Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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Kimberly Liao

With a 104.46 weighted grade point average, Kimberly Liao shares the honor of Commack High School academic leader with Louis Viglietta.

Liao will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology later this year with a combined biology and chemistry major.  Her father,  Xiangmin Liao, is a chemist, so she said going into that field was always in the back of her mind. Her mother, Xia Zhou, works in the public health sector.

Through the student’s years in the Commack School District, she has been involved in the Regeneron Science Talent Search and was named one of its top 300 scholars for 2020. She also has been class president from her sophomore year through senior year and was a member of the
tennis team.

In 2015, while in eighth grade, she won the Suffolk County girls tennis title and became an all-state qualifier, and repeated the feat a year later.

She said sometimes balancing schoolwork with other activities can be stressful.

“But, I think that all-around prioritizing and knowing when to take a break and when to step back and what needs to be done in that moment of time helps,” she said.

While she was born in Kansas and lived in Minnesota when she was younger, Liao said she has spent all her school years in the Commack district. She attended Indian Hollow Primary School and Burr Intermediate before attending Commack High. Among her favorite classes, she said, was chemistry and she enjoyed conducting science research and being hands-on in biology.

She said while the state mandate requiring schools to close due to the coronavirus was difficult to get used to, she found the workload to be less and tried her best to find things to do to fill her free time. She would go to the tennis courts with her mother, catch up on sleep, and cook and bake a lot.

Liao also finished research for a scientific paper that was recently edited, and she hopes it will be published in ACS Omega, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

As she looks back at high school, she said she is grateful for her teachers, especially club advisers Holly Bellisari and Michael Jeziorski, research teacher Jeanette Collette and chemistry teacher Stephanie O’Brien.

As far as Liao’s future, she said she’s not 100 percent set on a career path yet, but it’s something she looks forward to discovering as she’s thinking of possibly working in some way in the health devices field.

While she’s at college, she said she’ll miss spending time with her family, and her dad said he wants to come up to watch all her tennis matches. She’ll also miss Commack.

“I’ll miss having this great community that I’ve grown to love and has supported me during this journey,” she said. “That will be very hard to let go.”

This year she was part of the prom planning committee. She said that during the first two weeks of quarantine it was hard to grasp that milestone events would be canceled,
but overall she was more troubled by the smaller everyday events than the bigger milestones.

“I was more upset about the little things like seeing my teachers every day, gossiping with my friends,” she said.

When it comes to advice for younger Commack students, which includes her brother Edward, she said it’s important to
find something that they enjoy and really pursue it.

“Take some chances, because you never know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Louis Viglietta

As the school year ended, Louis Viglietta was named one of Commack High School’s academic leaders along with Kimberly Liao. Viglietta capped off the year with a 105.34 weighted grade point average.

Viglietta is preparing to attend Princeton University at the end of the summer and will major in chemical and biological engineering. Once he attends college, he said he will miss the Commack community.

“I’m excited, but there will actually be things I will miss about Commack,” he said, adding that he and his friends have already discussed how they will visit each other.

The academic leader said that at a young age his father, Peter, a software engineer, taught him chemistry, and he continued to focus on the subject in high school. He said his interest in biology developed over the years watching his mother, Anna Marie, battling a mild case of cerebral palsy.

He was 4 years old when he moved to Commack from Wantagh and attended Rolling Hills Primary School and Sawmill Intermediate before starting high school. Viglietta said he has appreciated his education in the district and was lucky to have supportive teachers, including his math teachers and chemistry teacher Stephanie O’Brien.

In addition to his studies, during his time in Commack, Viglietta was involved in the Simons Summer Research Program at Stony Brook University, performed as principal flute player with the ICA Wind Ensemble, was treasurer for the class executive board and Science Honor Society and president of the Quizbowl club. During his high school career, he won second place in the Toshiba/NSTA ExploraVision contest and is a Rensselaer Medal scholarship winner.

Viglietta said he enjoyed being on the class board as treasurer, dealing with financial decisions, organizing big events and the senior gift, as well as working with the advisers and his classmates. He added that he also gained a lot of positive experience as president of the Quizbowl, a competition team he joined in ninth grade.

Viglietta said the Simons Research Program provided great experience in the biochemical and bioresearch fields, allowing him to work in a Stony Brook Medicine lab and research pathways that cause some of the side effects of chemotherapy, and hear from some of the faculty members about their research.

Regarding this year’s school shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Viglietta said he found the online learning experience interesting but manageable. With prom canceled and graduation tentatively scheduled for August, Viglietta said he was able to adjust, but all of his friends are dealing with it differently. 

“When I started to think about it, it was the little things that won’t get rescheduled — the goodbyes to teachers and friends, the yearbook signings — all those smaller events that don’t have a setting to take place anymore,” he said.

For his fellow students, he said his best advice is to keep at it and persevere even when times are tough.

“Even though this class had the year chopped off a bit, there still have been great milestones and things to look forward to,” he said. “Just keep looking ahead, and you’ll get through it.”

William Sun

East Setuket’s William Sun ended the school year on a high note.

Sun is Ward Melville High School’s valedictorian with a 105.01 weighted average. The valedictorian is planning on attending Brown University in Rhode Island to major in computer science.

Sun attended Nassakeag Elementary School and then W.S. Mount Elementary for the district’s intellectually gifted classes. Before Ward Mellville, he studied at P.J. Gelinas Middle School. While he has lived in the Three Village area all his life, his father, Yan Sun, a doctor, and his mother, Hong Tan, a nurse, are originally from China and moved here in the 1990s and now run a doctor’s office.

Sun said attending Three Village through the years he has been surrounded by brilliant peers.

“There are so many smart people in this community,” he said.

During his high school career, he has been a member of the Ward Melville High School Varsity Science Olympiad Team and was also the president of the school’s math team and computer science club. He qualified for the International Science and Engineering Fair and won a silver medal at the Long Island math research competition. The valedictorian played piano and violin in the school’s ensembles and was named an All-State pianist, qualified as an All-State alternative for violin and toured in Spain and eastern Europe in eighth- and 10th-grade, respectively, through the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. In 2020, he was named a National Merit Scholarship winner.

Among his activities and achievements, being the director, creator and manager of Piano for Patients has been one of his favorites. He and other student-musicians would play piano in the Stony Brook University Hospital lobby and over time other musicians became involved performing with other instruments. He’s hoping before he attends college and hands over his responsibilities to a younger student that the group can do one more performance in the summer, since they haven’t been able to perform during the pandemic. Recently, he and his piano teacher Daniel Fogel have organized an online concert as an alternative way to do community service through playing piano.

In addition to Piano for Patients, he volunteered at the hospital helping out with whatever needed to be done to lighten the load for workers, whether it was moving things around, making beds or cleaning floors.

He said choosing computer science came about since he’s been involved in programming since sixth- and seventh-grade, and he also took courses at Stony Brook University where he was involved in programming as well as researching different ways to find data.

“In the future, computer science is going to have a large impact and so I want to be a part of that,” he said, adding he thinks about working at places such as Google in the future.

He said among the teachers in the Three Village school district who had an influence on him was former Gelinas teacher Gary Vorwald, who was both his earth science teacher and the head of Science Olympiad in the school. The valedictorian remembers how the teacher would stay late at school to help students.

“It was the first time that I saw passion for science, he really made me want to join the Science Olympiad,” he said.

As the school was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sun said he kept himself busy with computer science projects and learning Mandarin.

As he leaves Ward Melville behind, he said he’s impressed with the younger students.

“This is really a tumultuous time but we’ve seen some amazing things, especially from the grades that are coming up,” he said. “People are really pushing for what they believe in. What I would say is fight for what you believe in, because with what’s going on now, people are really fighting for justice and such amazing things.”

Matthew Fiorella

Ward Melville’s salutatorian capped off the school year with a 104.85 weighted grade point average.

With the school year behind him, Matthew Fiorella is ready to head to the University of California, Los Angeles and major in engineering. He said when it came to choosing colleges it was down to the California school and the University of Michigan. He decided he would have better intern and job opportunities through UCLA. Plus, he said he liked California after visiting there a couple of times.

Originally living in Arizona and Ohio when he was younger, Fiorella moved to the Three Village Central School District for second grade. He started at Setauket Elementary School and then entered the Intellectually Gifted Program at Mount Elementary School in fourth grade. He continued his studies at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School.

During his high school career, Fiorella has kept busy both in and outside of school. He was the president of the Junior Model UN, a member of the National and Spanish honor societies and was named a National Merit Finalist. The salutatorian was also a member of the school’s band. He played first alto saxophone and was president of the wind ensemble. He also completed an internship at the biotechnology startup Vascular Simulations Inc.

As far as sports, he worked as a coach for the Three Village Youth Basketball organization and took part in the Sports Arena Basketball team.

He said balancing extracurriculars with schoolwork can be challenging.

“It’s trying not to waste time and not to procrastinate, which is difficult because it’s something that I think is natural to a lot of people,” he said. “I think being involved in a lot of things and moving around a lot helps me stay disciplined.”

Fiorella has been inspired by his father, Dr. David Fiorella, who works at Stony Brook University Hospital, and his mother, Andrea Fiorella, a former physical therapist. Besides his parents, Fiorella said his cousin David Lawrence has been an influence in his life.

Lawrence is an electrical engineer, which Fiorella found interesting because there are creative elements to that field, and he had the opportunity to tour his cousin’s workplace when he was younger.

“It was always very interesting to me, and it was really cool to see the more imaginative side of engineering, and it’s kind of what got me interested in it,” he said.

However, with a recent curiosity in history and politics during high school, he said he may even consider studying law in graduate school one day.

“I like engineering, but I don’t feel like I have had the chance to really validate that interest because most of the courses you take in school don’t reflect engineering until you get into college,” he said.

With senior year behind him, and a possible in-person graduation in July, the salutatorian said he and others never imagined the possibility that they might not have a prom or graduation.

“It’s hard because you really don’t know what you’re missing because you haven’t experienced it or something else like it,” he said. “I feel like it’s a very singular experience.”

For those students he leaves behind at Ward Melville High School, he said his advice would be not to stress so much about the day-to-day things and focus more on enjoying everything.

“This year has really shown there’s so much you really can’t plan for,” he said. “Even just in the way college decisions come out, you really realize that things aren’t the way you expected them to be. You just kind of have to accept it.”

Michael Bernstein on the Stony Brook University campus. Photo from Stony Brook University

As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, Stony Brook University’s recent interim president is returning to familiar territory.

Michael Bernstein will remain at SBU, even though his last day as interim president was June 30. On July 1 he returned to his former position as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. Last August, Bernstein took on the role of interim president after the departure of former president, Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

Bernstein said he decided to stay after a request from new university president, Maurie McInnis, who was appointed in March, and added that a search for his replacement may take up to a year. He plans to move to California in the future.

“I’m in a position, I think, to help Maurie as she transitions in as the new president,” he said. “Obviously, we’re very much challenged with planning through this COVID emergency and figuring out how we’re going to manage the fall semester, not to mention the whole academic year.”

While the pandemic got in the way of working on some SBU goals such as strategic revisioning, strengthening a few of the business practices and revitalization of the computer system, he’s confident that McInnis, with whom he has been in constant contact since her appointment, will be prepared to take on the challenges once the 2020 fall semester can begin.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which required colleges and universities to switch to online learning and hold events virtually since March, Bernstein said he enjoyed his time as interim president overall.

“I was surrounded by a superb senior leadership team,” he said. “We were getting a lot done in terms of managing university affairs.”

Bernstein said he realized the importance of taking precautions early on once the number of COVID-19 cases started rising in the U.S.

“My sense was that we were in the midst of an emerging crisis that was going to accelerate pretty quickly and pretty dramatically,” he said. “We made a decision to shut down and start canceling major campus events pretty quickly.”

He said that the campus nearly closed earlier than it did but the school had to wait for directions from the State University of New York administration to coordinate with the broader school network. Bernstein said the last major event at the campus was the 2020 gala held at the Staller Center March 7.

“I had said at that point that we will have no more major campus events, and we were a little early when we made that decision,” he said.

While he received some pushback, he’s glad he made the decision.

“I think within a couple of weeks people were circling back to me saying, ‘That was the right decision, thank you for making it as quickly as you did.’ I think it became clear to people that we had to shut everything down.”

He added that shortly after the university cut back on public events, students were asked to head home, and spring break was extended to two weeks so the university could prepare for online learning.

He said at the last in-person university council meeting, it was realized they were all in the midst of a critical moment in their careers and that everyone would be defined by what decisions were made. While he said it was a challenging time, he remained positive.

“There’s the old saying, ‘Calm seas and blue skies do not make good sea captains,’” he said. “You’re not in a leadership position to work when things are calm. When things are calm and fine, you don’t need leaders.”

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Korean War veteran Sal Scarlato in his mini-museum in his basement. Photo by Dave Paone

By Dave Paone

This week marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. While many of the soldiers who fought in it are still alive today, the conflict has been dubbed “The Forgotten War,” because for some reason the media — and the populace in general — tend to give their attention to World War II and Vietnam, making Korea their redheaded stepchild.

Scarlato, left, with a South Korean counterpart. Photo from Scarlato

Sal Scarlato, of Hauppauge, has been working to change that.

On June 25, 1950, when Scarlato was 17, North Korean soldiers crossed the 38th parallel (the line separating North and South Korea) and the Korean War began. Three days later the first U.S. ground-combat troops arrived in Korea by order of President Harry S. Truman.

Scarlato had known of a few boys from his neighborhood in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn who were killed in combat early on in the war. This didn’t stop Scarlato and 16 of his pals from enlisting in the Marines after they turned 18.

“I was very gung-ho,” he said. “I was very anxious to be a Marine.”

Scarlato went from Parris Island, South Carolina, to Camp Pendleton, California, and then to Kobe, Japan. The next stop was Korea.

PFC Scarlato landed at Inchon April 10, 1952. He was 19 and in the infantry.

In the four months of training and traveling since he enlisted, Scarlato didn’t really understand the gravity of what was coming.

It wasn’t until he was on the landing barge, with his full pack of gear, seasick, heading for the shore, when the commanding officer yelled, “Land of departure, lock and load!” that he knew he was in a war.

Some guys on the landing barge actually soiled themselves they were so scared.

Scarlato spent his first three nights in Korea on a base with bombed-out buildings and then was sent to the front line.

“All of a sudden we got hit with small-arm fire and mortar fire,” he said. “So, we jumped out of the trucks, and we ran right for the rice paddies because that’s all the coverage you had.”

Scarlato found himself face-down in a pile of human waste, which was used as fertilizer.

“We were firing like crazy,” he said. “I had the runs, I urinated, I was crying,” he said. “A couple of guys got hit.”

One night Scarlato had outpost duty along the 38th parallel.

“That night the CCF [Chinese Communist Forces] really gave us a welcome,” he said. “When they came, I didn’t fire my weapon right away. I froze. So, the guy next to me — actually he was my squad leader — hit me in the helmet. He said, ‘You better start firing that weapon.’

“A couple of minutes later, he got hit in the belly. He fell right on top of me. And when the corpsman came, he said, ‘Give me your hand.’”

To help stop the bleeding, Scarlato applied pressure to the squad leader’s liver, which was protruding from his body. Right then and there the squad leader died.

“I cried like a baby,” Scarlato said.

It was at this moment he truly understood what he had volunteered for. He didn’t sleep for three days.

“After this I was very bitter,” Scarlato said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ And my officers always said, ‘You’ll find out. You’ll find out eventually what you’re doing here.’”

The war raged on. Scarlato witnessed countless casualties and then in July of 1952, he became one.

Once again, Scarlato’s unit came under attack by the CCF. With his peripheral vision, he could see an enemy combatant toss a hand grenade at him and the two other nearby Marines. The grenade exploded, killing one of them and wounding Scarlato and the third Marine. Scarlato rolled down a hill and suffered leg, neck and hand wounds and a concussion.

A corpsman gave him a shot of morphine, and with the help of two South Koreans, sent him via jeep to an aid station. (There was no MASH unit in the area.) From there he was flown via chopper with another patient to a hospital ship.

Scarlato recuperated from his wounds, although to this day he still has shrapnel in his neck, which sets off alarms at airports on occasion.

He thought this was his ticket home, but the Marines still needed him. He did receive a Purple Heart out of the experience, though.

Being sent back to his unit made Scarlato bitter.

“I hated everybody,” he said, even spitting on his South Korean allies when one came close. Prior, he was ready to make the Marines his career, but now he even hated the institution that he once loved so much.

However, soon after this, Scarlato discovered the officers were correct and he did indeed find out why he was there.

On patrol one day, Scarlato and his unit came upon a small village where several civilians had been killed, execution style.

“There were three little children,” he said. “Two little girls — they were full of blood — but they were not dead. There was a little boy, maybe five, six years old … he had his hand blown off.”

Scarlato immediately picked the boy up, who wrapped his arms tightly around Scarlato’s neck, strangling him. Scarlato picked up the child’s severed hand and put it in his pocket.

Scarlato bandaged the end of the boy’s arm and a corpsman arrived. They both tried to pry the child from Scarlato’s neck, but he wouldn’t let go. He screamed in pain the entire time.

The two soldiers flagged down a medical jeep and they drove to a nearby orphanage that had a medical staff.

The nurses were able to pry the child from Scarlato and placed him on a table. Scarlato and the corpsman turned and walked out, having done all they could.

While he was in the jeep, Scarlato remembered he still had the child’s hand in his pocket. He stepped back inside only to find the boy had died.

This was the defining moment for Scarlato. Out of all the death and carnage he saw, this was the worst. Now he knew the reason he was there was “to save these people’s lives. Before that, I didn’t understand.”

In 1985, the Korean War Veterans Association was chartered in Troy, New York, as a national veterans group. In 2010, Scarlato became president of the Central Long Island chapter. It’s through the KWVA that he works to preserve the memory of those who served in the war.

Part of his success in this endeavor is the $400,000 Korean War veterans’ monuments in Hauppauge, paid for by the County of Suffolk, and dedicated in 1991.

Additionally, Scarlato and his chapter raised $70,000 in donations to go toward the national monument in Washington, D.C.

Over the years, Scarlato has curated what he calls a “mini-museum” in his basement. On display are artifacts from his time in the service, including his Purple Heart, his .45 holster and his rain poncho.

At 87, Scarlato is still sharp as a tack and keeps up with the news, including the current US-North Korean relations. He feels President Donald Trump (R) is “in the ballpark” when it comes to dealing with North Korea and what he’s doing should have been done by previous presidents long ago.

“Trump has more ‘testicoli,’ if you know what I mean,” Scarlato said.

Engaged couples such as Kim Mangels and Alex Yatron, from Huntington, have had to postpone their weddings due to COVID-19. Photo from Mangels

Part one of two

It’s not unusual to find a flow of wedding invitations following spring’s arrival. This year, however, COVID-19 has put a damper on celebrating love as engaged couples continue to postpone their big days.

A Bride’s Story

Huntington’s Kim Mangels, 30, said she and her fiancé Alex Yatron, 29, were set to tie the knot July 12, a date they chose in March of 2019.

Then the mandatory shutdowns due to the pandemic began. Mangels said fortunately they were able to move their ceremony and reception to July 11, 2021. When the pandemic first hit the U.S., the bride-to-be said they didn’t think it would last so long and affect their wedding date.

“We never imagined that it would end up being what it is now, that it’s changing everything, even life, for quite a while,” she said.

In the middle of April, she said they reached out to their venue, Crescent Beach Club in Bayville. They were optimistic at the time about weddings taking place in July. Two weeks later, the venue told her if they would prefer to postpone, they had to let them know by May 15. Mangels said that’s when they decided to change the date and weren’t up charged for the change.

She said it was easier for her and her fiancé since they were still in the middle of planning, and her dress wasn’t altered yet, so it would have been difficult to finalize aspects outside of the venue. As they look toward a new wedding date, Mangels said she and Yatron are pleased that they have more time to plan.

“We’re excited to celebrate after how crazy this whole year has been and to be able to see everyone we love in one place,” she said.

The Bates House decorated for a wedding. Photo from The Bates House

Empty Venue … for Now

Lise Hintze, manager of The Bates House in Setauket, located in Frank Melville Memorial Park, said she worked with many couples who not only had to postpone due to the pandemic but also some who were unable to continue planning their weddings with various vendors. One was a bride, she said, who found out a couple of months ago that her dress wouldn’t be ready for a July wedding even if it could be held. As of now, all weddings that were scheduled for 2020 at The Bates House have been pushed to 2021.

“The loss was tremendous for the park,” Hintze said.

The venue manager said a place like The Bates House has more pieces for the couple to take care of including caterers and decorators.

“There are so many more players in the circle with you so it’s hard,” she said. “It’s really hard.”

Hintze said while at first couples who had events scheduled for later in the year tried to take it day by day, many began to postpone their receptions as they feared a second wave of the coronavirus may come in the fall. Couples have told her how they don’t want to put older guests at risk of catching the virus or didn’t want to put guests in the uncomfortable position of making the decision themselves as to whether to attend or not.

Hintze said she has done her best to give couples various options, including getting married in a smaller, socially distanced ceremony outside, even though the venue itself cannot be used. She said some couples are still getting married on the day they originally chose and postponing the big party, while others are delaying both ceremony and reception.

The Bates House, which typically holds a wedding every weekend from the beginning of May to the end of October, is completely booked for 2021 as it already had weddings scheduled and then filled the open dates with postponed 2020 nuptials. Hintze said she left everyone on the calendar for 2020 though in case the state expands the parameters for large gatherings and couples decide they still want to have their parties on their original date.

“We’re excited to celebrate after how crazy this whole year has been and to be able to see everyone we love in one place.”

Kim Mangels

Florists’ Dilemmas

During the pandemic, planning floral arrangements and bouquets has been one part of the wedding puzzle that is difficult for couples to complete as many florists have been forced to close their doors.

Amanda Hagquist-LaMariana from Village Florist & Events in Stony Brook village said that sometimes flowers are one of the last things couples consider. In addition to cancellations due to the pandemic, being unable to plan in recent months has also slowed down businesses as many couples haven’t been able to tour their wedding venue or shop for dresses and tuxedos, among other things.

“A lot of things are usually in place before they come to meet with me,” she said.

During the shutdowns, Hagquist-LaMariana would send couples a questionnaire to fill out to get a feel for what they were looking for and spoke with them via phone and Zoom. She has been able to give a few estimates based on those conversations, but it’s a process that she said isn’t as organic as meeting in person where she and customers could look over photos, especially of events the florist has supplied flowers for in the past, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“There are so many facets of the design that we do,” she said.

With Long Island entering Phase 3 of reopening, the florist said she looks forward to meeting with customers again. The cancellations that have occurred over the past few months have been a big financial blow to the business.

She said that during the first week of the shutdowns the florist had three weddings scheduled. At that point, the flowers and greenery, many of which are shipped internationally, were already purchased and could not be returned. While the events will still take place in the future, the florist will not charge the couples any additional fees.

“That was quite a loss,” she said. “It could have been worse timing, but it wasn’t great timing.”

To make the best of a bad situation, Hagquist-LaMariana, whose last wedding was March 7, used Facebook Live to sell the unused flowers in order to make up some of the costs.

“Our heads have been turning with the different ways that people have been managing to do things.”

Brian McCarthy

Brian McCarthy, James Cress Florist owner, said both the Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station locations that employ 40 full-time employees were required to shut down during the pandemic. Like the Stony Brook florist, he also has to order flowers from places out-of-state such as California, Holland and South America. McCarthy said as things began to unfold, some vendors worked with them, and they were able to cancel a few orders last minute.

“The growers have been dealing with us for decades,” he said. “They were very kind to us.”

McCarthy said there will be days in 2021 when they will need the help of drivers from at least one of their nine sister stores in other states to help with deliveries, because of the additional help, they haven’t had to turn anyone away who has rescheduled for 2021.

He said the biggest challenge is witnessing brides and grooms not having any definite answers. During the closure, shop manager Liz Guido helped couples plan future events by keeping in touch with all of them, and virtual wedding appointments are still available for initial consultations.

McCarthy said while they have had couples postpone until next year, they have also heard of couples that reduced the number of people at their ceremonies so they could still take place on the planned date.

“Our heads have been turning with the different ways that people have been managing to do things,” he said.

With seeing extremely scaled-down weddings and Sweet 16 parties, McCarthy said he thinks people are going to continue finding creative ways to have their special events.

“One thing about New Yorkers is they are as optimistic and creative as any place in the country,” he said. “They really are, and they’re determined to make sure that all these events that were planned are going to take place whatever time they can.”

The class of 2018 moves tassels to recognize the transition from high school senior to graduate at the Ward Melville High School Commencement June 24. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The 2019-2020 academic year has been one filled with changes, and graduation plans have been no different.

In a letter to Ward Melville High School seniors and families earlier in June, Principal William Bernhard and 12th-grade Assistant Principal Erin Connolly announced that the school was developing a plan to host an in-person graduation Sunday, July 19. The decision came a month after plans were already made to hold five separate ceremonies during the week of June 22, which would have involved seniors being split into groups of five alphabetically and families being required to stay in their cars as one senior at a time got out of each vehicle to accept their diploma.

According to the June letter, the decision to cancel the drive-through graduation this week and revert back to an in-person ceremony was made after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) earlier in the month signed an executive order giving permission to host in-person graduation ceremonies beginning June 26 with a maximum of 150 people that meet the social-distancing guidelines.

The order propelled the high school to develop a new graduation plan for 2020 with the hopes that future changes will allow an in-person graduation for the class of more than 500 even though they are proceeding cautiously.

“If the current parameters are not relaxed by this new graduation date, the district will continue with the in-vehicle format on Monday, July 20, through Friday, July 24,” the letter reads. “Social-distancing guidelines, including masks and reduced numbers in attendance, must still be in place for any live event.”

The school plans for each graduate to be restricted to two guests, and when students pick up their caps and gowns, there will be a packet with a colored parking pass in order to enter the grounds on graduation day.

Jennifer Catalano, whose daughter Rachael is graduating this year, was pleased to hear the news.

“I’m happy that the school district has gone above and beyond to make graduation as traditional as possible,” she said. “My daughter is happy she will be able to turn her tassel and partake in the traditional cap toss.”

Senior Jake Shangold was also glad to hear of the possibility of an in-person ceremony.

“I know as a senior it would be nice to have the whole class together to share one last moment,” he said. “I know Principal Bernhard and Superintendent Pedisich are doing all they can to make sure seniors are being celebrated.”

Salutatorian Matthew Fiorella, who will be reading a speech at the ceremony along with valedictorian William Sun, is looking forward to a “relatively normal graduation.”

“I was happy that we were still able to have a graduation ceremony when the drive-through plan was created, but being able to have a true in-person graduation is exciting,” he said.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James in January. Photo by David Luces

While plans are not set in stone, Gyrodyne in St. James now has some guidance regarding its proposed sewage treatment plant after a recent meeting of the Suffolk County Sewer Agency.

During a June 22 Zoom meeting, the agency members unanimously granted Gyrodyne what is known as conceptual certification for the plant, explaining that certification gives the applicant guidance regarding the type of wastewater disposal methods but is not an official approval.

Currently, the Town of Smithtown is conducting an environmental review of Gyrodyne’s proposal to subdivide the 75-acre-property to build a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

If approved, the Gyrodyne Sewer Treatment Plant, which can handle 100,000 gallons per day of wastewater, could possibly be connected to new sewer lines in St. James.

Before the June 22 meeting, the county agency received letters opposing the approval of the treatment plant from state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Setauket Harbor Task Force co-founder and trustee George Hoffman, environmentalist Carl Safina, chair of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition/United Communities Against Gyrodyne, Cindy Smith, and others asking that any kind of approval not be granted.

Englebright wrote in his June 19 letter that even conceptualized certification would violate the intent and spirit of the State Environmental Quality Review Act. He also listed a sewage treatment plant would have a significant impact on Stony Brook Harbor, which is only a mile and a half from the proposed STP. The concern also was expressed by other writers.

Englebright said in his letter that the applicant only included the onsite wastewater needs when it came to the certification.

“Yet the applicant’s own SEQRA filing and numerous news reports indicate plans to tie in the St. James Business District, which is currently installing sewer pipes on Lake Avenue which would nearly double the amount of wastewater discharged to groundwater to 170,000 [gallons per day],” Englebright wrote.

During the Zoom meeting, Hoffman said if someone was looking for the worst spot to put a STP, the Gyrodyne property would be it. Smith said that the entire area should be studied, including watersheds all along Route 25A.

Safina was also on hand for the Zoom meeting.

“The Gyrodyne plan appears to be an attempt to simply pull a fast one on all the residents in and around the Stony Brook Harbor watershed,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) added his comments during the Zoom meeting. While he said, “I wish this property was preserved forever,” he added that the owner could do whatever it wanted with it.

“I’d rather have open space but I’m a realist,” he said.

Mark Wagner from Cameron Engineering attended the meeting to represent Gyrodyne. He said the treatment plant would actually decrease the nitrogen leaving the site and going into the watershed.

Hauppauge-based attorney Tim Shea addressed concerns voiced about Gyrodyne selling off land parcels in the future. He said while the company anticipated selling off such parcels, buyers would have to enter a property owners association. Members of the association would be required to maintain the STP.

Before Gyrodyne can move forward with constructing the STP, the Town of Smithtown must complete the SEQRA review and the county sewage agency must grant final approval.

Capelli Salon in Nesconset has limited the number of people who can be in the salon at the same time. Photo by Rita J. Egan

From restaurants to retail stores to hair salons and barbers, business owners are all dealing with the same thing — how to open their doors while keeping their employees and customers safe.

Sweet Mama’s in Stony Brook and other restaurants can now offer outdoor dining. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Last Wednesday, June 10, Long Island entered Phase 2 of New York Forward. This phase allows restaurants to offer outdoor dining, stores to permit a limited number of customers inside and for hairdressers and barbers to finally open up shop again.

Marios Patatinis, who owns Sweet Mama’s in Northport and Stony Brook, said being able to offer outdoor dining on the restaurants’ patios has been helpful to increase business. He also bought The Bench Bar and Grill across from the Stony Brook train station right before the mandatory shutdowns. At this location he said outdoor dining is available in the parking lot, and he has been able to start renovations on the building.

The restaurant owner said he was happy to see customers able to stay, sit and enjoy their meals.

“Everyone is eager to get out of their own house and come out to eat again,” he said. “It’s nice to see people come out and socialize and mingle a bit.”

Patatinis said employees both in the front and back of the establishments are required to wear masks. Anyone who has direct contact with food will also wear gloves. Like other businesses, cleaning will be done more frequently, hand sanitizers will be made available for customers and one-time use menus will be handed out.

Patatinis said he’s looking forward to Phase 3, which will allow restaurants to offer indoor dining as long as occupancy stays at 50 percent or less than usual. During the pandemic and mandatory shutdowns, he said he was grateful that he was able to offer curbside takeout service to his customers.

“When you build a clientele, they become family,” he said.

Hairdressers have also been taking measures to serve customers while taking extra precautions, following guidelines from New York State. At Capelli hair salon in Nesconset, owned by Maria LaMariana, in addition to more cleaning protocols, when clients arrive they must text their hairdresser as the waiting room is temporarily closed. All customers and staff members wear behind-the-ear face masks, and clients have their temperature taken at the door and put on a disposable cape. The number of patrons in the salon is also limited, and people are asked not to bring anyone with them during their visit.

LaMariana said she also has customers fill out a form to verify that they aren’t sick and also to provide their phone number. The owner said this way if they get a call that anyone tested positive for the coronavirus, they will be able to contact quickly others that were in the salon that same day.

She said at first reopening was overwhelming, comparing it to going back to school, and she said she cried a couple of times. The owner, who has been cutting hair for 50 years, was nervous that customers would challenge why certain things were being done, but only one person gave her
a problem.

“I’m happy that people are very cooperative,” she said. “They come in, they clean their hands, we take their temperature, and they fill out the form.”

Capelli Salon in Nesconset requires clients to sign in upon and arrival and the register features a reminder to wear a mask. Photo by Rita J. Egan

For the time being, LaMariana said she will be working seven days a week to catch up for the time lost during the pandemic and the limited capacity she is working with now. It was emotional to see her regulars again, she added, and one customer even left flowers outside the door the first day of the reopening.

“I never felt so important in my life,” she said. “I felt more important than a surgeon.”

Carolynn Mertens, director of stores and buyer for Madison’s Niche in Stony Brook Village Center, Sayville, Huntington and Garden City, said during the pandemic the store’s website was a big help where both regular customers and new ones across the country purchased items. Once Phase 1 began and stores were able to offer curbside service, Mertens said many customers ordered online and then picked up the merchandise themselves.

“But nothing compares to losing three months of in-store business, you can never make that up,” she said.

Mertens said in-store shopping is now allowed at 25 percent capacity. Customers and employees must maintain social distancing and wear a mask.

“People have been so respectful of each other and giving each other space shopping,” she said. “I think people are just generally excited to get out and enjoy the store, and get back to normal life.”

Employees have been busy sanitizing and cleaning commonly touched surfaces, such as door handles, keypads and phones, Mertens said. The stores are also making hand sanitizer available to customers and even selling masks. Clothes that are tried on in the dressing room will be quarantined by keeping them on a rack for a few days before they are returned to the sales floor.

Despite all the changes, she said it’s been wonderful seeing the customers again.

“When we reopened, it felt like Christmas,” Mertens said. “It was so energetic and lively.”

She said the staff was happy to hear many customers missed coming to the store, and reopening day was a successful one.

“It was a beautiful day,” she said. “We had the doors open. We had the music pumping. It was like a rebirth.”