Authors Posts by Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan

Rita J. Egan
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Protesters hung signs on their cars at a May 1 rally. Photo by Lorraine Yovino

Protesters in Commack May 1 made it clear that they wanted New York to get back to business.

A protester in Commack joins others in asking for all nonessential businesses in New York to be reopened. Photo by Lorraine Yovino

Dozens lined up in front of the Macy’s parking lot at the intersection of Veterans Memorial Highway and Jericho Turnpike rallying for New York to open up its economy. For weeks, after an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), businesses deemed nonessential such as clothing stores, hair salons, barbershops, casinos and more were mandated to shut their doors to customers to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

The rally was organized through the Reopen NY Facebook page, and similar events have been held across the country in the last few weeks.

These protests have taken a politically partisan edge, with many wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and waving “Trump 2020” signs in support of President Donald Trump (R).

Protesters held signs while others hung them on their cars. One read, “If it’s forced, are we free. Reopen NY Now.” Another sign said, “Small business is essential.” One car had an “Impeach dictator Cuomo” sign on its window, while a protester held a sign that read, “Stop the spread of tyranny.” One woman held two signs where one read, “All jobs are essential” and the other, “Hey Cuomo, domestic violence and poverty does equal death.”

Among those lining the street, some wore masks while others had no face covering. Children were among the protesters with their parents, many holding signs as well.

Setauket resident George Altemose attended the event with friends from the North Country Patriots, a conservative group that rallies on the northeast corner of Bennetts and North Country roads in Setauket every Saturday morning.

“I was there because of the ongoing COVID-19 problem, to show my support for President Trump and to express my disapproval of the misguided policies of Governor Cuomo, Mayor De Blasio and other politicians that are counterproductive in our battle to restore our normal lives,” Altemose said in an email after the rally.

He said he was pleased that he attended the May 1 rally.

“It was a most refreshing and uplifting experience to gather with hundreds of like-minded friends and neighbors in Commack, and to enjoy the enthusiastic responses from the passing motorists, the majority of whom took the time to wave, blow their horns and give us the “thumbs up” sign,” he said. “It looks like Nov. 3 will be a day to remember.”

For Altemose, the protests were about more than the closings. He said he has taken issue with a few of Cuomo’s mandates, including that nursing homes must admit those afflicted with the virus, “even though they are not hospitals and are not even close to being equipped to deal with a problem of this nature and magnitude.”

Altemose applauded the president’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“President Trump has provided outstanding leadership from the earliest possible day of this crisis, including the placement of responsibility where it belongs,” he said.

Lorraine Yovino, from Hauppauge, said in a phone interview after the protest she was delighted to see so many people show up for the rally.

“The whole atmosphere was so positive and so hopeful,” she said. “It was just a very happy, hopeful group. I was so pleased to see so many young people too.”

Yovino said she has attended rallies in the past including the March for Life protests in Washington, D.C. and others in Albany. She heard about the May 1 rally through friends.

She said the Macy’s parking lot turned out to be an ideal place for everyone to park and protest as the lot was empty, unlike the Target parking lot in the next shopping center which was full.

“It’s unfair that the Target salespeople are considered essential, while the Macy’s people are nonessential,” she said. “One group gets a salary to support their families, and the other group is impoverished.”

While Yovino said she understands that there was not much information known about the virus at first, she said she feels experimental treatments, such as the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine may be helpful to many. Though it has shown in cases to help treat the virus, it is still largely untested and has shown to cause heart issues in some who use it.

“It’s no longer justified to put American citizens into poverty and not let them go to work, not let them open their businesses, not let them support their families,” she said.

Yovino said she believes Trump has been doing a good job when it comes to dealing with COVID-19, and people need to ask more questions regarding the local elected officials’  response to the pandemic.

“My heart is going out to so many people who are unnecessarily having their freedom taken away,”
she said. “Their constitutional rights are being trampled on.”

Earlier this week, Cuomo said that businesses in the state will begin opening after the May 15 pause deadline. However, the first nonessential businesses to open will be in areas with lower density in upstate New York, with those in the city and Long Island to follow at a later date. Currently, Suffolk and Nassau counties have not met much of the criteria set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for any kind of reopening.

Maddie (dressed as a shark), Laura and Joseph Mastriano get ready for a night of social distancing bingo on Facebook Live. Photo from Laura Mastriano

A Stony Brook event planner and her family are using their downtime to channel their creative energy through a classic game — bingo.

As nonessential businesses were mandated to shut down via executive order by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) back in March, Laura Mastriano, founder of L.A. Productions Events, found herself with some extra time on her hands. Throughout the year, she plans weddings, birthday parties and other events for clients, including TBR News Media’s Cooks, Books & Corks and the Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand that was founded by her children Joseph and Maddie.

Mastriano said conversations about possible event postponements began early with clients when news of the coronavirus hitting the U.S. first spread. Even early in March, a venue owner told her they couldn’t go ahead with a communion she was planning in May.

“It’s a lot to swallow, but I’m trying to stay as positive as possible,” Mastriano said.

What helps her stay positive, she added, is holding on to knowing that one day everyone will want to celebrate outside of their homes again. 

The Facebook Live bingo came about when she wanted to think of something to keep busy for a while. She also realized that her parents, Rich and Terri Adell, wouldn’t be able to visit her family regularly, and she wanted to keep connected with them.

“Part of this bingo was for them to have something to do,” the event planner said, adding now that soon many others were tuning in to see what the Mastrianos had come up with as a theme and how the family decorated the bingo table and its surroundings.

Every night for more than 40 days, Mastriano, Maddie and Joseph have dressed up and led the bingo games, while the event planner’s husband, Joe, is behind the camera. Each night they chose a different theme. The event planner said she finds inspiration from her storage shed where she has items from past events tucked away. She said one piece of foam board has been used and repurposed to fit the many themes the family has used.

“I’m trying to be as resourceful as possible,” she said, adding that planning the live streaming events has also been therapeutic.

The family has included themes such as  Disney, circus, the 1980s, gaming and more. An April 26 football-themed bingo game attracted nearly 300 players, many who commented on their favorite past football games.

Mastriano said her daughter has been wearing a shark costume that incorporates the evening’s theme and has become known as Sharkie, while her son has been keeping track of the items called off the bingo card. Her husband will read off the names of those participating in the Facebook Live and their comments during the event. Sometimes, she said, the family’s English bulldog Phoebe will even make an appearance dressed up in the theme just like the rest of the family.

Mastriano said her parents have invited their friends to come play, and her mother and best friend in Georgia will spend the day planning out what to wear and taking selfies of themselves all dressed up. Many other family members and friends have also joined in the fun and are finding old photos of themselves that fit the theme and share to the event planner’s social media page.

To participate, game players visit Mastriano’s Facebook page earlier in the day to find out the theme and print out the game card. Participants have even been making their own game cards when they don’t have a printer.

The event planner said the family will continue to have the bingo games until the end of the mandatory closings. She has been pleased with everyone’s positive responses, but she knows it can’t compare to what others have been doing.

“Compared to the amount of work that everyone else is putting in out there, like all the first responders, this is nothing,” Mastriano said. “Our goal in this whole thing is to just provide a smile, a small distraction and hopefully provide a little fun.”

Scott November leaves the rehabilitation center with his wife, Shelley, at the wheel. Photo from the November family

One Northport resident’s experience with the coronavirus led him to the brink of death, and now that he’s back at home, he’s beyond grateful for those who nursed him back to health.

The Novembers with their children and grandchildren. Photo from the November family

Scott November, 66, was Huntington Hospital’s first ventilated patient who has survived and recovered from COVID-19. After a journey that took him from at first not being able to be tested for the virus and trying to recoup at home, to a hospital visit that led to him being on a ventilator, November has now put 10 days of rehabilitation and more than a week of at-home quarantine behind him. As of April 24, he was finally able to see family members, even though it was from a distance.

“I was really exceptionally well and lovingly cared for in the hospital,” November said.

The father and grandfather, who is a purchasing and global operations manager for a brass fitting company in Brooklyn, said early in March he attended parties for his grandchildren. He said he was feeling fine, moving tables and kissing and hugging everyone.

The next day he went to work and felt good at the office and driving home at the end of the workday. However, when he arrived home and sat down for dinner, he began to shake violently. He had the chills, and when he took his temperature, he had a fever of 100.6 degrees. He laid down in the guest room and decided to stay in there until he got better as he didn’t want to infect his wife, he said.

Despite trips to two different urgent care facilities, he wasn’t tested for the coronavirus at the beginning of his illness as he wasn’t presenting with all the symptoms, and he was just given flu tests which came out negative.

November, who has psoriatic arthritis and diabetes, said looking back he understands why he wasn’t tested at the time as there weren’t enough tests available. When he made a second trip to one of the urgent care locations, he was given an X-ray to see if he had pneumonia. While the health care professionals there read it as negative, it was sent out to a radiologist who noticed spots on his lungs and saw pneumonia.

November said he took his health in his own hands and spoke with an administrator at the urgent care and his call was passed on to one of the heads of the chain, who went through his information and saw the radiologist’s report. It was then the Northport resident was told to get tested for COVID-19. He was able to get the test March 16, but that night his symptoms worsened. His wife called his primary physician where she was instructed to call an ambulance.

EMT personnel soon showed up in full hazmat uniforms, and he was brought to the emergency room at Huntington Hospital. He said the new emergency center has individual rooms with doors so he was able to be isolated as he was in a room for two days until it was determined he should be taken to the critical care unit and be put on a ventilator. Though, he said, he has no recollection of the move to the CCU as he was in a medically-induced coma.

He called the nurses heroes and added that they can’t practice social distancing like others while caring for patients. All they have between themselves and the patients, he added, are gloves, sheer gowns and face coverings.

“They have to trust that they’ll stay safe,” he said. “They’re heroes. They went beyond the extra mile.”

“It’s so important for families and caregivers to have a bond and have communication. It made me a real person.”

— Scott November

November said he is grateful that his caregivers did everything they could to keep in touch with his family regularly through phone calls and FaceTime and answered their questions about his condition since COVID-19 guidelines prevent visitors at hospitals.

“It’s so important for families and caregivers to have a bond and have communication,” he said. “It made me a real person.”

To make up for the lack of family interaction, the nurses hung up family photos and his grandchildren’s drawings on the hospital room walls. His wife, Shelley, said the health care workers felt her family’s desperation, and at times nurses would fix her husband’s hair and even stroke his head to comfort him.

November said he was told there were several patients in the CCU while he was there, and he witnessed health care professionals scrambling to learn more about the novel virus, even joining online forums to talk to other nurses and doctors around the country.

November is grateful to be alive, he said, as he heard that others on ventilators lost their battles against the virus. Not only that, he almost died himself. His wife had received a call during his stint in the hospital that he was close to death, but the nurses tried one more thing. They heard that putting patients in a prone position helped to increase oxygen intake, and they decided to put him on his stomach. The move worked.

While November was in the hospital, his wife, who is 65, also came down with the coronavirus, though she didn’t need to be hospitalized. She said while she was fortunate not to be admitted to the hospital, it was tough dealing with everything, and when she was at her worst, her husband was also at his. Both she and her husband are grateful that their children Jordan, Courtney and Remy were able to help out, leaving groceries by their mother’s door when she needed to quarantine.

When the husband was finally extubated and able to leave the CCU, he said he had no core strength and wasn’t self-sufficient so he was sent to a rehab facility. Then days after entering rehab, he was able to walk 300 feet, climb three flights of stairs and become self-sufficient enough to use the bathroom and groom himself on his own. 

On April 17 he left rehab, and after eight days of quarantining at home, he said he was thrilled to see his family, even if it was from a distance. 

“There were prayers to God, to Jesus, to Allah. There were prayers to everybody on my behalf.”

— Scott November

When it comes to getting through the rough times, November said he is a big believer in science and knows everything the doctors and nurses did and all the research being done played a part in his recovery. Calling himself an agnostic, he added he also believes it has something to do with the diverse groups of friends he and his wife, as well as his children, have.

“There were prayers to God, to Jesus, to Allah,” November said. “There were prayers to everybody on my behalf.”

He said his recovery and being able to unite with his family is bittersweet though, because he knows of the many lives that have been lost to the coronavirus. Knowing that he is also concerned for those who have not been able to mourn for their loved ones with funerals and services.

“They’re not a number. Each one of them is  a human being,” he said. “Mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, coworkers, friends — they have their camaraderie.”

His wife agreed that families are destroyed, and it’s frustrating for nurses who put the same efforts into everyone’s care.

“It’s really hard to understand why he was spared,” she said. “Why did the universe have mercy on us and not others, and it’s hard to live with that.”

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Suffolk County Police arrested a man for allegedly making graffiti in Smithtown this morning.

Responding to a 911 call, a SCPD 4th Precinct patrol officer observed Anthony Garcia painting graffiti on a bus stop shelter, located on Nesconset Highway near Terry Road, at approximately 12:30 a.m. Recent graffiti was also observed on a second bus stop shelter nearby.

Garcia, 30, of Patchogue, was arrested and charged with making graffiti and possession of graffiti instruments, both misdemeanors. He was issued a desk appearance ticket and is scheduled to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip May 15.

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Barry Chandler delivers food to the Suffolk County Police Headquarters. Photo from Nissequogue Golf Club

It was a hole in one for Stony Brook University Hospital workers April 5 when the Nissequogue Golf Club donated 600 meals to the facility. The club followed up that act of kindness with a donation of 120 meals to the Suffolk County Police Headquarters in Yaphank April 16.

Nissequogue Golf Club staff members deliver food to SBU hospital. Photo from Nissequogue Golf Club

According to the club’s general manager, Barry Chandler, the hot, homemade meals included meatballs and rigatoni. The club also donated 25 cases of bottled water to the hospital.

Chandler approached the club’s president Art Seeberger with the idea of donating to the hospital and Seeberger then asked the club’s board for approval. The club’s president then made the initial contribution of $500, and Chandler matched it.

The planning process began with Chandler contacting the hospital to ensure all the details were covered before the delivery. The 1,600 meatballs, 200 pounds of rigatoni and 110 gallons of sauce which made up the first meals for hospital workers were prepared by the club’s chef Joseph Badalato and his kitchen crew. Chandler said meatballs were an easy choice for the meals.

“Our chef is Italian, and we love his meatballs,” he said. “So he gets the whole gang together in the kitchen, anyone who can help, and we start rolling meatballs based on his specifications.”

When it came to the delivery to Stony Brook University Hospital, club member Ann Shybunko-Moore lent her truck to transport the meals, and Seeberger, Chandler, Badalato and sous chef Vince Minelli made the delivery. Chandler said SBU had someone greet them at the door with carts and hospital employees brought the food in so the volunteers didn’t have to step inside the hospital.

According to the golf club manager, other hospitals and first responders were reaching out to its offices to see if they too may have their first responders fed by Nissequogue Golf Club. A wife of one of the workers at Suffolk County Police Headquarters heard about the golf club’s good dead and asked if food could be delivered to the Yaphank facility. Chandler said the club received a card after the delivery signed by more than 50 of the employees at headquarters.

The golf club staff is currently discussing the next group to feed, which most likely will be health care workers at another hospital.

Pictured, Nissequogue Golf Club staff members deliver food to SBU hospital, top and bottom left; bottom right Barry Chandler delivers food to the Suffolk County Police Headquarters. 

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In March Three Village Civic Association volunteers, including board member Sotiria Tzakas, delivered food to the Three Village Central School District food pantry. Photo from Three Village Civic Association

The Three Village Civic Association is doing its part to help the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The civic association sent an email April 10 to inform members that the group established a Helping Hands program with the aim to deliver up to $100 groceries per week to anyone who needs them.

Those who are unable to leave the house because they may be infected, are one of the people at high risk or are having financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, can reach out to the civic association for help. Volunteers will shop, pay for and deliver the groceries. Residents who receive assistance are asked to contribute to the program if they can do so.

TVCA President Jonathan Kornreich said more than a dozen people asked for assistance during the first week of the program. He said that more than 20 people have offered to volunteer to help.

“The community is so amazing and ready to help,” Kornreich said, adding that local residents have sent in donations totaling $2,500 so far.

In March the civic association also picked up bags of donated items from residents’ curbs for the Three Village Central School District food pantry.

For more information, visit www.threevillagecivics.org.

Members of the Huntington Community First Aid Squad pick up face shields at Zaro’s Cafe. Photo from Zaro's Cafe

A Huntington Station restaurant owner decided to make use of his establishment’s dining room while remaining open for takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edmund Zarou assembles face shields. Photo from. Zaro’s Cafe

Edmund Zarou, of Zaro’s Cafe, has turned the family-owned Greek and Italian eatery into a staging area to create plastic face shields for first responders. The restaurant has been able to produce several shields a day with the use of 3D printing technology and to date has made 500 copies of the protective gear.

Zarou said in an email that he recognized the need for medical supplies as the coronavirus quickly spread in the area.

“We wanted to turn a negative into a positive,” the restaurant owner said, adding he owns four 3D printers from another one of his businesses.

“When I realized I could make these shields it was a no-brainer,” he said. “We immediately shifted the empty dining room from Zaro’s Cafe into a makeshift mini face shield factory for first responders, medical workers, fire departments and EMTs [Emergency Medical Technicians] all over Long Island. We even sent a bunch to a hospital in Chicago.”

Zarou said while he continues to receive an overwhelming amount of requests for the gear, he and his family are working hard to keep up with the requests and plan to do so until the pandemic ends. 

“We are here to support the heroic health care workers as they take care of us,” he said.

The restaurant owner said the family-owned business knows about struggles and is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“We are all about family and doing what we can to help others whenever possible,” he said. “We have been here almost 27 years and have had our own struggles the last few years. Small businesses have gotten hurt, so we appreciate our loyal regular customers as well as new ones who are still just finding out about us.”

Zaro’s Cafe is open for curbside pickup and delivery Tuesday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to
8 p.m. Those who would like to donate for Zaro’s Cafe to purchase material for more shields can do so via the mobile payment service VENMO by using the handle “ezarou” for the recipient or the digital payment network ZELLE by entering [email protected] as the receiver.

Centerport Resident Among First to Donate Convalescent Blood Plasma

Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero is leading the clinical trial at Stony Brook Medicine which is expected to enroll up to 500 patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stony Brook Medicine has launched a research study in the hopes of developing a treatment for those severely suffering from the coronavirus.

On April 2, SBM began a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved research study to determine if convalescent blood plasma from those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 can help treat currently hospitalized patients. One of the first volunteers was Mark Goidell, a litigation attorney from Centerport.

COVID-19 survivor Mark Goidell donates blood plasma for a research study at SBU. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

The Research Study

Dr. Elliott Bennett-Guerrero, vice chair of Clinical Research and Innovation in the Renaissance School of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology, is heading up the research study. He said the hospital needs approximately 100 volunteers who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate blood plasma, possibly once a week or every other week. Subjects must have contracted COVID-19 and be free of symptoms for 14 days. As of April 22, the doctor said they have received a large number of inquiries leading to 180 people being screened and 90 have been identified as having high levels of antibodies. Currently 25 have either donated blood plasma or are scheduled to do so.

Bennett-Guerrero said researchers are looking for those with high antibody levels of the virus and testing takes about 15 minutes. The donors must also meet regular criteria to be a blood donor, the doctor said, which includes being at least 17 years old, weighing more than 100 pounds, and having no infections Certain travel outside of the U.S. will also be reviewed. 

“We’re very fortunate that we can run this protocol independently, because we have access to a very good test for antibodies, and we also have a licensed blood collection facility already in our hospital,” the doctor said. “So we have those two main ingredients to help us to collect blood plasma and unfortunately have a large number of patients who are in desperate need of help.”

Bennett-Guerrero said the trial will include 500 hospital patients ranging from those who are intubated and those who are not. A higher percentage of patients will receive convalescent serum on a random basis compared to other trials which tend to have 50 percent of patients serve as a control group who receive a placebo.

“Our protocol is unique in that while we want to help as many people as possible, we also want to determine if it’s safe and effective,” the doctor said. “It’s a randomized trial where 80 percent of the patients will receive the convalescent plasma because we hope to benefit as many patients as possible, and there will be a small group of 20 percent of patients that will serve as the control group and get standard plasma. It’s the only way we can rigorously determine if it’s safe and effective to do this.”

Plasma, which is the liquid portion of the blood, helps with clotting and supporting immunity. The hope is the plasma from those who have survived COVID-19 will contain antibodies which in turn can kill the virus in seriously ill patients. According to SBM, convalescent serum therapy is a century-old treatment that has been used in patients during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, the diphtheria epidemic in the U.S. in the 1920s, and more recently, the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

The doctor said it’s too early to determine if giving convalescent blood plasma to a COVID-19 patient will help.

“It’s very early in the stage with this pandemic,” he said. “We’re only beginning to learn what are the patterns of antibody formation in people who had the COVID-19 infection. In general it’s believed that antibodies to COVID-19 will probably persist for a while, perhaps months or years, and likely be protective. However, we don’t know yet if the antibodies that we are measuring actually mean, ‘quote-unquote,’ one is immune and can’t be reinfected. We think that’s probably the case but it’s not proven yet.”

Blood plasma donor Mark Goidell and his wife, Lynn, recently recovered from the coronavirus. Photos from Stony Brook Medicine

The Donor

The doctor said Goidell was a good candidate because he was free of symptoms for a couple of weeks, had high levels of the antibodies in his system and met blood donation criteria.

Both Goidell, 64, and his wife Lynn, 62, came down with the virus. The attorney said he was sick toward the end of February and in early March, and his symptoms included being lethargic and feverish, and at times during the night he would frequently wake up and try to catch his breath, many times going outside to do so.

His wife was admitted to Huntington Hospital March 13 due to having double pneumonia and was discharged a few days later. Goidell said he did have a relapse where he said his symptoms felt like a sinus infection, with a loss of smell and taste. He said he has recovered about 70 percent of those senses.

While his symptoms didn’t initially lead to testing, he said, once his wife was hospitalized he was tested March 17 at an urgent care facility. After reading about the Stony Brook study on the News12 website, Goidell said he was more than willing to participate in the trial.

“It’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening and all the tragedy and anguish that is being brought about by the virus,” Goidell said. “I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve recovered, and I’m able to do something to help.”

He said he feels fortunate to live in close proximity to Stony Brook Medicine. Between his experience with the study so far and his wife’s hospital stay at Huntington Hospital, he has gained an even greater respect and admiration for health care workers. He called those who treated his wife “heroes.”

He added the two of them are now back to working remotely, joking that he has put on some weight due to his wife’s good cooking, and he has been playing a lot of basketball in his driveway to burn off the pounds.

He said he hopes that others who have recovered will donate their plasma, and that others will “stay inside and help each other out.”

“I wish Dr. Bennett-Guerrero and the researchers at Stony Brook the best of luck, and I have the most gratitude for the work they are doing,” he said.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate blood plasma can visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/COVID_donateplasma where they will be required to fill out an online survey. Potentially eligible people will be asked to participate in a screening visit at a Stony Brook Medicine facility, which will take approximately 30 minutes. You do not need to be a Stony Brook University Hospital patient to participate, but you must meet the required criteria for plasma donation and have high levels of antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19.

Phil and Toni Tepe in an undated picture. Photo from Huntington Republican Committee

Toni Tepe, 75, died April 8 after a battle with cancer.

Tepe was the Town of Huntington’s first and only woman Town Supervisor. She was also a former state assemblywoman and the current Huntington Republican Committee chairman. She passed away nineteen days after her husband Phil Tepe, commissioner of the Dix Hills Fire Department and an accomplished public servant in his own right. He died unexpectedly March 20.

Tepe was born Antonia Patricia Bifulco in Manhattan Oct. 20, 1944, to Pasquale Bifulco and Mary (Finello) Bifulco, she was raised in Huntington and graduated from Huntington High School. She went on to attend Katherine Gibbs School in Melville and work as an administrative assistant in the Suffolk County courts.

 After marrying John B. Rettaliata, Jr., she  ran for elected office under her married name, Toni Rettaliata, and became the second Republican woman, and third female, to ever hold the office of New York State Assemblymember from the Town of Huntington. Tepe followed in the footsteps of Huntington Republican suffragette Ida Bunce Sammis, the first woman to ever serve in the New York State Assembly, and succeeding Mary Rose McGee, a Democrat, in the 8th Assembly District (1979-1982), then, after redistricting, serving in the 10th Assembly District (1983–1987). 

As assemblywoman, Tepe notably secured the first $31,000 in funding that allowed former Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia to build the award-winning and history making Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives and Records Center.

In 1987, Tepe was elected Town of Huntington Supervisor and served the then two-year term as the first and only woman to ever hold the office (1988-1989). She was responsible for the formation of the Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board.

She remarried in 2000 to Phil Tepe. Toni Tepe was elected chairman of the Huntington Republican Committee in 2006 and served as its leader until her death. As chairman, she was responsible for the 2017 local election in which the Republican party won control of the Huntington Town Board for the first time in 24 years.

Born in Rockville Centre Jan. 15, 1949, and raised in Dix Hills, Philip H. Tepe was a Vietnam veteran, commander of the Nathan Hale VFW Post 1469, and served on the Town of Huntington Veterans Advisory Board, which his future wife established during her time as Town Supervisor. Phil Tepe served as a Suffolk County Deputy fire coordinator, a Town of Huntington fire marshal and was a great leader in his own right, most recently serving as commissioner of the Dix Hills Fire District, of which he was an ex-chief, Badge #207 and 52-year member of Engine Company 2.

The Tepes are survived by Toni’s sister Hope Van Bladel; Phil’s sisters Diane Marks and Elizabeth Finkelstein; Phil’s children Tiffany (Luke) Legrow, Philip Anthony Tepe II, Brett Tepe; and their grandchildren Shane Legrow and Blakely Legrow.

Funeral arrangements were entrusted to M.A. Connell Funeral Home. A public memorial service will be held at a later date to be determined.

—Submitted by the Huntington Republican Committee

Palms left by the door of All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. Photo from All Souls Episcopal

Since the middle of March, houses of worship have had to find other ways to stay connected with their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked local clergy members how alternative methods have been working and what is on the minds of their congregants.

Setauket United Methodist Church

The Rev. Steven Kim, of Setauket United Methodist Church, is just one pastor who is using modern technology. He said COVID-19 can make connectivity or interaction difficult.

“A church is not an exception,” he said. “Since the pandemic broke out, our ministry has been focused on helping the parishioners feel connected with their church family. Technology is a key player in pursuing this goal. It has enabled us to continue worshiping, keep meetings, continue our bible study and have prayer gatherings all online.”

Kim said the church is also trying to serve the community through prayer and other supportive ways. Church members have sent encouragement cards to medical crews, first responders and police officers in the community and delivered pizza to the medical crew at the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“The current crisis challenges us to deepen our understanding of a faith community which is rooted in our society,” Kim said.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor at Setauket Church, said the congregation at Setauket Presbyterian Church reflected on the theme of “wilderness” during the season of Lent.

“After the impact of the coronavirus became more real for us locally, our wrestling as a faith community with what it means to be in the “wilderness” obviously took on new meaning,” Jones Calone said. “We’ve been contemplating questions like: how do the various stories involving wilderness in scripture guide and challenge and sustain us during this time? Where are God and grace present in the wilderness? What does our church/community/world look like on the other side of a wilderness experience?”

Jones Calone said the experience reminds them that “the church is not a building but a community of people who share deep connection through their faith in a God of love.” Church members love one another and their neighbors by staying home, worshipping and meeting virtually, and comforting those who are sick, hurting, grieving and serving. The congregation also created an Emergency Assistance Fund to help those in need.

“This crisis has further exposed deep societal inequities around economic disparity, poverty, race and health care, and makes systemic transformation even more urgent,” she said.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

Daniel Kerr, a senior warden with All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook, has been leading Sunday morning virtual prayers at 8 and 9:30 a.m. on the church’s website. He said All Souls also held virtual Good Friday, Easter Vigils and Easter morning services. The live, interactive, virtual services have featured the few who can participate taking turns reading from the scripture and leading the prayers.

“Believe it or not, we have had more folks attending the virtual services than we normally get on Sundays in ‘normal times,’” Kerr said.

He added that many who usually attend the church’s concerts, poetry readings and Shamanic Drumming events have also been tuning in to the virtual services, as well as people from New Hampshire, Florida and the Carolinas.

On Palm Sunday, he said the palms normally distributed at the Mass were left on the church’s porch with a sign encouraging people to take them. Kerr said all of the palms were taken by the following Tuesday morning.

Kerr added that at the end of the services, participants are asked to share their reflections on how they are doing during this time.

“Quite often they say these services have helped them feel connected to the extended All Souls community and less isolated and alone in their homes during social distancing,” Kerr said.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Linda Anderson, a minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, who also works with the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist congregation, said during this time she has needed to find new ways to serve congregants. In addition to calling, texting and sending emails to members, worship services as well as other meetings have been made available online.

Anderson said many have lost people in their lives, or fear they will, and have thought about their own deaths. 

“I hear the sadness that death brings,” she said. “The stress of grief affects our bodies in that we might feel more tired, have chest pains, upset stomachs, headaches. The stress of grief can make it hard for us to focus or make decisions. Our emotions can be all over the place, ranging from numbness to anger, from sorrow to relief.”

For those who fear their own deaths, she said it’s important to talk about their lives such as what they are proud of, what regrets they may have, what they think their legacy is and more. 

“It is a relief for folks to talk about these things out loud because they sure are thinking about them,” she said.

She said while the past holiday season had its challenges, the biblical story she found to be most relevant to congregants was that of the Israelites wandering in the desert.

“It feels like we too wander in the desert of COVID-19, uncertain of what will come next but holding onto a faith that we will indeed emerge from this,” Anderson said.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Rocky Point

The Rev. Peter Boehringer of Trinity Lutheran Church said the house of worship has used various online platforms for Sunday school, confirmation classes, First Communion, committee meetings and more. The church’s worship services are recorded and broadcasted on Facebook and YouTube.

He said the congregants see “the virus as something that falls within the realm of our interaction with nature.”

“Where we see God working is in the incredible compassion, empathy and commitment of people who have responded to the great challenges of this contagion with love,” he said. “If one takes the Easter message seriously, the idea that God is somehow punishing us, or the world, is negated. Our Lord does not promise that we will never be ill, or escape all disaster, etc., what is promised is the presence of the Holy Spirit in these things, that we may endure them and be a blessing to those around us.”

Village Chabad, East Setauket

Rabbit Motti Grossbaum said celebrating Passover this week was different than in the past.

“The question we ask at our Seder tables, ‘Why is this night different than all other nights?’ is ringing especially true at the present time,” he said. “We are doing our best to help the local community observe the holiday to the best degree possible as there is no reason we should Passover, Passover. Unfortunately as a Jewish people, we have been through challenges in our history, and the dedication that our ancestors had to our traditions and our heritage serves an inspiration to us during these challenging times to observe our faith despite the challenges. And when we do, we see that our connection to God and our faith gives us the hope we need to carry us through.”

Like other houses of worship, Village Chabad is using technology for services, education and counseling to members of all ages. Due to the pandemic, the rabbis have had to use technology to visit the sick and help families grieve virtually.

The rabbi had some words of hope. 

“While we cannot attempt to explain the reasoning for suffering and for COVID-19, we could attempt to find glimmers of hope and lessons of inspiration from our current world,” he said. “One obvious one is this. The world at large is currently united with one single focus. Crossing geographic divides, languages, cultures, races and even political differences, the world is currently united with one singular concern, goal and prayer. We are seeing how we are all responsible for each other and only together, will we bring an end to this. This is reminding us to set aside our differences and find the common humanity in every single human being on our planet. Every one of us are intrinsically good and together we will also reveal the intrinsic goodness of our world.”