For Ed Wendol, of Port Jefferson Station, time is not marked in years, but in decades.
How long was he a teacher in the Middle Country school district? Nearly three decades. How long was he on the Comsewogue Public Library board? Two years shy of five decades.
On his last day on the library board, the institution’s administration and a few lifelong friends held a short reception for Wendol to celebrate him serving his community, and Suffolk libraries, for year after year after year.
Now Wendol, 78, is planning to move down to Florida to be closer to his family. He, like so many other Long Islanders who are part of the exodus down to places like the Sunshine State or North Carolina is doing it with a heavy heart, knowing he’s moving from the place he has lived in and cared for over the past 50 years.
“What I’m particularly proud of, of being a trustee of the Comsewogue library, is that I’ve been elected to that position over the years,” Wendol said. “The public to me is important to recognize what we’ve been trying to accomplish with the library, and to me it’s the cultural center of the Comsewogue community.”
He is a past winner of TBR News Media’s Person of the Year, in 2003, for his work in Civics, specifically the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association when he vehemently opposed the closure of the DMV location in PJS. That DMV still stands today, partially thanks to his activism. Alongside his work in the civic, he has been an active member of the Polish-American Independent Club in PJS.
It’s rare for people to have such an immediate reaction to hearing about a community member simply taking the well-worn trek to sunnier pastures, but Wendol’s work with libraries goes well above and beyond what’s normally expected with a library board trustee.
Richard Lusak, of Port Jefferson, was Comsewogue library’s first director and stayed in the position from 1966 to 2003. He saw Wendol as one of the most instrumental people for the library’s longtime success.
When the library first came into being back in 1966, it was conceived to serve the residents of the school district, forming a five-member library board setting up in a rented 1,000-square-foot trailer a year later. Wendol had moved to the area from Queens in 1967, learning to live in a near-rural place like PJS where the sound of crickets kept city slickers like him up at night. He had long been a lover of libraries and books, he himself being an English teacher. Shortly after the Comsewogue library’s creation there was turnover on the library board, and that’s when Wendol stepped forward, being elected to the board in short order in 1972.
Throughout the years, Lusak said the venerable board member became a beacon for what a trustee could be, almost epitomizing everything the library trustee handbook — yes, it is a real book — stood for. While Wendol was working full time, he took night classes and gained a degree in library science, for what he described as wanting to be more knowledgeable and more helpful in the month-to-month decision-making process.
“He was instrumental in keeping everything on an even plane,” Lusak said. “He was a role model for the other board members.”
Current library director Debbie Engelhardt said that the past eight years in her position have been effective and “gratifying” thanks to Wendol’s steady presence and positive attitude.
“Ed understands well and is a true model of excellence in trusteeship,” she said. “Ed is steadfast, a voice of reason and has vast experience. He speaks his mind and is also a great listener. Ed’s positive influence helps us to keep moving forward. The healthy board dynamic Ed helped shape will remain.”
In his time on the library board, he also came to be recognized regionally for his service. He has several times been elected to the Suffolk Cooperative Library System board of trustees, helping oversee all libraries in the Town of Brookhaven. He has also previously served as that board’s president. Doing that he said his priority was to make all the libraries from Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket to Longwood Public Library come together to benefit the whole in their shared mission.
“Ed Wendol has been, for 48 years, the model of what a library trustee and public servant should be,” said Kevin Verbesey, SCLS director. “Ed always understood the critical role that a public library plays in the educational, intellectual and cultural life of a community. He was always informed, polite, active and firm in his support for and belief in libraries. Everyone in Suffolk County who cares about public libraries owes a debt of gratitude to Ed Wendol.”
Along with being active in Port Jefferson Station, for 27 years he was an English teacher in the Middle Country school district. In 2019, Wendol came across a host of copies of Newfield High School’s newspaper, The Quadrangle, sitting in his attic. The dates ran from 1970 to 1976, when he was the newspaper club’s adviser. The ex-Middle Country teacher donated his large collection of papers to the Middle Country Public Library for it all to be digitized.
It’s been a long ride for Wendol, and looking back from how the Comsewogue library progressed, first from its rented trailer location and now into a center where he loves to note that it serves everyone from preschool age all the way up to senior citizen. Libraries now are touchstones for local events, for helping people navigate an increasingly digital world, and all the while still giving people access to his beloved books. Next on the libraries’ plates, he said, is to emphasize culture, and offer people more real-world experiences on some kind of excursion, even if it takes them away from a library’s brick-and-mortar location.
“I think it was a fabulous thing we were able to accomplish,” Wendol said. “I think the aspect of people coming into the library, and wanting to come into the library … I’m happy to say with Debbie Engelhardt and my fellow trustees on the board, we are open.”