Village Times Herald

A Brit Reviews the UK’s Eventual Withdrawal from Europe

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Part 3 of 3

When I started this series in March 2019, I wanted to give U.S. readers a Brit’s inside view on Brexit. The term has now become such common currency over here, rather like the Latin phrase “quid pro quo,” that all I need explain is that Brexit refers to Britain exiting the European Union, which it duly did Jan. 31 of this year. On the same date the U.S. Senate rejected further witnesses in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump (R). It was hardly a red-letter day for western politics.

John Broven Photo by Diane Wattecamps

After publication of the first two articles, I was approached by residents of all age groups at the Stony Brook railroad station, in a deli, at a mall, in a coffee shop, at a party, even at an outdoor art show. Everyone expressed an intrigued interest in Brexit and, it’s fair to say, concern for my English home country. What on earth was going on? Why indulge in such potential self-harm?

When I left you with my June article, the United Kingdom and EU had agreed on another revised exit date, Oct. 31, but with no parliamentary majority the way forward was still far from clear. “Will there be a general election, second referendum, another EU extension or a hard no deal?” I asked.

It came to pass there was a general election Dec. 12 and a further EU extension to Jan. 31, with no second referendum or precipitous hard deal (to date). With the U.K.’s withdrawal from the EU, what happened in the interim?

A third prime minister in three years

For a start, on July 24, Boris Johnson achieved the prize he had wanted from his days as a privileged aristocratic youth at Eton College and Oxford University: the prime ministership of the U.K. After being elected as leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), he took over from the hapless Theresa May (C) who was unable to deliver on her promise to leave the EU after three years in the hot seat.

Brexit had thus claimed another victim, making Johnson the third prime minster since David Cameron (C) fell on his sword after a dismal and inept Vote Remain campaign during the June 2016 referendum.

Without a working majority, Johnson was confronted by a parliament determined to ensure that if Brexit happened there would be no hard deal. The new prime minister even tried, unsuccessfully, to suspend parliament for five weeks in an effort to stifle debate and ram through the withdrawal agreement by Oct. 31. Queen Elizabeth II was inadvertently embroiled when she dutifully signed the prorogation request of Johnson, who made the flimsy pretense of needing time to prepare for the Queen’s Speech, but the U.K. Supreme Court ruled otherwise. I suspect Her Majesty was not amused. 

There was clearly a power battle being fought between parliament and the prime minister, reminiscent of the current war of attrition between Congress and Trump. 

The generally pro-Brexit Tory Party, with its band of rabid hardliners, was armed with the 52-48 percent Voter Leave victory of the 2016 referendum. Amid calls from the Brexiters for “democracy” to be respected and with a definite all-round war weariness in the nation, it was clearly going to be difficult for the main opposition parties — Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Greens — to overturn “the will of the people.” 

At one time, the charismatic speaker of the House of Commons, John Burcow, even invoked an arcane 1604 parliamentary principle to stifle a government motion. (Think about it, that’s 16 years before the Mayflower landed on our shores.) However, the opposition could not find agreement among themselves for a unified approach, even with voting support from 21 Tory rebels. This rump included former Chancellor of Exchequer Philip Hammond, Father of the House Ken Clarke and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames. Incredibly these respected establishment figures were thrown out of the Tory Party in petulant retribution. You see what I mean about parliamentary drama.  

With time running out, the EU begrudgingly extended the Oct. 31 deadline to Jan. 31 after a last-minute fudged agreement with Johnson over the vexatious Irish border backstop question.

December general election

Parliament was still in deadlock, but eventually a general election was called for Dec. 12. Campaigning on a resonating “Get Brexit done” ticket, Johnson won a huge working majority of 80 seats to break the parliamentary impasse. His Conservative Party brushed aside the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, also Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour, in its worst general election result since 1935, ignominiously saw the demolition of its “red wall” in the industrial north of England, the traditional home of socialism. The Lib-Dems, under Jo Swinson, went all out with a remain message. Yet this bright young leader couldn’t articulate on the stump the benefits of staying in Europe and she even lost her own parliamentary seat. 

The main opposition winners were the Scottish Nationalist Party, under Nicola Sturgeon, which swept Scotland. Watch out for a possible future referendum for Scotland to leave the U.K. and become a member of the EU. 

Richard Tapp, of Burgess Hill, West Sussex, added in an email, “Besides the Scottish Nationalists, the pro-EU parties in Northern Ireland also did well, at the expense of the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party whose leader in Westminster lost his seat to the nationalists of Sinn Fein who campaign for a united Ireland — and so remain in the EU.” 

Johnson had targeted the disaffected, forgotten part of the nation — the provincial middle class as well as the working class — with a Trump-like populist message, just as the new prime minister had done beforehand with the referendum. The general election was a damning indictment of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, both for his far-left policies and his “sit on the fence” approach to Brexit. 

Interestingly, there are concerns in the U.S. about the Democratic Party following the Labour/Corbyn route to self-destruction in the next election with a progressive socialist agenda. James Carville, President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1992 election-winning strategist, was particularly animated on the subject in the Financial Times and on “Morning Joe,” referring to the unelectable Corbyn by name.

Brexit is done

And so, with no obstacles in his way, Johnson “got it done” by signing a withdrawal agreement with the EU, meaning Britain officially left the union at the end of January after almost a half-century of membership. Brexit is now fully owned and controlled by the prime minister and his Conservative Party, with the background help of Dominic Cummings, the architect of the Vote Leave campaign’s victory in 2016. 

The coverage on BBC World News in Brussels revealed genuine European regret at the loss of Britain as a vital contributing member to the EU, including politicians from Poland and Sweden. Yet the expected party atmosphere in the U.K. didn’t materialize because the country was still split right down the middle — and it was raining on Farage’s celebration parade outside the Houses of Parliament. Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper had a perverse explanation for the low-keyed reaction: “On Jan. 31, many Brexiters spent their ultimate moment of triumph attacking elitist traitors instead of celebrating.” This revenge, he said, “is so much of the point of populism.” 

Those Brexit voters expecting a brand-new dawn, with a return to the glory days of the British Empire free of the EU yoke, will have to wait until at least Dec. 31 this year for all kinds of trade, security and legal negotiations to be agreed before the cord is cut. 

During this transition period the U.K. will continue in the EU’s custom union and single market, while still complying with EU rules (but without any more say in the lawmaking process in the European Parliament). Johnson has indicated there will be no extension, leading to the nightmare scenario of a possible no deal commencing Jan. 1, 2021. It will not be an easy negotiating ride.

I’m still of the view that a people’s referendum should never have been considered by Cameron on such a critical and complex matter, which will affect generations to come. His irresponsible bet was compounded by the Brexiters never explaining the downsides — and dangers — of leaving Europe, including diminished influence on the world stage. Already China is waiting in the wings.

Michael Hanna, of Hassocks, West Sussex, echoed my thoughts in an email on the night of Jan. 31: “In about two hours time Boris and his Gang will tear us out of the European Union on the say so of just 17.4 million, a mere 37 percent of the electorate. This is politically the saddest day of my life. For the last 47 years we have been members of the great European family of nations to which we should naturally belong. This has given us huge benefits which the Tory government is knowingly throwing away.”

With thanks for their on-the-spot observations to my British friends Roger Armstrong, Chris Bentley, Mike Hanna, Martin Hawkins, John Ridley and Richard Tapp. 

John Broven, a member of the TBR News Media editorial team, is an English-born resident of East Setauket, who immigrated to the United States in 1995. He has written three award-winning (American) music history books and is currently editing the first book on New York blues.

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Ward Melville led by 14 points at one point, only to have East Islip rally back in the third quarter to retake the lead by two in a Class AA quarterfinal. The Patriots held off the late game surge by the Lady Redmen holding on to win it, 58-56, at home Feb. 19.

Ward Melville senior Morgan Wenzler battled in the paint leading her team in rebounds along with several put-backs to top the scoring chart with 18 points. Julia Greek, a freshman, did her damage from long distance draining three triples, a field goal and three from the charity stripe netting 14 points. Senior Sarah Bucher had a triple and five from the floor for 13, and teammate Jamie Agostino, a sophomore, banked nine.

The win propels the Patriots (No. 5 seed) to the semi-final round where they’ll square off against top seeded Northport at Centereach High School Feb. 22. Tickets can be purchased for $8 online at gofan.co/app/school/NYSPHSAAXI or purchased at the gate for $10, cash only.

Game time is 2:30 p.m.

Installation of the pre-treatment septic tank at Tom O'Dwyer's home in Strong's Neck. Photo from Tom O'Dwyer

By Perry Gershon

Suffolk County has a water crisis. We must do all we can to control our nitrogen waste to protect our drinking water, our soil, our rivers and our bays. The county and many of our towns have initiated rebate programs to encourage homeowners to install clean, nitrogen-removing septic systems. Suffolk County’s program, known as the Septic Improvement Program, or by the acronym SIP, has become a political football, and it’s the public and the environment that are the losers.

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

SIP was designed to direct county payments directly to contractors, bypassing individual participants so their rebates would not be taxed as income. Suffolk County’s tax counsel delivered an opinion to the county attorney ruling that 1099 forms from SIP should go to contractors and not to consumers. This should have been the end of the story. However, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy (R), while engaged in a campaign against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) during the elections last year, disagreed with the tax opinion and inquired of the IRS if county payments might be taxable to homeowners? Despite protestations from the county and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the IRS, always in need of funds, said yes, why not? The ruling was issued earlier this month. So now unsuspecting homeowners are receiving 1099 forms reporting unforeseen additional taxable personal income. What is essentially a new tax is sure to both impact those who already participate and dissuade future participants.

What can be done? Bellone and his administration are working to come up with alternative structures for the SIP program. Perhaps more can be done to clarify that transactions are between the county and the contractors to satisfy the IRS? Or perhaps an offsetting tax rebate can be legislated? Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) has written a letter to the IRS demanding they reconsider the decision. But Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) remains silent. Instead of joining Suozzi, Zeldin seems to support his fellow Republican Kennedy and once again ignores ways to save money for his constituents.

Does this surprise you? It should not, given Zeldin’s poor record historically on environmental and financial matters. Or that Zeldin has recently worked against New Yorkers on the repeal of the SALT cap and on Trump’s retaliation against the state by suspending New York applications to the Trusted Traveler program. Zeldin’s Twitter feed offers perpetual praise of the president, attacks on our governor, but not a word on the septic taxation issue. Long Island needs representatives who will work for us — who have our back when the federal government takes shots at us. Zeldin doesn’t fight for us. We have a chance in November to show him how wrong that is.

Perry Gershon is a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley.

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Father Jerry Cestare and Kara LoDolce right before the kidney transplant procedure in January. Photo from Kara LoDolce

A blossoming love led to a lifesaving procedure for a local priest.

Kara LoDolce, left, with her fiancé, Scott Alu, and his children. Photo from Kara LoDolce

In January, Setauket resident Kara LoDolce donated her kidney to Father Jerry Cestare of St. James R.C. Church. When LoDolce first told him that she was going to donate her organ, he said he couldn’t believe it.

“I don’t know how many people can be that selfless,” he said.

The 55-year-old priest said his kidneys were compromised about nine years ago, and while he was careful about his health, at the beginning of last year he felt tired all the time and went for medical testing. He found out he had kidney failure and started dialysis in May, something he said is not a long-term solution for someone his age.

The priest said when doctors first told him to actively start looking for living donors, he felt hesitant because he grasped that someone was giving up something precious. While a few family members were tested, they were found not to be matches, and he couldn’t bring himself to ask others.

“How could I ask someone to do something like that just because I was sick?” he said.

Cestare said while he wasn’t afraid of dying or being incapacitated, he was afraid that he would lose what he loved to do — ministering.

The priest said the chain of events played out like a Hallmark movie.

LoDolce, 46, said she was compelled from the second she heard Cestare needed a new kidney. She and her fiancé, Scott Alu, 42, credit the priest for indirectly helping the two of them meet.

LoDolce said her soon-to-be husband met her in a gym, while he normally wouldn’t ask out a woman with tattoos, which she has, he remembered a recent conversation he had with Cestare. Alu was talking to the priest about looking for a relationship after a divorce, as well as being a father to two children. LoDolce said her fiancé was told to keep an open mind by Cestare, saying, “One thing that God does is he takes the broken pieces of your life and kind of reshapes them into something new, and you just have to be open to opportunities. You have to be open to every opportunity that God puts in front of you.”

When she met Alu, LoDolce lived in Sound Beach, but she said 2½ years ago she moved in with him in Setauket, and she’s been going to the St. James church ever since.

LoDolce said while the church didn’t make an official announcement about Cestare’s condition, she was waiting to hear back from him to discuss her upcoming wedding in May. She was surprised when he didn’t get back to her, and she asked the receptionist who filled her in on what was happening.

When she and her fiancé met with him, she asked if he was on the transplant list. He told her it would be a five-year wait due to his blood type being B+. After the meeting, she called her mother and found out she was B+ also. When she dropped off paperwork, she left Cestare a note saying she would like to be tested.

She went in for the tests and right before Christmas discovered she could donate her kidney to the priest. She bought Cestare a stuffed kidney-shaped toy and gave it to him along with a card and a letter.

“She’s about to start a whole new life, and she’s thinking of me.”

— Jerry Cestare

He said when she gave him the gift, he didn’t open it right away and brought it to his parents’ house where he was going for dinner. When he opened it, he was surprised by the beautiful card and then began reading the letter where LoDolce told him she was a match.

His father asked him to repeat what she wrote because he, “couldn’t believe it,” and the priest said he and his mother started crying.

“Kara felt from the beginning if she could undergo a few weeks of discomfort so that I could get back to work and do what I do best, she said it was worth it,” Cestare said.

The priest decided to announce the good news to the parish at Christmas Mass. Even though he didn’t want the service to be focused on him, he felt LoDolce’s act of kindness symbolized the season.

He said many faiths talk about love but LoDolce, he said, showed it through action and gave him his life, health and ministry back.

“Lots of people talk about love, this woman showed with her action what love is,” he said.

He said Kara and her fiancé received a few standing ovations from the parishioners at the Mass after he announced she was donating her kidney to him.

“She’s about to get married,” he said. “She’s about to start a whole new life, and she’s thinking of me.”

LoDolce said she never wavered from her decision.

“People tell me I did something for him, I don’t feel that way at all,” she said. “I truly feel like he did something for me and he changed my life.”

While most take three or six weeks before they can even go back to work, LoDolce said she felt great after a week, and she was walking two or three miles a day. She also credits both of their recoveries to the parishioners and friends.

“Everyone in the Three Village community has been praying for us,” she said.

LoDolce said she is now putting the finishing touches on her May wedding.

“I joke that both my kidneys will be going to the wedding,“ LoDolce said.

Cestare said he has found the story has inspired others who have heard it with many telling him that they are going to pay it forward by being a better person.

“God is using this experience not only to give me back my life but to touch the lives of others,” he said.

“People tell me I did something for him, I don’t feel that way at all. I truly feel like he did something for me and he changed my life.”

— Kara LoDolce

SBU experts explain living organ donations

Father Jerry Cestare and Kara LoDolce went to Stony Brook University Hospital for their transplant procedure. The priest said many may think they need to travel to New York City for such a procedure, but SBU has a transplantation program right on Long Island.

Dawn Francisquini, administrative director of Stony Brook Medicine’s Kidney Transplantation Services team, said the hospital has been performing the transplants since 1981. She described the program as family friendly and said the staff’s goal is to make patients feel like a person — not a number.

“They know when they come to us they’re going to receive personalized care,” she said.

The first step, she added, is to educate the patients and their family members about the entire procedure as well as what needs to be done before and after. She said it’s important for the family to be part of the conversation because there is a lot of information to be taken in. She added that a transplant is not a cure for kidney disease but a treatment.

Stephen Knapik, living donor coordinator at the medical center, said finding a living donor can save a person’s life as the waiting list for organ transplants can be several years long. 

“I tell all the recipients you have to be your own living donor champion,” Knapik said.

He said he advises patients if they’re uncomfortable asking to get a friend to help spread the word. He also said sharing on social media has been successful in many cases, where after a request is posted, “The next thing you know I’m getting phone calls.”

Knapik said his role in transplants is keeping donors safe. In the case of Cestare’s transplant, he worked with LoDolce. He said donors go through multiple tests including CT scans, chest X-rays and cancer screenings such as mammograms and Pap smears for women and colonoscopies for those over 50.

“I tell all the recipients you have to be your own living donor champion.”

— Stephen Knapik

Once a donor is cleared through testing, a transplant team committee will discuss the donor.

“We want to make sure that we have dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s to keep the donor safe,” he said.

Knapik said once a donor is found the transplant team will work with the schedule as far as when the surgeries will take place. For example, he said, a teacher can wait until summer. All the costs are paid by the recipient’s insurance.

He said while LoDolce was quickly back to walking and resuming her normal routine, it’s unusual. Many donors may take weeks to recover fully and can’t drive for about two weeks or lift heavy objects for a few weeks.

“Everybody heals differently,” he said.

He added that after the procedures donors will be required to have checkups to make sure their remaining kidney is compensating and doing well.

“We can take anyone’s kidney out, but we have to make sure, 10, 20, 30 years later, that the remaining kidney is doing well,” Knapik said.

Francisquini said out of the 1,800 transplants the program has done since its inception, 1,000 patients still come to SBUH for routine follow-ups. She said anywhere from 270 to 300 patients are on the active waiting list at any given time, while another 200 can be in the evaluation process. The kidney transplant team performs 75 to 80 procedures a year.

“We have one of the fastest transplant rates in our region,” she said. “So that basically translates into if we put you on the list, we’re serious about transplanting you. We transplant you as quickly as possible.” 

To learn more about Kidney Transplantation Services at Stony Brook Medicine and how to become an organ donor, visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/patientcare/transplant/organ_donor.

Mary Ann Fox stands behind veteran Jack Grady, her proofreader and historical expert. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s been little less than a year since Mary Ann Fox, of Leisure Glen in Ridge, finished her book of veterans in her own small community, titled “Proudly We Served.” 

There are a few hundred homes in the 55-and-older gated community of Leisure Glen,  and the stories of 63 veterans of that community lie within those pages, tales of both horror and heroism, of people who constantly and consistently told her they were proud to serve their country, hence the book’s title. 

The 63 veterans and their families from Leisure Glen in Ridge whose stories were published in a book by Mary Ann Fox.
Photo from Fox

In the time since the book was officially released last April, 325 copies have been printed, and Fox  has brought her books and those stories to local vets groups, schools, libraries and other civic-type groups.

But the time since her book’s release has also been heartbreaking. She has seen several of those men whose lives were memorialized in the pages of her book pass away.

On April 28, 2019, she held a ceremony in Leisure Glen that displayed her work to a packed room, including several elected officials. Just two months later, one of the vets, Andy Estrema, died. His story is one of the most harrowing described in the book. As a Marine during the Korean War, he fought in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where soldiers struggled against not only enemy machine guns but also a bitter cold that reached as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. He fought off waves of the enemy that struggled up the hill in the face of American machine gunners. He fought barefoot and lost all of his toes from frostbite. He was shot and injured during the battle in his lower back and only survived thanks to the men who fought alongside him.

Yet, Fox knew, this was the reason she wrote the book. The stories of those 63 veterans from Leisure Glen would, if not etched in stone, be forever contained in the glossy pages of her book. It would remain in the hands of the veterans’ families for as long as they could keep it.

“I felt very privileged,” she said. “They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

She had been invited to Estrema’s military funeral, where she sat with the family as the ceremonial officers snapped the flag 13 times into a tight triangular fold. There, she said she could  not help but tear up knowing the honor she was witnessing for the first time, firsthand. 

Though it was the first military funeral she personally experienced, it wouldn’t be her last in the several months since her book was released.

That is the reality of the book she wrote, as she knows the stories contained within would outlast the men who told them. It has become a boon for the families whose loved ones have served, helping to prompt conversations about such events that they had rarely experienced before. Even during the writing process, Fox saw the effect that simply listening could have. 

“They were waiting for someone to say, ‘I know you served in World war II …’ [I say] you served your country, tell me what you did, tell me your story and let me weave it into a story of your service to the country,” she said. “I say ‘tell me what you want me to write.’”

The Writing Process

Fox never had it in mind to write a book such as this. Before retiring, she owned a travel agency in Middle Island. She retired and moved to North Carolina in 1998. After 12 years, when her husband passed, she decided to move back to Long Island to be closer to her daughter, picking a spot quite close to the center of Leisure Glen.

It was 2018, Memorial Day, and American Legion Post 352 held a meeting at the gated community that would etch the idea in Fox’s mind. 

“She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

— Jack Grady

The post commander said that one should get to know the stories of the veterans around them, because come Memorial Day next year, many would not be around any longer, their lives and stories taken by the march of time.

“He said, ‘Look at us, we get smaller in number every year, and we’re not going to be here forever.’” Fox recalled. “And then he finished by saying, ‘and you know what and nobody is going to know we were here.’”

It was the first time she had ever even thought about publishing a work such as that. 

Before writing the book, she said, like most people, she had no real idea just what it was to have gone through war. Listening to their stories, she said she could tell just what kind of person it requires to go through that experience. Some stories hit her hard, such as Estrema’s. He had written everything out himself, what ended up being five pages in her book. During their conversation, she had to excuse herself. 

“I went into the bathroom and I cried my heart out,” she said. “What they went through in this battle … he thoroughly believed that somewhere in battle, the blessed mother came to him — a very religious man, and he was until the day he died.”

With the massive number of interviews under her belt, with the piles and piles of notes on her desk, she quickly learned she needed somebody to help her unpack all the jargon and help her with grammar. That’s where Jack Grady came in, a 93-year-old World War II Army vet who also sees himself as an amateur military historian. Fox would drop off the pages to him, and then a day later he would call her back to give her the pages dotted with red pen marks and questions, asking her to go back and confirm some information with those fellow vets.

Before Fox, he said he had never been asked much about his own story. In his mind, it is mostly du to people’s desire to move on from such grave history.

“It was in the past,” Grady said. “The war was over, and of course we had Korea and, unfortunately, Vietnam, so World War II faded into [the] distance … it’s not that people were callous or anything, but they have their own concerns, and they don’t want to listen to these kinds of things unless somebody broaches the subject.” 

The elder veteran looks at the book now as a testament, a means to forever keep their stories alive.

“We’re gone, almost,” he said. “She heard our voices before our voices were stilled.”

If Fox couldn’t talk to the veterans themselves, such as several who had recently passed, she received their stories from their wives. She got to know the tales of so many vets, and in writing the book, many of those family members finally got to hear the story of their service. After doing the first stint of a two-day interview with Korean War veteran James Dragone, his daughter followed Fox outside, quickly wrapping her arms around her with tears in her eyes. Fox thought, at first, she must have done something wrong, asked the wrong question or said the wrong thing, but then the daughter started thanking her, saying it was the first time she heard that story of her father.

“Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

— Jane Bonner

Each of the stories tells not just of a man, but a man within a community. It speaks of their children and grandchildren, of men like Daniel Testa, a Korean War vet’s amazing homemade mozzarella. Dragone’s story says Leisure Glen members knew him as the Flag Man because “for 20 years he raised and lowered our flags daily.”

Why had they not talked about it before to their families? Fox said in many cases it was the past, and these men wanted to move on.

“The World War II men — they saw so much they wanted to put it behind them — they were still young men — and start their life,” Fox said. “The Korean War veterans — they, I think, pretty much felt the same … The Vietnam veterans, they came home wounded, mentally, physically, but mostly mentally.”

Of the three wars covered in the book, the Vietnam War section is the shortest. She thinks that was due to the war they fought, and the things they must have witnessed during the fighting, and most simply they were proud to serve.

“There’s a Vietnam veteran in there who has three Purple Hearts, and when I introduced him at the ceremony, the one thing he asked me to do was not mention that,” she said. “They’re not looking for any glory.”

Ceremony and Reaction

At last year’s ceremony, which finally displayed more than a year’s worth of effort, a packed crowd listened to the introduction of all service members included in the book. The ceremony was joined by Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and a representative from U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) office. 

Little less than a year since then, Bonner said seeing all the work that went into such an event, and all the effort Fox put into the book, it was hard to come away not being dazzled by her efforts. 

“I was just so impressed by her passion to undertake something like this,” she said. “Her contribution to her community has been very significant — it was a labor of love you rarely see.”

The book is a coil-bound glossy print, with a cover designed by her daughter. The ceremony’s program cover was designed by Carl Schmidt, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who was Fox’s first interview.

The event was officiated by Monsignor Charles Fink, himself a Vietnam veteran and the author of the famous poem “Bury Me with Soldiers.” After all names were called, Fink was recognized for his service, and once Fox said the Catholic priest was a Purple Heart recipient, all men who could stand stood, and all applauded.

Fox has taken her book nearly everywhere it has been requested, including Comsewogue and North Shore public libraries, the Tesla Science Center, the Long Island State Veterans Home and Albert G. Prodell Middle School for their annual Living History Day last May. She said she plans to attend this year’s event and hopes to bring with her a veteran from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. She also hopes she may be able to start a letter-writing campaign between the students and veterans.

Last year at the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, she was also awarded a plaque for her work by the Town. 

“They were sharing stories with me [that] some had not even shared with their family.”

— Mary Ann Fox

Joe Cognitore, the Rocky Point VFW post commander, called Fox “a very dedicated woman.” She came to one of the VFW’s meetings last year with several of the vets described in her book, and a few even decided to become members of Post 6249. He had even seen her at the Long Island Veterans home, handing out ornaments to some of those living there.

“I couldn’t thank her enough for all her work of preserving veterans’ history, especially the World War II veterans,” Cognitore said. 

Before it was printed, two publishers were interested in the book, but the issue was it would have taken six to seven months for them to produce a finished product. For the veterans whose stories needed to be told, she knew she needed to print as soon as possible. Since April 2019, Estrema, Dragone and several other vets or their wives who provided the stories for the book have passed away. She knows she made the right choice, and she currently plans to keep it self-published with any additional printings.

Grady said Fox was one of the few people who could pull off a work like this, but of course, there are always more stories to tell.

“Most fellas don’t want to talk about those things, and it takes prodding to get the story done,” he said. “Mary Ann did 60, and I bet you she could do another 30 who didn’t answer the original ad.”

The VFW has asked if she could do a similar work for them, but she is still unsure since the men whom she wrote about in her book were from her own community, and it would be different venturing out to neighboring places. In Leisure Glen, newly arrived residents and others who did not originally respond to the first book requests have asked if they too could be included in later editions, and she said she is still trying to wrap her mind around what could be next. 

For now, she’s simply looking to spread the stories of the veterans, her friends, the members of her community. She hopes other people look to the veterans in their communities and look to learn their stories as well.

“To be honest, before the book, I didn’t really grasp the concept of what these men went through,” she said. “You have to sit across from them, you have to see it in their eyes, and it just comes pouring out.”

Chairperson Jennifer Martin presents a proclamation to Hon. Derrick J. Robinson. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

The Town of Brookhaven’s Black History Commission hosted its 29th Annual Black History Month celebration on Feb. 7 at Town Hall. 

This year’s program included presentation of academic achievement awards to more than 77 top African-American high school seniors from 14 school districts who achieved a cumulative grade point average of 90 or higher.   

The commission also recognized its honoree and keynote speaker, Derrick J. Robinson, acting Suffolk County Court judge presiding over Drug Court and Mental Health Court. He is also president-elect of the Suffolk County Bar Association. 

The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebration was African Americans and the Vote. The evening included musical performances by the Brookhaven NAACP, the Faith Baptist Church Choir and Taylor Niles, as well as a dance performance by Eugenia Woods. 

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the first woman of African American descent to serve on the Town Board, also serves as the Town Board Liaison to the Town’s Black History Commission. 

The Black History Commission’s next event is the 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration June 20.

'Black Opal,' acrylic on canvas, by Bill Durham

By Melissa Arnold

Running a museum is far from simple. Consider this: The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook is home to more than 2,500 pieces of artwork done on paper, 500 paintings and 100 pieces of three-dimensional art. Each piece must be catalogued, maintained, protected and stored. It’s a delicate and meticulous process that takes a lot of work.

Recently, the LIM received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to expand and upgrade its storage facilities. They’ll need to clear out some of their existing storage space to prepare for renovation, and fortunately its visitors will reap the rewards of the process.

From Feb. 22 to June 26, the museum will present Off the Rack: Building and Preserving LIM’s Art Treasures, an exhibit of approximately 90 works of art from its permanent collection, in the main gallery of its Art Museum. Many pieces in the exhibit are only put on view rarely, if at all.

‘Dance of the Haymakers,’ 1845, oil on canvas mounted on wood, by William Sidney Mount

“We could have taken the artwork to off-site storage, but we thought, ‘Why not put it on display?’ In order to make more space, we thought this would be a great time to assess the state of the collection and share its history and highlights with our visitors,” said LIM Deputy Director and Curator Joshua Ruff. “This is an opportunity for people to see things they may not have seen before.”

Ruff said that choosing pieces for Off the Rack was a team effort by the museum staff, who sought to put together a cohesive story of how the museum’s collection has grown and evolved over the years.

Visitors will be able to explore a time line of the LIM’s conservation efforts. In addition, each work in the exhibit will include its accession number, which will help teach visitors how the museum keeps track of each piece.

Off the Rack is divided into loose sections celebrating particular themes and standout artists. Not to be missed is a section dedicated to one of the museum’s “anchor” artists, William Sidney Mount. Among Mount’s included works are an 1841 painting of Crane Neck Marsh, which Ruff says is “an example of his extremely detailed craftsmanship while creating a natural setting,” and “Dance of the Haymakers,” a painting of a fiddler playing music for dancing farmhands, which made Mount a household name in 1845. 

Other high-profile artists with dedicated spaces in the exhibit include Arnold Hoffman, Samuel Rothport, Winslow Homer, Joe Reboli and Helen Torr, among others.

There are also sections of artwork focused on coastal and marine environments, abstract work and contemporary artists, including some local Long Islanders like Janet Culbertson, Bruce Lieberman and Dan Pollera.

Ty Stroudsburg of Southold also has artwork at the LIM — her 2000 oil painting on linen “Pumpkin Field at Sunset” is one of many views that have caught her eye on the North Fork.

“I love color. I used to drive around with a sketch pad in my car, and it was always color that would lead me to pull over and either do quick sketches with pastels or take a photograph to use for later,” said Stroudsburg, whose work has hung in exhibits and museums throughout New York and New Jersey for more than 60 years. 

“I didn’t strive for notoriety, I just painted because I love to paint and it keeps me going. I feel extremely fortunate that curators believe my art is worth being a part of their museums,” she added.

For LIM Executive Director Neil Watson, Off the Rack provides the chance to see their continuously evolving collection in a new light.

“As we began to do the work required for the renovations and take pieces out of storage, there were things in the collection I hadn’t seen in several years, and even some pieces I didn’t even know we had,” he recalled. 

“That’s the beauty of this exhibit -— we get to share parts of our collection that people may have never even seen before. Of course, there will be plenty of ‘old friends,’ like the work from William Sidney Mount, but there is so much more to see. Ours is a living collection — it’s not sealed or stagnant, and it continues to grow.”

The Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook presents Off the Rack: Building and Preserving LIM’s Art Treasures, from Feb. 22 through June 26. The museum is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Admission for adults is $10; discounts are available for children, college students, seniors and the disabled. For more information, visit www.longislandmuseum.org or call 631-751-0066.

The Old Field Lighthouse. Photo by Huberto Pimental

When Old Field residents go to vote in the March village elections, there will be a familiar name missing from the ballot.

Michael Levine

Mayor Michael Levine has decided not to run again after 12 years in the position.

A partner with Rappaport, Glass, Levine & Zulio, LLP, Levine and his wife have lived in the village since 1992. He has two grown children, a son, who is also a lawyer, and a daughter, who is completing her master’s at Stanford University and planning to start medical school in the fall.

Recently, Levine answered a few questions via email discussing his decision not to run for mayor and his experience in the role.

Why did you decide not to run?

I’ve been the mayor for 12 years. It has been an unbelievable honor and privilege, but I decided it was time to give another resident the opportunity to be the mayor. All good things must come to an end every now and then.

What made you decide to run for mayor 12 years ago?

Twelve years ago, I was approached by numerous residents and asked to consider running for mayor because there was some animosity between certain board of trustees members at that time, and it was believed that an outsider who had no specific agenda might be able to calm things down and move the village forward. I believe I did just that — earned the trust of my fellow board members and helped to get the village back on the right track.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of being mayor?

One of the most challenging aspects of the position has been trying to keep village expenses under control in light of increased costs associated with goods and services and the 2 percent tax cap law. Even though from an outsider’s perspective the village is associated with some degree of affluence, the village operates on an incredibly shoestring budget and any unforeseen expenses can have a very detrimental impact on the overall financial health of the village.

What did you find the most rewarding?

One of the most rewarding aspects of being mayor has been getting to know some incredible residents and assisting them by timely considering their building permit applications. The turnaround time for the submission of an application for a permit to the time that it gets before the board for consideration is sometimes no more than a month or two. Another very rewarding aspect of the position has been the ability of the board to avoid lawsuits against the village. As an attorney, I know how to commence a lawsuit, but I also know how to avoid one too. During my administration, we have been very successful in avoiding litigation against the village.

Any advice for the next mayor of Old Field?

One of the keys to being a good mayor is to be responsive to the residents. I was elected 12 years ago to help out the residents of the village, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to be accessible at all times, try to give them what they want and be very open to their suggestions. I believe I did that, and this is one of the most important pieces of advice I can pass along to the next mayor.

Do you think you will still be involved in the village in some way?

I will continue to be very involved in the village. It’s in my blood to be community minded. I would hope every resident would feel the same way. Right now, I am working with other residents on a complete renovation of the village lighthouse with the hope that we will be able to fully restore it to its initial beauty.

The Village of Old Field will hold its election March 18 at the Keeper’s Cottage, 207 Old Field Road. Trustee Bruce Feller will be running for mayor, and Thomas Pirro will be running for a second term as trustee.

Photo from METRO

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

She could feel the tension mounting. She had been down this road, or, more specifically, on this runway, numerous times before.

Flying didn’t bother her. She had taken many flights before she met her husband. Since they’d been married, they had also taken trips each year.

That’s when the trouble started. He didn’t blame her, but as someone who shared his feelings and wanted to help him when she could, she often felt at a loss as this moment approached.

She looked at the stranger next to her, eager to encourage a new person to enter the dialogue and distract him from his frustration.

At first, the stranger didn’t engage in conversation, preferring to read his book and to look through the movie offerings on his phone.

The ride around the airport took a while, as the plane stopped a few times to let other flights land.

Unable to break the ice with the man on the other side of her, she turned to her husband and hoped the game they’d developed might help.

“Hey,” she said, “how long do you think it’ll take this time?”

He grumbled something between his gritted teeth.

“Well,” she said, not bothering to ask him to repeat himself when she felt that the words were less relevant than the angry emotion that built up inside of him. “I’m going with eight.”

“Eight?” he spit back at her incredulously. “No way! It’s going to be at least 12.”

When the plane stopped and the Jetway came out to meet it, the man started his stopwatch, holding it up so she could see.

After three minutes, the passenger on her other side, who had heard the abbreviated conversation and could feel the tension rising between them as the man glared, unblinking, at the front of the plane and all the passengers between him and the next step on his trip, decided to break the frustrated silence in their row.

“Are you guys guessing how long it’ll be before you get off the plane?” he asked.

“Yes,” she sighed, grateful for the relief from watching and taking care of her husband.

A flight attendant made an announcement.

“Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, we’re waiting for a gate attendant to fix the lock on the other side. It should only be a few minutes,” she said.

The man near the window shook his head. The woman shrugged at what she hoped was her new ally.

“Well, we’ll just start now,” she offered, as she set her own stopwatch on her phone and encouraged him to follow the new timing.

“You see,” she said, “he gets angry when people aren’t ready to go after the
plane lands.”

He turned away from the front of the plane long enough to explain himself to the stranger near the aisle.

“They turn off the seatbelt sign and people don’t get their luggage,” he snarled, gesturing with his palm at all the offending passengers between the door to the rest of his travels and the seat that barely contained his irritation. 

“Look at them, sitting there. It’s going to take each of them a while to get off. They have to find their bags, pull them out and get off the plane.”

The stranger offered the weary wife a supportive look. She appreciated the gesture, even as she made sure all her items were ready to go.

“These things are beyond your control,” the stranger offered.

“That’s true, but it still bothers him,” she sighed as she held her bags tightly in her hand.

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This coming Monday my husband and I would have celebrated 57 years of marriage. Except we won’t because he died 32 years ago, just shy of our 25th anniversary. This means that I have been unmarried longer than I was a wife, which makes me something of an expert-of-one on the subject of marrying or being single. It also explains my riveted reading of “They’re More than Happy Not to Get Married,” in the Sunday Styles section of this past week’s New York Times. Say, what?

First, we ought to consider how the idea and institution of marriage have incredibly changed over the last century. Indeed, we have lived through a marriage revolution. I was 22 when I became a bride, considered young today. At the time, my mother told me just before the ceremony, as she was helping me get into my gown, that “I had just missed being an old maid.” After all, she was entitled to that perspective since she married in 1925 at 17.

There was never any question that I would marry. Pretty much all of us in my class expected to marry shortly after graduation. The only question was whom we would marry, and the answer was usually whoever we had been dating — usually chastely — for the preceding couple of years. And we certainly wanted to have our children before we turned 30 and, as women, our reproductive prospects began to dim. One close friend even married before senior year ended and was already pregnant as she crossed the stage to receive her diploma from the college president.

It was the same expectation for men. My husband-to-be was in his last year of medical school. Yup, time to get married. We followed the script, set down by our respective parents and society. The one or two people we overheard saying that they didn’t want to get married or to have children were dismissed as simply being odd. Looking back on it now, it took courage to make either declaration in most of the 20th century.

Welcome to the 21st century, where marriage is considered something of a quaint option. Living together? How romantic! Been together 10 years? You must like each other. Have two children together? How nice. No one thinks to call them by a derogatory name. There is no shame in their unmarried parental state. Oh, decided to marry after these many years? Lovely. Your younger daughter can be the flower girl, your son the ring bearer.

In fact, according to the NYT article written by Hilary Sheinbaum, we’ve gone even further from the centuries’ old norm. Many women are opting out of relationships and finding they prefer to be single, is the latest word on the subject. “Instead of moping over singledom or aggressively trying to find partners with arbitrary deadlines in mind, they are declaring to be happily unmarried and proudly find solace in living solo,” she said. This is despite the many dating apps, matchmakers and sometimes astonishingly frank and graphic love advice out there in magazines, books or Google. And despite raging hormones.

“When you’re not seeking partnership, you are in a very relaxed calm inner space and generally more comfortable with who you are,” said Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist who specializes in relationships and self-awareness and was quoted in the Times. 

“A lot of times in relationships, you need to make sacrifices. You don’t have any sacrifices to make when you are on your own. You make all the decisions,” said Genesis Games, another therapist. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as recently as 2016, 110.6 million U.S. residents at least 18 years old were unmarried. That is about one-third our population. Women made up 53.2 percent of that number. Many of them might agree with that sentiment.

So, being the self-proclaimed expert on the subject, how do I feel? Yes, being in complete control of one’s own life, at least as far as relationships go, has its satisfactions. It makes for a wonderfully selfish existence. Best of all, however, is to have a choice.