Archie Comics and friend of Malone, Jerry Ordway, Peter Krause, Taylor Esposito and Ellie Wright — “all of who know what they’re doing when it comes to building a comic empire,” Malone said. 

He added that to continue with the “Planet Money” way of immersing themselves into the actual process, they will be updating listeners every step of the way. 

Peggy Loucks holds up photos of her late father, Allen Ulmer, and his creation, Micro-Face. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We’re very excited about it,” Malone said. “You start these things, and you don’t know where they’re going to take you, but Peggy is just amazing and her father really was prolific. It makes me very sad to think that he clearly was very good and very creative, and the industry just was rocked in a way that knocked a lot of people out of it.”

While listeners and comic book lovers wait for the revival of Micro-Face, T-shirts are currently available on NPR’s website featuring Ulmer’s original design. Proceeds from the sales go back to the nonprofit National Public Radio to support radio shows and reporting.  

“Peggy told us that she was very excited about this,” Malone said. “Her father would have liked this project, so that made us very happy and made it make us feel good going forward with this.”

Stay tuned.

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

Jaime Baldassare, an active Mount Sinai community advocate, passed away last week after a battle with COVID-19. 

A retired Suffolk County corrections officer, Baldassare dedicated his life to volunteering in the Mount Sinai and surrounding communities. He served on the Mount Sinai School Board, was a past president of the North Shore Youth Council for a full decade, held the title of former vice president of the North Shore Colts and was ex-chief of the Mount Sinai Fire Department. 

Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department photographer, Elliot Perry

“It’s difficult to sum up someone like him in a few sentences,” said Andrew Samour, assistant chief at the Mount Sinai Fire Department. “He will be missed.”

Samour said Baldassare was with the department for 26 years.

“He was a dedicated firefighter for this department,” he said. “He was a fun guy to hang around with and had a great sense of humor.”

Baldassare was previously the assistant chief at the department from 2009-2015, and most recently served as chief from 2016-2017. 

In 2017, he told TBR News Media that he loved helping other people.

“There’s nothing quite like when you pull someone out of a fire or out of a wrecked car and you find out the next day that they made it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe. I love to do this. We train to be the best we can be so anytime a call comes in, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to help the people of Mount Sinai.”

When Baldassare wasn’t putting out fires, he was helping his wife with the Heritage Trust. Lori Baldassare founded Heritage Park nearly two decades ago, and he was right by her side. 

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that he could be found joking and chatting with people visiting the center. 

“He surely will be missed, that’s for sure,” she said. “He was a great contributor to Heritage and truly well-loved by many people in the community.”

Baldassare was brought to Stony Brook University Hospital in December where he was diagnosed with the virus. 

He was just 62 years old when he died on Feb. 4. 

“He’s done so much for the community,” Hazan said. “Even though he was in the background, he was an asset to Heritage.”

From left: Legislator Sarah Anker, Heritage Trust Vice President Brad Feldman, Jaime Baldassare, Heritage Trust Treasurer Lori Baldassare, and Heritage Trust President Victoria Hazan. Photo from Leg. Anker’s office

On Sept. 10, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) joined the Heritage Trust Board of Directors to honor Baldassare for his dedication and service to the community. 

“I want to personally thank Jaime for all the years of service he has provided to our community,” Anker said. “Our community has been so positively impacted by Jaime. Among Jaime’s many contributions, he was instrumental to the creation and maintenance of our beloved Heritage Park in Mount Sinai.”

The North Shore Youth Council is mourning his loss, too. 

Robert Woods, executive director, said he will be greatly missed.

“Jaime Baldassare served diligently for many years on our board of directors. He always served with joy during his time as president and made great strides in helping youth and families cope in our communities,” he said. “His legacy helped shape our unique prevention model, which supports hundreds of youth today.

Baldassare is survived by his wife of almost 30 years Lori, and his three children, Katie, Jesse and Cody.

Members of the Sound Beach Fire Department, like Captain Greg Ferraro, give blood in memory of one of their own. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Almost five years after his death, an ex-captain of the Sound Beach Fire Department’s memory is still helping to save others. 

Jim Ford passed away on June 2016 after serving in the department for more than two decades. A beloved member of not only the department, but also within the Sound Beach community, Ford always was there to help. His wife, Nancy, still participates and volunteers with the auxiliary.

“Jim filled many shoes out of the office and in the office,” said Bill Rosasco, first assistant chief. “He loved it. He loved doing it. He loved being here at the firehouse.”

On top of his many roles, he founded and ran the department’s January blood drive, so it was only fitting to name it after him in 2018 — the first drive after his passing.

And on Saturday, Jan. 16, his memory was brought back at the firehouse at 152 Sound Beach Blvd., getting people together for something good. 

Ever since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, blood donations have been at an all-time low, according to the New York Blood Center. Schools, businesses and community centers halted blood drives early on, in fear of too many gatherings and the uneasiness of the virus. 

Sound Beach Fire Departmen’ts ex-captain, Jim Ford, who passed away nearly five years ago, is still making an impact at the fire house with an annual blood drive in his name. Photo from Stefanie Handshaw

The Sound Beach Fire Department usually hosts two blood drives in honor of their own. January is dedicated to Ford, while July memorializes Ex-Capt. John Drews Jr. But because of the pandemic, the July drive was canceled. 

The drive this past weekend was the first since the pandemic began.

“We wanted to still run this blood drive,” said Chief Darran Handshaw. “Even though we shut the department down for all the other meetings, we still wanted to do this because we know how important it is.”

Handshaw said that everyone on the board wanted to make sure the January drive went on, despite the department shutdown. 

“This is an emergency,” he added. “We need to get blood out there.”

He said that to make this month’s blood drive work, they took precautions including temperature monitoring, social distancing and a fogger machine that can decontaminate the room before the event and after. 

But the drive wouldn’t be happening without Ford’s spirit. 

“This would be something that Captain Ford would be here helping out with, even during [the pandemic],” Handshaw said. “It’s an honorable effort for an honorable man, so we’re going to do something honorable that serves the community for him and his death.”

Saturday’s event had more than 20 appointments, a dozen walk-ins and 31 pints of blood were collected, according to Margaret DeTurris, president of the department. Each pint of blood can help up to three people — so these 31 pints will impact 93 lives. 

“Jim was a great example  of wisdom and honor,” Handshaw said. “In my eyes, that inspired a lot of us to behave well and do the right thing for the community. He’s missed every day.” 

The Sound Beach Fire Department is actively seeking volunteers to serve as firefighters and emergency medical technicians. The department provides free training for those positions. To join contact the chief’s office at 631-744-2294.