People of the Year

Susan Walsh Lauria, Eileen Anders and Penny Ferraro at the Northport Library. Photo from Friends of the Northport-East Northport Public Library

By Julianne Mosher

Penny Ferraro spent her entire adulthood in Port Washington. When her children moved east, the newly widowed Ferraro decided to start a new life in Northport and get involved within her community. 

Eileen Anders, center, gets ready to dig at the East Northport Library with Friends of the Library members Penny Ferraro, left, and Doreen Earl, right. Photo from Friends of the Northport-East Northport Public Library

Five years ago, she joined the Friends of the Northport-East Northport Public Library group where she met Eileen Anders. 

The first thing Ferraro noticed about Anders was that she was “a quiet, constant presence,” who could lead a group, but also was one to follow suit. 

“If you come up with an idea, she’s right there,” Ferraro said. “She’s a team player.”

Anders, a retired public-school teacher from East Northport, is known locally for her involvement with several different causes. A past secretary of the Friends of the Library, she is also heavily involved with the Huntington Historical Society, the Long Island Horticultural Society, the Heckscher Museum and more. 

For her active devotion to local horticulture and history, TBR News Media names Anders as a 2022 Person of the Year. 

“I have known Eileen for several years as we meet at a Friends of the Northport-East Northport Public Library meeting,” said Susan Eckert, of Northport, and a 2021 TBR News Media Person of the Year. “At her suggestion, I also joined the Long Island Horticultural Society. We have since gone together to garden and house tours and other cultural and artistic events.”

Eckert said that Anders’ love for teaching followed her into retirement where she continues to educate people in her role as a volunteer.

“She’s so active in her community in different organizations throughout Nassau and Suffolk,” she said. “It’s wonderful she shares her knowledge about gardening with us.”

Ferraro agreed. In the few years she’s known Anders through the different nonprofits and organizations they volunteer with together, she said that she is always ready to tackle a mission and does it with a smile. 

For example, last year the Friends of the Library decided to start what would be a two-year task of planting daffodil bulbs in the courtyards of the Northport and East Northport libraries. A small handful got together last year to plant 100 bulbs – 50 in each location. When 2022 came a year later, several factors came in the way of having the same number of volunteers – rainstorms, scheduling and illnesses. Ferraro said that Anders didn’t mind and the two took it upon themselves to plant another 100.

Eckert said that her colleague’s love for horticulture goes beyond the courtyards of the local libraries. Anders is a master gardener who has conducted workshops on gardening through programs sponsored by Cornell Cooperative Extension, and is on the board of directors at the Long Island Horticultural Society where she at one time coordinated the monthly program.

Anders is also a history buff who conducts tours at Planting Fields Arboretum’s Coe Hall mansion in Oyster Bay, volunteers as a docent in training at the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, is a former tour guide at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay and is a current member of Preservation Long Island. 

Just recently, Ferraro mentioned that Anders, who again will drop what she’s doing to help out the cause, joined at the last minute to volunteer at the Holiday Historic House Tour with the Huntington Historical Society. 

This volunteerism impresses Ferraro. “Volunteering is important because we can’t get things done by ourselves,” she said. “You need to have a group of people who are passionate about certain issues and ideas.”

And she believes Anders does just that. 

“She epitomizes contributions to the community without grandstanding which is absolutely amazing,” Ferraro said. “Eileen has energy, stamina, intelligence, curiosity and everything going for her that makes her a very valuable person to our community.”

Earlier this year, Hope Kinney, left, shown with Herb Mones, Three Village Community Trust president, was able to secure a $4,000 grant from her employer, Investors Bank, to help restore the immigrant factory houses in Setauket. Photo from Three Village Community Trust

Hope Kinney is a familiar face in the Three Village area.

Hope Kinney collecting donations for The Salvation Army. File photo

Whether at an event organized by the Rotary Club of Stony Brook, Three Village Community Trust, local chamber of commerce or working with students and businesses with the Three Village Industry Advisory Board, residents will see Kinney there with a smile on her face, scurrying around to help out.

For her dedication to her community, Kinney is one of TBR News Media’s People of the Year.

The admiration is mutual. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) nominated Kinney for Suffolk County Woman of Distinction in the 5th Legislative District in 2020.

“Hope Kinney’s impact is ingrained within many of the layers that comprise our community,” the legislator wrote in an email. “From her highly visible leadership role with, and on behalf of, local business to her continual support of organizations committed to societal improvement, Hope is dedicated to serving neighbors and community with purpose. There is so much to honor Hope Kinney for, and I believe, this recognition translates our thankful community’s gratitude into celebration of her uplifting and selfless spirit.”

For years, Kinney has been involved with the now-defunct Three Village Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club of Stony Brook. She became the president of the latter in the summer of 2020 and took on the challenge of organizing club events while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. She scheduled Zoom meetings, and as more businesses were able to open up planned socially distanced lunches. She also put together a virtual online fundraiser for the Port Jefferson-based nonprofit Give Kids Hope, which provides food and clothing for local residents in need.

For the last three years, the rotary club has organized the Three Village Holiday Electric Parade. During the pandemic, due to COVID-19 restrictions, a drive-thru version of the event was held at Ward Melville High School. 

Judi Wallace, treasurer of the rotary club, credits Kinney for keeping the organization going during the pandemic. She described Kinney as “a wonderful person” and “super community oriented.”

“Three Village means everything to her,” Wallace said.

Kinney is always looking for ways the rotary can assist individuals or groups who have a need in the area, Wallace said.

She added, “Hope is always thinking and always coming up with great ideas in order to do things in the community.”

Wallace said it was Kinney who brought back the 5K race organized by rotary and The Bench in Stony Brook.

“She just comes up with an idea and follows through, and that’s the most important thing in the world,” Wallace said.

The same year Kinney became president of the rotary club, she joined the Three Village Community Trust board and is currently its treasurer.

Herb Mones, president of TVCT, said it’s refreshing and a big help to a volunteer-based organization such as TVCT to have someone such as Kinney who is always ready to chip in when asked.

“She is always the first to say, ‘I can do that,’ and helps and takes on different responsibilities when the need is there,” he said. “She does it in an upbeat, happy way of feeling that she is contributing and helping the community.”

Hope Kinney standing in front of the Rotary Club truck in Hicksville about to receive 4,000 masks in 2020. Photo from Hope Kinney

She was recently able to secure a $4,000 grant through her employer, Investors Bank, which will go toward the restoration of the immigrant factory houses in Setauket. Kinney has also spearheaded the trust’s gala in November, which Mones said is the most successful fundraiser for TVCT.

“She’s always got an ear to the community and understands things that are going on and that becomes very helpful in so many different ways,” Mones said.

Kinney juggles all her volunteer roles while working full-time as the branch manager at Investors Bank, formerly Gold Coast Bank, at its Setauket location on Route 25A.

Kinney started her banking career at Capital One in 2004. When the bank had layoffs in 2018, she was recruited by John Tsunis, Gold Coast’s founder, as branch manager.

In a 2020 interview with The Village Times Herald, Kinney talked about balancing her career and volunteerism with spending time with her husband, Joseph, and three children Justin, Michael and Rachel. To handle all her responsibilities, she said she tries to stay organized and not get overwhelmed.

“I take it day by day,” Kinney said. “I put it on the calendar, and I’m able to look at the calendar and then I go day by day … I guess that’s the secret — work with each day.”

Jennifer McNaughton, center, in a recent photo with her sons Ryan, left, and James. Photo from McNaughton family

A late November day in Western New York saw temperatures drop into the 20s with the wind chill making it feel close to zero.

Jennifer McNaughton with her boys when they were younger. Photo from the McNaughton family

Leftover snow from one of the biggest blizzards in modern history whistled around the football stadium at St. Francis High School in Hamburg in suburban Buffalo and there were no amounts of hot cocoa, blankets or layers of clothing that could make the conditions close to bearable. 

Adding to the misery, the St. Anthony’s Friars football team that sat on a cold, dark bus for seven hours in search of a New York State Catholic championship, was getting destroyed — losing by 20 at halftime.

Despite this frozen hellscape of a situation Nov. 30, there was no other place Jennifer McNaughton, a St. Anthony’s Friars mom, would rather have been.

McNaughton, of East Northport, has two sons, Ryan and James. Ryan is a sophomore and plays on the offensive line for the Friars and senior James is currently one of the most successful long-distance runners on Long Island as a member of all three Northport Tigers track and field teams. Jennifer has always been extremely active in their academic and athletic careers from the time that they were small. 

There’s a Mrs. McNaughton, or a Jen, in every town in America. You know — the mom who knows the correct link to order the gear, has practice and game schedules committed to memory, and always carts around a well-stocked cooler of Gatorade in the back of her truck. 

From Cub Scouts den mother to Northport Tigers cross country booster club president to football mom, she is especially busy during the fall sports season, traipsing around the tristate area every weekend to support both of her boys. She is involved with several charitable endeavors and is one of the most well-liked and respected citizens of Northport. 

Around the village, McNaughton cannot walk a short distance without someone stopping her to say hello, ask her a question or just shoot the breeze. But in late August, with the 2022-23 school year just days away, she started to have trouble walking a few feet for any reason at all and would lose her breath doing the simplest of tasks. After a few days of this, she and her husband, James, decided it was time for her to see the doctor. 

The news was not good.

She was diagnosed with massive bilateral pulmonary embolism, in which hundreds of tiny clots impede blood flow in her lungs. Left unchecked, this disease is often fatal and even when checked, it can have extremely negative outcomes. Her first thought was about her family.

“It was James’ senior season and Ryan had made it on to one of the best football teams on Long Island and there was so much good coming to our family this year,” McNaughton recalled thinking in the doctor’s office. “Instead, everyone would remember it as ‘the year that mom died.’ That was very difficult for me to come to grips with.”

Her sons were not thinking about their athletic careers when they learned of her diagnosis.

“My mother has gotten me to the place where I am today,” said Ryan, who is one of a handful of underclassman to get starting reps for the Friars in 2022. “She has supported my brother and I for as long as we can remember in every conceivable way. When they told us what she had, it really knocked us off our feet. We weren’t expecting it to be something so serious. We were stunned.”

After a five-night hospital stay, where she was administered a course of blood thinners, McNaughton’s condition started to abate, and she was able to ease into normal activities around mid-September. Many of these activities entail getting her boys to where they need to be. But make no mistake about this — James and Ryan do not just compete at places like Hauppauge, Connetquot or Longwood like most Suffolk County high school athletes. 

Jennifer McNaughton with her sons when they were younger. Photo from the McNaughton family

Ryan, who comes in the form of a sandy-haired, blue-eyed wrestler, had a stretch of four straight road football games that spanned September and October. Jen and husband James made stops in Piscataway, New Jersey; Rockland County; and the Bronx — twice. She saw every snap.

For James, who is a wiry and reed-thin 6 feet, 2 inches tall with dark eyes and wavy, jet-black hair, the mother routinely traveled to the Armory in Upper Manhattan; the Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island; and even as far as Cicero, which is near Syracuse and is a six-hour drive. 

“Whether I run well or don’t run well, it’s always good to know she’s there supporting me,” said Northport senior James, who was the fastest Long Island runner at the New York State cross country championships last month. His mother’s illness “was a huge shock and not something any of us contemplated dealing with. It felt like everything was going upside down.”

Upside down or not, Jennifer McNaughton was determined not to let this setback interfere with her boys and their sports or her other business and philanthropic pursuits. She was moving forward.

“I started to feel better, and I love watching my boys compete,” she said. “I also love being with the other parents who are supporting the teams because it’s like being in a family. These are the moments that I live for.”

Currently on a maintenance program with the blood thinners and her condition improved, she’s intent on organizing cross country team dinners and acting as emcee for raffles at Napper Tandy’s Northport, raising money for charities like the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for pediatric cancer whose Northport chapter has raised over $6 million since its inception in 2002. 

She’s also a volunteer for Splashes of Hope, which supports county homeless shelters, veterans centers and children’s hospitals through the appreciation of art; and the Barbara Frost Community Fund, which raises money for underprivileged kids in Northport and is named for the beloved teacher at Bellerose Elementary who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993. 

On top of these acts of philanthropy, McNaughton has since rebooted her successful party planning and private bookkeeping businesses that had been on pause.

Her friend and fellow Northport mom, Patricia Campoli, is happy to see McNaughton undertaking the things she loves to do.

“Between running a household, her jobs, volunteer work and her two boys, I really don’t know how she does it, said Campoli, whose two sons, Michael and Christian, are on the Northport Tigers football team. “She is so full of knowledge on everything that happens in the community, and she is a wonderful person and a great friend who does everything with a smile on her face. I’m so happy she’s back because I know she loves doing as much as she can, and we love having her here.” 

McNaughton has reasons to smile. “I feel so lucky to still be alive,” she said. “I get up every morning and I cry tears of joy and thank God that I’m still here to do the things I took for granted before my illness.”

For her family, and all the people whose lives she touches around the village, they too feel lucky. As a little bit of added fortune, the St. Anthony’s football team overcame that three-touchdown deficit from St. Francis to win the state Catholic championship, 27-20, on that snowy day near Buffalo — some delicious icy frosting on the 2022 McNaughton family cake.

There are many aspects to Jennifer McNaughton’s benevolent work for the Northport community and her devotion to family, especially in the face of her recent illness, which is why TBR News Media names her a Person of the Year for 2022.

Stony Brook University Hospital

Previously invisible to most of the public, the infectious disease team at Stony Brook Medicine took center stage from the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 through today as area residents have battled COVID-19 and other diseases.

With a peak of over 500 people hospitalized at Stony Brook University Hospital with COVID-19 in 2020, the combination of Drs. Bettina Fries, Susan Donelan and Sharon Nachman provided best practices to protect hospital staff and patients, gathered information about the developing virus and communicated through the media with a public desperate for information.

Working with teams of other dedicated health care professionals, these infectious disease doctors helped treat and save numerous patients.

TBR News Media is pleased to name Fries, Donelan and Nachman as People of the Year for 2022.

“Stony Brook Hospital got all kinds of kudos during the height of the pandemic,” said Dr. Jonathan Buscaglia, chief medical officer at Stony Brook University Hospital. “When you’re going through a hurricane crisis, you need somebody who has a clue about hurricanes to lead you. Those people were our leaders.”

At the time, the team of infectious disease doctors impressed their colleagues not only with their effectiveness, but also with their tireless work.

“When COVID happened, it was a calling” for these infectious disease experts, Buscaglia said.

In the beginning of the disease, little was known about the most effective treatment, which meant doctors from several departments came together to create a standard protocol.

The infectious disease faculty “contributed significantly” to develop these practices, said Dr. Vincent Yang, chair of Medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU.

Dr. Bettina Fries. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Bettina Fries, the chief who served on the front lines

Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, Fries is a “nationally if not world-renowned physician scientist,” Buscaglia said.

As with her colleagues, Fries works directly with sick residents.

Fries “100% served on the front lines to care for all the hospitalized patients with COVID,” said Buscaglia, which included working seven days a week for weeks on end. She guided her staff and helped other physicians.

Early on, Fries was also “instrumental in getting a manufacturer of face masks to donate a significant number to the hospital,” Yang said. This was a key part of the personal protective equipment that had been scarce during the unsettled early part of the pandemic.

Yang described her as “highly motivated, energetic and forward thinking” and believes she is a “wonderful leader” who is detail oriented. Fries provides clear expectations for people who work for her and is an avid educator, Yang added.

As an expert in using monoclonal antibodies to treat various bacterial infections, Fries helped direct an effective therapy using these antibodies for COVID patients, according to Yang.

Fries and her team were also involved in consulting on patients, not just for COVID but also for secondary infections, Yang said.

Connie Kraft, emergency manager in the Emergency Management Office at SBUH, described Fries as “very personable” and appreciates how she studies scientific data to crunch the numbers.

Dr. Susan Donelan. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Susan Donelan, a ‘hero’ who lost sleep to help patients

Donelan, who earned her bachelor of science degree from SBU, is medical director of Healthcare Epidemiology at Stony
Brook Medicine.

In addition to caring for patients, Donelan also worked to avoid the spread of COVID at the hospital, reducing the risk to staff and to Long Islanders who came to the hospital for other medical needs.

“We don’t want patients coming in without COVID getting it while they’re here,” Buscaglia said. “It takes a special person to guide the rest of us.”

The hospital established a forward triage effort, which provided an initial assessment of COVID patients outside the hospital.

Kraft appreciated Donelan’s commitment to safety throughout the halls of the hospital.

“If you’re somebody who is walking down the corridor and your mask is hanging off your face, [Donelan] didn’t care who you are. She’s going to stop you and say, ‘Hey, pull your mask up,’” Kraft said.

As a subject-matter expert, Donelan was “our hero,” Kraft added.

Specializing in the latest treatments and symptoms, Donelan also helps faculty and staff with medical questions.

When Kraft’s grandson was sick, she asked Donelan for advice.

“She was right there, giving me support,” Kraft said, which gave “everybody a sense of calm.”

A tireless worker, Donelan often appeared on Zoom calls even during her time off.

She “doesn’t stop thinking about ways to help patients,” Buscaglia said. She “literally loses sleep about it.”

Dr. Sharon Nachman. Photo by Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Sharon Nachman, active in front of the camera and behind the scenes

Nachman, who earned her medical degree at SBU, is chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s.

Often visible during her appearances on local broadcast news channels and in numerous local publications, including TBR News Media, Nachman is committed to ensuring the public receives accurate information.

“Giving people information about why it’s important to wear masks, wash their hands and get vaccinated, those are the things that affect the community,” said Dr. Carolyn Milana, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Stony Brook Children’s.

Even though Nachman is a pediatrician and works at the children’s hospital, she, like so many other doctors, helps wherever it is needed, which in the early days included caring for adults.

Nachman was “instrumental from the adult and pediatric perspective making sure we had the latest and updated information about how to treat those patients,” Milana said. “She and her team were out there [checking] on all the patients to make sure they were all cared for the same.”

In addition to helping to get COVID vaccine trials up and running at Stony Brook, she has been active in trials to treat monkeypox.

Milana appreciates Nachman’s approach to children and their parents.

“She’s super friendly with kids,” Milana said. “She’ll tell you the facts as they are. She’s straightforward with parents. She wants them to have all the information they need to make the right decisions.”

Stu Vincent, director of public affairs and public relations at Mather Hospital, has also made a name for himself within the Port Jeff business community.

As 1st vice president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, Vincent has emerged as an important local figure and leader. He has been active in chamber events, including overseeing its annual Health & Wellness Fest. 

Barbara Ransome, GPJCC director of operations, characterized his role as chair of this festival. “That is a very important event that we are involved in because it is a strong revenue-producing event,” she said. 

Ransome maintains that Vincent, as 1st VP, acts as a close adviser, referring to his public relations expertise as a helpful springboard for different ideas. To her, Vincent is a warm presence within the chamber and a reliable attendee of chamber events. 

“That particular skill set is very important, certainly for a chamber of commerce, and I look for his expertise on certain matters that pertain to that,” Ransome said.

With Mather, Vincent has had considerable influence in the hospital’s Paint Port Pink campaign. Through the Fortunato Breast Health Center at Mather Hospital, this initiative raises awareness about breast cancer, shares information and brings the community together. The bright pink lights streaming through the village in October are a staple of the campaign.

Mayor Margot Garant considered Vincent a dedicated community servant and a positive force for the Port Jeff community.

“He’s at every single event, a strong member and volunteer of the chamber, so he’s definitely a dedicated servant and a very good employee,” she said. “I think he makes an excellent face of the hospital, and he’s just a swell guy — kind of a quiet soldier.”

That quiet soldier continues to leave his mark on the Port Jeff community. For his sterling work on behalf of the chamber and Mather Hospital, TBR News Media recognizes Vincent as a 2022 Person of
the Year.

Members of the EJ’s PJs pajama drive, a Centereach-based nonprofit, during a Saturday, Dec. 10, event. Photo courtesy Kevin LaValle

The EJ’s PJs pajama drive is an enduring holiday tradition for the Middle Country community. On Saturday, Dec. 10, the program marked its 12th iteration at the New Village Recreation Center in Centereach.

Patricia Poggi is a lifelong resident of the area who formed EJ’s PJs with her three sons. The name was inspired by the boys, Edward, Jeremy and Patrick, who have each been instrumental in preserving and growing the drive.

In an interview with Poggi, she outlined how the pajama drive first came into existence. “We created our pajama drive because we always wore pajamas [around Christmas], and it was kind of a thing that helped us to keep warm, fun and family oriented,” she said.

Poggi described the program as a family endeavor that has taken on a life of its own. The organization’s first year saw the collection and donation of 33 sets of pajamas. Over a decade later, that figure has grown exponentially. 

Three years ago, EJ’s PJs began a partnership with the Town of Brookhaven, working closely with the area’s representative on the Town Board, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden).

“Now we’re in 85 businesses, and we’re expanding tremendously,” Poggi said. “Every year, we’ve doubled.”

A significant portion of the pajamas donated support the town’s INTERFACE program, which offers goods and services to those in need and addresses social issues throughout the township. Now, as a 501(c)(3) pending nonprofit, EJ’s PJs plans to move the operation into local shelters and hospitals.

For her impressive charitable work, TBR News Media is pleased to name Poggi as a 2022 Person of the Year.

During this year’s event, LaValle discussed how the partnership between the pajama drive and the town first came about and has strengthened over time. He and Poggi were classmates in high school, and after reconnecting some years ago they began exploring ways to grow the initiative.

“I saw her vision of what she wanted to do and said, ‘We have a toy drive, so why don’t we try to put that together with EJ’s PJs,’” LaValle said. He explained his involvement to date, “We identify at the town level, through the toy drive, the needy children that we’re going to give toys to. We match up a pair of pajamas, so the kids go to bed with a nice pair of pajamas, and then they get toys in the morning.”

‘These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.’

­— Kevin LaValle

Amid the rising heat, fuel and food costs, LaValle regarded EJ’s PJs as serving a critical public service function during this time of year. While broader economic pressures may be placing a strain on local families, he commented that many — such as the Poggis — are eager to make a positive impact.

“You see, with the rising prices, a lot of people are hurting right now,” the town councilman said. “But there are so many people coming out giving toys, giving pajamas.”

He added, “That’s an amazing thing. There is a need, but there are a lot of people — even in some tough times — willing to give.”

Helping the pajama drive to run smoothly and efficiently are a dedicated team of volunteers. Jennifer Dickson is a committee member with EJ’s PJs who first got involved with the organization last year. She described the influence of the volunteers.

“We’re a big committee,” Dickson said. “We all help each other out and do certain things — the social media, creating the event, wrapping the boxes, the setup and cleanup.” She added, “It takes months because we want to get as many pajamas as possible.”

Lettice Washington is a friend of Poggi’s and a committee member. Within the organization, she is renowned for her folding technique, helping to arrange the thousands of pairs of pajamas that have crossed their door. “I came back to fold all the ones we get this year,” she said.

While the program has grown considerably over its 12-year history, Washington foresees the drive building upon its recent momentum and expanding even further.

“I tell you, it gets better every year,” she said. “We’ve had a great response, and I see it growing. The more we get the word out, the more people know about it, I think the bigger and bigger it will get.”

One of the major draws of this event is its originality. Washington said she was motivated to be a part of something unique and outside the box in deciding to join the organization.

“It is something different,” Washington said. “It being a unique kind of idea is what drew me to it. … You don’t really hear about pajama drives and donating nice, warm pajamas for kids during Christmas.”

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) also attended the Dec. 10 event. He reflected upon the value of giving back to the community amid these trying times, emphasizing how programs such as EJ’s PJs enrich and enliven the greater Middle Country area.

“It has just grown immensely, and the participation by our community is just heartwarming,” he said. “Around the holidays is the perfect time. It allows everyone to get the joy of giving into their lives,” adding, “I’m honored to be a part of it, to contribute to it and enjoy it here in a location where we know we’re helping others.”

Washington offered her expectations for next year’s event. Witnessing this year’s enthusiasm for the organization, she forecasts even more pajamas in 2023.

EJ’s PJs gets “bigger and better every year,” she said. “I feel that this is going to grow exponentially. Next year, when we talk about the number of pajamas, I think it will be an exponent of this year.”

LaValle sees Middle Country uniting around a common purpose through this annual tradition. He expressed similar enthusiasm for the future as the community continues to come together to donate pajamas.

“Our fire department is here, our youth civic is here, our regular civic members are here,” he said. “These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.”

He added, “This is a great event. It’s bringing everybody together. You’re seeing a lot of smiles here, all around giving to those less fortunate in our community and throughout our township.”

Summarizing the purpose for holding this event every year, Poggi explained the collective anxieties felt by parents to provide their children with a happy Christmas morning. For her, donating pajamas is a gesture that can go a long way in supporting those parents and their children.

“As a parent, I know how hard it is to pull off the beautiful Santa magic, and it’s not always very easy, especially when you don’t have the funds,” she said. “Something like a pair of pajamas alongside a gift can make it even that much more elegant. To have a child feel warm and cozy and protected, that’s always our number one mission.”

Outside the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, Mark Sternberg, above, holds a copy of “New York Archives” magazine, which published his research this fall. Photo courtesy Sternberg

By Julianne Mosher

Living in Port Jefferson for more than half his life, Mark Sternberg always knew the village had a story. 

“I grew up here and I always wanted to know the absolute history of Port Jeff,” he said. “I wanted to get to the bottom of it.”

The North Shore of Long Island played a big role during the Revolutionary War. Books, movies, television shows and college courses have preached that the Culper Spy Ring — a network of American spies active during the British occupation of New York City and organized by Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge and Gen. George Washington — was based primarily on Port Jefferson’s next-door neighbor, Setauket.

Sternberg, a lawyer by trade and Port Jefferson high school graduate of the Class of 2001, first became interested in the history growing up and learning these stories and legends. Interested in his hometown, he began reading about its history, eventually getting his hands on “The Seven Hills of Port: A Documented History of the Incorporated Village of Port Jefferson” by Patricia Hansell Sisler and Robert Sisler. 

“I had a professor at New York University, a summer program for producing, and one of our projects was to pitch a show about something you love,” Sternberg said. “I thought that the Culper Spy Ring would be a great TV show.”

And that school project became a passion. 

Above, Mark Sternberg leading a tour of visitors through the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum on Culper Spy Day. File photo by Raymond Janis

In 2013, Sternberg found a letter that tied two Port Jefferson brothers to the ring. Retrieved from a chimney of what is now the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum years ago, the letter (dated Dec. 21, 1780) informed loyalist soldier Nehemiah Marks’ comrades that Phillips and Nathaniel Roe helped supply Setauket-based spy Caleb Brewster with information to pass on to the patriots. 

Sternberg located the letter archived at the University of Michigan. 

“I had a lot of people telling me the basis for the claim was a legend,” he said. “It was made up.”

But it was eventually authenticated and now hangs in the museum, which was originally Phillips Roe’s home, located at 141 W. Broadway.

“Mark has done the real hard research,” said George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force. “I think he has certainly put Port Jeff village back into the mix. … People always used to call them the Setauket spies, but it’s pretty clear that the Roe brothers played a central role due to his research.”

Hoffman added that Sternberg has brought “fresh eyes to old history.”

Finding the letter sparked something in Sternberg making him want to discover more. 

After going away to school in Atlanta, Georgia, and then NYU, he left the quaint village he used to call home, moving to Manhattan for 12 years. 

Then, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sternberg and his now-wife decided to move back out to the Island, settling in East Patchogue.

“When I moved back to Long Island, I wanted to get involved more with the house,” he said. 

Working closely with Port Jefferson Village historian Chris Ryon, he began doing heavy, original research into the Roe family.

“Mark has been working, really concentrating, on this Culper spy history, and then delving into it more so than anybody else that I know,” Ryon said. “He has gone beyond what a lot of historians would look up.”

Ryon admired that, while working full-time, Sternberg spends most of his free time continuing to learn about the Roe family and how Port Jefferson was involved with the Revolutionary War. 

“He’s traveled all over the place, looking at the primary documents, and by doing that, he’s discovered many more things, and a lot of mistakes that people have repeated,” he said. “Mark is so saturated in his knowledge of this, he picks up on things that people don’t understand are important.”

‘He has changed the way people think about Culper Spy Ring.’ 

­— Chris Ryon

Since Sternberg’s initial find of the letter almost 10 years ago, he has continued to research and advise on the history of the brothers and how the home was part of a much bigger piece of history that was almost forgotten. 

“He has changed the way people think about Culper Spy Ring,” Ryon said. “He has enlightened us — he has raised the bar.”

Sternberg said that he is continuing to help with the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum, setting up exhibits and preparing for its full opening to the public. He also is working alongside Len Carolan at Port Jeff-based Bayles Boat Shop to recreate a whaleboat from the American Revolution era. The boat shop is an offshoot of the Long Island Seaport and Eco Center — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of maritime history on the Island. Sternberg will be acting as a historian on the project to get the boat as close as possible to what it was.

“Mark has been instrumental in tying up what we’re doing in building this boat and the history of [the whaleboats],” said Carolan, president of the Bayles Boat Shop. “And especially how the history is connected to Caleb Brewster.”

Sternberg also recently published new findings about the Strong family in “New York Archives” magazine this past fall. 

“People ask me, ‘Why are you so into history?’ and honestly, I’m more into solving mysteries,” he said. “There’s so much more to find and it’s that dopamine rush when you find out something about your hometown’s history you would have never found out before.”

Sternberg is happy to volunteer his time to find out what really happened up here almost 250 years ago.

“Why wouldn’t I volunteer? I love my hometown,” he said. “Any of my extra time I can spend here talking about the history, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

TBR News Media recognizes Sternberg’s valuable local historical research by making him a 2022 Person of the Year.

Above, Lily Bonacasa, daughter of American war hero Louis Bonacasa, holding her father’s portrait. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

Deborah and Lily Bonacasa are a mother-and-daughter team who have distributed thousands of toys to needy children over the last three years during the Christmas season. 

When Lily was a second grader, she sat on Santa’s lap as he asked what she wanted for Christmas. She said she only wanted to help children who were less fortunate, those who couldn’t receive gifts. Knowing her story, Santa began to weep.

Deborah and Lily live in Sound Beach. But Deborah grew up in Lemoore, California. After graduating high school, she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was sent to a base in Utah. As an information manager, she provided networking and computer support to 75th Air Base Wing members. While in uniform, she met her future husband Louis.

Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa

Louis Bonacasa was a local kid. He graduated from Newfield High School in 2002. Deborah described Louis as someone “who demonstrated a boundless amount of energy toward playing baseball, being with his friends, hiking, shooting and demonstrating humor amongst his loved ones.”  

In high school, Louis watched the attacks of 9/11. It inspired a love of country and a commitment to serve, and he soon entered active duty in the Air Force. Louis quickly rose through the ranks, presented with accolades for his devoted duty to the nation. Louis soon reenlisted as a security forces member of the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. He then transferred to Stewart Air National Guard Base 105th Airlift Wing in Newburgh where he deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Qatar.  

Seven years ago, on Dec. 21, 2015, Louis was killed by a Taliban suicide bomber near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. Louis was working as a tactical security element truck commander, tasked with the dangerous job of gathering intelligence on the operations of the enemy outside of this major air base. His assignment was hazardous, as he was often the “eyes” of Bagram to protect it from the enemy. 

On patrol, Louis was approached by a suicide-bomber motorcyclist. To protect his men, Louis positioned himself between this adversary and his comrades, and he was killed with five of his soldiers.

Louis is honored with several sites by local and state governments to remember his ultimate military sacrifice. On Rocky Point Yaphank Road toward Middle Island, a major thoroughfare connecting the North and South shores was named in his honor. For travelers on the Long Island Expressway, they are reminded of the memory of Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa on the bridge that connects the northern and southern service roads on Yaphank Avenue. 

Above, members of Lily’s Toy House during a gift donation event in Rocky Point Saturday, Dec. 3. Photo by Raymond Janis

Lily’s Toy House

In 2016, Mark Baisch of Landmark Properties and Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore presented Deborah and Lily with a new $350,000 home in Sound Beach that was sold to the Bonacasa family for less than $200,000, according to CBS New York.

Deborah was thankful for the altruism shown to her family during that highly delicate moment. After Lily spoke to Santa Claus, Deborah believed it was time to pay it forward. 

Deborah spoke of her desire never to want to turn down families that are unable to purchase gifts. The Bonacasas have created two nonprofits, Lily’s Toy House and the SSgt Louis Bonacasa Memorial Fund. Working with Long Island Helping Hands, they target needy families.  

In 2020, Lily was interviewed by Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show. Lily presented a brilliant smile and spoke to America about her goals in helping other children have a lovely Christmas.

The holiday demand has grown due to COVID-19 pressures and rising inflation. Three years ago, there were about 1,000 donated toys collected. Today Lily’s Toy House has distributed over 3,000. Deborah hopes to expand this program to accommodate families across this state and region, especially to military families. 

Lily is a sixth grader at Rocky Point Middle School, where she is a well-rounded student, determined to help others. As a young lady who lost her father, she can speak to others about handling adversity at an early age.  

Reactions from the community

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has followed firsthand the efforts of the Bonacasa family. “Staff Sergeant Bonacasa gave his life for his country, so we can all live free,” Bonner said. “Deborah and Lily have honored his service so meaningfully with their annual toy drive.”

The councilwoman added, “Lily is a remarkable young girl, who faced a great loss, decided to follow in her father’s footsteps by helping others. The community appreciates all that Deborah and Lily do to bring joy to children in need.”

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) said he is reminded of Louis every time he drives to the Riverhead Correctional Facility. The county sheriff appreciates Lily’s thoughtful spirit and compassion. 

Lily is an “inspiration to all of us, despite losing her father at a young age while he protected Americans in Afghanistan,” he said. “She was still able to think of others before herself, and her dedication to ensure that those most in need have a wonderful Christmas through Lily’s Toy House reminds all Suffolk residents of the true meaning of Christmas.”

Above, Lily Bonacasa. Photo courtesy Deborah Bonacasa

First Lt. John Fernandez, of Rocky Point, is in awe of the patriotic spirit that Lily inspires. “What does it mean to give?” he said. “Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa did not lose his life for our country. He gave it heroically for his family and nation. Despite his family’s unfathomable sacrifice, his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Lily, found the strength to continue to give by donating toys to children during the holidays and those who continue to serve today. This shows a depth of courage and love that should be emulated.”

Cognitore described the immense cost the family paid in defense of the nation, calling the support toward the family mortgage “not a handout, but rather a hand up.” He reflected on the positive work the family has done since. 

“It has been a wonderful experience to see Lily speak at veterans and charitable events,” the post commander said. “There is no price that could be attached to the valuable community initiatives that both mother and daughter perform for our citizens during the last several Christmas holidays.”   

James Moeller, Lily’s middle school principal, said he is amazed by her fortitude. “Lily is a hardworking and quiet girl who is always willing to help her teachers and classmates,” he said. “On a regular basis, she is a positive young lady who always wears a big smile on her face. It’s no surprise that Lily is a driving force behind this wonderful toy drive that her family continually organizes.”

Through her charitable endeavors, Lily continues to follow in her father’s footsteps by sharing love and generosity toward others during Christmas. 

For adding light and joy into the lives of others and for honoring her dad’s legacy, TBR News Media recognizes Lily Bonacasa as a 2022 Person of the Year.

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Alan Inkles is one of TBR News Media's 2022 People of the Year. Photo from the Staller Center

The director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, Alan Inkles typically goes the extra mile for his audience, staff and entertainers.

Alan Inkles, left, director of the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, poses for a photo with actor Ralph Macchio in 2015. Photo from Staller Center for the Arts

He had been trying to book Ward Melville High School alumnus and comedic film star Kevin James to bring his talents home to Stony Brook, where Long Islanders could laugh with the star of the “Paul Blart” movies and the TV show “The King of Queens.”

Unsuccessful but undeterred, Inkles attended a showing of “A Christmas Carol,” where James was performing. 

“He goes backstage to meet him, starts up a conversation and says, ‘We’d love to have you come here,’” said Kent Marks, Stony Brook Film Festival coordinator and contracts administrator at the Staller Center. James reacted favorably to Inkles and to the idea. When Stony Brook publicized the show for Jan. 27 next year, tickets sold out in a few hours. James agreed to do a second show Jan. 28, which also quickly sold out.

Co-workers, collaborators and artists appreciate Inkles’ charm, his personal touch and his vision for an arts center that has become a favorite not only for the renowned Emerson String Quartet, which is based at SBU, but also for the prestigious film festival, which Inkles started.

For guiding the Staller Center since 1995, including through the recent years when COVID-19 limited the ability to hold live performances, and for his tireless work bringing a range of performers to appreciative audiences, TBR News Media is pleased to name Inkles a Person of the Year for 2022.

Former SBU president Shirley Kenny saw the talent and determination in Inkles when she named him director of the Staller Center.

Even though Inkles was “just a kid,” Kenny said she thought “he’d be terrific,” adding, “I feel really smug because he has been so extraordinary.”

One of those guys that jumps in

Inkles has shown a readiness to deploy his charm with donors, to greet guests before performances and to help with whatever is needed.

In 2018, during a ballet performance from the Parsons Dance Company, another dancer cut the eyelid of dancer Geena Pacareu. After Pacareu went onstage for a pas de deux with her partner, she came backstage and was “lying face down, bleeding,” said Margaret Selby, the founder of Selby/Artists MGMT, an arts management company.

Inkles went backstage and told the dancer he was taking her to a hospital. He stayed with her until medical staff took care of the injury.

“Inkles is one of those guys that jumps in and does what has to be done,” Selby said.

Phil Setzer, professor of Violin in the Department of Music at SBU and founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, recalled how Inkles had booked the quartet to perform “Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy.” Inkles traveled to Princeton, New Jersey, to watch the show.

“He didn’t have to do that,” Setzer said. “He had already committed to doing it at Stony Brook.”

Setzer recalled how Inkles came backstage to speak with the performers after a show that ends sadly. Inkles was moved by the performance and wasn’t “all smiley and cheery,” the violinist said. “That, to me, was real.” 


Despite his numerous accomplishments, Inkles readily and regularly shares credit with many of his long-standing and loyal staff. His team appreciates his self-deprecating humor.

Years ago, the Staller Center featured actor and stand-up comedian Kevin Pollak, who has been part of the supporting cast of the movies “A Few Good Men,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Grumpy Old Men” and also appeared in the sitcom “Mom,” as well as other films and TV shows.

Inkles had been walking around the stage prior to the performance and saw a plastic rose. Thinking this was a leftover from an earlier production, Inkles took it away.

Before he performed, Pollak, who was already annoyed because a rising comedic star named Ellen DeGeneres warmed up the audience too effectively, noticed that the rose, which was a prop for his show,
was missing.

Pollak demanded to know what happened to the rose. A member of the crew found it and Pollak performed.

Marks said Inkles readily acknowledged that he created the problem and tells this story to show how he learned the hard way “to stay out of it.”. Inkles has said his team “knows what they’re doing and I trust them.”

Inkles is often prepared with a humorous story or response to an event, which helps him engage with anyone.

Setzer recalled how Inkles came into a room in December with a cast on his arm. When Setzer asked what happened, Inkles said, “Well, I was hanging Christmas decorations on my house and the ladder slipped, and I fell and broke my arm.”

Inkles, who had a pouty look as he told the story, got quiet for a moment, building the suspense.

“That was payback for a Jewish guy putting up Christmas decorations,” Inkles said, sending the room into hysterics.

Trusted leader and boss

Inkles has established a level of trust with the community.

“He’s always looked out for everybody’s safety and well-being,” Setzer said. “If Alan Inkles says it’s safe to come back to the Staller with masks on, and that we can keep the air circulating, then it’s safe to come back. A lot of people trust him.”

Setzer enjoys a personal and professional connection with Inkles. The day after each concert, the two of them go to the Founders Room, discuss the prior evening and share a drink of bourbon.

Inkles has demonstrated a similar camaraderie and connection with his staff and other performers.

Daria Carioscia, development director at the Staller Center, described Inkles as “the best gift giver.” He has purchased items like a remote control car for her son, who, Carioscia said, reminds Inkles of his middle child.

Carioscia recalled how she was in the office one day, frustrated by a malfunctioning keyboard. Inkles asked her what the problem was, told her to “hold on” and reappeared with a new keyboard.

Inkles encourages SBU students to get tickets early for performances that appeal to them. 

Paul Newland, outreach director at the Staller Center, also appreciates the resources Inkles has put into bringing students from Long Island to the center.

The outreach goal, which Newland said Inkles supports, is to create a spark among younger audiences that helps them develop an appreciation for and an interest in the arts.

A film festival, with a personal touch

One of the reasons the Stony Brook Film Festival has become such an appealing venue for movie makers is the format. 

Inkles wanted to provide filmmakers with a personal touch, offering features on the main stage.

Inkles makes sure the team picks up out-of-town guests at the airport, takes them to hotel rooms, provides publicity through social media, supplies dinner and arranges transportation to after-parties.

Celebrities, some of whom have become friends with Inkles, appreciate his work.

Inkles is “generous to a fault to the participants,” explained actor Brian Cox, who is on the advisory board for the festival. Inkles is “equally generous to the audience. I’ve never known a festival where so much love is generated toward the actual director of the festival.”

“Karate Kid” and “Cobra Kai” actor Ralph Macchio suggested Inkles’ “passion for the arts and film is unparalleled and his thriving spirit for the Stony Brook Film Festival is infectious.”

Arts management agent Selby suggested that “no one goes to his venue on the artistic side without knowing who he is.”

She said audiences and artists trust him and that the community is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he brings in new talent.

“I wish we could clone him,” Selby said.

Holly Fils-Aime, above. Photo courtesy Fils-Aime
By Chris Mellides

As a child growing up in New Hampshire, Holly Fils-Aime and her sister would often venture into the wilderness surrounding their rural childhood home to play. The sisters spent much of their time admiring nature and would often canoe, swim and take walks in the neighboring woods. 

Fils-Aime became enamored with the undisturbed woodlands that she would often explore, crediting her mother for deepening her knowledge and understanding of the wildlife that surrounded her family home. 

“We learned a lot about nature,” Fils-Aime said. “My mother was an avid bird enthusiast and she had actually taken a course in that in college. We learned to identify bird songs and identify birds by sight. I just had a pretty good background in nature and identifying different species.”

Beyond birds, Fils-Aime’s mother taught her children how to identify wildflowers and various tree species as well. One of the major actions her family took was helping to preserve a portion of the woodlands she happily spent her time adventuring in when she was still a young child.

“My family did donate 25 acres of woodland to the town where I grew up, which is going to New Hampshire as a conservation easement,” she said. “That’s in perpetuity that that land will not be developed.”

Fils-Aime’s deep appreciation for nature endured and has stuck with her well into adulthood. The mother of two admits that when she moved to Port Jefferson in 2000 to settle down with her husband and children, she was somewhat removed from the environmental field and instead focused her attention on teaching English at the New York Institute of Technology. 

However, following her retirement in June 2021, her passion for environmentalism and nature preservation was reignited. So she connected with like-minded friends to discuss the environmental issues impacting Port Jefferson, Long Island and beyond.

Fils-Aime said her plan was to forge a group of individuals who understood the importance of environmentalism and how nature should ultimately be protected. The group goes by the name EcoLeague and consists of about 10 members with three of them living out of state. 

Before expanding their various initiatives both on Long Island and outside New York, the group came together to focus on the move away from plastics. 

“I had been having these conversations with my friends and it seemed we were always talking about plastic, and was there any better way to recycle it,” she said. “My friends didn’t necessarily know each other, but I thought they would all be compatible.”

On Sept. 18, Fils-Aime and other members of the EcoLeague joined a small group of protesters to call out Mather Hospital’s move to clear the surrounding woods and walking trails to make way for additional hospital parking. 

‘Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans.’

— Ana Hozyainova

The protesters were joined by Ana Hozyainova, formerly working in international human rights, who ran for a seat on the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees earlier this year.

Though she was not elected to the village board, Hozyainova used her platform in the fall to draw attention to what she, EcoLeague and the remaining protesters felt was an unjust action carried out by Mather and the village. 

The demonstrators protested these actions because the woods are “crucial in protecting Port Jefferson from further flooding, from even steeper increases in temperatures, but also ensuring that our backyards are filled with birds and insects that protect against harmful pests,” Hozyainova said in an interview.

A lawsuit against the parking lot expansion was filed in August, but this measure proved to be unsuccessful. The woodland was cleared, and the additional hospital parking was paved. 

“I had done the right thing by signing on to the lawsuit,” Fils-Aime said. “We filed the lawsuit in August. We didn’t get what we wanted.” She added, “This was, in our minds, an act of complete disregard for the concerns of Port Jefferson citizens. … This was a part of our habitat. People enjoyed going in there with their kids and so on.”

Hozyainova expressed her concern that the new parking lot at Mather and the predilection to clear out trees to expand backyards and to pave new driveways are all leading to what could be a disturbing situation. 

“The more impermeable surfaces that we create, the more we reduce the capacity of the water to go down into the ground and be absorbed into the ground,” said Hozyainova, who also expressed concern that flooding is only going to get worse with deforestation and a rise in sea levels due to climate change. 

Asked about working with Fils-Aime and the vision that the EcoLeague founder has for Port Jefferson, Hozyainova said, “Holly really understands the value that birds and wildlife bring to us as humans, because it’s a well-documented fact that we need access to nature to be well. Nature is a part of what we try to protect.” 

As for what’s next for EcoLeague and its founder, Fils-Aime is optimistic. A current endeavor is appealing to small businesses and company leaders to make a move away from plastic to aluminum, which is infinitely recyclable. 

Fils-Aime is determined to continue working with EcoLeague and spreading her environmentalist message, with the goal to change some minds and hearts in the village and greater community. 

“We don’t want to make enemies, but if we see something that is not right, that is hurting the environment, that is hurting Port Jefferson, we are going to be doing something right,” Fils-Aime said. “Whatever we need to do, we’re going to be doing something.”

For her passionate environmentalism, TBR News Media is pleased to name Fils-Aime a 2022 Person of the Year.