Rocky Point

The Rocky Point community celebrated Independence Day Tuesday, July 4, with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and public recognition of local veterans. Photos by Raymond Janis

Patriotism filled the morning air in Rocky Point on Tuesday, July 4, during a communitywide celebration of American independence.

Public officials, business leaders, Scouts and community members gathered outside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 — at times braving gusts of rain — for a ceremony in honor of the 247th anniversary of American independence. The festivities combined a traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence with public recognition of the area’s veterans.

Above, Joe Cognitore, commander Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, left, and Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce

“Freedom is a gift given by all of those who fought for us,” said Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, which helped organize the event. “As we celebrate with our friends and family, we must express our thanks for feeling free to the men and women who made that possible.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, performed the commemorative reading of the list of hometown heroes. Following this service, the post commander reinforced the value of reading the Declaration annually.

“Today, we celebrate 247 years of freedom and independence,” he said. “Let us remember that the true power of our nation lies in the unity and resilience of our people.”

“The VFW stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of our veterans and their dedication to our country,” he added. “Together, let us renew our commitment to supporting our veterans and bridging the gap between military service and civilian life.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) reflected upon the uniqueness of this annual tradition, noting the sizable and proud veteran population of northeastern Brookhaven.

From left: New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio; Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner; and Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico.

“I’m proud to represent this community because, trust me, the Declaration of Independence is probably not being read anywhere else today in Suffolk County or Nassau County,” she said. “So props to the people who made it happen.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said the Declaration stands as a “reminder to everyone of how important it is that we have our freedoms and our liberties,” she said.

Bonner’s colleague on the Town Board, Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville), used the occasion to reflect upon the historical significance of the American Revolution and the audacity of those who signed the document nearly two and half centuries ago, tying their contributions to those of American service members today.

“We offered law and logic to the rest of the world as to why we should be free,” the deputy supervisor said. “It’s our veterans — from the American Revolution through today — that have been there to ensure that this country … ensues and keeps on going forward.”

Rocky Point School District administrators and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, third from left, and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, third from right, flank filmmaker Leon Adler, fourth from right, and author Bea Ruberto, fourth from left. Photo courtesy RPSD

Joseph A. Edgar Elementary School students recently learned about Sound Beach when they participated in an assembly program featuring local filmmaker Leon Adler and author and Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto on June 7. 

Adler directed the film, “The History Upon Our Shores: Sound Beach, NY,” based on the book, “Sound Beach: Our Town, Our Story,” by Ruberto.

The event for third and fourth graders, coordinated by Rocky Point’s director of humanities, Melinda Brooks, gave students a glimpse into the process of storytelling, research and the value of preserving local history. 

Students welcomed the creative duo, presenting artistic gifts of thanks for their visit. The school also welcomed Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who shared their experiences representing the local community.

Above, Sound Beach Fire Department Chief William Rosasco, left, and 2nd Assistant Chief James McLoughlin Jr. present a memorial wreath. Photo by Raymond Janis

Community members, first responders and veterans groups gathered on Memorial Day, May 29, with services paying tribute to the fallen.

The Sound Beach Fire Department hosted its annual memorial service, recognizing the departed members. James McLoughlin Jr., 2nd assistant chief of the department, shared the meaning of the service and the importance of recognizing first responders who have laid down their lives in the line of duty.

“The death of these fine men and women merits recognition and honor by our department,” he said. “While we are saddened by their deaths, we also testify to their many contributions in making their communities a better place to live, and we pay tribute to their memory.”

In Rocky Point, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 held a service honoring the departed members of the post and recognizing the sacrifices of American service members.

Members of Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 with Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner and New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, above. Photo by Raymond Janis

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, delivered an address to the many in attendance. He expressed his gratitude for those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, risking their own lives to protect the freedoms of others.

“As we stand together today, we are reminded of the true cost of freedom,” Cognitore said. “While we as a nation mourn the lives lost, we celebrate the lives and are forever grateful.”

He added, “In an attempt to pay back our debt as American citizens, we also must not only remember the fallen, but it is our responsibility to teach our youth that nothing comes without a cost and that sacrifices are meaningless without remembrance.”

Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, during a Memorial Day service on Monday, May 29. Photo by Raymond Janis

Rounding off the ceremonies for the day, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted a service at the Veterans Memorial Park, recognizing the hamlet’s fallen service members. Musical renditions were performed by members of the Rocky Point High School Music Department, with veterans of the U.S. armed services raising the flags of their chosen branches of service.

SBCA president Bea Ruberto reflected upon the motivations behind the annual service, calling the event a means to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. 

“Each year, we come together on this day and in this place to reflect upon their sacrifice and honor their memory,” she said.

At each of these events, memorial wreaths were placed as a symbolic tribute of thanks to the fallen.

Members of VFW Post 6249 pose with Post Commander Joe Cognitore and Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, sixth and seventh from right, respectively, during the second annual Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial 5K race on Sunday, May 21. Photo by Sofia Levorchick

By Sofia Levorchick

At the starting line, the “Star Spangled Banner” played over the loudspeaker, evoking a solemn patriotic atmosphere. Veterans removed their service hats and saluted as they gazed upon an American flag rippling spectacularly beneath the May sky. All applauded and cheered as the runners took their marks. 

The countdown began, and at exactly 12 p.m. an announcer called out, “Go!” A large group of racers took off, darting toward a three-mile stretch of concrete, asphalt and pine barrens.

The Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 hosted its second annual Joseph P. Dwyer Memorial 5K race on Sunday, May 21, recognizing veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and highlighting veterans’ issues in Suffolk County. 

The race was held in collaboration with the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project, a peer-to-peer support program for veterans experiencing PTSD and traumatic brain injury. 

A Mount Sinai native, Joseph P. Dwyer had served in Iraq. After returning from the war, he suffered from PTSD — a mental health condition triggered by trauma that causes symptoms such as flashbacks, anxiety and emotional distress. He died from an accidental overdose in 2008.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) reflected upon Dwyer’s legacy and the symbolism of his statue, situated on the corner of Broadway and Route 25A in the Rocky Point Veterans Memorial Square. 

“The statue’s prominence is important because it brings awareness to PTSD every day,” Bonner said, adding, “The run was born from that prominence of the statue.”

All 62 counties across New York State participate in the Dwyer Project, raising awareness for mental health and promoting the well-being of American veterans. Melanie Corinne, the Suffolk County Dwyer Project’s coordinator and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, described the program’s mission as “making sure other veterans don’t slip through the cracks with efforts to support veterans, active duty service members and their families in their wellness goals with the help of trained veteran peers.”

A family participates during the event. Photo courtesy Joe Cognitore

This year’s 5K race, held again at Rocky Point High School, was one such effort to boost public awareness and funds for veterans with PTSD, asking participants for a $25 to $35 donation. 

Veterans from Post 6249 also attended the race — some as spectators, some volunteers and some runners.

Frank Asselta, one of the organizers of this race, served as a medic during the Vietnam War and has been involved with the Rocky Point VFW for five years. He emphasized the organization’s considerable local following and success at fundraising for veteran causes. “The VFW has found support from thousands of people across Long Island,” he said.

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, said the VFW launched this annual tradition “for participants to have a great day and to reinforce everyone — veterans, teachers, students, community members — who have PTSD, spreading awareness and keeping that awareness alive.” 

And the event had participants and veterans across the community smiling while they congregated with those around them on a radiantly sunny May day, exceeding last year’s turnout.

Shannon O’Neill, one of over 100 runners and walkers who participated in this event, described herself as a woman devoted to serving veterans in the community. O’Neill, who works with military and veteran students at Suffolk County Community College, was motivated to run in this event because “no one on Long Island does more for veterans than the VFW in Rocky Point,” she said. “I wanted to support their initiatives so that they can continue to give back to veterans who are so deserving and so in need. It’s really such a great cause.”

Many volunteers helped out, performing duties such as registering runners, handing out race bibs and offering refreshments as they cheered the runners on.

Rocky Point High School student Travis Pousson finished first, crossing the finish line in just 19 minutes.

Post member Pat, a veteran and former Cold War-era spy for the United States, spoke fondly about the 5K event, calling it “a worthy cause for men suffering from PTSD, and they need all the help they can get.” He also reminisced on his memories at the VFW, expressing that the VFW has “created a brotherhood, and every member in it is very community-minded.”

Ultimately, the race not only brought recognition to veterans with PTSD but also served as a powerful reminder of the profound impact American service members have had on society.

“I think that so many of the guys in the VFW never got their welcome home and never got their thank yous,” O’Neill said. “This is our opportunity to make sure that they are seen and acknowledged for their time and service because they always continue to give back.”

She added, “These guys never stop serving — they’re still serving today, so this is our opportunity to give back and to serve in our own way.”

Pixabay photo

Residents of the Miller Place, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point and Shoreham-Wading River school districts are gearing up for this year’s school elections on Tuesday, May 16.

Miller Place Union Free School District

Voters in Miller Place will consider the district’s proposed 2023‒24 annual budget. With total expenditures at approximately $80.4 million, the budget increased by 3.47%, with a 2.34% tax levy increase and staying under the tax cap.

According to school officials, the increases will enable the district to accommodate new elective course offerings; continued funding for co-curricular activities, clubs and athletics; and universal prekindergarten. 

Residents will also pick two of the three candidates running for the district’s Board of Education. Three-term incumbent trustee and BOE president Lisa Reitan will defend her seat against challengers John Galligan and Jenna Stingo, both of whom ran for the school board in 2022.

The three candidates squared off during a Meeting the Candidates forum on Tuesday, May 2. The full video from this meeting can be accessed from the district website’s homepage.

Voting will occur from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at North Country Road Middle School.

Mount Sinai Union Free School District

Mount Sinai residents will consider a proposed 2023‒24 annual budget totaling $66.8 million, which stays under the tax cap with a tax levy increase of 4.65%. 

Three additional propositions are on the Mount Sinai ballot, including Proposition II, the district’s $1.8 million library budget. 

Proposition III would authorize the district to use $1.5 million from its capital reserves to renovate and/or replace science classrooms with proposed renovations of library, technology and guidance facilities at Mount Sinai High School. Proposition IV calls to amend the district’s capital reserve, increasing its ceiling to $20 million. District officials maintain these capital improvements will not affect the tax levy.

For this year’s Board of Education election, voters will select three candidates to serve three-year terms. In a crowded field, incumbent BOE president Peter Van Middelem and trustee Edward Law will defend their seats against Nicholas DeVito, Christy Barbera and Charles Carron. Incumbent trustee Robert Sweeney is not seeking reelection.

The budget and BOE votes at MSSD will take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Mount Sinai Elementary School.

Rocky Point Union Free School District

The proposed 2023‒24 annual budget for the Rocky Point Union Free School District increased to $93.9 million, up from $88 million last year. The proposed budget carries a tax levy increase of 3.23% that stays under the tax cap.

According to the district newsletter, the budget increases would enable Rocky Point schools to maintain existing programs and services; implement a nine-period program at the middle and high schools; expand elective opportunities; and build upon safety and security efforts.

This district’s current capital reserve fund expires this month. Consequently, voters will also weigh in on a ballot measure, Proposition II, creating a new 10-year capital reserve fund, with no funds allocated to this reserve in this year’s budget. This reserve would enable the district “to set aside funds for future capital building maintenance and improvement projects,” according to the newsletter.

Rocky Point residents will also select two candidates to serve three-year terms on the district Board of Education. Incumbent BOE president Jessica Ward and trustee Erin Walsh will defend their seats against challenger Nicole Kelly, who ran for the school board in 2022.

Voting will be held in the gymnasium at Rocky Point High School from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District

Shoreham-Wading River Central School District proposes an $84.8 million annual budget for the 2023‒24 school year, up 2.2% from the previous year and carrying a 1.61% tax levy increase that stays under the tax cap.

According to the district newsletter, the proposed budget would maintain existing programs and class sizes, support facilities maintenance, enhance safety and security standards and lower the use of reserves.

Three incumbents are up for reelection in this year’s Board of Education contest, all of whom are running unopposed. BOE president Katie Andersen, vice president Henry Perez and trustee Michael Lewis have each declared bids for reelection.

To read their candidate profiles, visit the district website, selecting the “Meet the BOE Candidates 2023” tab on the homepage.

Voting at SWRCSD will take place from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the main gym at Shoreham-Wading River High School.

In a home game against Westhampton Beach Thursday night, May 11, the Rocky Point Eagles entered the halftime break tied 3-3. Rocky Point junior Sydney Woods opened the second half with a goal, putting her team out front by one.

But the Hurricanes rattled off four unanswered goals, retaking the lead and never looking back. Westhampton Beach grounded the Eagles in the Div. II matchup, winning 11-6.

Senior Leela Smith led the Eagles in scoring with three goals, while teammates Kylie Lamoureux, Fiona Vu and Mckenzie Moeller each scored. Goalie Brianna Henke had six stops in net.

The loss drops the Eagles to 9-5 in the division, 11-5 overall. The team will now focus on postseason play which begins Wednesday, May 17.

— Photos by Bill Landon

Saturday afternoon, May 6, marked the 3rd annual Mike Bowler Day, a day of remembrance for Rocky Point’s legendary head coach who had led the boys lacrosse program for 43 seasons.

Bowler, who established the boys lacrosse program in 1978, died in December 2019. During his tenure, he amassed more than 600 wins, leading his team to a state championship in 2008. In 2020, he was named New York State Coach of the Year by the National Federation of High School Sports, an award presented to those who have made the most profound impact on the lives of student-athletes in their respective sports.

The event was met with warm temperatures and brilliant sunshine, after which the Eagles took on Mattituck/Greenport/Southold in a Div. II contest.

Mattituck set the tone early, taking a 3-1 lead after the first quarter of play. The Tuckers extended their lead to five goals by halftime. Rocky Point struggled late in cutting into the deficit, falling to the Tuckers 12-6.

Rocky Point’s Kyle Moore and Ryan Meyers each scored twice, while teammates Colton Feinberg and Ryan Negus both scored. Freshman goalie DJ Xavier had eight stops in net.

The loss drops the Eagles to 5-6 with two games remaining before postseason play begins.

— Photos by Bill Landon

Pixabay photo

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 in Rocky Point will hold its second annual PTSD 5K Race on Sunday, May 21, at noon at Rocky Point High School.

This race will highlight the importance of supporting U.S. veterans, especially those who experience post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Sign up through Strong Island Running Club website: www.strongislandrunningclub.com. 

There is a $25 sign-up fee, with medals given to the top runners/walkers and t-shirts to all participants. Sign-up will also be available on the day of the event.

Attendees of the gala made contact with the children at the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya, via Skype. Photo by Stacey Young

The Rocky Point Rotary Club hosted the 5th annual Douglas J. McDonough Hope Children’s Fund Gala on Saturday, March 11, at the Inn and Spa at East Wind in Wading River.

This annual event benefits the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya. Douglas McDonough was a former secretary of HCF who accomplished much for the orphanage despite being paralyzed.

Rocky Point Rotary Club president Kevin Mann detailed McDonough’s perseverance and drive in the face of his physical condition.

“Nothing ever stopped him,” Mann said. “No one ever even asked about his injury because he did everything,” adding, “He taught at BOCES in the middle school level for kids who got thrown out of their schools — in a wheelchair. He was just an amazing guy.”

Mann also outlined the central motivations for the gala, affirming that the annual event has been perennially instrumental in enabling educational opportunities for the children at Hope Children’s Home.

Rocky Point Rotary Club president Kevin Mann delivered a speech during the event. Photo by Stacey Young

“The premise of the gala is to raise funds and provide educational opportunities for orphans in Kenya,” he said. “This event will supply enough funds to send 45 children with secondary and postsecondary education for a trimester,” adding, “We raise a tremendous amount of money for that cause.”

Mann chronicled the orphanage’s history, stating the earliest organizers first laid plans for the home in 2000. In 2003, the organization became a 501(c)(3) charity, and in 2005 the organizers opened the orphanage.

Children entering the home come from varied and often difficult backgrounds, according to Mann. “There’s a wide range of how they arrive at the door,” he said.

Moreover, membership has grown considerably during its nearly two decades in operation. “The goal was 18 children,” Mann said. “We have [over] 90 today.”

One of the unique characteristics of HCF is its organizational structure. The U.S.-based operation is entirely volunteer driven, with salaries paid out exclusively to employees in Kenya supervising the care of the children.

“In this particular case, everybody can say that 100% [of the proceeds go] to the cause,” Mann said.

One such HCF employee is Veronica Ntinyari, who runs the orphanage. In a series of text exchanges via WhatsApp, Ntinyari explained how the funds from the gala would assist the children under her care.

“The funds raised help to support the orphanage in paying their school fees, food, clothing, medical care and other necessities in the home,” she said.

Veronica Ntinyari, above, runs the Jerusha Mwiraria Hope Children’s Home in Meru, Kenya. Photo courtesy Ntinyari

Sonia Saleh is district governor for Rotary District 7255, which covers 62 Rotary Clubs throughout Long Island, including Brooklyn and Queens. She praised the Rocky Point Rotary for its initiative concerning HCF.

“The Rotary Club of Rocky Point has taken this cause on,” she said, adding, “This Rotary Club is all about peace and internationalism, which is so wonderful.”

Mann maintained that the HCF gala closely corresponds to the stated purpose and vision of Rotary International. “It fits very much under the concerns of Rotary, and literacy is one of the major components of Rotary as well,” he said.

Saleh added to this sentiment. “Rotary is about two things — it’s about service and community,” the district governor said. “The point is we come together for service first, and then there are the community and friendships, which is beautiful.”

Through HCF and Rocky Point Rotary, Ntinyari said she feels associated to the people of Rocky Point and the greater Long Island community. 

“Me and the children feel connected to Long Island community members, especially during their visits in Meru,” she said.

To learn more about Hope Children’s Fund or to make a donation, visit hopechildrensfund.org.

By Greg Catalano

The Friends of St. Patrick held the 71st annual Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 12.

In a grand spectacle, marchers walked along the parade route of Route 25A from Miller Place to Rocky Point. The event featured countless community organizations, business groups and performers.

— Photos by Greg Catalano