Obituaries

Claire Nicolas White, born June 18,1925, in Groet, Netherlands, died May 26 in St. James.

A woman of vast and varied talents, she was a poet, writer and teacher of ballet, French and writing. Daughter of stained-glass painter Joep Nicolas and sculptor Suzanne Nys, Claire spent her early childhood in the Netherlands and a convent school in France. When she was 14, her parents fled the Nazi menace. Her father had a commission to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center, New York, where the family felt at home in a European community of exiled artists and writers. Claire and her younger sister, Sylvia, attended the Lycée Français with the children and grandchildren of other refugees.

When she’d arrived in New York, Claire spoke Dutch and French. By the time she graduated from Smith College, she’d fallen in love with English. In the poem, “Marriage II,” she wrote:

But English I wed for better or worse, 

my reality, my daily companion.

In 1946, Claire, with her mother, sister and fiancé, drove to California to visit her mother’s sister, Maria, and her husband, writer Aldous Huxley. In a 2017 interview, Claire said that her famous uncle had encouraged her to follow her chosen path.

After graduating from Smith College, she married Robert White, renowned sculptor and a grandson of the architect Stanford White. Speaking of the primacy of art in their relationship, Claire said, in that same interview, “Life is chaos; art is necessary to organize it.”

Claire and Bobby had four children. Their oldest, Sebastian, became a physicist; Stephanie, a dancer; and Christian, a painter. Claire’s youngest child, Natalie, died in a car accident when she was only 17. Claire also had six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Until her last days, her close family, including many nieces and nephews, was a continual source of joy. She took pride in the way Sylvia and her son, Diego, have carried on the stained-glass legacy of the Nicolas family.

Because of family connections and her schooling, Claire was accustomed to meeting famous people. She wrote opera libretti for Vittorio Rieti, the composer, a great friend and the father of the artist Fabio Rieti, her Lycée classmate. Cartier-Bresson photographed her as a young woman. She took silent walks with the Indian writer and philosopher, Krishnamurti, who taught her how to concentrate on each step. Through Rieti, she met Igor Stravinsky and introduced him to Aldous Huxley. Through Stravinsky, she met the great choreographer, George Balanchine. When Bobby won a Prix de Rome, the couple befriended the writer William Styron and his wife in Italy.

And yet Claire was not drawn to the limelight. She was fond of quoting the line in Emily Dickinson, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Putting down roots in St. James, she created an astonishing legacy, producing poems, libretti, plays, essays, memoirs, novels, art criticism (Art News, Newsday) and translations of Dutch and French literature. She mentored students of all ages at the Walt Whitman birthplace, in schools all over Long Island and in nursing homes. At Taproot Workshops & Journals, a nonprofit that encourages senior citizens to write in all genres, Claire was, according to its executive director, Enid Graf (in a letter to The New York Times,1995), “One of the organization’s finest teachers.” Claire was also the first editor of Oberon Poetry Magazine, founded in 2002 and still published by the Oberon Foundation.

She wrote into her 90s, both poetry and prose. Writer Orel Protopopescu, like many others in Claire’s orbit, considered her a mentor as well as a friend: “Until late last year, she was well enough to meet with our writing group weekly and would surprise us with unexpected turns of phrase, and a wry wit that was inimitably hers. Poems came to her with the regularity of dreams. There is a short poem called “The Tower” in which Claire describes an old wooden water tower close to her house. Its concluding lines encapsulate her philosophy of life:”

When life is flat I tower it

with a view

of the infinite.

In 2006, Claire donated her work to Stony Brook University Special Collections & Archives. Open to researchers without restriction, the collection comprises 10 cubic feet of newspaper clippings, articles, manuscripts, journals, notebooks, correspondence and published works from 1944 to 2006. 

Reading the titles in this collection, not all listed below, made me dizzy. I had thought that I knew her, but now I see I only had a glimpse. Claire was an extraordinary woman, complex and not always easy. She had a powerful impact on the lives of all of us privileged to know her, work with her, live a part of our lives with her and to love her. 

Some of Claire White’s publications:

Poetry in reviews and anthologies: The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Grand Street, Atlantic Monthly, Witness, Confrontation, The Paris Review, Long Island Quarterly, Paumanok, Poems and Pictures of Long Island and A Taste of Poetry (Walt Whitman Birthplace Association). 

Translations: “The Time of Our Lives (Journal d’une petite fille)” by Martine Rouchaud, 1946 (with Louise Varèse); “The Assault” by Harry Mulisch, 1985 (Pantheon Books, 1985 Honorable mention, PEN Translation prize); “A Night in May (La Nuit de mai)” by Alfred de Musset, 1989; “A Letter of Time” by Hans van de Waarsenburg in 1989; “The Vanishing” by Tim Krabbé, 1993; and “My Father’s War: A Novel” by Adriaan van Dis, 1996.

Selected books, poetry and prose: “The Death of the Orange Trees” (Harper and Row, 1963), a novel; “Joep Nicolas, leven en werk” (life and work) (Van Spijk, 1979); “Biography and Other Poems” (Doubleday, 1981); “Fragments of Stained Glass” (Mercury House, 1981), a memoir (Spanish tr. “Mosaico de Una Vida,” Sabina Editorial, 2017); “The Bridge” (Cross Cultural Communications, 1987); “River Boy,” 1988 (ed.); “Stanford White: Letters to His Family” (Rizzoli,1997); “The Elephant and the Rose” (The Vineyard Press, 2003), a memoir’; and poetry collections: “Riding at Anchor” (Waterline Books, 1994); “News from Home” (Birnham Woods Graphics, 1998); and since 2004: “Elusive Harbors” (poetry), “An Armful of Time, Snapshots” (memoir), “Ernestine” (novella), “Robert White, Sculptor,” “The Land of the Smiths” (2014) and “Five Generations Painting with Light” (2019).

Submitted by Kathy Donnelly with contributions from poets and writers.

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Edmund Joseph Handley died of natural causes at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University May 11 at the age of 91.

Edmund Handley

Born in Astoria, Feb. 27, 1929, Edmund was raised by his single mother, Bridget McGhee, and his older Rowan siblings Tom, Jane and Sarah. After graduating from high school, Edmund served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Korean War years. Upon his return, he graduated from Pace University and began work in construction sales in New York City. In the summers, he served as a state lifeguard in Rockaway Beach.

Edmund met his beloved Australian wife, Janette (Carter), and married her in 1966. The duo left Queens and moved to the Three Village area in 1969. Together, they raised their four children Siobhan, Tara, Shannon and Sean. After retiring from his sales position in the city, Edmund and Janette opened Budget Print Center in Stony Brook in 1978. As a small business owner, Edmund, along with his wife, immersed himself in myriad facets of the Three Village community. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Stony Brook and served as its president in 1987. He and Janette were strong believers in the Rotary’s host student program and hosted five students from various countries while their own children were in high school.

Edmund was extremely active in his church parish, St. James R.C. Church in Setauket, and was one of the founding members of its weekly soup kitchen called Our Daily Bread. In this capacity, he cooked meals for the homeless for 15 years. Edmund delivered meals through Three Village Meals on Wheels for over 15 years. He spent a great deal of his time at the Stony Brook Yacht Club where he served in many roles over the years. An avid boater, fisherman and swimmer, he could often be seen on his boat with his kids and one of his many Labrador retrievers. In 2017, he was presented with a lifetime award for his service to the club. In all of his endeavors, Edmund was known for his love of family — especially his wife and children and dogs — his generous spirit, his strong belief in “giving back” to his community and, most notably, his quick wit and smile.

Edmund is survived by his wife Janette; his children Siobhan Handley (Will Ketterer), Tara McKnight (Todd Rexroth), Shannon Handley (John Grossman), and Sean Handley (Jennifer Lewis Handley); grandchildren Brooks McKnight, Sean Grossman, Maeve Ketterer, Bridget Grossman, Finn Ketterer and Charlotte Handley: his sister Jane Hickey; loving nieces and nephews: and countless good friends.

Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made in memory of Edmund J. Handley to either:

The Long Island State Veterans Home, 100 Patriots Road, Stony Brook, NY 11790 (veteranshome.stonybrookmedicine.edu/donate); or Hope House Ministries, P.O. Box 358, 1 High St., Port Jefferson, NY 11777 (www.hhm.org/help.html).

Three Village Residents Remember

The Three Village Historical Society sent an email to its members to notify them of Edmund Handley’s passing.

“Janette and Edmund are treasured friends both professionally and personally to the society and have been longtime supporters of TVHS in many, many aspects,” the email read.

Mary Ann McAvoy, a volunteer with Three Village Meals on Wheels, described Handley as “a very generous man.” She said her husband Ed McAvoy and another friend would make deliveries with Handley when they all volunteered for Meals on Wheels. For years, “after delivering meals, the men always went for a burger at Tara’s in Port Jefferson which capped off the day.”

Dan Berger, director of public relations for the Rotary Club of Stony Brook, said Handley was president of the club during the 1987-88 fiscal year.

“He had a dry wit and led the club with an easy style,” Berger said. “A key part of his presidency was his family — children at Rotary meetings and Janette, his ever-present wife, helping in the editing and printing of The Brooklet (the Rotary newsletter). He was one of our best presidents and a devoted long-term member of the club. He was also a Paul Harris Fellow — an honor bestowed on special members, such as Edmund Handley.”

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a ceremony for Wilson two days after his death. Photo from Mount Sinai Fire Department Facebook

Walter Wilson, a chief at the Mount Sinai Fire Department and longtime firefighter, passed away April 27. He was 80 and had just recently celebrated his birthday before
his passing.

Walter Wilson. Photo by Kevin Redding

Wilson joined the Mount Sinai Fire Department eight years ago, and when he passed away, he was the captain of the fire police Company 4. The 1st Mount Sinai Assistant Chief Randy Nelson said after joining, Wilson quickly became a “staple of leadership within the department, whether it was senior members or new members who were only serving a couple months or years.”

On his birthday, despite his ailments, Wilson stood in his yard as both the fire department and a steady stream of cars from the community rolled by his house to celebrate him turning 80.

In a previous article from 2017 in the Village Beacon Record, Walter Wilson, then 77, was described as a former utilities manager at Stony Brook University and volunteer who came out of retirement to join the firehouse after serving the Yaphank Fire Department for 26 years. There he had served as an officer in the ranks and commissioner of the Yaphank Fire District. He told the reporter at the time of the article that once a fireman, always a fireman.

“I had taken about a 10-year break [between Yaphank and Mount Sinai] and retired, but every time a siren went off in the neighborhood, my wife would say to me, ‘you’re like a dog on a porch, getting ready to go chase cars,’” said Wilson. “But it’s great. I got back in, and I love it.”

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a ceremony April 29 for the fallen captain, with fire trucks rolling out in front of the firehouse on Mount Sinai-Coram Rd underneath a giant American flag and onto North Country road.

“Your kind heart and dedication to the fire department and the community will never be forgotten,” the fire department wrote on Facebook. “May you Rest In Peace Wally we will take it from here.” 

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By The Rositzke Family and Rita J. Egan

Longtime community member Ernest T. Rositzke, died April 30. He was 94.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth, of 73 years who continues to reside at Jefferson’s Ferry.

Before their move there, they were longtime residents of Stony Brook. For 60 years, Ernie was a proud, active member of the Stony Brook Fire Department. Having served as chief and commissioner, he was most honored when he received their Fireman of the Year award in 2018. The family was told that the award wasn’t given out easily and some years they don’t give it out at all.

He also enjoyed spending time at the Stony Brook Yacht Club where he served a term as commodore. He was involved with the American Legion and for 22 years, worked with and delivered for Three Village Meals on Wheels. His most famous volunteer role, however, was that of the “real Santa” in and around the area including Stony Brook Village Green and Stony Brook University Hospital.

He was born in 1926, attended Andrew Jackson High School and served with the Marines during WWII. Ernie worked for the New York Telephone Company and the Town of Brookhaven.

In addition to his wife, Ruth, he will be lovingly remembered by his children, Christine DeAngelo (Lou), Ernest T. Rositzke, Jr. (Lynn) and Karen Fink (David). He is also survived by four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren as well as his sister, Jackie Schecher of Springfield Centre. Ernie was preceeded in death by his half-brother, Arthur Rohrlack.

Walter Hazlitt said he knew Rositzke for more than 60 years through the fire department. The two had a common bond not only as fellow volunteer firefighters but also as veterans and members of the yacht club. He described him as a generous person.

“He’s going to be sorely missed,” he said. “You can’t extol him too much. He was an exception to the rule.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) remembered his work as Santa.

“Most of my life my contact with Ernie was exclusively through the Stony Brook Fire Department with the most memorable interactions being him as Santa Claus at the member family Christmas parties,” she said. “Ernie was happy — jolly even. He was patient and kind with the children, spending what felt like hours listening to each child rattle off their wish lists or screaming in his ear because they were too young and too afraid. Posing for multiple photos with infants, toddlers, little kids, big kids teenagers, college students, families. It wasn’t just his white beard that was genuine —he was the real deal. He truly cared and wanted to make each and every child happy. Volunteer firefighter through-and-through, in the end, it was his mission to help. On a call, he would help protect our community. At Christmas, he would help each and every family have fun and bring a little hope and joy to the season.”

Diane Melidosian, a board member for Three Village Meals on Wheels, said, “His quiet demeanor and wonderful sense of humor will be missed.”

Liz Bongiorno, a TBR News Media sales rep, remembered meeting Rositzke when she worked for an indoor playground. The owner had asked him if he could play Santa.  Bongiorno started talking to him and found out he not only lived in the neighborhood where she grew up, but was also friends with her grandfather. He started telling her about her grandfather, who she had never met and called him a gentle giant.

“It was the best Christmas gift that I ever received in my life,” Bongiorno said.

Whenever she would see Rositzke at chamber meetings, she always told him that no one had ever given her a better gift.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she knew Rositzke for more than 35 years when he worked in the Town of Brookhaven’s highway department and in his role as the “real Santa.”

“He started to grow his beard in August, and changed into the real Santa on the first Sunday in December every year,” she said. “He would sit for four hours at the Stony Brook Post Office, listening attentively to each child’s wishes. The line to see him started over one hour ahead of his arrival.”

Rocchio said one year when WMHO decided to add another Santa, Rositzke thought it may confuse the children. They never had two Santas after that.

“He heard so many sad stories, and it bothered him that he could not fulfill their wishes,” Rocchio said. “So WMHO created the Santa Fund. Each year we still raise funds for clothing and toys for those in need. Initially, he told us which homes to go to. Many people would say, ‘I saw him when I was a child and now I am bringing my children.’ We never thought he would stop, because Santa is immortal, but he did. However, his spirit of kindness will always live on in the people that he touched.”

Arrangements were entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. A celebration of his life will be held in the future.

Donations in his honor can be made to: Three Village Meals on Wheels, P.O. Box 853, Stony Brook, NY  11790.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Submitted by the Huntington Republican Committee

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George Rehn, left, at the induction of Hope Kinney, second from right, into the Rotary Club of Stony Brook. Photo from Rotary Club of Stony Brook

With the news of the passing of George Rehn April 3, at the age of 71, community members have reached out to share their condolences.

The certified public accountant worked out of his East Setauket office located on Route 25A across the street from Se-Port Delicatessen for decades.

“He spoke the truth, was fair to all, sought to build goodwill and tried to benefit all in what he did.”

— Dan Berger

Dan Berger, director of public relations for the Rotary Club of Stony Brook, said Rehn was a member of the rotary for nearly 40 years. Rehn served as president of the club for several years and was a district governor as well.

“Embodying the principles of rotary, he was a role model of how to be a rotarian,” Berger said. “He spoke the truth, was fair to all, sought to build goodwill and tried to benefit all in what he did. He was one of the fairest and honest people I knew. He would often reach out to people in need helping them out financially and otherwise.”

Berger also described his fellow rotarian as generous.

“He generously invited the club to use his vacation home on Fire Island,” Berger said. “One of our rotary rituals is to give happy dollars at each meeting. George often gave happy dollars for his family events especially the birth and birthdays of his grandchildren. He loved to tell jokes and always had one to tell at the beginning of our meetings. George Rehn was a rotary institution and will be missed terribly.”

Berger said to honor the deceased, 40 of his fellow rotarians gathered in front of the office on 25A wearing red April 8, the day of his funeral, as his family drove by.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) remembered Rehn, especially for his work with the Rotary Club of Stony Brook.

“George Rehn contributed greatly to the Three Village community in a productive and positive way that is worthy of remark,” Englebright said. “His commitment to rotary, for example, brought him widespread recognition for his good work through this organization’s wholesome mission. George was a good man and will be missed.”

Charlie Lefkowitz, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, informed the board members of Rehn’s passing during a chamber phone conference April 6.

“As we all know, George was a pillar in our communities for almost 50 years,” he said, adding that he was a beautiful person.

“He was always helping others by donating services, giving money and even ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.”

— Carmine Inserra

Carmine Inserra, vice president of the chamber, echoed Lefkowitz’s sentiments in an email.

“Most people are unaware of the many charitable and benevolent organizations he gave to and helped with professional services at no cost,” Inserra said. “He was always helping others by donating services, giving money and even ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. He was always doing things for others.”

Michael Ardolino, assistant secretary of the chamber and founder and owner-broker of Realty Connect USA, said he remembers Rehn being involved in the chamber of commerce from the organization’s early days.

He said whenever he told Rehn that someone needed help, the CPA was ready and willing to assist. When it came to establishing Character Counts, a youth program created in the school district after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Ardolino sat in on a meeting and found out an accountant was needed to set it up. He said when he told Rehn, his friend immediately said yes when he asked him to help.

“That was George,” Ardolino said.

He added when Rehn heard that Laura Ahern needed help establishing the nonprofit Parents for Megan’s Law, which is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse and rape, Rehn was immediately on board.

“The community is going to miss him a lot,” Ardolino said.

Ron LaVita, a fellow chamber member who works down the street from Rehn’s office, worked with the CPA on multiple projects, including Parents for Megan’s Law, and was also a client of his.

LaVita said he remembers Rehn being involved not only in the chamber, but also the Three Village Historical Society and being treasurer of many election campaigns, which included one for Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“He always volunteered to do all the IRS filings for the not-for-profits,” LaVita said. “He has quite a legacy.”

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said Rehn was helpful when it came to his organization.

“George Rehn was one of those special people who stitch together the fabric that makes a community, and he quietly helped a lot of local organizations with his many skills and talents,” Hoffman said. “He gladly donated his time and expertise in helping Setauket Harbor Task Force obtain its tax exempt status and was generous in support of our work. He will be missed.”

“George Rehn was one of those special people who stitch together the fabric that makes a community, and he quietly helped a lot of local organizations with his many skills and talents.”

— George Hoffman

Elizabeth Kane, who worked for Rehn cleaning his office, said she had known him for more than 20 years. She described him as a lovely man who was always willing to help people. She said, one time when she was doing gardening at his home, her son was helping her unload the mulch off the truck. Rehn said to give her son an extra job, and he gave him some money so he could save for college. She said the accountant was always finding work for people so they could earn money if they needed it.

“He was very generous, very thoughtful,” she said. “Any time you had a problem with anything, he would always find something for you to do.”

Fred Peritore, financial secretary of Setauket’s Mother Teresa Council of the Knights of Columbus, said Rehn was always willing to chip in with the organization, calling donors to set up appointments for blood drives, donating blood himself, supporting his fellow Knights at charitable events, including veterans fundraisers.

“George was a mountain of a man, in so many ways, larger than life as a member of Mother Teresa Council, Knights of Columbus,” Peritore said. “As a man of faith, he truly lived the principles of the Knights, the first of which is charity.”

Peritore said Rehn will be missed.  

“He was always there to offer advice and his smile lit up a room,” he said. “His corny jokes never ceased.”  

Rehn is survived by his wife, Liz; his daughter Jennifer (John); his son Scott (Janay); his two grandchildren and his stepsons Joseph and Andrew.

Funeral arrangements were entrusted to Moloney Funeral Homes. A private burial ceremony was held April 8 at St. James R.C. Church in East Setauket. A memorial service will be held at a later date.

The Rotary Club of Stony Brook has established a fund in his name. Proceeds will be donated to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital as well as a plaque in his name at the Rotary Memorial Garden in downtown Stony Brook. Donations may be sent to Rotary Club of Stony Brook, P.O. Box 1091, Stony Brook, NY 11790. Checks should be made out to The George Rehn Rotary Memorial Fund. For more information go to www.RotaryClubofStonyBrook.com.

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Bob Strong, right, with his grandchildren Brittany and RJ. Photo from Robyn Strong

Former Port Jefferson mayor and longtime active member of the Port Jeff community Bob Strong passed March 15 after complications from lung cancer. He was 83 and died in the community he knew and loved.

Robert Strong with his two children, Robyn and Robert Jr. Photo from Robyn Strong

Strong was mayor for four years from 1995 to 1999, having been a trustee for four years prior to that. Though his stint as village head was relatively short, Strong would have long and lasting impacts on the village, namely his early help incorporating the easternmost part of the village, his creation of the Business Improvement District and him buying the property that would eventually become Harborfront Park. 

Strong was born June 16, 1936, in New York City, the son of Joseph A. and Pauline R. (Manger) Strong. He would attend SUNY Oswego and graduate in 1958. He was a member of the Beta Tau Epsilon fraternity, where he would meet his wife of nearly 50 years, Evelyn Ann (Repasky) Strong. They would have two children, Robyn and Robert Jr.

People who knew them said the two were inseparable, and it was very rare to see one without the other standing by their side. Evelyn passed away in June 2006. 

Robyn Strong said her father was very gregarious, always there for local parties or events.

The couple moved to the Port Jefferson in 1968, where the family quickly ingratiated itself into the community. Though the area was not yet in the Village of Port Jefferson, Strong quickly became known as a leading voice for incorporation. 

About 90 acres on the eastern end of the village was, until the late 1970s, still not a part of the village. Advocates for integration looked to change that. Unlike the village’s original incorporation in 1963, which was formed out of a desire for home rule, this new incorporation came together through a desire for united identity, according to Larry Britt, a former trustee of 11 years who worked alongside Strong once he later became mayor. 

“There was the same school district — all their kids went to school with our kids — and it was a big section of the village that was left out,” he said.

Harold Sheprow, a former Port Jefferson mayor from 1977 to 1985 and again from 1987 to 1991, soon became fast friends, especially because of their shared advocacy to see the village extended out to Crystal Brook Hollow Road. Strong would spend his efforts knocking on doors, advertising for integration and discussing the prospect in meetings. 

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong

“It was a big benefit to Port Jefferson,” Sheprow said. 

The village’s longest serving mayor of 12 years would appoint Strong to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Working up from trustee to deputy mayor to mayor, Strong would work on several major projects, two of which are most felt by village residents today, namely purchasing the land near the harbor that would later become Harborfront Park and the creation of the BID.

Back in time, what is now parkland was filled with oil terminals, with the last owned by Mobil, which merged with Exxon in 1999 to become ExxonMobil. Sheprow said he had worked on that project for years, but Strong was the man to finally get it done, having gained financial help from New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Sheprow said the agreement also forced Mobil to clean up any contamination in the ground, which would help set the stage for what came next. 

Britt, who as trustee worked alongside Strong on the project, said the actions he and the board took involved participation from both local government and residents.

“It was a big focus of what we did,” he said. “I think the fact we had great resident participation was a big part of why it went through.”

The mayor to take up the job after Strong was Jeanne Garant, who would help transform the area into the rolling passive park residents and visitors enjoy today.

Caroline Savino, a former village clerk who would work under five separate mayors, said Strong and other past mayors were looking for ways to have the businesses themselves chip in for the betterment of other village storefronts. 

Britt said the creation of the BID has done much for the village, especially as seen in its current incarnation. Lately, BID members have been working with the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce to get meals from restaurants to hospital workers.

“Who could have looked into the future and see what it is today?” Britt said.

Otherwise, those who worked for Strong in an official capacity knew he could be just as kind in and out of the office.

“Bob was a real gentleman easy to work for — really dedicated to the village,” Savino said. 

Not only did she work for him, but she and Strong were also neighbors, where she said they had originally become friends. Despite him becoming mayor, she said it wasn’t hard to work for him, as he was always so courteous. Even after she retired and moved to North Carolina, Strong wouldn’t hesitate to call her and catch up on things.

Strong was also described as religious, having been a principal of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church religious school for two years. Sheprow said Strong never missed a Mass.

When not traipsing around the village, Strong was a middle school social studies educator in the South Country Central School District. He joined the district in 1958 and remained a teacher until 1966 when he became an assistant principal at the middle school. He became chairman of the social studies department, a position he held from 1972 until 1991. Strong was also a student council adviser

Robert Strong was a mayor for 4 years, but had a lasting impact. Photo from Robyn Strong15

Steve Willner, a fellow teacher in the South Country school district knew Strong well, having worked with him for eight years, becoming friends with him in much the same way others have, thanks to his personable attitude.

“He was really highly regarded in the school by both students and faculty members as [someone who was as] professional and personable as possible,” Willner said. 

Friends who knew Strong all mentioned his love of history, both world and U.S., and his ability to talk about current events. Britt remembered having plenty of discussions on politics and world issues.

When one was friends with Strong, they knew it well. Willner said he would invite the man to his son’s wedding and daughter’s bar mitzvah. Even when Willner moved to Florida after retirement, Strong and he would still keep in touch, communicating together up until the time of his death.

When Strong’s wife Evelyn passed in 2006, friends said the former mayor took it hard. 

“He and his wife were very joined together at the hip and never went anywhere without each other,” said Sheprow. “They were very much attached to each other — he never got over when she passed.”

Still people who knew him talked of how he would continue to call them or meet up, whether they were in the area or lived several states away. Robyn said her father and mother were both heavy travelers, having visited all 50 states and all continents, save Asia and Africa.

Robyn said her father was diagnosed with lung cancer 14 months before his death in March, but that he “was a fighter to the very end.” 

Because of the ongoing crisis, the family will not be holding any services at this point, though they are currently developing plans for a memorial in early summer.

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Panagiotis Koridis

Panagiotis “Pete” Koridis, of St. James, died Jan. 24. He was 93. 

He was the beloved husband of the late Anna Dorothy.

In addition, he was the cherished father of Chris (Thomas) Cantone-Stadier and Nicholas (Catherine) Koridis; the loving grandfather of Nichole Cantone, Melissa Simpson, Carissa Siry, Melina Pascual, Nicholas A. Koridis, Gregory John Koridis; great-grandfather of Calvin, Kaia, Kevin, Kayla, Elena, Madison, Roce Astor; dear brother of Irene, Helen, Maritsa, Eleftheria and the late Monia; and  he is also survived by many other family members and friends.

Religious services were held at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson. Interment followed at Washington Memorial Park Cemetery in Mount Sinai.                     

Arrangements were entrusted to the care of Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place. An online guest book is available at www.branchfh.com.

Alan Cerny

Alan R. Cerny, of North Palm Beach, Florida, and formerly of Port Jefferson Station, died Feb. 6. 

He was a proud 50-year member of the Terryville Fire Department and was an ex-chief and ex-commissioner.  

He was the beloved husband of Jane; the devoted father of Alan (Lisa), Peggy Gironda (Mike), David (Kathy), Leah Abela (Joe) and John (Connie); the cherished grandfather of nine and great-grandfather of one; the loving brother of Linda Commander, Sharon Ogden and Robin Sico (Louie).  

A memorial Mass was celebrated Feb. 22 at St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station. Interment of cremated remains followed in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram. 

Constance Reimer

Constance Marie Reimer, a longtime community resident, died Jan. 15. She was 87.

She was born Jan. 21, 1932, in Queens, and was the daughter of Dorothy and John Elderd.

“Connie” was a retired payroll manager for NY Telephone. She was also a member of a senior club, enjoyed painting, drawing, knitting, playing Bingo and spending time with her family.

Left to cherish her memory is her daughter, Karen; son, Donald; grandchildren, Michelle and Erik; great-grandchildren, Christopher and Hailey; brother, George; along with many other family and friends.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Donald.

Services were held at Bryant Funeral Home Jan. 24, and interment followed at the Calverton National Cemetery.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. People can visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Contributions made to the North Shore Animal League, Good Shepherd Hospice or Save-A-Pet in her memory would be appreciated.

Eugenie Corolla

Eugenie Corolla, of Port Jefferson Station, died Jan. 11. She was 80.

She was born July 24, 1939, in Brooklyn and was the daughter of Nancy and Gerard Pacella.

“Genie” was a retired high school monitor. People called her a great cook, particularly her chicken cutlets and brownies. She also enjoyed gardening, spending time with the grandkids and enjoyed family gatherings.

Left to cherish her memory is her husband, Charles; daughter, Nanette; sons, Robert and Andrew; six grandchildren; along with many other family and friends.

Services were held at the Port Jefferson Infant Jesus R.C. Church, Jan. 18, while interment followed at the Pinelawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Farmingdale.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. People can visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Ann ‘Nancy’ Scalzo

Ann “Nancy” Scalzo of Commack passed away on Feb. 3 at the age of 61. She was the loving wife of Bill; beloved mother of Billy and Chris; and dear sister of the late James and his wife Gail Gitzinger. A funeral Mass was celebrated at Christ the King R.C. Church in Commack on Feb. 7 with interment at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale. Donations in Nancy’s memory to Little Shelter, 33 Warner Road, Huntington, NY, 11743, or North Shore Animal League, 25 Davis Ave., Port Washington, NY, 11050, would be appreciated.

 

Carmella Coschignano

Carmella “Candy” Coschignano of Huntington Station died on Feb. 5. She was 93. Carmella was the loving mother of Patricia (Steven) Woerner-Redelick, Theresa (Edward) Collins and Donna Samuells; beloved grandmother of Edward (Ashley) Collins, Katherine Collins, William (Jennifer) Woerner, Krista (Ryan) Mooney and Robert Collins; dear great-grandmother of Elliot, Jake and Aiden; and the fond sister of the late Teresa Petrone, the late Frank Lepera and the late Virginia Elkins. She was also loved by her nieces and nephews. A funeral Mass was celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, Centerport with interment at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Huntington. Donations may be made at www.ProudRescuers.org in Candy’s memory.

Edith Heinicke

Edith Heinicke of East Northport died on Feb. 9, at the age of 89. She was the beloved wife of the late Otto; loving mother of Sheryl (Michael) Weisner, Kathryn (the Late Peter) Llewellyn, Donna (Edward) Huttunen, Jeanne (Robert “Beefy”) Varese and Eric Heinicke (partner Christine Snow); cherished grandmother of Diana, Abigail, Julia, Samuel, Paul, Kate, Greggory, David, Nicholas, Allison and Rachel; dear great-grandmother of Raelynn, Kai and Segen; fond sister-in-law of Kathy Bandini; sister of Bruce Bandini and the late Gene Bandini. 

Edith was the president of the Larkfield Community Garden Club and parliamentarian of the Dix Hills Garden Club. Interment was at Northport Rural Cemetery. Donations in Edith’s memory may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105 or Paralyzed Veterans of America, Donation Processing Center, P.O. Box 758589 Topeka, KS 66675-8589.

Christopher G. Post

Christopher G. Post of Northport died on Feb. 9 at the age of 56. He was the loving son of Renée and the late Robert; beloved father of Natalie and Christa; cherished fiancé of Gina; and dear brother of Edward (Margaret), Richard Post and Robert Post. Cremation was private.

 

 

Angela Jean Richards

Angela J. Richards of Northport died on Feb. 17 at the age of 72. She was the beloved wife of Ronald; loving mother of Christina Semple (Jack) and Ronald II (Carrie); cherished grandmother of Amelia, Abigail, Remo and Luna; and dear sister of Corinna Jurs and the late Lawrence Basso. Cremation was private.

 

 

Carol Kuskowski

Carol Ann Kuskowski, of Tower Lakes, Illinois, formerly of East Northport, passed away peacefully on Feb. 18 at the age of 85. She was born on Nov. 30, 1934, on Long Island, to the late Edwin and Madeleine Carbery. On Dec. 28, 1957, Carol married Len in Farmingdale and they celebrated 48 years of marriage until his passing in 2006.

Carol will be deeply missed by her five children, Barbara (Bill) Cordts of East Northport, Janet (David) Blake of Tower Lakes, Leonard J. Jr. (Anne) Kuskowski of Chesapeake, Virginia, Mary (Tony) Magro of Tower Lakes and John Kuskowski of Deer Park; grandchildren, Billy (Stef), Brian (Jamie), James and Tommy Cordts, Jacqueline, Steven and Alexander Blake, Caroline, Olivia, and Leo Kuskowski, and A.J., Julie and Gina Magro; great-grandchildren, Logan and Brody, Blake and Taylor; her brother, Bill Carbery; and by many nieces and nephews.

In addition to her husband and parents, she was preceded in death by her siblings, Edwin (Lois) Carbery, Joan (George) Dery and Eileen Carbery. A funeral Mass was celebrated on Feb. 24 at St. Anthony of Padua Church, East Northport. Burial followed at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

Superintendent Joe Rella a his last graduation ceremony, 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Monica Gleberman

Dr. Joe Rella, the beloved former Comsewogue superintendent who spent just over 25 years in the district, passed away Feb. 21, with Moloney Funeral Homes and the district confirming his death late Friday night. He was 69.

Community members flocked to social media to share their thoughts and memories about their superintendent affectionately known around the district as just “Rella.”

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella with students who participated in Joe’s Day of Service. Photo from CSD

“So much of what I learned about community was through his unceasing example of what it meant to serve the place you call home,” said Kevin LaCherra, who graduated in 2009. “To bring people in, to find out what they need, to fight like hell to get it and then to pass the torch.”

Rella entered the district as a part-time music teacher, making only $28,000 in salary. He would move on to become a full-time music teacher, then the high school principal and finally, superintendent of schools, which was his final position, held for nine years.

In an interview with TBR News Media before his retirement and final graduation ceremony in 2019, Rella had likened the act of running a school district to music, all based in a learning process for both the students and for him.

“Because one thing you learn, there is no such thing as a mistake, it’s a springboard to your next part of the piece,” he said.

The district planned to decorate school buildings with blue-and-gold ribbons come Monday and make counselors available for students who may need it, current Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said Saturday. The district was closed Wednesday, Feb. 26 to allow teachers and students to attend his funeral.

Quinn had worked with Rella for 13 years. In a phone interview Saturday, the current superintendent had nothing but great things to say about her predecessor and mentor. If anything, she said Rella “did not want people to remember him sadly. He wanted them to smile and laugh. He just loved everybody.” 

Rella’s wife, Jackie, passed in 2016 following a struggle with breast cancer. The superintendent himself had been diagnosed with stage 4 bile duct cancer in 2017. Despite his sickness, he would stay on in the top position for another two years. 

Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella congratulates a member of the class of 2016 during graduation June 23, 2016. File photo by Bob Savage

It was that dedication, even in the face of sickness and loss, that built up so much trust between him and the community over the years. Quinn said he was humble, always the one to take the blame if plans didn’t work out, but he was always ready to heap praise on others.

“He made everyone important,” she said. “He never shied away from a tough problem and tried to make everything better — he always did.”

Others in the district said Rella’s example pushed them to do more and to do better. Andrew Harris, a special education teacher in the high school, created Joe’s Day of Service in 2018. Named after the then-superintendent, the program asked students to do volunteer work around the school and the greater community. Students have traveled all the way to the Calverton Cemetery in both 2018 and 2019 to clean graves and plant flags.

Harris said there are hundreds of examples of Rella’s kindness, such as driving over an hour to take care of a teacher’s mother who was suffering from cancer.

“In many ways, just like they call the middle of our country the ‘flyover states,’ Port Jefferson Station used to be like a ‘drive-through town’ — people were on their way to another town as the destination,” Harris said. “That all changed with Dr. Rella’s leadership. No matter where you went, and especially as a teacher, when you say you are from Comsewogue and Port Jefferson Station, people know where you came from and the legacy. It makes us all proud to say it.”

The school board accepted Rella retirement in November 2018. He had said in previous interviews his diagnosis did not factor into his decision to retire, and it had been his and his wife’s intent to make that year his last.

“Joe and Jackie were the face of Comsewogue for many years,” said John Swenning, school board president. “Their dedication and support to our administrators, teacher, staff, parents and most importantly our students is nothing short of legendary. Dr. Rella is the Italian grandfather that every kid deserves to have. He will be missed dearly.”

School board trustee Rob DeStefano had known Rella since his sophomore year in Comsewogue high, when the to-be super had joined the district as the new music teacher. DeStefano would be elected to the board coinciding with Rella’s appointment as head of schools. One memory that cemented the famed superintendent in his mind, according to a previous column he wrote for TBR after Rella’s announced retirement, was during a jazz band concert he and his wife got up on stage and started to dance the Charleston.

Rella speaks out against standardized testing in 2015. File photo

Despite the loss, the Rella name lives on in the district, particularly in the high school courtyard, full of sunflowers, named Jackie’s Garden after his late wife. As the superintendent participated in his final high school graduation ceremony last year on June 26, students rolled out a new plaque, naming the high school auditorium the Dr. Joseph V. Rella Performing Arts Center.

His funeral, held Wednesday, Feb. 26, at St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station, drew huge crowds of family as well as school officials and community members.

Those same Community members and school officials gathered outside the high school Wednesday morning before the funeral. At just after 10 a.m., a hearse bearing Rella and a procession drove around the circle outside the high school, his final visit to the institution residents say he cared so deeply about. Members of both the Port Jefferson and Terryville fire departments hung a giant flag above the ground for the hearse to drive under. Residents and students held blue and yellow signs, all thanking the superintendent for his life of work and service. 

Quinn said they will be working out the details for a larger memorial sometime in the near future.

“He embodied the Comsewogue culture — pushed it and all of us forward,” said 2019 graduate Josh Fiorentino. “To say I know how he wanted to be remembered would be a lie. However, I and many others will remember him as a Warrior. The truest of them all.”

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Linda Gould Dwyer

Linda Gould Dwyer, of East Setauket, died Jan. 1. She was 71.

She was born Jan. 27, 1948, in Port Jefferson and was the daughter of Evelyn and James Gould.

Dwyer was an administrator for Ann Gordon speech pathology in Stony Brook, and in her free time she enjoyed drawing and singing. She was also considered a spiritual woman.

Left to cherish her memory are her son, Thomas; sisters, Joanne and Cari; along with other family and friends.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Kerry, and her parents.

Services were held at Bryant Funeral Home, Jan. 7 with the Rev. Barbara Rispoli officiating. Interment followed in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket. People can visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Contributions made to the North Shore Animal League in memory of her would be appreciated.

James Autino

James Autino, of Hauppauge, died Jan. 19. He was 63.

He was born Dec. 9, 1956, in Brooklyn, and was the son of Gloria and Vincent Autino.

James was an office administrator for IBM, and in his free time he loved carpentry, guitars, baseball and spending time with his family.

Left to cherish his memory are his wife, Patricia; along with Jim’s children and grandchildren: Christine Varvaro (Jason) and grandson Liam; Diana; Jimmy (Megan), granddaughters Andi and Natalie; Dan (Courtney) and grandsons Thomas, Ryan and Danny; Jim’s stepchildren: Brian, Trisha (Mike) (Mikie and Dominic); Kevin (Danielle) (daughter Kaydence); along with many other family and friends.

Services were held at Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Jan. 23. Committal services were held in private.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket. People can visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Lenore Prizzi

Lenore Prizzi, of Setauket, died Jan. 4. She was 83.

She was born June 15, 1936, in Setauket, and was the daughter of Anna and Luciano Ardizzone.

Lenore was a homemaker.

Left to cherish her memory are her husband, Gasper; daughter, Deborah; son, Jack (Judy); grandchildren, Jackie (Nicholas), Leanne (Frederick) and Louis; along with many other family and friends.

Services were held at the Bryant Funeral Home Jan. 9. Interment followed in the Calverton National Cemetery.

Arrangements were entrusted to the Bryant Funeral Home of Setauket. People can visit www.bryantfh.com to sign the online guest book.

Contributions made to the St. Jude’s Children Hospital in memory of her would be appreciated.