Obituaries

by -
0 108

Dr. Mark Cherches

Dr. Mark L. Cherches, of Port Jefferson, died Sept. 18. He was 85.

Dr. Mark Cherches

The well-known area dentist was born Sept. 22, 1934 in the Bronx. After graduating from New York University College of Dentistry in 1959, he served in the U.S. Army as a captain and was stationed in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

He moved to Rocky Point in 1962, and then moved to Port Jefferson in 1969.

Dr. Cherches practiced dentistry in both Rocky Point and Port Jefferson for 55 years. He was fiercely devoted to his patients and provided dental education programs to both the Rocky Point and Port Jefferson school districts. 

Dr. Cherches was a past recipient of TBR News Media’s Person of the Year award for Health and Medicine and received the Theodore Roosevelt Award from St. Charles Hospital for his extraordinary commitment and volunteerism to the hospital.

For decades, he donated his time as director of the dental residency program at St. Charles Hospital and as a supervising dentist at the Cleft Palate Clinic at St. Charles. He was also on staff at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, now called Mather Hospital.

He was an active member of the Port Jefferson Lions Club for over 55 years and was an active member of the North Shore Jewish Center since 1962. He was an avid skier, golfer, tennis player, bicyclist, photographer, boater and fisherman. He had a lifelong passion for learning.  Later in life, he volunteered his time to the Long Island Veterans Home in Stony Brook.

Cherches was preceded in death by his wife, Shirley. He is survived by his son, Gary (Kate); his son, Eric (Barbara); and by his two beloved granddaughters, Joanna and Carly. He is also survived by his beloved sister, Helen Weissman; and by many loving nieces and nephews.

Arrangements were entrusted to Beth Shalom Memorial Chapels in Smithtown, and internment took place at Washington Memorial Park. Donations in Dr. Cherches’ memory can be made to North Shore Jewish Center or to the Dental Clinic at St. Charles Hospital.

by -
0 265
Gloria Rocchio, left, presents Ellen Rappaport, right, with a Volunteer of the Year award. Photo from WMHO

Submitted by Ward Melville Heritage Organization

On July 6, beloved resident of Head of the Harbor, educator and friend, Ellen Rappaport, died at the age of 76 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Ellen Rappaport, below first row, second from left, attended a check presentation at Stony Brook Cancer Center. Photo from WMHO

After graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in biology in 1965 and a master’s degree in library science from Columbia University in 1967, Ellen went on to pursue a career as a science librarian. After her career as a science librarian for pharmaceutical companies, she became a certified library media specialist and educator in the Patchogue-Medford Union Free School District, where she worked for over 30 years.

She was devoted to her Stony Brook and Head of the Harbor community where she lived for more than 50 years. Ellen’s passion was connecting with people. This was evident through her frequent walks within the community and beyond.

“Our roadside chats were a fixture in my workday,” said Katharine Griffiths, executive director of Avalon Park & Preserve. “Ellen was truly a woman about town, almost always traveling by foot in the village. … Ellen was spry, spirited and dedicated to her causes. Everyone at Avalon sends our deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, also met with Ellen on her daily walks around Stony Brook Village Center.

“[She] loved to walk,” Rocchio said. “I met her on one of her walks which sometimes took her as far as Port Jefferson. After my first encounter, I looked forward to seeing her. I discovered her thirst for knowledge, which she would impart to others. She loved life … always looking forward, never back. Other people she met while walking felt the same way. Ellen had an infectious smile, and when she was going to tell a joke she would get a twinkle in her eye and you knew the punch line was coming. Always making others smile. She was a beautiful person inside and out.”

Over the years Ellen frequently collaborated with the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s education department. Her dedication to education shined when she would don authentic 18th-century clothing at the WMHO’s historic properties for students and visitors. She guided WMHO’s Youth Corps in planning its annual Santa Fund, a program that raises money to purchase presents for local families in need, foster children and women in recovery from substance abuse. She volunteered every year.

The Stony Brook Cancer Center remarked that, “[We] lost a pillar of the community when Ellen Rappaport passed away. … She will be fondly remembered for her smile and willingness to tackle any assignment to support the success of the Walk for Beauty fundraiser. … She was a shining example of passion, energy and creativity and she will be deeply missed.”

Ellen Rappaport, middle, would don costumes for WMHO educational tours. Photo from WMHO

Ellen was always looking for ways to connect members of the community with one another. In her efforts to do this, she reached out to the St. James Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center. Through her creative thinking, she suggested that the Center have their patients create artwork to sell at their Fall Festival to raise funds for Walk for Beauty. The patients “have been so proud to create and donate their works and be an important part of Walk for Beauty’s fundraising efforts year after year,” said Maureen Ingram one of the directors from the center.

Danielle Snyder, director of therapeutic recreation echoed her sentiments, “[Her] contagious smile, enthusiasm and joy for life … Her love, energy and the pep in her step lit up our hearts and every space we were blessed to share with her.”

For over 15 years Ellen served on the board of Walk for Beauty — an annual walk that raises funds for breast cancer research at Stony Brook University. Suffolk Country Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she will remember her as “an incredibly kind and passionate person. Her altruistic nature was evident for all to see … her big smile and her kind words of encouragement … Ellen’s absence will be felt throughout the community.”

Another member of the Walk for Beauty board, Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said that, “She was always brimming with ideas on how to make the walk even better and tried to include different community groups in the work. Ellen was a kind and warm person who always had a smile and a positive word to share.”

Ellen projected only positivity and thoughtfulness to the people around her — she had an innate gift that made you understand that you were important, and that you had something of equal importance to offer to the world.

She is survived by her daughter Stacey Rappaport and son-in-law Craig Solomon of Ridgewood, New Jersey; her son Hartley Rappaport of Long Beach, California; her grandchildren Eli and Audrey; her sister Lois; her brother-in-law Michael; her sister Myra and her other brother-in-law, also named Michael. Ellen remained devoted to her late husband Stephen until her last day.

Ellen asked that donations in her memory be made to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization and the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, organizations to which she devoted many hours and through which she shared her love of history, reading and educating young people.

For more information about the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, call 631-751-2244 or send an email to [email protected] More information about donating to the Children’s Book Committee Fund at Bank Street College of Education can be found by calling 212-875-4540 or emailing [email protected]

Ellen also requested donations in her memory to Sanctuary for Families, New York’s leading service provider to victims of gender-related violence, and Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, her daughter’s congregation, which always welcomed Ellen with open arms. Sanctuary for Families can be reached at 212-349-6009 or [email protected] For more information about donating to Barnert Temple call 201-848-1800 or email [email protected]

by -
0 658
Hap Barnes, standing, with friends in a 2007 The Village Times Herald photo. File photo

Harold J. Barnes, better known as Hap, died July 8 from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 84 years old.

“Our community has lost an icon.”

— Robert Reuter

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

“Our community has lost an icon,” said FMMF president Robert Reuter.

The foundation president shared fond memories of the park manager.

“Nothing made Hap Barnes happier than discovering otters in the park or wood ducks checking out nesting boxes he provided,” Reuter said. “Hap was an ardent conservationist, a skilled craftsman who made split bamboo fly rods, and to regular visitors, a friend and the familiar face of Frank Melville Park. Proud, but humble and soft spoken, Hap quietly and effectively managed the park and its myriad tasks as if his own. Turtle caught in the mill wheel? He knew how to safely free the turtle and the wheel.”

Three Village Historical Society historian, Beverly Tyler, knew Barnes since at least the 1970s, and in the past worked with him on
the park.

“Hap maintained a daily, sometimes hourly presence in the park and the sanctuary as well,” Tyler said. “There was no one who was more dedicated to the park and its use and preservation, yet Hap always had a low-key presence with a no-nonsense attitude as well. I will especially miss his calm and reasoned approach to every subject we discussed, especially when I was president of the park. I didn’t always agree with Hap but his counsel was always appreciated and often the best way to go.”

There was no one who was more dedicated to the park and its use and preservation, yet Hap always had a low-key presence with a no-nonsense attitude as well.”

— Beverly Tyler

Town of Brookhaven historian, Barbara Russell, remembered him fondly. She and Barnes started on the FMMF board at the same time.

“We grew to understand the Melville gift of the park together,” she said. “Whenever we met, I was greeted with that shy smile and ‘How ya doin’?’ I especially loved the times someone would walk by us and tell Hap a type of bird or duck they had spotted. He was always interested but rarely surprised as his eye was sharp. I feel I am one of many who will miss his presence in the Three Villages.”

According to a post on the Three Village Historical Society website, Barnes was also involved with the society and took on the responsibility of building and grounds when the society acquired the Bayles-Swezey House.

“We could always rely on him whether it was a large or small project or repair,” the post read. “He always made sure that the electric candles were placed in all the windows of the society’s history center and that a lit tree graced the field for the holidays.”

The society remembered him, too, for helping with traffic and various tasks at events. He also led community parades with his vintage cars. In 2000, he received the society’s Gayle Becher Memorial Award which honors volunteers whose work consists of repeated and regular loyal support.

In a Sept. 13, 2007, Village Times Herald article, Barnes spoke of his admiration of the area.

“We are very lucky to have the Three Village area,” he said. “If we didn’t have this I don’t think I would be on the Island anymore.”

Barnes is survived by his wife, Cynthia, five children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service is planned to be held in the Frank Melville Memorial Park in early September.

An extended obituary with more of Barnes’ accomplishments will be published in a future issue of The Village Times Herald.

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.

by -
0 492

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.” 

by -
0 577

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

by -
0 1726
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.

by -
0 1213
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.