People of the Year

Leigh Wixson (right) with her colleagues, Monica Passarelle and Christina Almeida, from the Smithtown Animal Shelter. Photo from Town of Smithtown

With the popularity that pets and other animals already feature on social media, one wouldn’t be blamed to think it’s a cinch to get folks into local municipal animal shelters and find those longing dogs and cats a forever home. 

Yet, any shelter worker will tell you it remains an intense challenge to help animals, whether to find new owners or to live safely in Long Island’s dense suburban landscape. To many who work with or in the Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, director Leigh Wixson has proved to be a steadfast and extremely compassionate head of the shelter, one who is open to any suggestion and recourse to help those furry companions within the Town of Smithtown.

Nicole Garguilo, public information officer for the town, has worked intimately with Wixson since the director came into the job in 2019. Together, they have set up multiple blasts on social media to promote the animals currently inhabiting the shelter. Beyond the usual social blasts profiling those animals waiting for adoption, Wixson and her crew have started to get especially creative.

“I always laugh because I feel like I torture Wixson and the others at the shelter with my ideas,” Garguilo said, mentioning their recent video where they used shelter dogs to recreate famous movie scenes from “Lady and the Tramp” and Rin Tin Tin-featured adventures. The shelter recently posted a video of their hotdog challenge on TikTok, where shelter dogs had to catch in their mouths small pieces of hot dogs thrown to them. Another video featured a buck trapped in a fence during rutting season, and as town animal control officers pried it loose, Jim Carrey’s appropriate line from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” played in the background: “All right, you’re a reindeer. Here’s your motivation: Your name is Rudolph.”

Beyond that, those who constantly work with the shelter said with Wixson’s kind, open and funny demeanor, she has a knack for using social media in a way that both informs and promotes the shelter.

“She is very, very good at using video, which can be cute, so it grabs the attention of people on social media, but they also learn something,” Garguilo said. “When they learn something, and when they see that video, they realize, ‘Oh, if I have that situation, I can call the shelter, they’ll help me.’ And she’s been very successful in getting our social media pages to go viral.”

The animal shelter has had leadership problems over the years. Former director George Beatty resigned in 2015 after some 30 years at the helm, and a shelter advisory council of volunteer residents designed to offer recommendations to the town on shelter operations quit shortly after it was created that same year. Susan Hansen, Beatty’s replacement, was suspended from the shelter director’s position in 2017, and the town’s Department of Public Safety temporarily took over the shelter’s reins. 

But Wixson’s tenure has catapulted the shelter ahead of its contemporaries, according to those people who have worked intimately with her. Different folks have pointed to her deep knowledge base as well as her constant attentive attitude to those animals inhabiting the shelter, often going above and beyond what’s usually expected of a director.

Charmaine DeRosa, a longtime animal advocate from St. James, said that of all the multitudes of shelters across the Island she works with, the shelter headed by Wixson is the best in terms of their openness and care for the animals.

“A lot of people in the community are more willing and more open to donating to the shelter, and they think about the shelter a lot more,” DeRosa said. Wixson and her staff “are very open, and the animal adoptions are handled so quickly and nicely.”

The shelter also performs many other services beyond adoption. In 2018, the town netted a $168,000 grant from New York State to create a new trap, neuter and release program to try and handle the stray dog and cat populations — otherwise known by animal activists as community dogs or cats — while treating them for diseases or parasites. Garguilo said Wixson’s experience in the private sector was incredibly helpful for getting the program off the ground. Instead of building a separate building, as the town originally planned, Wixson suggested using multiple pod trailers, each with their own heating and ventilation. The trailers help keep the stray animals away from the general population to help them acclimate if they’re to join the shelter.

The shelter’s animal control arm has also taken off on social media. Denise Vibal, an animal control officer at the shelter, can be seen in multiple videos attending to deer during rutting season or explaining what to do when people find injured animals on their property. She said Wixson has been a “fantastic boss” and attentive leader, adding that she’s been in the animal world for a long time and understands the struggles and remedies in this line of work.

“Most supervisors, they wouldn’t know every cat’s name, every dog’s name, every quirk, every this or that,” Vibal said. “So, she actually takes the time to get to know them, to have them in her office, take them for a walk, or have a relationship with a really tough animal who’s had a rough life.”

“In the past, we were told not to post anything, but the community likes to see wildlife and rescues, and things like that,” Vibal added. “And I think it’s great for the community morale. So Wixson has been very positive about posting different things, not only for the animals but what we do for the community.”

The shelter has faced other ongoing issues due to the pandemic. Vibal said that as more people go back to work, the shelter has seen a rash of pet abandonment, especially those animals folks acquired during 2020 that they claim they don’t have the time to take care of anymore. Though it is a felony to abandon a pet, those in the know said the shelter has worked hard to help any animal in need.

“The fact that she’s been able to keep the morale up, especially right now, and really take care of her employees, as well as love these animals unconditionally, is really very special,” Garguilo said.

May Chasteen, of St. James, has been volunteering for most of her life. Photo from Mary Beth Chasteen

Volunteerism runs in the blood of one St. James resident.

May Chasteen, 90, has always found time and energy to volunteer. Currently, she is the vice president of the Fairfield at St. James Civic Association.

The spot on the board is a volunteer position, and through the years, she has also served as its president and recording secretary, using the shorthand skills that she developed during one of her first jobs with American Express.

Dan Ryan, president of the civic association, said while members have had to lessen activities due to COVID-19, the board members’ responsibilities include providing information to the residents and giving them a voice. Before COVID-19, they would hold monthly meetings, send out newsletters and invite speakers to talk to the residents. Often, the monthly meetings will feature people in the medical and political fields.

Ryan described Chasteen as “a gem” who is always willing to help out, and due to her delightful personality is seen by many in the community as the “face of the organization.”

“She’s a terrific asset to the civic association,” he said. “I find probably her greatest asset to me is that she knows the workings of these organizations. She knows the legalities, so to speak. I really rely on her and depend on her.”

Photo from Mary Beth Chasteen

Someone who has witnessed Chasteen’s volunteerism through the decades and admires her work is her godson, Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). He called her “a source of strength, wisdom and guidance” for her children and grandchildren. He said she is a role model who has always supported his career choices and puts other people first.

“She instilled her values and positive work ethic in her children, relatives and colleagues,” Trotta said.

Her daughter-in-law Mary Beth Chasteen agreed and said the St. James resident has always found time for others and enjoys keeping busy.

“She’s 90, and she still does a lot,” Mary Beth Chasteen said. “She’s in a bible study group; she’s in a Rummikub group; she plays canasta. You look at her calendar and she is booked more than me and my husband.”

Born and raised in Brooklyn’s Red Hook section, while working for American Express she attended Brooklyn College to study law and languages, including German, French and Russian, adding to the Spanish she already knew.

During this busy time, she was involved in her church where she met her husband Gerard. After the couple moved to Commack, the mother of four children still found time to volunteer with the Girls Scouts, Holy Cross church and the PTA. All this while driving her oldest daughter, Susie, to ice skating lessons early in the morning.

Chasteen also fundraised for the former St. John’s Hospital in Smithtown before it was built, and once it was open, volunteered as one of the “Pink Ladies.”

Her volunteer efforts led to her joining the management team at St. John’s in 1982 as director of volunteers, where she oversaw more than 400 volunteers and fundraised, creating an annual awards ceremony. Mary Beth Chasteen remembered one year her mother-in-law organized the highest ticket-selling fundraiser for the institution.

“She really did a lot of good for the community,” Mary Beth Chasteen said.

Juggling various responsibilities has never been much of a problem for her mother-in-law.

“When she’s given a challenge, she really meets it head on,” the daughter-in-law said. “She’s pretty amazing.”

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis talks to attendees at the fourth annual Light the Brook ceremony in November of 2021. Photo from Stony Brook University

From offering insights about higher education to The New York State Senate, to presenting her academic research on slavery to the University Senate, President Maurie McInnis earned kudos and appreciation as she completes her first full year at the helm of Stony Brook University.

McInnis, who earned her doctorate from Yale University, became the first president to present her research to the University Senate as a scholar in October amid her inauguration week, in a talk titled, “The Shadow of Slavery in American Public Life.”

“She hit it out of the park,” said Richard Larson, president of the University Senate and professor of Linguistics at Stony Brook. “She’s quite a remarkable individual from the standpoint of intellectual achievement.”

The talk included a description of the work of Eyre Crowe, whose 1853 sketches of a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia, provided an eyewitness account abolitionists would use and which formed the basis of an award-winning book by McInnis.

TBR News Media is pleased to recognize McInnis as a Person of the Year for 2021 for her careful guidance of the university amid the pandemic, for her goal of bringing diverse groups of people, departments and communities together, and for her efforts to enhance the profile and talents of the university.

“Day after day, I see a new initiative of hers that expands the visibility of Stony Brook or further tends to the needs of minority students, or helps researchers accomplish their goals,” Alan Alda, award-winning actor and founder of an eponymous science communication effort at the university, explained in an email. “Dr. McInnis brings people together and makes big ideas happen. I don’t think the university could be in better hands.”

Commencement ceremonies

Graduation at Stony Brook in May this year was like the movie “Groundhog Day” for McInnis.

Except that, instead of acting without consequence the way Bill Murray did in the film, McInnis attended 10 graduation ceremonies, which had to be separated to reduce the number of people at each graduation.

McInnis offered her congratulations for the academic achievement of the graduates and applauded their resilience, particularly amid the worst of the pandemic.

She was “quite insistent” that she attend each of these events, which were held over the course of three days in the warm sunlight, Larson said. “She wanted to hand out the certificates personally. That was an incident that just really struck home with me. Each ceremony was many hours long.”

During her inauguration week lecture, McInnis discussed her research in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia.

Louis Nelson, a former colleague of McInnis at the University of Virginia, where he is currently vice provost for Academic Outreach and professor of Architectural History, sang her praises.

She is “one of the most impactful social historians of the American South at work today,” said Nelson, who co-edited the book “Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s University” with McInnis. Her “scholarship has forged a path toward the truth telling that our nation needs to confront,” he said.


Photo from Stony Brook University

In addition to the scholarship and academic rigor she brings to campus, McInnis has won appreciation from her colleagues at Stony Brook for her compassion.

Richard Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs, explained that he dealt with a health issue earlier this year. “Right away, she was empathetic,” he said. McInnis turned to him during a meeting and asked how he was doing. He genuinely appreciated her support.

A provost at The University of Texas at Austin before she arrived at Stony Brook, McInnis officially joined the school only months after the worst of the pandemic reached Suffolk County. An active participant in calls before her July 1, 2020, start date, she has helped oversee the university’s distinguished response to the pandemic.

Carol Gomes, chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital, observed that McInnis does considerable homework in making decisions. She also emphasized how McInnis “always emphasizes the importance of working together.”

The university president asks “good, insightful questions and she can analyze different sides of an issue, process the information and provide meaningful feedback,” Gomes said.

Even before McInnis arrived on campus, she “did call me regularly to ask how things were going, to get acclimated to what was happening at the hospital during the height of the pandemic,” Gomes said. “It was very comforting to know that I had somebody to whom I was reporting who cared and was compassionate, and who thought about reaching out and developing a relationship before she began.”

McInnis also called state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) before she arrived on Long Island.

Gaughran is on the Senate Higher Education Committee, which held hearings around the state, including one on the Stony Brook campus, where McInnis was the lead witness.

“I was very impressed with her presentation and her answers to questions,” he said. “She clearly seems to be the right fit for Stony Brook during what are some very challenging times.”


McInnis is committed to developing and enhancing the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

She elevated Judith Brown Clarke, who joined Stony Brook as chief diversity officer in February of 2020, to vice president for Equity and Inclusion.

Brown Clarke described the promotion as “game changing” for diversity, ensuring that fairness and social justice are “woven into every part of campus governance and decision making.”

As an example, Brown Clarke is a part of the governance committee, which allows her to look at the equitable distribution of resources like software that make it possible for students to learn remotely.

Rosemaria Martinelli, vice president for Strategic Initiatives, had served as McInnis’ chief of staff for two years at UT Austin before McInnis joined SBU. Martinelli followed her to Long Island.

Martinelli is thrilled with McInnis’ support and guidance for Stony Brook’s bid to compete for a global competition to establish a climate solutions center on Governors Island in New York City.

SBU’s proposal, which involved numerous departments, “energized everybody,” Martinelli said. “We engaged our campus community and [McInnis] helped us identify the academic partners. She was involved in every step.”

Judith Greiman, chief deputy to the president, lauded the McInnis leadership style.

“She is unique [among college presidents] in that she has all the credentials anybody might want, she has ambition for the institution, and she does not have an ego that gets in the way,” Greiman said. She has a “collaborative leadership style.”

Indeed, Doon Gibbs, laboratory director at Brookhaven National Laboratory, appreciated McInnis’ commitment to collaborations.

She has “galvanized impact at the university and among its partners with a new sense of energy, unity and inclusiveness,” Gibbs explained in an email. He suggested it was “a pleasure to work with her on behalf of Long Island and New York state.”

Judith Greiman, center, with Joan Dickinson, SBU’s director of university community relations, and Michael Arens, assistant vice president for government and community relations. The three executives were attending community service day Aug. 21 outside the Staller Center. Photo from Stony Brook University

It didn’t take long for chief deputy to the president of Stony Brook University, Judith Greiman, to impress her new boss.

When Maurie McInnis was interviewing for the job as president, Greiman drove her around and had breakfast with her.

The two spent a “good bit of time together,” McInnis said. “I immediately thought to myself, ‘If I’m lucky enough to get this position, I would be lucky if I could keep [Greiman] in that role.’ It was not a long evaluation process. She [is] an incredible asset.”

TBR News Media is pleased to recognize Greiman as a Person of the Year for 2021 for her tireless work at Stony Brook University.

Greiman is “behind the scenes doing her work with little fanfare, but she makes a tremendous impact,” said Carol Gomes, CEO of Stony Brook University Hospital.

Gomes cited Greiman’s decision making and her relationship with government agencies that work in tandem with the university. She also said Greiman has the university’s, community’s and students’ best interests at heart whenever she makes a decision.

Greiman’s colleagues are impressed by her dedication to work.

“I’m usually the second-to-last person to leave the suite,” said Braden Hosch, associate vice president for Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness. Greiman “is the last.”

Hosch knew her before the two joined Stony Brook University, when he was chief academic and financial officer at the State of Connecticut Office of Higher Education and Greiman was president of the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges. The two interacted regularly, sometimes on different sides of an issue.

“She always won,” Hosch recalled. “You want to make sure she’s the person in your corner.”

Hosch suggested that McInnis’ decision to keep Greiman as her chief of staff is a testament to Greiman’s deep institutional knowledge. She started her Stony Brook tenure on July 1, 2015, which is exactly five years to the day before McInnis joined the university.

Judith Brown Clarke, vice president for Equity and Inclusion and the chief diversity officer, appreciates the support she has received from Greiman.

Greiman is “so gracious with ensuring that she’s working with me on these strategies,” Brown Clarke said. “If I was doing it by myself, there may be some things I would think, not knowing the culture, that I may come up with a different solution.”

A bowl of rocks sits on the desk of SBU President Maurie McInnis. Judith Greiman collected the rocks and asked SBU vice presidents to share a single word for each one. Photo by from Judith Greiman

In addition to keeping the big picture goals in mind, Greiman had a well-received idea the week McInnis was inaugurated.

Greiman knew McInnis believed in the rocks, pebbles, sand metaphor for work. A management philosophy, the rocks represent the bigger picture goals or principles, while the pebbles are smaller issues and the sand represents even less significant but necessary items. Filling a bowl with rocks leaves room for sand and pebbles. Putting sand in first, however, could make it harder to include the necessary rocks.

“As a leader,” McInnis said, “we will be well served by understanding that you need to remember what your priorities are. Make sure you’re allocating your time toward those priorities,” which are the larger rocks.

“It’s a visual way to remind yourself that you have to think of the big rocks,” McInnis said.

Keeping this lesson in mind, Greiman collected rocks and asked the vice presidents to share a single word for each rock. Greiman gave McInnis a bowl of rocks with a word on each. The bowl sits on her desk.

Greiman’s word was “humor,” Gomes used the word “strategic,” while Brown Clarke shared a Japanese word that means a way of recognizing the beauty in imperfections.

“That’s how I see DEI,” Brown Clarke said. Filling imperfections in society with something of value can “make it beautiful.”

McInnis was thrilled with the gift.

While Greiman works such long hours that McInnis has urged her, unsuccessfully, to take time off, Greiman helps provide balance, humor, peace and muffins for her staff.

A talented baker, Greiman has provided those members of the staff who can or do eat sweets with goods she bakes at home.

Hosch savors her blueberry muffins with fresh ginger, while Brown Clarke enjoys the chocolate chip cookies.

McInnis, who remains active by kayaking and can’t eat most of the foods because of a gluten allergy, is grateful for everything Greiman brings to the proverbial table.

“I could not hope for a better person to work with,” McInnis said. “Not only does she have such an incredible command of all the issues, both the internal campus issues but also the external issues, but she does so with this amazing presence.”

McInnis said her deputy’s sense of humor “tends to set everybody right in the room. She is a very centered individual [who] has the ability to build the team and help everybody work through even the most difficult of situations.”

Indu Kaur, right, with her sister Kiran Wadhwa at SāGhar in Port Jefferson. File photo by Julianne Mosher

Soft spoken and modest, Indu Kaur has been quietly helping out her community, all while managing and operating three local businesses — two of which opened in the midst of a global pandemic. 

Kaur, owner of SāGhar in Port Jefferson, also works alongside her family with their two other establishments — The Curry Club in Setauket and the newly renovated The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station. 

A resident of Setauket, her sister Kiran Wadhwa said that while she lives a few minutes out of the village or station, Port Jefferson is her second home. 

“She just wants to always lend a helping hand,” Wadhwa said. “Her goal is to make the community better.” 

Indu Kaur with blueprints of her new restaurant after purchasing The Harbor Grill. File photo by Kyle Barr

Joan Nickeson, community liaison to the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, said that Kaur is a member of several different boards and groups that all service Port Jefferson and its surrounding areas. 

“She is a model of entrepreneurship,” she said. “I am thoroughly impressed by her talent, grace and forward-thinking perspective.” 

Nickeson added that along with being a PJSTCC member, she is part of the Port Jefferson Chamber and the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. Kaur is also secretary of the Cumsewogue Historical Society, and owner of the historic Baylis-Randall house, next to The Meadow Club.

“She is looking to refurbish it and establish space for photos and archives of local history of, not just The Meadow Club, but the Baylis-Randall house, historic Port Jefferson Station and Terryville,” she said. 

While working full time at SāGhar in the village, dishing out delicious Indian and American cuisine and cocktails to locals and visitors alike, Wadhwa said that Kaur also does finances for The Meadow Club and handles all of its operations. 

“She burns the candle at both ends to improve her restaurant and catering hall,” Nickeson added. 

This past June, Kaur and Wadhwa hosted the Port Jefferson high school’s prom at The Meadow Club, as well as Port Jefferson Chamber’s Health and Wellness Fest in October — two opportunities that brought both sides of Port Jefferson together. 

And all of these things were implemented over the last year and a half — while dealing with and overcoming the coronavirus.

“Although women-owned businesses are somewhat rare in the restaurant/hospitality industry, Indu Kaur has managed to open two unique properties during a pandemic — The Meadow Club and SāGhar,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “She is a role model for women aspiring to be restaurateurs. She has a can-do, work-hard attitude that she attributes to her immigrant family.”

Kaur previously told TBR News Media that after a fire devastated The Meadow Club in 2018, she and her family spent more than two years repairing it and turning it into the picture-perfect venue it is today.

But in the midst of rebuilding and construction, the pandemic hit — also as Kaur signed the deal on taking over the former Harbor Grill (Schafer’s) in the village. 

“Two years ago, we thought we were done,” Kaur said last November, just as The Meadow Club was starting to unveil. “But now we’re excited to bring our gem back to Suffolk County.”

Indu Kaur, left, with her family. Photo from Kiran Wadhwa

Hahn added that Kaur “had the courage and perseverance to rebuild The Meadow Club and reopen it bigger and better in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Incredibly, she also simultaneously opened SāGhar, a new restaurant in Port Jefferson Village with rooftop dining. It was this open-air rooftop that helped her stay open throughout the pandemic.”

An empathetic business owner, Hahn said that Kaur would always put the needs of her customers first — even as she struggled herself throughout the troubles of maintaining her establishments during a trying time. 

“Even though she was incredibly busy with two businesses, she never forgot the hardship of her employees and the brides and grooms who were displaced by the fire, and did her best to help them find new jobs and wedding venues,” Hahn said. “Indu is an unstoppable force and a tremendous asset to our community.”

And on top of all that, Kaur would personally drive meals — more than $30,000 worth of food — to first responders throughout the pandemic to make sure they had nice hot meals and to say “thanks.”

Kaur still stays philanthropic, donating meals and food to homeless shelters and families that lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 

And she’s a great neighbor, Port Jefferson Village trustee Rebecca Kassay said. 

As of late, Kaur has taken it upon herself to create welcome bags for residents moving into the newly opened apartment buildings in town. 

“These lovely gift bags full of local vouchers, coupons, gift cards and information about the Port Jefferson business community help to tie new residents into our vibrant community,” Kassay said. “Indu so often weaves people together in the most beautiful ways, and we are endlessly grateful for her thoughtful and inclusive efforts.”

Kassay added that Kaur is a “gift to this community.”

“Between the glowing positivity she emanates, her incredible organizational skills and her generous spirit, it is no wonder that her business and community efforts find deserved success,” the village trustee said. 

Kaur’s sister agreed. 

“She always gives 100% — whether it’s for her friends, family, businesses or community,” Wadhwa said. “There is no one else I can see being any more deserving of this nomination for Person of the Year than Indu.”

Sal Ferro

Even before being elected to Huntington’s Town Board in November, Sal Ferro (R) strived to make his community and the surrounding areas a better place to live.

Ferro, president and CEO of Alure Home Improvements in Commack, also heads up the Ferro Foundation. The nonprofit organization is committed to helping those in need, especially students, seniors and veterans. The foundation offers an annual scholarship fund for Long Island students and assists local seniors and veterans with minor home improvements.

Seth Selesnow, director of marketing at Alure and a Ferro Foundation board member, said Ferro and the board members had been discussing starting a foundation for a while. 

“Sal has always been incredibly philanthropic in the community, with his employees and family, and he always talked about starting his own charity one day,” Selesnow said. “We support a lot of endeavors, and year after year he would always say, ‘Eventually we have to start our own charity and do some of this stuff.’”

Selesnow said the scholarship program awards one four-year scholarship a year where a student receives $2,500 a year. One of the recipients, Cheyenna Bardsley of Freeport, graduated from high school in 2020. She is currently in her second year at Farmingdale State College SUNY studying law enforcement management and criminal justice.

Ferro on a work site for Alure Home Improvements. Photo from the Ferro Foundation

She said she first heard about the scholarship through a family friend and said to be eligible she had to write two essays. Bardsley said when she heard there would only be one winner, she didn’t think she would have much of a chance and was surprised when she was notified that she was the winner. The college student said she was grateful for the scholarship that supplemented other financial aid she received.

“I don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from,” she said. “I’m not in any student debt or anything. So, it’s a real advantage.”

As for the home care arm of the foundation, Selesnow said it has helped seniors and veterans with minor home repairs such as wheelchair ramps, grab bars or roof repairs. The foundation also supports other charities and endeavors such as Farmingdale College Foundation, Nassau Community College and the United Way.

While working on homes for paid jobs enables the employees to see what repairs one may need, Alure Home Improvements gained widespread attention when Ferro and his team appeared a few times on the original “Extreme Makeover” series, which aired on ABC from 2003-12. The company’s appearance on the show led to many calling the company asking if Alure Home Improvements could work on their houses. 

“It was overwhelming,” Selesnow said. “At least by creating a charity, it gave us somewhere to say, ‘Go fill out an application,’ and we at least have a board that can look at it and vote on those things.”

Selesnow said when the team worked on the episodes of “Extreme Makeover,” Ferro shut down the company and the workers were with the show for at least one week at a time per house. The marketing director added that some even volunteered to work extra hours on the homes. Ferro donated the labor to the show’s projects.

Selesnow said it was no surprise that the workers volunteered for extra time as Alure is a reflection of Ferro’s personality, who he described as “a unique individual” with so much compassion in his heart.

“I never in my life walked into a company like Alure where everybody was just so friendly and family oriented and actually was so helpful,” he said.

He said when he first started with the company he would tell his ex-wife that he couldn’t believe the work environment was real.

“I came to realize this is no accident,” Selesnow said. “This is from top down.”

When Ferro decided to run for town council, Selesnow supported him and was Ferro’s campaign finance chair despite, Selesnow said, the two of them being on different ends of the political spectrum.

“Even though we’re not aligned on some things politically, I do believe that he’s a very unique type of person who can listen to both sides and make a decision based on what makes the most sense and not party lines,” Selesnow said.

Ferro’s fellow councilman-elect, David Bennardo (R), agreed. He said Ferro “brings people together, and he makes them find their commonalities.” When Bennardo decided to run for office, he had a vision of a change regarding traditional party politics, and he said Ferro shared that vision.

“We wanted to demonstrate to people that you can work as ladies and gentlemen in politics, and I think that’s what excited me so much about working with Sal as he is truly a gentleman leader,” Bennardo said.

As a former school principal in the South Huntington school district, Bennardo has known Ferro for 20 years when the latter’s children were in school.

While Bennardo was a principal, he was able to see Ferro in action with his charitable projects, as he turned to him a couple of times to “quietly help out families who were in a jam.” He said each time Ferro responded with no questions asked. 

“He feels people’s pain,” Bennardo said. “He really does. He’s got tremendous empathy. In fact, that’s probably his greatest strength.”

Stan Loucks, a lover of the outdoors, kayaking in the Adirondacks. Photo from Ron Carlson

Port Jefferson Village trustee Stan Loucks puts his all into everything he does. 

A resident of Belle Terre for more than 40 years, he has been involved with different aspects of the village for nearly a quarter of a century. 

Retired after decades in education as the athletic director of the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district, he has now devoted his life now to serving his community in the village as liaison to the country club and village recreation. 

But along with his constant community service, he also took on the role as trustee six years ago and was reelected this past summer for another term.

“I’m proud of my accomplishments up at the country club,” he told TBR News Media in May as he began campaigning. “I introduced the bond to build a new maintenance facility up at the country club, we put in a new irrigation system, we created a new fitness center, renovated the locker rooms, increased our membership twofold. Over the years, I just want to continue to improve. I’ve got ideas about going forward with pickleball up at the country club and many more ideas to come down the road.”

With the country club, he has been on the tennis board, the board of governors, as well as on the management advisory committee.

Stan Loucks with other village officials at the Fourth of July parade this year. Photo from Peggy Loucks

Longtime friend and former employee Ron Carlson said that Loucks’ service to the village covers over two decades. 

“His service began as a volunteer for the country club management advisory committee,” he said. “He initially served as greens chairman, and several years later was appointed president of the CCMAC.”

Carlson added that after 12 years as a volunteer, he decided to further his commitment to the village, run for trustee, was elected and became appointed as deputy mayor. 

In his role as trustee, he is responsible for overseeing the operations of both the recreation department and the country club, including management of all programs, beaches, parks and the operation of the Village Center. 

As country club liaison, he oversaw the construction of the new maintenance facility, renovations to the golf pro shop and snack bar, fitness center, card room, golf scoreboard and patio area.

Carlson said that during those builds, he would not give commands — he’d be in the trenches with the contractors doing work. 

“It’s not something he takes lightly,” Carlson said. “Nobody has ever gotten involved like he does.”

He added that over the past 20 years, Loucks “has given thousands of hours to the benefit of all village residents. He is well liked and respected by all who know him and is a true leader and gentleman.”

Carlson, who has worked in the village for 50 years, said that he has “never witnessed a trustee more involved and more personally engaged in projects involving the village.”

“He dives right in and does it himself,” he added. “He gets involved personally.”

Mayor Margot Garant, who named him deputy mayor last term, said that he’s personable and an advocate for his community. 

“You cannot help but like him,” she said. “He’s a perfect fit for public service.”

Peggy Loucks, his wife, said that since he worked so long in education, he always loved kids and sports — which eventually led him to become involved with the village’s recreation department and its activities. 

“When he’s elected or asked to do something, he’s extremely dedicated,” she said. “He’s a really hard worker.”

Stan Loucks during the Village Cup Regatta this summer. Photo from Peggy Loucks

She joked that although he’s been retired, he works so much for his community that she still barely sees him. 

“He cannot sit still,” she said with a laugh. “You just can’t stop him from working.”

Peggy Loucks thinks that to him, getting involved is not just a job — it’s a passion that he lives for. 

“He feels that people should be giving back to the community,” she said. “We love it here, and he’d give you the shirt off his back.”

Carlson agreed.

“Recognition of his 20-plus years of outstanding community service is long overdue,” he said. 

Below, Linda Parlante presents Abel Fernandez with a certificate congratulating him on his nomination of Person of the Year at Mount Sinai High School, Dec. 23. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Think of all the little things that make or break your day. 

Were you greeted by a kind man when you came to work that day? Did someone tell you a joke that made you laugh while you whiled away the hours stuck at a desk? Did somebody help you move those boxes when you threw out your back earlier that week? Did somebody help you change your car tire after you got a flat when coming out of the parking lot? 

Abel Fernandez, lead custodian at Mount Sinai High School, is the man who makes people’s days, constantly, day after day, month after month, school year after school year. He’s a man who proves that small acts of kindness add up to a mountain of giving, and that is why Fernandez is named a TBR News Media Person of the Year for 2021.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Linda Parlante, the district secretary to the facilities director, said Fernandez “spends countless hours making sure his building is safe for the students.” Even as a custodian, he makes his love for the school and community known through every action he takes, whether it’s by attending many of the school functions, including being the first to volunteer during the annual Battle of the Educators faculty basketball game, rolling out the red carpet during prom, or always being there to purchase a cupcake or cookie at school bake sales. 

Scott Reh, the district director of buildings and grounds, said all the students know him for constantly being there for them.

“The kids love him,” Reh said. “He’s a fixture in the school and in students’ daily routines. The kids see him, and he interacts with them in a positive manner. He’s a role model.”

Fernandez also serves as the Spanish language interpreter for the district, and even there he goes above and beyond. He’s been known to go to students parents’ homes alongside high school principal, Peter Pramataris, to communicate with them directly about what’s happening in a student’s life or how they can participate in district elections. Reh said that Fernandez has a way about him that “when he [talks to students and parents], it’s in a manner in which they feel comfortable. He’s a soothing presence.”

Nothing takes away Fernandez’s attention from his school work, not even recent personal tragedy. After his brother was involved in a severe car accident, Parlante said the lead custodian has been attending to his brother’s needs, driving him back and forth from the hospital, as well as managing his brother’s barbershop. Even with all this extra work, Mount Sinai school officials said Fernandez has never missed a beat in the district, and that he still comes to work wanting to give 100% of his care to the student body and school grounds.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“He has been the first on scene for accidents on district property as well as the first in line when an issue arises that needs security,” Parlante said. “If anyone in the building ever needs anything, whether it be boxes moved, a car jumped, a tire changed or help at their house, he is always available and never says ‘no.’ He has created lifelong friends from his work here and everyone would agree that Abel would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.”

Pramataris has known Fernandez for well over a decade, having especially come to rely on him since he moved up from middle school principal to high school after the untimely passing of former principal Rob Grable in 2019. Pramataris said Grable had elevated Fernandez to the head custodian position “just because he also saw the potential in him.”

Fernandez is in charge of four custodians at the high school, and the principal said he always leads by example and “he’s always the first one to climb the ladder and do whatever needs to be done.” 

What gives Fernandez his can-do attitude? Pramataris said it’s likely his familial bonds that, growing up, taught him the value of hard work. His mother, Angela, is a custodian for the Comsewogue School District.

“His personality is just pleasant, and as someone who’s been knocked down a few times, he could have probably given up, but it’s the last thing that he’ll do,” Pramataris said. “He’s just the type of guy that you want to help and support, and he does the same for you.”

George Hoffman, right, moved to the Three Village area after meeting his wife, Maria Hoffman. File photo from Maria Hoffman

George Hoffman is a familiar face from Setauket Harbor to Brookhaven Town Hall. Intending to make a difference in the Three Village area each day, he revitalized the civic association, co-founded the Setauket Harbor Task Force, helped head up the Route 25A Citizen Advisory Committee and more.

For someone who has such a presence in the community, people are surprised to hear that he hasn’t lived here for decades. Hoffman moved to East Setauket after he met his wife, Maria Hoffman, former chief of staff for state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

In a 2019 TBR News Media interview, the Hoffmans said they married in 2009 in Frank Melville Memorial Park. A couple of years before they tied the knot, the two met through Englebright’s office. George Hoffman, who had a career in the political field for 35 years, was living on the South Shore working with former county Legislator Wayne Prospect (D-Dix Hills) when he first met Englebright. One day when he saw Maria at the office, she asked him to take a walk in the park and soon after they started dating.

Charles Lefkowitz, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, met Hoffman more than 20 years ago when both of them held government jobs. The chamber president said Hoffman’s passion for the Three Village community combined with his experience in politics, drive to protect the environment and also understanding the importance of economic viability are fitting for the area.

“He has the ability to work with town, county, state and federal officials,” Lefkowitz said. “George understands how government works to the benefit of the not-for-profits he’s involved in. His biggest attribute is his ability to work in a bipartisan manner for the benefit of the community.” 

Laurie Vetere, one of the co-founders of the harbor task force, has known Hoffman since they both started in the civic association and calls him a driving force.

She said he steps up where needed and is always dependable, adding he attends town board meetings and coordinates meetings with the county and Department of Environmental Conservation to speak about the health of local harbors on behalf of the task force.

Hoffman lowering a Sonde sensor to collect water depth, temperature and salinity readings before taking water samples for alkalinity. File photo from Maria Hoffman

“He’s always pretty much prepared with everything he does,” she said. “He puts the time and effort in, because he really wants to do good work, and he just values being proficient at what he does.”

Vetere added that Hoffman has learned environmental science and marine science information that he applies to the organization’s water testing activities that the task force does for Save the Sound and a sugar kelp project with the Moore foundation

“We have a great group of volunteers on our board, but George has really taken up the whole heavy load, and he’s learned so much science,” she said.

Lefkowitz counts Hoffman being one of the founding members of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and implementing a water quality testing program among his greatest achievements.

“Becoming a steward of Setauket Harbor, I think that’s one of his greatest accomplishments as well as the revitalization of the civic association,” Lefkowitz said.

Hoffman became president of the civics earlier this year, taking over for Jonathan Kornreich who was elected as Brookhaven councilman (D-Stony Brook) and stepped down as civic president. Both Lefkowitz and Herb Mones, a former civic president, credit Hoffman along with Kornreich with revitalizing the civic association as members began to age out about a decade ago. Lefkowitz said Hoffman always works with the business community, which is important because years ago the chamber and civic organizations were at odds with each other.

“George was one of the individuals that extended the olive branch and built that bridge,” Lefkowitz said.

Mones said soon after Hoffman moved to Setauket “he immediately wanted to be involved in the issues that were going on inside the community.” Mones described his fellow civic member as “an active advocate for the community over and over again.”

With Hoffman’s former role in government, Mones said he knows all the elected officials and how to the system works.

“He can give insight as to how to best navigate the desirable outcome for the community with some of the different issues that occur,” Mones said.

Kornreich agreed and said Hoffman’s unique skill set makes him effective on the civic and a “fierce advocate for the environment.”

“He’s been successful in getting literally hundreds of thousands of dollars directed toward environmental conservation, environmental remediation and protection,” Kornreich said.

The councilman added in addition to being a passionate activist, Hoffman is “also a clear-eyed realist.”

Mones also credits Hoffman for heading up the Route 25A revitalization committee with Jane Taylor, executive director of the chamber, and added it was a difficult project.

“It’s such a complex issue trying to bring everybody together and plan the future with so many different interests and so many different voices,” Mones said. “It’s certainly not an enviable task. But, you know, he accepted that responsibility and has made it so that at least there’s an idea as to what we see is the best buildout along 25A as opposed to just kind of randomly allowing spot development wherever it occurs.”

The civic member also credits Hoffman not only for taking on Brookhaven issues, but also helping to join forces with Smithtown residents over the potential development of the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Mones said Hoffman was the first one to bring to the Town of Brookhaven’s attention how the buildout of the property, with a proposed sewage treatment plant, would affect the local area.

Mones said Hoffman has been the ideal choice to step in as president of the civic association.

“He enjoys the responsibility and the opportunity to give leadership on the different issues,” he said. “I have to commend him that he’s very affable in handling the different concerns and complaints and issues that come before him.”

Maurizio Del Poeta, right, with his wife, Chiara Luberto, in front of the pizza oven that he built himself at his Mount Sinai home. Photo by TBR News Media

He’s a scientist, dedicated father and husband, businessman, mentor, collaborator, accomplished cook and gracious host. It seems fitting that Dr. Maurizio Del Poeta, a distinguished professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and someone several people described as a Renaissance man, would work at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University.

A fungal researcher who is working to find treatments and vaccines for fungal infections that kill over 1.3 million people annually, Del Poeta turned his talents to the study of COVID-19 this year.

Teaming up with researchers at The University of Arizona and Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, Del Poeta and his collaborators worked with an enzyme also found in rattlesnake venom that may provide a target for diagnostics and therapeutic intervention for COVID-19.

TBR News Media is pleased to recognize the research efforts of Del Poeta, who represents one of several scientists throughout Long Island and around the world working to find ways to improve human health and reduce the life-altering effects of the pandemic.

In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the research team found that an enzyme called secreted phospholipase A2 group IIA, or sPLA2-IIA, is in higher concentrations in well over half the people with the most severe forms of the disease.

“This is certainly an exciting discovery in terms of a marker [that might] provide a mechanistic understanding of severe cases of COVID,” said David Thanassi, Zhang family endowed professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Renaissance School of Medicine. “It’s hard to know exactly how this is going to play out” in terms of a therapy or a cure, he said, but it offers hope in terms of a way to diagnose or treat COVID.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun, director of the SBU Cancer Center who contributed to this research effort, described the work as a “major discovery” that could provide a “novel key player in the development of the COVID-19 illness.”

Hannun, who has known Del Poeta for 25 years, suggested that his colleague’s success stems from his commitment to his work.

Del Poeta’s “energy and passion are very observable in his academic life,” Hannun said. “His research team is energized by his enthusiasm and good instinct for important problems.”

Indeed, the members of his lab appreciate his commitment to making scientific discoveries and to providing considerable personal and professional support for them.

Antonella Rella worked in Del Poeta’s labs from 2010 through 2017. When she arrived in the United States, Rella joined Del Poeta’s lab at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Maurizio Del Poeta. File photo from SBU

While Rella appreciated all the scientific support she received over the years, including after she moved with him to Stony Brook in 2012, she was especially grateful for the first impression he made when she arrived at the airport.

On her trip from Italy, her flight was delayed and she had to stay overnight in Atlanta. When she landed in South Carolina, Del Poeta not only met her at the airport, but he also greeted her with his wife Chiara Luberto and their first child.

“I thought nobody would be at the airport,” said Rella, who is now a senior scientist with Estée Lauder. “When you meet your boss, you are not feeling very comfortable. Instead, I was very happy and relieved and felt welcomed.”

Rella said Del Poeta and Luberto, who is research associate professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Stony Brook, have treated other members of his lab the same way, especially when they come from abroad.

Rella said she and her lab mates were thrilled when Del Poeta and Luberto hosted them at their house in Mount Sinai.

“We were super happy whenever we were invited” to their home, Rella said. “We knew the food would be super amazing” because he cooked pizza at a brick oven he designed and built himself. He also made considerable effort to prepare food like tagliatelle.

“There is heart in everything he does,” Rella said.

That includes his dedication and focus on research. In addition to making scientific discoveries, Del Poeta, who earned his medical degree from the University of Ancona, Italy, is eager to apply those findings to the medical field.

The co-founder of MicroRid Technologies, Del Poeta and MicroRid are working to develop small-molecule anti-fungal drugs. Last year, the company received a five-year, $4 million award administered by the Department of Defense.

As for his COVID research, Del Poeta explained that the use of an existing drug for snake venom would involve a different preparation to treat people battling against the coronavirus.

In addition to the work he does in the lab, Del Poeta contributes to SBU and to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Up until the pandemic, Del Poeta and Luberto hosted prospective graduate students in his department at their house. The gatherings highlighted the camaraderie in the department, Thanassi said.

He appreciates Del Poeta’s commitment to mentoring and training, which helps attract and retain students.

“He brings a really nice recognition to the department” through the results of his research and his funding, Thanassi added.

Hannun is confident in his colleague’s success. He said his first impression of Del Poeta was that he was a capable and committed scientist who was aspiring to go after big questions.

“That was accurate but understated,” Hannun said.