Port Times Record

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School building has lasted through ups and downs in Port Jefferson Village

Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street, above, was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

A lot has changed in the last century, but Port Jefferson’s Spring Street school building still stands.

BOCES social worker Christian Scott, special education teacher Patricia Dolan and Principal Chris Williams wear period clothing to celebrate the Spring Street school building's 100th birthday. Photo from BOCES
BOCES social worker Christian Scott, special education teacher Patricia Dolan and Principal Chris Williams wear period clothing to celebrate the Spring Street school building’s 100th birthday. Photo from BOCES

Eastern Suffolk BOCES, which leases the school building from the Port Jefferson school district, recently celebrated the building’s 100th birthday, with festivities that included period costumes and popular music from the era — the 1914 hit “By the Beautiful Sea” and a World War I marching song from 1915, “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag.” There was also a ribbon-cutting ceremony and lots of cake at the school at Spring and High streets, which is now officially called the Jefferson Academic Center.

Though the mood was light that day, the road leading up to the 100th birthday bash was a rocky one.

Another building, the original Port Jefferson High School, once stood in that same place, but it burned down on Independence Day in 1913.

According to the village’s historical archive, it is still a mystery what caused the fire, which started the night before. At the time, many believed that some young people broke into the building so they could ring the bell at midnight to celebrate July 4. They believed the kids started the fire by accident while using matches to light their way in the dark building.

The Spring Street school building went up in 1914. Photo by Barbara Donlon
The Spring Street school building went up in 1914. Photo by Barbara Donlon

There was also a theory that an arsonist lit up the wooden building, according to the archive. A suspect was presented to a Suffolk County grand jury, but he was not indicted.

The current Spring Street building was erected the following year, with the community laying its cornerstone on May 2.

According to Eastern Suffolk BOCES, $75,000 went toward the new brick and stone structure, which had separate entrances for boys and girls on opposite sides of the building.

“The genders may have been separated by doorways, but their education fell under the doctrine that knowledge is power, a phrase carved into the front of the building for all to see,” a press release from BOCES said.

Though the building was once home to all the grades in the school district, the district expanded and it eventually housed only middle school students. When those kids were moved into the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School building on Old Post Road, where they remain today, the historical building was left behind.

Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Port Jefferson’s old high school on Spring Street was made of wood and burned down on July 4, 1913. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Eastern Suffolk BOCES stepped in during the late 1990s. Sean Leister, Port Jefferson’s assistant superintendent for business, said the school district began leasing the building to BOCES in March 1997. And according to BOCES, it has been providing special education services at the Jefferson Academic Center since 1998.

In 2007, the deteriorating Spring Street building got a little lift — district voters overwhelmingly approved a $5.2 million bond to renovate the building, which came with a renewed 10-year lease, the yearly rent of which covered the cost of the improvements. Those included replacing the gym floor, piping and the boilers; improving site drainage; doing work on the electrical system and the foundation; and making the building more handicapped-accessible with additional toilets, a wheelchair lift and an elevator.

The renovations have kept the Spring Street school going strong — it is the oldest school in Suffolk County that still operates as such.

To 100 years more.

Members vote against Heatherwood retirement community

The owner of the Heatherwood golf course wants to build 200 units of retirement housing at the site. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Civic members took a stand Tuesday night against a housing community proposed to be built on the Heatherwood golf course, voting to send a letter of opposition to Brookhaven Town.

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association’s executive board will draft and submit the letter, which carries no legal weight but serves to share the community’s views on a project for consideration.

The official civic vote caps a months-long discussion on the project at the Heatherwood Golf Club, at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of both the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, wants to build 200 rental units for people 55 and older, a mixture of town houses, ranches and apartments.

When Partrick gave a presentation on the project at a May civic meeting, he said the retirement housing would be built on 25 acres at the golf course, leaving the remaining 45 acres as open space. The 18-hole golf course currently at the site would be reduced to a nine-hole course that would surround the homes.

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows for one housing unit on every 5 acres. Partrick would need a zone change to planned retirement community zoning to proceed with the development.

As they did at previous civic meetings, members spoke against the proposal on Tuesday night, citing quality of life concerns such as traffic congestion.

Civic President Ed Garboski reported that a traffic study of the area found that retirement housing would have little impact on traffic, though some residents scoffed at that notion.

One man who lives near the golf course talked about how busy the adjacent roads are already and said the housing community would make things worse.

And member Don Zaros took issue with the fact that the homes would be rentals, saying people who rent instead of own — whom he called “transients” — do not care about the community as much.

Partrick, who was not at Tuesday’s meeting, said previously that if the housing development does not move forward he might close the club. He said he would think about whether he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant.”

While some residents have been concerned about having a large abandoned property in town that could possibly attract vandalism or homeless people, others were not worried. While one man said on Tuesday that having retirement housing is “better than a blighted, abandoned piece of property” in the neighborhood, another countered that vacant and blighted are not the same thing, and having a large grassy parcel would be better for Long Island’s groundwater than a housing community.

The group voted overwhelmingly to send a letter of opposition to the town, in keeping with an unofficial vote at last month’s meeting that produced the same result.

Civic group does not vote ‘fore’ or against proposal

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Dozens of community members turned out to a special meeting of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last Wednesday night, Aug. 27, to oppose a proposed retirement housing project at the Heatherwood golf course.

The owners of Heatherwood Golf Club, located at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway in Terryville, are looking to build 200 rental units at the site — made up of townhouses, ranches and apartments — for residents 55 and older.

Doug Partrick, an owner of the course and multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was not at the meeting, but according to a presentation he gave on the project at a May civic meeting, the housing would be built on 25 of the golf course’s 70 acres, leaving 45 acres as open space.

The homes would be surrounded by a nine-hole golf course, down from the 18 holes currently on the site.

Residents at Wednesday’s meeting said they are concerned about the project’s impacts on traffic and quality of life. They were also wary of overdevelopment.

“It takes me 20 minutes to get home and I travel 1.8 miles,” Patricia Higgins, who lives close to the golf course, said in an interview afterward. “I could walk faster.”

Civic President Ed Garboski told the crowd that the golf course would shut down at the end of the season, regardless of whether the housing project is approved.

Partrick had said in May that if the development did not move forward, he would think about whether he is “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

“If he wants to walk, let him walk,” Lou Antoniello, who is the civic treasurer but was speaking just as a Terryville resident, said in an interview. “Have a nice day and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Residents hope they can stop the project from moving forward.

“I am so glad I came to know what’s going on and it’s disappointing,” Port Jefferson Station resident Nancy Farrell said in an interview.

Garboski said during the meeting that results of a traffic study performed on the area found that the proposed Heatherwood project would not have a big impact on traffic.

But residents argued that 200 rented units would bring at least 200 new cars, and said they don’t understand how that wouldn’t affect traffic.

Joe Cannone, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said after the meeting that he isn’t against development at the golf course, but “the golf course should either stay a golf course or develop for what it’s zoned for.”

The course is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres.

The civic is expected to vote on whether it supports the project at its next meeting on Sept. 23.

Whatever the group decides, it will have the backing of a neighbor — Shawn Nuzzo, president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, attended last Wednesday’s meeting because part of the golf course lies in the Three Village school district, and he assured the crowd that his civic will take the same stand as whatever the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association decides.

The Heatherwood Golf Club. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association will hold a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 27, to discuss the proposed housing development for the Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, has proposed a 200-unit retirement community for the golf club, which is at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

His plans for the property include turning the 18-hole golf course into a nine-hole one that would surround two-bedroom rentals — a mixture of ranches, townhouses and apartments. On the 70-acre property, he has said, 45 acres would remain open space.

At a previous civic meeting, residents shared their concerns about an increase in traffic the housing community could bring, as well as drainage and sewage issues. According to representatives at that May meeting, drainage would be handled by constructing ponds and the homes would be linked to a county sewage treatment facility.

The civic association did not take a formal position on the matter at that meeting, but an informal vote showed that most of the people present were against the proposal.

It would require extra approval from the town, as the property is zoned A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit for every 5 acres. This proposal would be more dense, with the 200 units on 25 acres.

The community is invited to discuss the development at the civic’s meeting at the Comsewogue Public Library, from 7 to 9 pm.

Plan calls for homes for older folks at Terryville course

The Heatherwood Golf Club. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Word that a retirement community is being proposed for Heatherwood Golf Club in Terryville brought residents out in full force to last Wednesday evening’s Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association meeting, where they raised concerns about density, increased traffic, storm drainage and sewage.

Doug Partrick, an owner of multifamily housing developer Heatherwood Communities, was at the meeting to present the plan for a 200-unit housing complex on the 70-acre property at Arrowhead Lane and Nesconset Highway.

His family has owned Heatherwood Golf Club since the 1960s but it “is no longer viable as a standalone,” he said. With fewer people golfing, the company — which also owns Pine Hills golf course in Manorville — “no longer can carry the golf course as it is without consideration for development.”

Partrick, architect Steven Hanson and engineer Michael Marinis propose to turn the 18-hole course into one with nine holes that would wrap around two-bedroom rental homes. The residences would be a combination of ranches, townhouses and first- and second-floor flats.

Of the golf course’s 70 acres, homes would be built on 25 acres and 45 acres would remain open space, Partrick said.

Hanson said the new homes would offer direct access to the course, which would act as a buffer between the development and the surrounding community, but that the course would remain open to the public.

Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy
Developer Doug Partrick talks about his proposed development for the Heatherwood Golf Club at a recent civic meeting. File photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

Of particular concern to residents at the meeting was the fact that development on the golf course could violate the 2008 Comsewogue Hamlet Comprehensive Plan, a study and land-use plan for the area. According to Lou Antoniello, the civic association’s treasurer and chairperson for that hamlet study, the large majority of Port Jefferson Station and Terryville had already been built up at the time of the study, and surveys indicated that residents did not want the few remaining open spaces to be developed.

The study laid out the type of development locals wanted to see, and was geared toward preserving the area’s open space and history while creating a balance of living, shopping and cultural areas, Antoniello said. He sees that balance in jeopardy, as there are several senior housing communities already built or proposed.

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, an umbrella group of about 30 civic groups, said it would be a “waste and abuse of residents’ time and energy” if local development did not follow the guidelines of the study.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who attended the civic meeting, said in a written statement that the study was “a reflection of the community’s vision” and that she continues “to support the desires of these residents” in her role on the town board.

Residents at the meeting also said they were concerned that the new project could exacerbate traffic problems on the already congested Nesconset Highway and asked about storm drainage and sewage from the property.

Heatherwood representatives said they have yet to conduct a traffic study, but have plans to handle drainage through the construction of ponds, and the 200 housing units would be hooked up to a county-owned sewage treatment plant.

Winning support from residents is only one of the difficulties facing the developer — overcoming zoning hurdles could be another. The property is currently zoned as A Residence 5, which allows one housing unit per 5 acres.

Asked what he would do if the development does not move forward, Partrick said he’d have to ask himself if he would be “better off consistently losing money on the golf course or … just shutting the golf course down, leaving it dormant” and paying taxes on the land.

Civic association leaders said they needed more information on the Heatherwood proposal before deciding whether to support it. However, an informal vote showed that most of those who attended the meeting opposed the development as it was presented.

Cartright advised residents to “listen and reflect on each of these individual proposals to determine what is in the best interest of the community and in line with their vision.”

Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos observes the water from his patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The Port Jefferson Harbor Complex is just that — a complex cluster of waterways that needs diligent eyes watching over it.

Those eyes belong to Brookhaven Town Harbormaster Peter Koutrakos and the others in his department, who are all working to keep the water safe this boating season.

The harbor complex includes Port Jefferson Harbor at its center, where Koutrakos is based, as well as Setauket Harbor and the adjacent Little Bay; Pirate’s Cove; Conscience Bay and the Narrows that lead into it; and a small section of water immediately outside Port Jefferson Harbor on the Long Island Sound that is bookended by Old Field Point to the west and Belle Terre’s Mount Misery to the east. Between these sections, the complex has more than 2,000 acres of surface water, and that area sees thousands of boats every season.

Peter O’Leary, the town’s commissioner of public safety, said between moorings and slips in the area, there are more than 1,200 spaces for boats, and that doesn’t include the ones just passing through.

On any given summer weekend, “the place is bedlam,” O’Leary said. “It creates quite a bit of traffic.”

With heavy traffic comes risk.

For Koutrakos, who has been harbormaster for 14 years and has jurisdiction in all town waters, it was the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — an al-Qaida suicide attack in Yemen in which a small vessel next to the U.S. Navy ship was blown up, killing 17 Americans — that made him realize boats could be used as weapons.

Things also changed after the 9/11 terrorist attack. Officials became aware of the harbor’s vulnerability, as possible targets for terrorists include power plants, oil terminals and ferries — and Port Jefferson Harbor has all of them. Long Island has also been a concern in national security discussions because it is close to New York City and at the same time is remote: Ferries would be the only way off the island if an emergency event were to shut down transportation into the city.

The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster's patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz
The view of Port Jefferson Harbor from the harbormaster’s patrol boat. File photo by Elana Glowatz

To keep the complex safe, the harbormaster works on a number of security exercises. One program, Operation Shield, involves coordinating with other agencies to randomly check foreign vessels for travel documents.

Though Operation Shield only runs on certain days, Koutrakos said he regularly does checks on his own. If the vessels do not have the proper documentation, he calls in customs officers to board and search them.

Another exercise he occasionally works on is search and rescue training with the U.S. Coast Guard, which helps prepare for an emergency situation, for instance if the ferry were to sink due to a mechanical problem or a bomb.

Koutrakos explained that the exercise group determines how to respond to an incident and who would take command of the scene. In the case of the ferry, officers also talk to the captain to learn how he would respond under certain circumstances and discuss a strategy for saving as many lives as possible, “before something really happens.”

The harbormaster also meets every few months with a Long Island security committee whose members range from the local to the federal level.

To boost security all over, O’Leary said, the town is working to install security cameras on its properties, and Port Jefferson is slated to receive some of that surveillance.

However, one of O’Leary’s concerns in protecting town waters is linked to the economy. He said budget cuts have meant cutbacks on seasonal employees, so there are fewer bay constables on both shores and they are working a shorter season. There are also fewer workers to pump out waste from the boats so it is not discharged into the water.

On Koutrakos’ end, he has an assistant harbormaster year-round and two seasonal harbormasters during the summer.

Most summer days, Koutrakos spends his time patrolling the waters and helping people who call him for assistance.

‘The place is bedlam. … It creates quite a bit of traffic.’
— Peter O’Leary

Born and raised in Port Jefferson, Koutrakos has a name people might recognize — his family owned the Elk Hotel and Restaurant on Main Street before it went out of business. He wife, Carol, works for the Port Jefferson ferry.

He has been around long enough to see security at the harbor change over the years. Before 9/11, if someone were to leave a bag at the ferry terminal, an employee would grab it and ask if anyone had left it behind. Now there are security protocols in place to handle such a situation. Before, there weren’t any restrictions on taking photos or video of the harbor. Now officials keep an eye out for people capturing the ferry terminal or other sensitive areas.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ “only gripe with the job” — he isn’t permitted to carry a sidearm while he is on duty, though he is licensed to carry.

Other marine law enforcement agents carry a sidearm, including those from the Coast Guard, the Suffolk County Police Department’s Marine Bureau and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The harbormaster said he never knows what situation he will find himself in and “should we get put into a lethal force situation, the fact of the matter is we have no way of defending ourselves or the public.”

Despite this sticking point, another thing that hasn’t changed is Koutrakos’ playful personality and his passion for all things marine.

He has said he enjoys his job because he gets to be on the water and he gets to help people: “At the end of the day, tired or not, it makes you feel better.”

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A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson, above, but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A cannon that saw World War I battlefields in Europe and retired to a grassy home on Port Jefferson Harbor has gone on a brief vacation, after a local veterans group took it away for repairs.

American Legion Wilson Ritch Post 432 in Port Jefferson Station maintains the war memorial at the small Brookhaven Town-owned park between Route 25A and the harbor, across from Port Jefferson Village Hall.

According to Bob Elfers, commander of the post, the memorial’s cannon is at the Legion because “the wheels are totally shot” and it needs welding work and a fresh coat of paint.

The wheels have wooden spokes and rims, with a metal hub and reinforcements.

“The wood just totally disintegrated over the years,” Elfers said. Exposure also caused rusting on the body of the cannon.

Elfers said his group is having someone repair the wheels and weld the rusted parts, and the cannon will be sanded and painted.

The cannon, which is American Legion property, is a German WWI weapon, though Elfers said he does not know its exact history or when the post acquired it, and said no one at the post is old enough to be able to speak to that.

A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli
A World War I cannon usually resides at the memorial park in Port Jefferson but is now at the local American Legion post awaiting repairs, above. Photo by Rich Acritelli

According to Rich Acritelli, a Legion member as well as a military history expert and social studies teacher, the cannon was built by industrial company Friedrich Krupp AG in Essen, Germany, which is in the northwestern part of that country, close to the Netherlands.

The company built armaments as well as naval ships during that period, particularly U-boats.

Acritelli said the cannon was not a heavy artillery weapon and it could have been used in two different ways: either mounted on wheels to assist the German infantry or mounted on a ship for the navy.

Because it was used during World War I, the cannon is roughly a century old.

It is likely that an American soldier took the cannon home with him, a common practice at the time, Acritelli said. It is also likely that soldier was serving on the Western Front, because that was where most of the U.S. military went during WWI.

Aside from the cannon, the memorial park in Port Jefferson contains flags and stones that pay tribute to those who served in wars throughout the nation’s history, as well as a central WWI stone monument.

That WWI monument has a story of its own: It was unveiled on Memorial Day in 1922 and was originally located on East Main Street, on the grass in front of the former First Baptist Church of Port Jefferson.

Elfers said he is hoping the cannon will return to the park in May, in time for Memorial Day.

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Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers and a hug from his family. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Sgt. Robert Bradford came home to a sea of red, white and blue last Friday afternoon, as local members of motorcycle charity Patriot Guard Riders lined Brookhaven Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station outside his home to welcome him and thank him for his service to the United States.

Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Bradford, 24, was returning after seven months in Afghanistan on his first deployment with the U.S. Army.

Terryville Fire Department trucks draped an American flag over Route 112 and set off sirens as the minivan Bradford rode in made its way down the street and turned onto his block. The roughly 15 members of the Patriot Guard Riders raised their own flags and stood at attention as the van entered the driveway of the Bradford family’s home.

When the soldier stepped out of the car, the guard erupted in cheers and claps and shouted, “Thank you for your service.”

Bradford showed his appreciation for the gesture, going up to each member to shake hands and share a hug.

“I appreciate all you guys,” he told the guard, before sharing a group hug with his family in the middle of the road.

His mother, Pat, said the Port Authority police escorted the family to the gate at LaGuardia Airport to meet the sergeant, and there was an announcement on the loudspeaker for everyone who wanted to greet him. The people “came in droves from everywhere,” she said.

When she saw her son again, “My heart was beating.” Asked to describe what it was like, the mother said, “Every good word in the book.”

Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Sgt. Bradford comes home to cheers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She turned to Pete Jepson, an East Moriches resident leading the guard, and said, “I have my son home.”

According to Jepson, the welcoming group was made up of volunteers, some of whom are veterans. Local members of the national nonprofit Patriot Guard Riders attend similar homecoming events as well as funerals for fallen military members, first responders and veterans.

“We love doing it. It’s an honor for us to do it,” Jepson said.

Bradford, who is with the 338th Military Intelligence Battalion based in Shoreham, said everyone from his squad came back, which is good because “I wasn’t going to leave without all of them.”

He said, “It’s very exciting, overwhelming and weird” to be home. “It’s a whole different lifestyle.”

There’s not as much to worry about at home, he explained, adding with a laugh that the air is fresher on Long Island.

One thing that’s already different is that while he was overseas, he carried his rifle with him everywhere, including to the bathroom, to “chow” and to sleep. When he was on the plane to LaGuardia, he said, he fell asleep and when he woke up, someone’s phone rang and it sounded like “the alarm for incoming,” and he jumped and didn’t have his gun.

Bradford, who first enlisted in 2008 and re-enlisted on Veterans Day, said he is proud to serve his country.

“It’s nothing special that I did.”

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Kathy O’Sullivan, the Rev. Pete Jansson, Sandra Swenk and Ken Brady wave at the Biddle Fountain's dedication. Photo by Bob Savage

By Mallika Mitra & Elana Glowatz

Through hard work and dedication, pieces of Port Jefferson’s history that were lost or crumbling have been restored, preserving tales of the village’s past for future generations.

The historic First Baptist Church building that was once languishing has been renovated and a landmark fountain that disappeared from its front lawn at East Main Street and Prospect Street has been returned.

For their efforts in keeping village history alive while beautifying the area, the Island Christian Church, led by the Rev. Pete Jansson, as well as community volunteers Kathy O’Sullivan, Ken Brady and Sandra Swenk, are some of our People of the Year.

The Biddle Fountain, donated by famous village resident John Biddle in 1898, was once a gathering place in the village, a focal point of parades and other events. Unfortunately, a couple of decades later it became difficult to maintain and when Brookhaven Town removed it to widen the intersection at East Main and Prospect streets, it was lost to history. But our People of the Year stepped in, bringing in a replica of the fountain that sits in front of the church building, now the home of Island Christian Church, as it did before, many years ago.

After the fountain was put in place, Laura Schnier, a member of the church who was on the committee for the Biddle Fountain project, added plants.

The new Biddle Fountain stands in front of the Island Christian Church. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The new Biddle Fountain stands in front of the Island Christian Church. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Each volunteer played a vital role in bringing the fountain replica to the village.

According to Jansson, Brady, the village historian, brought all of the knowledge about the original fountain, put out a search for the lost landmark and then searched for a replica of the old fountain.

The Rev. Joe Garofalo of the Island Christian Church, which also has locations in Northport and Holtsville, said Brady has “a wealth of information.”

Port Jefferson Village’s digital photo archive, which Brady set up and includes numerous historical images, proved helpful during the Biddle Fountain project, Brady said.

The historian, in turn, said Swenk, a former village mayor, was helpful in reaching out to people for fundraising.

“Sandra has really great ideas,” Jansson agreed. “She put tremendous effort into connecting with people in the neighborhood and soliciting money.”

According to O’Sullivan, Swenk has always been involved in the beautification of the village and keeping the historical aspect of the town alive.

“Sandra is very concerned about the town,” Schnier said.

For her part, O’Sullivan “was the driving force in the whole project” and stayed with it through several setbacks, such as early trouble with fundraising, Brady said.

“She is a good leader,” the historian said. “She brings out the best in people.”

O’Sullivan has watched the church transform over the years, since her father was a minister at the First Baptist Church of Port Jefferson from 1978 to 1980. The struggling church had its last service on July 4, 2010, before it was renovated and became the Island Christian Church.

“It was such a small church with no money at all,” O’Sullivan said. “It was extraordinarily wonderful to see how they rebuilt the church.”

She said in a previous interview that though she is not a member of Island Christian Church, after she saw the building’s renovation and the good it did for the village, she decided to return the favor by lending her help to the fountain project.

Jansson, who began leading the Port Jefferson congregation once the Island Christian Church opened, said, “We wanted to restore it back to what it used to look like in the 1850s.”

A Jefferson’s Ferry resident and a staff member share a hug. Photo by Mallika Mitra

By Mallika Mitra

Sudden music, dancing and hugs surprised residents of Jefferson’s Ferry retirement community on Dec. 12, when staff members participated in a flash mob with “Hug Me Maybe,” a parody of singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

Nearly 200 residents laughed and clapped along to the music while Jefferson’s Ferry management, waitstaff and elder care personnel performed a choreographed dance and made their way through the audience hugging residents.

It was the second flash mob — a sudden convergence of people, usually for a surprise performance — set to “Hug Me Maybe” that the residents have seen, the first one being in January as Jefferson’s Ferry CEO Karen Brannen started conducting a study entitled “Embraceable You.” The goal of the study, which was run by Hauppauge-based Corporate Performance Consultants and Brannen herself, was to see whether contact would enhance the lives of residents.

According to Brannen, about 200 residents participated in the study, which consisted of three surveys: one in January, before the interpersonal hugging program called “Hug Me” began, one during the program and one in April, after the program was completed.

The program period kicked off with a flash mob, followed by games and activities throughout that first week. If residents hugged staff or each other, they would receive tokens, which were later drawn for prizes. Residents could also hug staff members at hugging booths located throughout the complex and receive small prizes, such as candy and beads.

“The day we announced what we were doing, a resident came up to me afterward with tears in her eyes and said, ‘My husband died a year ago and this is exactly what I needed. I need a hug,’” Brannen said. “It all just meant so much to her.”

Although “Embraceable You” was not a clinical study, Brannen said it showed that interpersonal touch has a positive effect on the moods of residents. The questions concerning depression on the surveys given to residents were more positive after the original “Hug Me” program concluded in April.

Now the “Hug Me” program has started up again, and this time it’s here to stay.

“We want to make [hugging] part of our culture,” Brannen said. “Between staff and residents, we have very positive relationships. The culture is one that they accept a program like this.”

A waitress in Jefferson’s Ferry’s dining hall choreographed last Thursday’s dance, performed close to the holidays.

“The holidays are a very hard time for people who have lost family,” Brannen said. She added that many residents have lost loved ones and don’t have the opportunity for interpersonal touching.

The flash mob’s routine, which was taught to the staff in one week by three members of the dining room staff who had been in the original performance in January, yielded a positive response.

“The spontaneity is just wonderful,” said Nancy Darling, who has been a resident for more than four years.

Chuck Darling added, “The kids in the dining room and staff are fantastic.”

According to Brannen, for the “Embraceable You” study, residents and staff of Jefferson’s Ferry were taught how to appropriately hug each other.

As a result, “residents were getting closer,” she said.

According to Faith Littlefield, who will have been a resident for three years in March, residents were given literature about how physical contact is healthy.

“It really is good for you,” Littlefield said. “Karen, our CEO, is the best hugger.”