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A photo in ‘Kings Park’ of a family at a clambake on the Nissequogue River, which is present-day San Remo, circa 1900. Photo from Joshua Ruff

By Jill Webb

Before it was Kings Park, the suburban hamlet in Smithtown was known as St. Johnland, a utopian Christian community founded as a haven for poor members of the Protestant working class and orphaned children.

In the newest installment of the Images of America series, you can learn all about the history of Kings Park — which just celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016.

The co-authors of “Kings Park,” Smithtown historian Bradley Harris, the Director of Collections and Interpretations at the Long Island Museum Joshua Ruff and the Executive Director of the Smithtown Historical Society Marianne Howard came together and selected more than 180 vintage photographs to be featured in the book, along with captions detailing the images relevance within the history of Kings Park.

Howard set aside time from supervising the day-to-day activities at the Smithtown Historical Society to contribute to the book and said it took two years to compile images.

She noticed in her research that most small, American towns all underwent the same transformations from colonization to industrialization. The unique aspect to every small town is the people and resources they contribute which Howard said is what is highlighted in the book.

“I hope that the people from Kings Park see people and places that they know in the book,” Howard said in a phone interview. “That’s what they should be excited about — seeing how their own community transformed the history here in this part of Long Island.”

The book’s chapters are titled St. Johnland, The Kings Park Psychiatric Center, Early Kings Park, Churches and Schools, and Building Modern Kings Park. The book’s authors divided the chapters based on personal interest and selected the photos collaboratively.

Ruff, who has been a consulting curator for the Smithtown Historical Society for over 10 years, said the image-centric format is an “immediately accessible and terrific way of connecting” with the community of Kings Park and those who are interested in its history.

But Howard, Ruff and Harris were not the only ones putting in the research — the community was also able to participate. The authors said they were grateful to receive private collections of photographs from residents that are featured in the book.

“When we thought that we were finished with what we had, other people were coming forth with their photographs that had something a little bit different that we wanted to share with everybody else,” Howard said. “What’s great about Smithtown is that many people have a strong connection to the town and have lived here for either their whole lives or are third or fourth or fifth generation Smithtown residents.”

In completion, the authors “really felt like it was a good balance of architectural and social history,” Ruff said.

One section Howard finds particularly interesting displays how the wave of immigration brought on by the Kings Park Psychiatric Center shaped the town, along with how the town dealt with — and is still dealing with — the after-effects of its closure in 1996.

The caption a photo of the hospital’s Building 93 describes it as “now obsolete, unsafe and a magnet for vandals.” It goes on to describe the building as a “decaying symbol of a past age,” which makes residents wonder when the buildings on the grounds will finally be demolished.

Howard noted Kings Park has received funding for downtown revitalization. The proposed plan hopes to reshape Main Street by initiating “the economic strength of the community and provide a center of activity for residents to enjoy,” according to the action report prepared by Vision Long Island, Inc., the group hired to create the revitalization plan. The action report said the fate of the psychiatric grounds has yet to be determined.

“I think the community has grown enormously over the last 100 plus years and the book really shows how it’s evolved,” Ruff said. “The community has grown into this large multi ethnic suburban community that now has plans in place for major downtown changes in the next couple of years that will help to continue the changing evolution of the place.”

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Jill Webb

Ryan Bloom and Leo Chen have been announced as Newfield High School Class of 2017 respective valedictorian and salutatorian.

Bloom has managed to handle a full plate of academics, extracurricular clubs and a top student government position while amassing a 101.9 GPA to be named valedictorian.

Ryan Bloom

The senior graduates with 42 college credits and was fully engaged outside of the classroom with his extracurricular activities. Not only was he the president of his senior class, but also held positions as  secretary of the Thespian Honor Society,  co-president and editor of the newspaper club, and  PSTA council delegate. He was also a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and World Language Honor Society.

Community service efforts Bloom has been a part of include serving as a religion education catechist at St. Gerard’s Majella Church in Port Jefferson Station for five years, and volunteering for a special needs bowling program during the summer.

He believes his personal goals along with his family’s support has driven him to attaining top-of-the-class status.

“The combination of those two has really pushed me towards success and has made me want to always go one step further than I already have,” he said.

Theresa Bloom, the valedictorian’s mother, recalls the perseverance he demonstrated from as early as 3 years old.

“He was always a child that was very organized and very detail-oriented in the way he actually did anything,” she said.

Bloom credits his time as class president as having a huge influence on learning useful skills for his future.

“You’re working with over 350 students and trying to have those communication skills and also leadership skills,” he said. “It’s taught me a lot [about] the virtue of patience”

Leo Chen

He notes his leadership positions and involvement with clubs during high school have led him to  explore career options in law or government. He will be majoring in political science at Northeastern University.

Like Bloom, Leo Chen has cultivated an impressive resume, which includes a GPA of 100.2 with 45 college credits.

The senior has been recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction due to his performance on multiple AP exams. Outside of academics, Chen was a very active member at Newfield, as a member of the book club, Tri-M Music Honor Society, National Honor Society, select jazz band and  chamber orchestra.

Chen also is a promising athlete, and captained  the varsity track and field and cross-country teams.

One of his proudest accomplishments was achieving a personal best in the mile, with a time of 4 minutes, 32 seconds. Chen grew up with asthma, saying it was a “good achievement to feel like I overcame that.”

He said for students looking to be at the top of their class in the future, they shouldn’t think about it too hard.

“I don’t think your goal should be to achieve the ranking,” he said. “You should just find yourself — do what you like to do.”

In the fall, Chen will be a computer science major at Yale University.

Scenes from Centereach's Class of 2017 commencement ceremony June 25. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Jill Webb

Leading Centereach High School Class of 2017 are valedictorian Demi Lambadis and salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin.

Lambadis divided her time between a busy academic schedule, student government involvement and extracurricular activities.

Since seventh grade, Lambadis has had it in the back of her mind that becoming valedictorian was “more of a personal goal as opposed to anything external.”

Demi Lambadis

She  graduates with 10 AP classes under her belt, along with three additional college-level courses. Her extensive AP course load has earned her recognition from the College Board as an AP Scholar with Honors.

In addition to academic success, Lambadis has served  as both the president and vice president for her class. She was also acting vice president of the school’s Leaders’ Club.

Agnieszka Taciak, an AP Environmental teacher at Centereach  whom Lambadis was close with, said she’s proud of the dedication her student continued to give to her curriculum.

“There’s no secret to it — she simply does work, and is very proud of the quality of the work,” Taciak said. “And she’s very humble about the approach to work.”

Dance is one of Lambadis’ favorite hobbies, and this year she’s once again on the road to nationals. She noted she also placed at every regional and national dance competition she entered.

Taciak recalls one instance where Lambadis’ work ethic stood out to her. The teacher had given an assignment over the same weekend her student had to travel to a dance competition.

“I was reasonably expecting that she would have to be asking for a time extension,” Taciak said, but was surprised when instead, Lambadis came into school that Monday smiling with the assignment ready in hand.

For students looking to be a future valedictorian, Lambadis said, “the main thing to focus on is to not worry about everyone else, and to worry about yourself.”

Come September, Lambadis will be a freshman at Lehigh University, studying biomechanical engineering.

Kelly McLaughlin

Salutatorian Kelly McLaughlin, like Lambadis, has completed an extensive amount of AP courses, finishing with 11, and adding four college-level classes onto that list.

Outside of academics, McLaughlin had a busy schedule. She balanced her time between serving as  president of her school’s National Spanish Honor Society and as an active member of the National Junior Honor Society.

Laura Melfi speaks very fondly of McLaughlin’s presence in her AP calculus class, regarding her as sometimes being a secondary teacher.

“Kids would ask her questions ‘Kelly, how’d you do this? What’d you do?’ if I was busy helping someone else,” Melfi said.

In the future, McLaughlin hopes to become a math teacher, citing her teachers, including Melfi, as inspiring her to take that career path. Melfi said she feels McLaughlin possesses the traits needed to be an effective math teacher.

“She doesn’t let her intelligence make her feel like she’s better than anybody else,” Melfi said. “She will help everybody and anybody.”

McLaughlin also sets aside time to give back to her community by volunteering as a tutor for students at the Middle Country Public Library. Her volunteer experience has landed her some tutoring jobs, usually in math and science.

McLaughlin said she enjoys being able to help out.

“For me to make someone understand it — that feels really good that I have that impact on them,” she said.

This experience will be handy as McLaughlin goes off to study mathematics and education SUNY Geneseo.

Port Jefferson valedictorian Chiara Rabeno and salutatorian Xinyi Hong. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

By Jill Webb

At the top of their respective classes at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School and Comsewogue High School are five talented and smart 2017 graduates.

Chiara Rabeno has earned her place as Port Jeff high school’s valedictorian. She will graduate as an AP Scholar with Honor with eight AP credits and has received a National Merit Scholar letter of commendation along with earning a gold award on the National Latin Exam three years consecutively.

In addition to her commitment to academics, Rabeno was an active participant in athletics during her high school career. She played softball and field hockey, earning an All-Conference distinction two years in a row.

Port Jefferson salutatorian Xinyi Hong and valedictorian Chiara Rabeno during 2017 graduation. Photo from Port Jefferson School District

Rabeno was  president of  National Honor Society, and balanced the rest of her time as a member of the Interact Club, Environmental Club, Science Olympiad, and  a participant in the STEM program.

The valedictorian attributes her success to having supportive family and friends who encourage her, along with finding time to focus on things she enjoys.

“Ultimately by doing what you love to do, I think that you’ll end up doing well in everything else,” Rabeno said in an interview.

In the fall, Rabeno will study biology at Boston College, on the pre-med track to become a doctor.

Like Rabeno, salutatorian Xinyi Hong has  received a gold award for three straight years on the National Latin Exam. She has a lengthy list of academic achievements, including being a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and earning the American Chemical Society Award.

Hong’s parents emigrated from China, and Hong herself was born in Germany. Her family came to the United States when she was six years old, moving to Port Jefferson when she was in fifth grade.

Hong served as  co-captain of the Science Olympiad team,  treasurer of the Environmental Club, and sits first chair viola in the school’s orchestra.

Comsewogue High School valedictorian Marissa Kaye Lehner. Photo from Lehner

She said one of her proudest accomplishments is overcoming shyness as a way to contribute to her own personal growth.

“I would be scared to say hi to people,” Hong said in an interview. “That’s something I’ve definitely had to work towards as opposed to something that came easily to me.”

When she attends Duke University in the fall, Hong said she will pursue a science-related field.

During graduation June 23, Rabeno and Hong broke with tradition somewhat, delivering their valedictorian and salutatorian addresses together on stage. They shared the stage  and spoke in tandem about the gifts the other possesses. The address touched on the honesty of Hong and the sentimentality of Rabeno, delivering the ultimate message of needing balance in order to achieve their full potential.

At Comsewogue High School, Marissa Kaye Lehner has been named the class of 2017 valedictorian.

A Nation Merit Scholar, Lehner took nine advanced placement classes during her time at Comsewogue. She was a part of several national honor societies, including music, English, math, science, social studies, and Spanish.

Outside the classroom, Lehner was  co-captain of the tennis team, winning a doubles match during the Section XI conference championships. She was a part of the academics club, math team, Bringing Unity Through Youth club, robotics and Girl Scouts.

Lehner said a key trait in her development as a student and person is she isn’t afraid to ask for help, and frequently encourages others to “rely on the people you have around you.”

Co-salutatorian at Comsewogue High School Lauren Ehrhard. Photo from Ehrhard

Attending the University of New Haven this fall, Lehner will major in national security, working towards a career as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. government.

Two students had matching grade point averages for second place in Comsewogue’s senior class and will share the salutatorian position — Lauren Ehrhard and Lucas Szeto.

Along with taking seven AP classes throughout high school, Ehrhard has been involved with athletics, including softball, and Athletes Helping Athletes, a club designed to teach elementary school students what it means to be a good athlete.

She was a member of Task Club, a community service organization called BUTY, chamber orchestra, and pep band.

One of her favorite experiences was being the director for a Night For Jason, an annual talent show that raises money for Friends of Karen, an organization supporting families with children suffering from cancer.

The biggest force driving her academically is having “really big dreams ahead of me,” Ehrhard said. “I know that the only way to reach that is to get good grades and be the person I know I can be.”

Ehrhard will be studying criminal justice at the University of New Haven, where she will join the ROTC program in preparation for joining the Air Force post-college.

Co-salutatorian at Comsewogue High School Luis Szeto. Photo from Szeto

Like his co-salutatorian, Szeto took seven AP classes. Szeto said school has always been something that has come easy to him, though that didn’t stop him from putting in his full effort.

Szeto is also proud of his musical achievements — he plays the upright bass. He participated in two different music festivals, the Long Island String Festival and the Suffolk County Music Educators Association festival, and contributed to  the Bay Area Summer Orchestra.

Lisa Szeto, his mother, recalled as a child Szeto told her he wanted to start playing video games. She told him she didn’t have time to teach him how, so Szeto took it upon himself to learn how to read so he could play.

“If he wants to learn something he will learn it with gusto,” his mother said of the memory. “If he doesn’t he will get through it.”

After graduation, Szeto will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology and majoring in computer science.

From left, Rocky Point High School’s Samantha Leversen, Tessa Cunningham and Brenna Kiernan. Photo from the Rocky Point School District

Rocky Point High School was well represented at the annual Teeny Awards and brought home two first-place honors from the July 11 event. 

The ceremony was held at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center and sponsored by the East End Arts Council.

Brenna Kiernan won in the category of Outstanding Performer in a Play, Musical/Mini-Musical or Musical Revue in the high school’s Musical Revue: A Broadway Revue. Tessa Cunningham, Brenna Kiernan and Samantha Leversen received first-place honors for Best Duet/Trio Performance in a Musical Revue for “Webber Love Trio” in the same stage performance. 

In addition to Tessa, Brenna and Samantha, the Rocky Point School District congratulated nominees Grace Benedetto, Chris Carley, Jillian Carley, Adam Olszewski, Renee Ortiz and Jacey Ruisi. 

The students who worked along with Mary Donovan and Jaimie Mancini, were lauded at the ceremony for the obstacles they overcame to still creatively perform during the pandemic.

“The Teeny Awards were such an exciting event,” Mancini said. “It was a wonderful way to honor our students for all of their tremendous talent and efforts throughout this year.”