Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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An East Setauket resident is lucky to be alive after the homeowner’s house was destroyed by a fire.

The Setauket Fire Department responded to a fire on Franklin Avenue in East Setauket Sept. 23 after receiving the call at 11:30 a.m. District manager Dave Sterne said the first pumper was on the scene within five minutes where the firefighters found a fully involved fire of a large structure.

Sterne said the size of the fire was a rare one.

“The combination of the homeowner waiting a long time to call it in, along with all the combustibles he had stored in his house led to an extreme amount of fire even before we got there,” Sterne said. “Given our rapid response time, we should have found a situation where a fire was just starting to spread and could have been confined to a smaller area where it had started, but upon arrival, all areas of the house and contents were already on fire.”

Sterne said in case of fire or an EMS emergency, residents can call the district’s direct hotline number, 631-941-4441.

“Whether it be a medical emergency or fire emergency, seconds count and the sooner we are notified, the better,” he said.

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Suffolk County Crime Stoppers and Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad Detectives are seeking the public’s help to identify and locate the man and woman who allegedly used stolen credit cards at a Melville store and two Commack stores in September.

Credit cards were stolen from a purse in a shopping cart inside Trader Joes, located at 5900 Jericho Turnpike in Commack, Sept. 17 at approximately 1:15 p.m. Later that day, a man and woman used the stolen credit cards at Home Depot, located at 65 Crooked Hill Road in Commack, as well as at two separate Dick’s Sporting Goods, located at 6070 Jericho Turnpike in Commack and 870 Walt Whitman Road in Melville.

Suffolk County Crime Stoppers offers a cash reward for information that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information about these incidents can contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers to submit an anonymous tip by calling 1-800-220-TIPS.

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Playgrounds like the one above at Village Chabad preschool in East Setauket will play an important part in preschoolers’ days during the pandemic. Photo from Village Chabad

Students in the Three Village Central School District buildings aren’t the only ones that are dealing with a whole new world when it comes to attending school, children in daycares and preschools are also navigating new waters.

Preschools and daycare centers are taking new precautions which include teachers wearing masks, taking students’ temperatures, utilizing outdoor space more frequently, meeting parents outside and more. And while frequent handwashing and cleaning have been common practices in preschools in the past, now bleaching and more thorough cleaning of regularly touched spots such as doorknobs is required.

Mary Cain, executive director of Stony Brook Child Care Services, said the center closed down temporarily March 16 but then opened up shortly after to provide daycare for essential health care workers at Stony Brook University Hospital. The daycare and preschool had less children the last few months due to non-essential employees working from home.

During the early months of the pandemic, the center took care of 47 children of essential workers. With eight classrooms in total — four for infants and toddlers and the other four for preschoolers — only five were used. Earlier guidelines allowed 10 children to a room. Cain said the center took things a step further by limiting it to 10 people in the room, which included students and employees. With a maximum capacity of 160 before the pandemic, currently the childcare service has 90 enrolled, and Cain said it could go up to 120 eventually.

For children who didn’t attend, teachers would touch base with them and their parents via Zoom, and with some returning, the director said these children still recognize teachers even when they are using masks.

Teachers were concerned infants wouldn’t be able to handle their teachers wearing masks since they so often rely on facial expression, Cain said, but so far, the coverings haven’t hindered interactions.

The director added that teachers have been able to have conversations with preschoolers about physical space and the importance of distancing.

“They know there’s something going on out there in the world,” she said. “They don’t seem to be too concerned with it.”

Each classroom at Stony Brook Child Care has its own play yard so classes can go outside whenever the teacher feels it’s appropriate instead of waiting to take turns, which she said is also a big help. Cain said she’s surprised with how smoothly things have gone.

“With knowing every day there was new information and new guidelines, I didn’t think it would go as smoothly as it has,” she said.

Rivkie Grossbaum, preschool director at Village Chabad Center for Jewish Learning in East Setauket, said she is grateful that for the past year the school has more space than it did in its earlier days to help with social distancing. The preschool was established more than 30 years ago, and Grossbaum worked out of her house for one year and then from the Chabad’s Lake Grove location, which was smaller than the current space. The Chabad’s new location opened in June 2019 on Nicolls Road.

In addition to utilizing the indoor space, the preschool recently installed a new playground dedicated by Investors Bank. The director said it will enable even more outdoor play, which she said is important during these times, and each child will have separate bins so teachers can divide supplies such as crayons and clay.

While the preschool closed back in March, Grossbaum said she is happy that they’ve been able to reopen as she believes the relationships formed during preschool are important, and the staff is ready to help community members of all faiths.

“We may have more children if other schools don’t have early childhood programs,” she said. “We are willing to help in any way.”

Maddy Friedman, educational director of Play Groups School in East Setauket, said students were excited to return to school Sept. 14. Before the first day, teachers sent videos to their students to show them how they look with and without masks. While preschoolers are not required to wear masks, Friedman said if parents want their child to wear one, teachers will leave it on as it’s important to respect families’ wishes, “because we really don’t know the answers.”

Friedman said like other preschools, Play Group is also incorporating more programs outside on its half-acre of land which allows for socially distanced play. Friedman said teachers have used outdoor learning regularly in the past, and there are distinct areas to view birds and read books. There is even a stage and garden cupola.

The educational director said when schools first closed down due to the pandemic, she was hopeful that the shutdowns wouldn’t last long, and she never imagined the school being closed for months with teachers using remote learning tools such as Zoom and Facetime. Despite her being proud of her staff in “expertly” using the digital platforms as well as keeping in touch with families via traditional snail mail, she said she doesn’t feel it’s the best way to teach. Friedman said she was desperate to see schools open because she said it’s important for children to be with others their own age and have a “sense of classroom community.”

She added that children lost out on a lot with virtual learning, including end of the year activities such as taking a train trip into Port Jefferson and going to Theatre Three.

“I think it was a loss for the children,” Friedman said. “They adapted, but I wouldn’t look to do it permanently. However, it filled the gap and kept us connected to the community.”

Jim Malatras visits Stony Brook University Sept. 24 to applaud the school's COVID-19 prevention practices. Photo by Rita J. Egan

State University of New York’s new Chancellor Jim Malatras visited Long Island Thursday to check in with Stony Brook University’s and Farmingdale State College’s presidents and see how they were containing the COVID-19 virus.

Maurie McInnis at the Sept. 24 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the Sept. 24 press conference, Malatras said he especially wanted to visit SBU and praised how well university President Maurie McInnis and the campus community have handled both the pandemic and the school’s reopening. He added that the university continues to remain open while other schools in the state just a few weeks into the semester have had to send students home and switch to fully remote schedules, such as SUNY Oneonta.

“I want to highlight shining examples of campuses that are doing it well,” he said.

The chancellor credited SBU’s success to requiring students to submit a negative COVID test before moving on campus, its regular testing of students and the school’s transparency with a COVID-19 tracker dashboard on its website since the beginning of the semester. The SUNY website now also offers a COVID-19 dashboard tracking all of its 64 colleges and universities.

He also praised faculty, staff and students for their compliance with public health guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing. He said the administration hasn’t found problems with students throwing parties like other schools seem to have.

McInnis also complimented the campus community’s commitment to following health and safety guidelines.

“Our students really want to be here, and they understand what they do has a direct, positive impact on their peers and all of us at Stony Brook,” she said. “We know especially right now personal responsibility is a social act.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was also in attendance. Malatras credited Bellone for working with SBU and other SUNY campuses in the county to ensure a robust reopening plan where the community could feel confident in moving forward.

Malatras said while declining enrollment during the pandemic has exacerbated financial difficulties, it was important to quickly set up protocols to contain the virus and ensure the campus community’s confidence.

The chancellor complimented what the SBU community has been doing during the pandemic from lifesaving treatments to “heroes” coming in every day to participating in clinical trials for a vaccine.

McInnis also praised the hospital and said the campus community did “a terrific job of planning to come back safe and strong.”

“SBU and Long Island were hit hard by the virus in the early days,“ she said. “But our hospital was in the lead in responding to the worst of the pandemic. We knew our plans had to be informed by science and implemented with the resources to succeed.”

At the press conference, Malatras also announced that SBU will be expanding its testing protocol by joining with SUNY Upstate Medical University for pool testing, which uses a patient’s saliva to detect the virus instead of a nasal swab. According to the chancellor, the test is easier to administer than the nasal swabs and there is a quicker turnaround for results as numerous samples can be tested at one time.

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The historic building that houses The Jazz Loft on Christian Avenue in Stony Brook. Photo from WMHO

Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, is always grateful when someone comes along and offers a helping hand, but during the pandemic, his gratitude is overflowing.

The Old Stone Jug, above, prior to being moved to its current site in 1940. Photo from Tom Manuel

Before New York State’s mandatory shutdowns, the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation awarded The Jazz Loft a grant in the amount of $40,000 to match funds coming from local resident and patron Dan Oliveri.

The money is being used to renovate the southwest section of the basement, which is under the Old Stone Jug area of the venue. The undertaken has been dubbed Project Coal Bin, Manuel said. While the basement dates back to 1941, the Old Stone Jug was built in approximately 1770. The grant also covers equipment needed to archive information.

“What’s exciting is it’s going to be a multipurpose space where the grant was designed not just to redesign the space but to outfit it as an area that will be used for our archiving,” The Jazz Loft founder said.

He added that the Stony Brook University Department of Computer Science worked last year to design the computer programming for the archiving, which will open up doors for other grants in the future for additional archiving and preservation.

“It’s amazing how a group like the Gardiner foundation could allow so many great things to happen even indirectly after their grant is done,” he said.

He called RDLGF a lifeline for nonprofits and a “blessing for people on Long Island.” The admiration is mutual.

Kathryn Curran, right, and The Jazz Loft founder Tom Manuel, left, in the Count Basie Garden. Photo from Tom Manuel

“The Jazz Loft is an exceptional organization that engages the community on many levels,” said Kathryn Curran, executive director of the RDLGF. “The adaptive reuse of their historic building brings new and inventive life to this early structure celebrating the history of jazz through performances and art and artifacts.”

While the grant process was lengthy, Manuel said it was an excellent experience for him where before the pandemic he sat in on a grant-writing workshop given by Curran, and was able to exchange ideas with others. He said it was inspiring to learn about grants and the bigger picture of the longevity of nonprofits and the history of Long Island.

“After a while you realize, wow, it’s not so much about me writing this grant anymore,” he said. “It’s about The Jazz Loft being here for 100 years. This is about being responsible with what has been entrusted to me.”

Manuel also praised RDLGF for the funds they granted to nonprofits during the pandemic. Curran said the board was aware of the new problems nonprofits faced in 2020, and in June the board members approved a limited reimbursement grant to historical societies. The grants were intended to help organizations cover expenses during unscheduled closings. In total, RDLGF awarded more than $63,000 to help pay bills over a three-month period.

As for Project Coal Bin, Manuel said work began a couple of months ago. He indicated before major construction could begin, the old drop ceiling had to be removed in the section of the basement, while the plumbing and the electrical system needed to be updated. Manuel said when a person is downstairs and looks up, the hand-hewn beams of the Old Stone Jug are now visible after 80 years following the removal of a plaster ceiling.

The section of The Jazz Loft is called the Old Stone Jug due to its facade and was added by philanthropist Ward Melville, who moved the structure from its original location and made it an addition to what was once the original Stony Brook firehouse. It was then used as the Suffolk Museum, the forerunner of The Long Island Museum. Before it was moved, the Old Stone Jug, through the decades, was utilized for town meetings, operated as a tin shop and was used to store molasses jugs.

Manuel said they named the new section of the basement the Coal Bin after a former establishment in Southampton called Bowden Square. The owner Herb McCarthy’s mother would cook southern food and play jazz music for Black patrons in the basement, called the Coal Bin, during a time when Southampton was segregated.

Manuel said renovations in The Jazz Loft basement are projected to be completed before the end of the year.

The Smithtown Historical Society stepped back in time last Sunday as it presented its annual Heritage Country Fair. Attendees bought tickets for two-hour time slots, and each slot was limited to 50 people. The society adhered to COVID-19 regulations and masks and social distancing were required to take part in the day’s events.

While the historic homes on the grounds were not open for tours this year, Civil War reenactors from the 30th Virginia Infantry, 9th Virginia Historical Society and 88th New York State Volunteers Regiment along with volunteers in costumes were spread out through the property to relay a bit of history.

Alpha Axes were on hand for some ax throwing; Long Island Traditional Music Association (LITMA) performed a Contra Dance; the band Strummin’ and Drummin’ performed; the Island Long Riders put on a cowboy shooting show; Paul Henry sang and played guitar; spinning and weaving demonstrations were held by Spinning Study Group of Long Island; the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presented a children’s performance of “Moana Jr.” and more.

Guests were also able to enjoy food from Belgiorno Family Mobile Wood Fired Pizza and Up In Smoke BBQ and visit vendor booths including Kathlyn Spins, Genie’s Treasures, League of Women Voters, Angela O’Connell Wreaths and Owl’s Feather Designs.

All photos by Rita J. Egan

More than 1,000 supporters of President Donald Trump (R) took to county roads Sept. 20 to participate in a car and truck rally.

The rally started in East Northport at the AMC movie theater parking lot. At 11 a.m., participants started heading east on Route 25. The caravan then continued on Route 58 to travel through Riverhead and Greenport.

The rally caught the attention of the president who tweeted, “THANK YOU! #MAGA.”

In a Sept. 21 Facebook post, the rally organizer Shawn Farash said he finally had a chance to reflect on the day.

“We were heard, seen, and it resonated,” Farash wrote. “It reached people. Young and old. We did that. We packed out that movie theater lot. We took over the North Fork, and we declared together, the phrase I’ve heard from so many of you over the past few days, that we will be #SILENTNOMORE.”

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At the Sept. 12 memorial, Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft, led a six-piece jazz band followed by Barnes’ Model A car around the pond. Photo by Patricia Paladines

Those who knew and loved Hap Barnes finally had the chance to pay their respects to his family and memory at the Red Barn in Frank Melville Memorial Park the morning of Sept. 12.

Barnes died July 8 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 84 years old.

A long-serving trustee of Frank Melville Memorial Foundation, Barnes for many years was building and grounds manager of the park where he oversaw all maintenance and improvement projects.

At the Sept. 12 memorial, Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft, led a six-piece jazz band followed by Barnes’ Model A car around the pond.

Family and friends had the opportunity to say a few words, and as the service ended, many witnessed in the sky three bald eagles circling the barn, which was dedicated to him.

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Stock photo

Election results were announced in both the villages of Old Field and Poquott after ballots were tallied Sept. 15

 Poquott

While only three names were officially on the ballot in the Village of Poquott — one for mayor and two for trustee — three additional residents garnered votes as a few dozen wrote in Dianna Padilla for mayor and Debbie Stevens and Felicia Chillak for trustee. All three have run unsuccessfully in the past.

At the end of the night, current trustee Chris Schleider won his quest for mayor with 237 votes, while Padilla garnered 54. Current mayor Dee Parrish and trustee Jacqueline Taylor won the two open trustee seats with 231 and 217, respectively. Stevens garnered 55 votes and Chillak received 61.

uOld Field

Trustee Bruce Feller is the new mayor of Old Field, garnering 80 votes the night of Sept. 15. Entering election day Tom Pirro was the only candidate on the ballot for trustee, even though two seats were open but residents wrote in former trustee and deputy mayor Thomas Gulbransen. Pirro regained his seat with 69 votes, and Gulbransen will be on the village board once again with 26 write-in votes.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

North Shore students say they want to play.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

More than a hundred young athletes and their parents rallied in front of 180 E. Main St. in Smithtown Sept. 15. The building houses the offices of Section XI, which manages Suffolk County high school sports.

Last week the athletic council voted to postpone the fall sports season and condense all three seasons to run from January through June next year. The Nassau County Council of School Superintendents had already decided to postpone sports, both councils citing the potential for increased positive cases of COVID-19 as well as the costs associated with meeting coronavirus restrictions at games. The decision is contrary to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) August announcement stating schools could allow certain sports to practice and compete starting in September, such as cross country, track and soccer, which have been deemed low to medium risk. Sports that were originally excluded from a fall start included football and volleyball.

The Sept. 15 rally was organized by field hockey players Carolena Purpura, a 12th-grader at Harborfields High School, and Jenna Halpin, a high school senior from Locust Valley High School. Halpin started the Let Them Play social media campaign. The two spoke at the event along with state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James).

Halpin said students were excited after Cuomo’s August announcement.

“We texted our teammates, we dusted off our gear and got ready to play, something we were waiting five months to do,” Halpin said.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Purpura said she wonders why surrounding states have figured out how school sports can continue during the pandemic but not Long Island. She added how playing sports is good for mental health, serving as an outlet for pent-up energy or emotions. She said many times during a bad day at school she has imagined being on the field, and it’s a way for many to express themselves like others may do with music and art.

“There’s more to sports than competition, championships and making friends,” she said. “It goes way deeper than that and serves a greater purpose.”

Fitzpatrick said Cuomo and other state officials have stated it’s important to follow the science.

“The science has shown that we can do sports and other activities safely,” Fitzpatrick said, adding that practices such as social distancing, wearing masks and other safety protocols can be incorporated so students can play sports like they are doing in other states.

Fitzpatrick, a former student basketball player, encouraged the attendees to contact their elected officials on the state, county and town levels to put pressure on Section XI to let them play.

Athletes from several school districts including Miller Place, Comsewogue, Three Village, Smithtown, Hauppauge, Central Islip and more were on hand.

Student-athletes and parents from across Suffolk County showed up at the Section XI offices Sept. 15 to protest the council’s decision to push fall sports into next year. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Hauppauge’s Jamie Devine, a 12th-grader who plays soccer and basketball, said if other states are able to practice sports and local students can attend classes in person, she doesn’t understand why Long Islanders can’t participate in sports, especially soccer which is played outside. The high school senior said she played in basketball tournaments in Pennsylvania this summer where everyone wore masks to the games, and everyone was fine.

“Not being able to play is really upsetting to me, because I’ve worked hard since I was little and to never get to play again upsets me,” she said.

Ward Melville cross country team members Katelyn Giordano, Alexis Bell and Julia Bell said they were training all summer. Finding out they couldn’t compete this fall, they said, was disappointing, especially when last season was cut short and they weren’t able to go to winter nationals or compete in the spring.

Miller Place High School senior Jonathan Flannery, who plays football, wrestling and lacrosse, said he feels robbed.

“Everyone has been dreaming of their senior year of football since we were [little], and it just feels so abrupt, and it’s just not right,” he said. “I’ll come back in the middle of the summer just to play a season. I don’t care. I didn’t play my last game yet.”