By Melissa Arnold
For as long as Artie Weingartner has taken photos, his focus has always been on others.
Weingartner, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has faithfully chronicled the work of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and is the official photographer for the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.
Now, for the month of July, the focus is on him as Sachem Public Library presents an exhibit featuring a wide array of Weingartner’s photos in a collection titled Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma.
It’s an odd feeling for 58-year-old Weingartner, who admits it took a serious push from friends and loved ones to move forward with the exhibit. But nothing makes him happier than bringing joy to the people who see his photos.
“I like seeing people’s reactions to pictures and hearing their feedback — it really makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it more. I love the rush of satisfaction that comes with it. I guess you could say I’m addicted to it,” he laughed.
While photography has piqued his interest for decades, it took a long time for Weingartner to really find his niche. His father bought him his first camera, a simple Kodak, when he was just 9 years old. But he admitted feeling frustrated over the process of shooting a roll of film, waiting to have it developed, and then discovering that many of the photos were duds. “I didn’t have the patience for [traditional photography],” he said. “Not being able to see what the result was right away was hard for me.”
When digital photography emerged in the early 2000s, Weingartner was thrilled. Finally, he had the instant gratification of seeing each photo, with no wasted film and the option to delete ones he didn’t like with the push of a button. His love for photography was rekindled, and he hasn’t looked back.
He began casually taking photos of his kids’ sports matches, plays and concerts. Word spread quickly about his natural talent. “Parents stopped bringing their cameras around and my pictures were used more and more. It became a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Weingartner said.
Now that his children are grown, the photographer is focusing more on chronicling the history of Lake Ronkonkoma. On a frigid day in January of 2016, he was invited by Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society member Matt Balkam to photograph the historic Fitz-Greene Hallock Homestead on Pond Road. The 14-room home was built in 1888 and contains all of the original furnishings of the Hallock family. In 2006, the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society took over the care of the home, and it is now the only historic home in the community that remains open for tours and other public programming.
That experience would lead Weingartner to become regularly involved with the historical society and the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.
In 2016, News12 contacted Evelyn Vollgraff, the president of the historical society, about filming in the area for a show covering historic places on Long Island. When reporter Danielle Campbell arrived at Long Island’s largest freshwater lake with Vollgraff, she was horrified to see how neglected and filthy the body of water was.
Campbell, Vollgraff and several others put the word out on social media that they wanted to work on beautifying the area. The response was beyond anything Vollgraff anticipated. “We never asked for help. We just did it,” she recalled. “People got interested — legislators, councilmen. At the first meeting, 90 people were there asking what they could do and how they could help. The community came together in an amazing way. We have joined together as groups of friends that wanted to help our community. But now many of them are a part of the historical society as well, and most importantly, they’re my friends.”
In early 2017, the group held its first cleanup of the lake. Weingartner was there that day, too. They have since removed more than 300 tons of trash from the lake, and turned an old bookstore destroyed by fire into the historic Larry’s Landing, a popular hangout named for the bookstore’s late owner, Larry Holzapfel.
“Artie showed up with a camera at one of the cleanups and just started taking pictures — that’s just who he is,” Vollgraff said. “You have to record history. I can’t save every house in Ronkonkoma, but with Artie taking pictures, the history lives on forever.”
The community has also expressed its gratitude for Artie’s work through Facebook, where he frequently posts his photos on the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and Sachem Sports pages.
“People were coming out of the woodwork from Florida or South Carolina who lived there 30 years ago to say how much it meant to them to see pictures of the place they grew up,” Weingartner said. “When I first moved to Long Island from Queens in 1970, we used to swim in the lake, but over a few years it got so dirty that we didn’t swim there anymore. Before that, people used to come out from Manhattan just to spend time at the lake. It’s always been an important, historic part of this community.”
While the exhibit is named Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma, Weingartner said it encompasses a range of subjects, including sports and landscapes from other parts of Long Island, including Port Jefferson and Belle Terre. More than 75 framed 8-by-10 prints are on display. His favorite photo features Lake Ronkonkoma at sunset, with two birds and sunlight streaming down to the shore. All the photos were taken with a Nikon D600.
The photography show also includes guest contributions from photographers Richard Cornell and Richard Yezdanian.“This exhibit will be interesting to people in our area because [the lake and other scenes] are literally in our backyard,” said Anne Marie Tognella who works in programming and public relations at Sachem Public Library. “It captures many of the scenes that we see and appreciate every day with natural and historic value.”
Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook will present Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma in its art gallery on the lower level through the month of July. Join them for an artist reception on Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 631-588-5024.