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On Saturday, Sept. 23 Stony Brook University invited the local community, employees, friends and neighbors to experience CommUniversity Day and celebrate its 60th anniversary. The free event was filled with exploration, food, hands-on activities and performances highlighting the many things the university has to offer. Attendees visited a variety of themed campus “neighborhoods” to discover more about Stony Brook University.

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Bob Policastro smiles with Ella, a young girl with a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding

For 25 years, Hauppauge resident Bob Policastro has made it his mission to give medically fragile children and their families a place to turn to — not just for specialized nursing care but love and normalcy.

As founder and executive director of Angela’s House, a nonprofit organization that offers an extensive array of services for families to support children with severe medical conditions, the 57-year-old has worked tirelessly since 1992 to address the gap in New York’s health care system when it comes to helping chronically ill kids.

He said he was determined to be a voice for these parents and kids in the community after experiencing firsthand just how underhelped they are.

A view of one of the kid’s bedrooms. Photo by Kevin Redding.

When his daughter, Angela, was born in August 1989, Policastro said everything went wrong.

“She lost a lot of blood and oxygen, and suffered severe brain damage, that left her very frail,” he said.

As there had been no permanent place on Long Island equipped to handle the technological and medical needs of frail children, Policastro and his wife, Angie, had a tough time finding a specialized home or facility to provide their daughter the nursing care she desperately needed.

They ended up finding a specialty hospital two and a half hours away in Connecticut, but the long drive just to see his daughter left an emotional and physical scar on Policastro.

After Angela died a little after her first birthday, a grief stricken Policastro got to work.

Now there are three large group homes that look and feel more like cozy resorts to choose from, with Angela’s House locations in East Moriches, Smithtown and Stony Brook.

Each location contains 24-hour nursing, local therapists and doctors on hand, and houses up to eight kids between the ages 6 and 16 with varying conditions. The residences offer top-of-the-line medical and monitoring equipment hidden within the warmth and beauty of a caring home.

And although the children that inhabit it are those who have suffered accidents, disease, developmental delays and more, Angela’s House helps provide them the freedom and opportunity to have a simple childhood.

During a walkthrough of the large Stony Brook house, which opened in 2013 and is dedicated to kids who rely on ventilators, Policastro pointed out one of the children’s bedrooms.

It looked like a kid’s paradise, with a bed covered in stuffed animals, the floor littered with toys, Nickelodeon on TV and a window that gives a beautiful view of the property’s nearby woods — a far cry from the hospitals and institutions in which many of the children at the house had been living.

Bob Policastro smiles with Torren who suffers from a respiratory issue. Photo by Kevin Redding.

“For me, it’s about the kids and giving them a safe and loving life,” he said. “I feel really blessed that these kids who have been given a limited lease on life can make the most of it in ways the average person could never dream possible, or can touch people in ways that change them forever. It’s remarkable to see a nonverbal kid, [many of house’s children can’t talk], that has a smile that can light up a room. It’s a great responsibility and I feel honored to be put in a position where I can try to help as much as I can.”

Deborah Church, nurse manager at the Stony Brook location who does everything for the kids from providing medical stability to planning birthday parties to giving them a hug when they need it, said Angela’s House is the best place for these children to be if they can’t be home.

“It’s nice to have the parents smile and know they can go out and have a life, and come and visit their children and see they’re so happy, safe and well taken care,” Church said. “This is a happy home for them to live. These kids can be as normal as possible and always have a smile on their face.”

Gathered around a kitchen table, Policastro and Church talked with 15-year-old Torren, who had been confined to a hospital and nursing home for the first 12 years of her life because of a respiratory illness, about her Sweet 16 next month. Torren will wear an extravagant dress, dance to her favorite band, OneRepublic, and eat nachos with her friends at the house.

Torren, who wheels her ventilator around inside a travel suitcase in order to feel less self-conscious about her condition, said her favorite parts about living in the house are the staff and outings — which include trips to the bank and local stores, as well as pumpkin patches in the fall.

Stephanie Caroleo has been working at Angela’s House for six years.

“The most rewarding aspect is when you come to work and you truly feel like you make a difference every day,” she said. “Every day we make a difference in the lives of these kids, and you see it in their face, in how they speak with you and the relationships we develop.”

When asked what’s kept him motivated for the last 25 years, Policastro pointed to Ella, a little girl in a wheelchair smiling from ear to ear. “That,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, if you bump into one of these kids and you see that smile, oh man, that’s golden.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, present proclamations to Ann Becker, Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Mount Sinai Civic Association isn’t just a local organization — it’s an institution that has become part of the community’s fabric for the last 100 years.

On Oct. 6 at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club, the civic association celebrated its anniversary with its board, community members and local politicians.

Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Heritage Trust secretary Thomas Carbone speaks during the dinner. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It’s an amazing milestone,” Mount Sinai Civic Association President Ann Becker said. “We’re impressed with how dedicated people have been, always stepping up in Mount Sinai. It’s been a concerted effort. We’ve had strong leadership. It’s a community that pulls together when there are problems and tries to resolve those issues.”

Incorporated Oct. 5, 1916, as an outgrowth of the Mount Sinai Taxpayers Association, its initial objective was to construct better roads, improve the conditions of Mount Sinai Harbor and adopt means to protect against fires.

“Over 100 years, some of those principles remain,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said. “The civic works hard to protect this community, to ensure that the zoning, the look of this community stays as a majority of the people in this community wants it to. They work hard to protect the harbor, the environment, and they do a tremendous job.”

Over its history, the civic association has worked tirelessly on quality of life issues for the residents of Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town. It worked to protect the area’s coastal environment, establish community parks and preserves and maintain a balanced level of development — including recreational facilities, privately owned housing, residential opportunities for seniors and support for schools. A completely volunteer-based organization, the civic has always depended on local residents to step forward and actively work toward improving the community, protecting the environment and protesting against overdevelopment.

With Becker now at the helm, the civic association continues to strive to better the community, and Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said Becker is perfect for the job.

“Ann and her civic board are wonderful advocates for the tiny little hamlet of Mount Sinai,” she said, adding that her husband, John Sandusky, was born and raised in the area. “People like Ann, and others in this community, keep a watchful eye, are paying attention and have the best goals for Mount Sinai — to maintain its quaint look and charm.”

“Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success.”

— Lori Baldassare

During the 1960s and ’70s, the major civic issues included working to successfully stop the dredging of Mount Sinai Harbor, which was accomplished in the late 1960s, followed by the planning and management of Cedar Beach.

With a grant received from New York State with the help of Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), 355 trees were planted along Route 25A the same year to beautify the community.

“The work that they do in the community and the difference that they make in the quality of life in Mount Sinai; the civic sets an example for all other communities,” Englebright said. “This is a shining beacon of civic activism and accomplishment. The association has continuity, initiative and history. I go to other hamlets in my district and I tell them to visit Mount Sinai and its park to see what a hamlet and a community can do when it comes together.”

The grant was also used to help purchase the nearly one-acre property that is known as Heritage Park. Preventing the sale of “The Wedge” to developers who planned to construct a Home Depot was also made possible with the help of Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who persuaded the owner to donate the balance of the property.

In the 1990s, the civic started many of the community activities still supported through the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Heritage Trust Inc., though many have since expanded.

Honored at the anniversary ceremony were Lori Baldassare, Fred Drewes and Deirdre Dubato, who were and are all still involved in Heritage Trust and Heritage Park.

Baldassare, eight-year president of the Heritage Trust, is a founding director who has also been a civic member for decades.

The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan
The centennial cake. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I do not think that anyone thinks that they are signing on for 20 years or more, it just happens one small project at a time,” she said. “Change never ends, nor does the desire to keep the place you call home special. I think the small things are the real success — planting trees along 25A, placing welcome signs, constructing an ambulance building to serve the community, start a Christmas Tree lighting event, influencing the aesthetics and naming for the Heritage Diner, and so much more. There is always just one more thing to do and I am so proud to live in a place that has a real sense of community.”

For Drewes, who landscaped Heritage Park, which Baldassare referred to as a community treasure, the evening turned out different than he’d envisioned.

“I thought the evening would focus on recognizing and celebrating 100 years of community work of the Mount Sinai Civic Association,” he said. “I felt thankful and honored to be recognized as part of the history of the civic association’s efforts to develop into a hamlet we could be proud to live in.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said the hamlet needs to keep up the good work, making sure that the residents protect each other and address the worries and concerns of the community.

“We have to keep up the inspiration,” she said. “There’s so much more that we can do, but what’s most important it that we take care of what we have.”

Above, the Stony Brook Village Center in the 1940s. Photo from the WMHO

By Ellen Barcel

It’s been 75 years since the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (originally the Stony Brook Community Fund), under the direction of philanthropist Ward Melville, constructed the Stony Brook Village Center. It was planned as a “living Williamsburg” recognizing the historic importance of the village “where culture would blend with natural beauty as a part of everyday life — the first planned business center in the U.S.”

Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO
Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO

Interestingly, the selection of Stony Brook as the site for this center came about by accident. The Melville family was on its way to the South Fork when, taking the wrong train, they found themselves in Stony Brook. “[Frank and Jenny] fell in love with the area,” noted Stephanie Ruales, special events coordinator at the WMHO. They vacationed in the area and finally, son Ward Melville planned the Stony Brook Village Center.

The WMHO has mounted a special exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” which will run now through Sept. 7, to display the memorabilia associated with the history of the center.  “We started to look for a couple of pictures and found so much,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO and exhibit curator.

“What’s very interesting to me, what I didn’t know, was that Jenny Melville [Ward Melville’s mother] was Canadian and that she bought up property here in the early 1930s, the Depression. When she died, Ward Melville picked up the gauntlet. She was the one who started the garden club — the tea house (later becoming the Three Village Inn) at the old homestead,” said Rocchio.

Co-curated by Ruales and Rocchio with help from Karen Kennedy, the exhibit consists of dozens of enlargements of historic photos, showing the village before, during and after the construction as well as the original blueprints for the village center and letters documenting the purchase of the land. In addition, there’s the original model of the proposed village center used by Melville to present the proposal to the village back in 1940. The exhibit also includes some items from the 1940s, representative of the time.

Just a year later, July of 1941, the new village center was completed. Over the years, various businesses have come and gone, including a four-lane bowling alley in the basement of one of the buildings. In the early 1940s, the automatic pin setting machine didn’t exist, so pinsetters, usually young men, stayed down by the pins, ready to reset them after each bowler’s turn.

The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO
The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO

When searching out the historic photos and documents, Ruales noted that they found an eight-millimeter film of the grand opening of the center, “something we didn’t know that we had. We had it converted” to a DVD and it is running on a loop at the exhibit.

One of the unique features of the village center is the mechanical eagle on top of the Stony Brook Post Office, which flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Noted Marie Gilberti, communications manager at WMHO, Ward Melville himself, “planned and instituted,” the eagle.

But, the eagle was installed for a few years, with its wings flapping up and down, when Melville decided he didn’t like the way it looked. The eagle was taken down and reconfigured, so that the wings flap back and forth now.

Melville also had the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheater constructed opposite the bank in Stony Brook. Concerts were held there through the 1950s and 60s. “Big name” entertainers performed at the concert, noted Rocchio. They included Liberace, Ferrante and Teicher, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Victor Borge, the Clancy Brothers and Lionel Hampton. “Mr. Melville paid for it himself,” Gilberti added. But, unfortunately, the concerts outgrew the venue and were stopped in 1970.

The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Today, live concerts are still held, but in front of the post office, sponsored by the WMHO. “We’re going to have a concert from each decade this summer,” said Rocchio. She noted that a history of Dogwood Hollow will be on display at the Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., in a building (originally the fire house) owned by the WMHO.

The Jazz Loft will be a center for music education. It is open through Saturday, May 28, from noon to 5 p.m. Beginning June 2, it will be open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. For details, events and performers, go to www.thejazzloft.org. Beginning in September, Swing Dance Long Island is schedule to hold its dances there.

According to Ruales, the whole idea for the exhibit came from Rocchio. “She was in charge of the exhibit.” It was her idea “to celebrate [the anniversary] and … for people to come and see the history,” of the area.

The name for the exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” came about because “we are honoring a lot of people who were involved in constructing the center. It’s a huge village center,” added Gilberti.

Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO
Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO

Future events connected with the 75th anniversary include a ceremony on July 9 recreating the 25th anniversary celebration. “We’re going to have antique cars from each decade in the village,” said Rocchio. A talk by her is also planned for the future. “There are so many things I’ve been taught by Mrs. Melville [Dorothy Melville, Ward’s wife] that no one knows. I worked for her for 10 years. She was the president” of the WMHO. “I was the Administrator at that time.” Rocchio added that putting together the exhibit and various events connected with it “has been a labor of love.”

The exhibit is currently on display at WMHO’s Educational and Cultural Center, 97P Main Street, Stony Brook through June 19 (Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and June 20 through Sept. 7 (daily, 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.) — closed Memorial Day and July 4. There is no admission charge, but donations are suggested. For further information, call 631-689-5888 or visit www.wmho.org.

A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO
A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO

Mather President Kenneth Roberts (left) and former hospital administrator Arthur Santilli watch as Joanne and Ray Wolter cut a cake for their 40th wedding anniversary. Photo from Mather Hospital

What was supposed to be a special day for a Sound Beach resident and her husband-to-be 40 years ago took a sudden turn with little time to spare. Thanks to the efforts of her community hospital, the day became arguably even more memorable.

On May 14, 1976, a day before Ray and Joanne Wolter were supposed to be married at Infant Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Port Jefferson, a giant monkey wrench was thrown into their plans. Her father, William P. Strauch Jr., walked into the family’s home and told the bride and her relatives, who were beginning to assemble for the wedding the next day, that he had just been in a car accident a few blocks away, and he had walked home.

“He was a tough guy,” Wolter said of her father at a 40th anniversary celebration at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, where members of the Wolter family and hospital administration from then and now gathered to remember that unusual day.

After some convincing, Strauch boarded an ambulance to Mather Hospital, where it was found he had a punctured lung and a few broken ribs as a result of the crash. Doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to attend his only daughter’s wedding the following day. The hospital’s staff quickly sprung into action.

“I didn’t even have a chance to think beyond ‘oh my goodness,’ and somebody was there at my side offering me assistance and offering me a solution,” Wolter said.

Ray and Joanne Wolter’s 1976 wedding was the first at Mather Hospital. Photo from the hospital
Ray and Joanne Wolter’s 1976 wedding was the first at Mather Hospital. Photo from the hospital

Nurses from the emergency room spoke to then-Associate Administrator Arthur Santilli, who has since retired but made a surprise appearance at the celebration Tuesday.

“When she came to me and talked to me about this, I said, ‘Let’s offer them Mather,’” Santilli said Tuesday. “The wedding was an uncommon thing but anytime our community had a need, we stepped forward — as they still do.”

The wedding took place in a conference room at Mather the next day. A few weddings have occurred at Mather since, but the Wolters’ marriage on May 15, 1976, was the first time the hospital served as a wedding chapel. Nurses prepped Strauch, dressing him in his light blue tuxedo jacket with black pants, white shirt and black bow tie. When it came time for his daughter to be married, Strauch walked her down the aisle, and Joanne Wolter said there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

“The party I hardly remember, but the wedding piece I remember crystal clear and it was thanks to you folks and your compassion and your quick action,” the wife said Tuesday, as she thanked hospital administration for helping to make her wedding day happen.

Ray Wolter said his wife frequently comments on her favorite photo of her and her father from that day, which is displayed in their current home in Farmingville.

“Thanks to the leadership in this place, we were able to celebrate a day that could have been very difficult, especially for my wife who remembers that day — of course I do, too — being able to walk down the aisle with her father,” he said.

Joanne Wolter remembered the craziness of those 24 hours, and the difficulties of contacting 150 guests to let them know about what was going on in an era before cell phones. The reception went on as planned at The Wagon Wheel in Port Jefferson Station, which is now The Meadow Club.

“Our bond with Mather Hospital is a strong one … even now,” she said in an invitation to Tuesday’s anniversary event. “It’s our community hospital. It always will be. Every year we remember this day and how Mather went the extra mile for my family.”

Santilli downplayed the importance of his quick decision-making and accommodating actions: “We fix what we can,” he said.

Artist Jo-Ann Corretti and Huntington Hospital Board of Directors Chairman William Frazier unveil the painting. Photo by Alex Petroski

People don’t often get to celebrate a 100th birthday, but on May 5 the Huntington Hospital community came together to do just that.

The hospital cared for its first patient in May 1916. To commemorate the centenary, staffers unveiled a commissioned painting of the original, smaller facility and a display of photos and artifacts that spanned the 100-year history.

Hospital equipment from the 1930s. Photo by Alex Petroski
Hospital equipment from the 1930s. Photo by Alex Petroski

“This is a big day,” Huntington Hospital Board of Directors Chairman William Frazier said in the hospital’s main lobby prior to the unveiling. “You think back 100 years and how modest this institution was — now think where it is today.”

Artist Jo-Ann Corretti was commissioned by the hospital to create a likeness of the building. She used acrylic paint to do the job, which took her about three months.

“They gave me all of these old pictures, anything they could find for me to work from,” Corretti said after the painting was revealed. “I had to lay them all out and I had to take a little from here and a little from there.”

Hospital Executive Director Gerard Brogan spoke about the institution’s mission and how it has remained constant despite many changes to the building and surrounding area.

“I think it’s important just to think about what was the genesis of the hospital,” Brogan said. “It was a 70-year-old woman who was about 5-foot-1 [and] decided that this community needed to have the very best in medical care; care that rivaled any where else in the New York City area or anywhere else on Long Island. That was the spirit that started Huntington Hospital. It was not just to have a hospital, but to have a facility that served the community and provided them the best care that you could find anywhere.”

Hospital equipment from the 1930s. Photo by Alex Petroski
Hospital equipment from the 1930s. Photo by Alex Petroski

Brogan also detailed many of the awards and accolades the hospital has received in recent years, which he credited to the dedicated and caring staff.

“You do not need to leave your area to go into New York City to get outstanding, cutting-edge care,” Brogan said. “That is the commitment of this institution and all of the people that work in it. Everybody here is titled ‘caregiver,’ because everybody impacts the patient experience.”

The Huntington Historical Society helped to amass artifacts, like obstetrician/gynecologist equipment from the 1930s and a bill from 1960 with substantially lower prices than today, to be displayed around the hospital’s lobby.

The painting will be auctioned off in November at the hospital’s annual benefit gala. Prints are also for sale.

St. Johnland Nursing Center in Kings Park is celebrating a milestone this year. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

For a century and a half, the name St. Johnland has been synonymous with helping people from all walks of life. Established in 1866, the Society of St. Johnland is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016.

In 1866, the Society served as a home for veterans and orphans from New York City, but eventually developed into a self-sustaining industrial village.

Today, the St. Johnland Nursing Center is located on the North Shore near Smithtown Bay in Kings Park and serves as a long-term skilled nursing facility caring for about 300 people every day.

Over the course of 150 years, the role of the facility has changed, but their mission remains the same, according to a press release about the anniversary: “To create a caring and supportive environment committed to the highest standards of quality health care … to uphold the principles of human dignity and worth … affirm the right of every individual to maintain the optimum quality of life.”

St. Johnland Director of Development Cathie Wardell, who has been at the nursing center for 13 years, reflected on the impact St. Johnland has had on the community and people in need.

“The level of care for the people whose care is entrusted to us is very high and it’s amazing to see everyday,” Wardell said in a phone interview.

The nursing center shifted its focus from children to the elderly in the 1950s. Today, their primary focuses are providing care for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and traumatic brain injuries.

“The fact that this institution has survived and persisted for 150 years focusing on different demographics, the fact that we are 98 to 99-percent full all the time, that we have evolved over the years to make the changing needs of the community with our specialty units and adult day care programs is significant and noteworthy,” Wardell added.

In honor of the anniversary, the society will hold four events during 2016. For all of June, historical photographs of St. Johnland will be on display at the Kings Park Library.

On June 18, people who grew up at the facility around 70 years ago will gather for a reunion.

On Oct. 27, a dinner will be held at Watermill in Kings Park to honor the Fire Department and EMT Squad, and on Nov. 18, town historian Brad Harris will deliver a lecture on the history of the Society.

For more information about the anniversary or any of the events, call 631-663-2457 or visit www.stjohnland.org.

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The Smithtown time capsule sits in the hole it will remain inside for 50 years. Photo by Pat Biancanello

Smithtown’s Sesquarcentennial year, which began on March 3, 2015, has come to a close.

Smithtown concluded its yearlong 350th birthday celebration this past March 3 with the burial of a time capsule on the lawn in front of Patrick R. Vecchio Town Hall.

“I think it surpassed anything that any of the members of the committee might have guessed or hoped for,” Maureen Smilow, of Smithtown 350 Foundation, said in a phone interview. She was one of the members of the foundation, which was responsible for organizing the events over the course of the year.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) was also involved with many of the events over the course of the year.

“I think that the public who participated in the events will take a lot out of it because they were living history,” Vecchio said. “For me the last year was a wonderful experience.”

“The gala ball that was held in the midst of basically a blizzard turned out to be a huge success,” Vecchio said when asked which of the events were most memorable for him. The gala dinner-dance was held at Flowerfields in St. James last March.

A time capsule buried in 1965 in front of Town Hall was opened to kick off the celebrations on March 3 a year ago. The Sesquarcentennial year got off to a rocky, yet funny start.

Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello
Supervisor Pat Vecchio makes his contribution to the Smithtown time capsule. Photo by Pat Biancanello

“The smell was unbelievable,” Smilow said about the moment the half-century-old milk can was opened. “Everyone on stage had to stand back, it was horrendous,” she said laughing.

The can was not properly sealed when it was buried, so over the course of 50 years moisture got in and reeked havoc on the contents, which were arguably not that exciting had they been in mint condition. The milk can contained two hats, a phone book, a local newspaper, a flyer for pageant tickets and an assortment of coins.

Before members of the town board assembled in colonial costumes at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts to open the capsule, they first had to find it.

Members of the parks department searched for the 1965 time capsule in the area they believed it was buried, but after a lengthy search that involved poking a metal rod into the Town Hall lawn, finally it was found. A few days later, it was discovered that the town engineering department, who buried the capsule 50 years ago, had left a map with the precise location.

“That was more humorous than anything else,” town historian and Smithtown 350 Foundation member Brad Harris said in a phone interview. “Had we known there was a map in engineering all that time, we would have saved a great deal of effort and time by the parks department.”

Harris said that he envisions the Smithtown residents who open the 2016 time capsule in 2066 will have a more pleasurable time opening this one, thanks to the efforts of Smilow. They will find a smartphone, baseball cards, menus from town restaurants, letters from community members and Smithtown students, and pieces of memorabilia from the 350th anniversary celebration events, among many other things.

“This time, my good friend Maureen Smilow, really was very careful about how things went in there and how they would be preserved,” Harris said. “We took care so that they would be there for people who open it. We hope they will get a cross section of what the community was like. I think it was a great time capsule.”

Smilow said she ordered a marker for the new stainless-steel, waterproof time capsule. That way it will be both easy to find and preserved in 50 years.

Smilow mentioned the parade that took place on Sept. 26 as one of her favorite events from the year. She said there were more than 2,000 people marching in the parade, which was led by Richard Smith from Nissequogue, who is a direct descendent of the town’s founder Richard Smythe.

Harris said one of his favorite events was the fireworks display that was on the same day as the parade, at Sunken Meadow State Park.

“They were spectacular,” he said.

Some other memorable events included the unveiling of Richard Smythe’s life-size statue in front of the Damianos Realty Group building on Middle Country Road in September and the recognition of Marie Sturm last March, the oldest native-born resident of Smithtown.

Recently appointed Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy, who attended High School East and lived in Smithtown for most of his life, said that he was glad to learn more about the town that he grew up in during the year in an interview Tuesday.

Harris reflected on what the Smithtown 350 Foundation accomplished in executing all of the events, both large and small.

“I just think the year and the celebrations we pulled off over the course of the year made it a memorable one for the members of the community,” he said. “I think they’ve got lasting memories of the Town of Smithtown and some of its history. I hope that’s what sticks.”

Smilow was also proud of how successful the year was.

“It was a great year,” she said. “Everyone was really happy. It was just amazing how we had all of these people from different walks of life, different ages and backgrounds coming together.”

Ward Melville at the Stony Brook Village Center, circa 1950s. Photo from WMHO

Long before there were the Gates and the Zuckerbergs of the world, there was Ward Melville.

A major Long Island philanthropist and national business leader, the scope of Ward Melville’s generosity and vision included significant restoration of historic structures, purchase and preservation of environmental and commercial properties, education and countless other endeavors.

Ward Melville’s dream was to create a “living Williamsburg,” a place where history and culture would blend with natural beauty. Along with architect Richard Haviland Smythe, he designed what was to become the first planned business community in America, the Stony Brook Village Center. The Three Village area — Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field — has been forever changed because of this forward-thinking benefactor.

Melville was president of Melville Corporation, the third largest retailer in the United States with some 10,000 stores, which owned Thom McAn Shoes, Marshall’s, CVS Pharmacies, Kay-Bee Toys, Wilson’s Leather and Suede and more. He also donated the very land that today houses one of our nation’s leading research institutions, Stony Brook University.

The Stony Brook Community Fund, now the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), was founded in 1939. On Jan. 19, 1940, Ward Melville hosted a dinner at the Three Village Inn to present his plan for the future of Stony Brook Village. On Jan. 19, 2016, this milestone will be commemorated at the Three Village Inn where it all began to “Celebrate What Was … Be Part of What’s To Come.”

Starting at 6 p.m. with live music by The Tom Manuel Trio, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert and coffee, guests will enjoy the same menu from 1940, hear Melville’s original speech and see the original model of the village. There will even be chocolate cigars in place of real ones enjoyed in the day.

The evening continues with an 8 p.m. sneak preview of The Jazz Loft next door, which will soon showcase a historic collection of over 10,000 items of jazz memorabilia and serve as an education and jazz performance venue as well. This 6,000-square-foot structure, formerly the site of the Suffolk Museum, now the Long Island Museum, was another of Melville’s philanthropic works. Bringing this culture to Stony Brook Village is a case of history repeating itself while looking toward the future.

During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the likes of Tony Bennett and Lionel Hampton performed at the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheatre in the very spot where WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center now stands in Stony Brook Village. The vision that Ward Melville had over 75 years ago still resonates today and the results of his efforts on behalf of the citizens of Stony Brook and beyond, both economically and culturally, will continue to touch generations for many years to come.

Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. Proceeds will benefit The Jazz Loft. For further information call 631-751-2244 or register online at www.wmho.org.

Uerda Zena colors before her heart procedure last week. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

A 4-year-old girl from Kosovo is recovering after a life-saving heart operation on Long Island, thanks to the work of local volunteers.

Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
Mom Barbara Zena comforts Uerda as she recovers from her heart procedure. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

It took a village to support Uerda Zena. Rotary groups throughout Suffolk lent a hand to the girl and her mother, Barbara, through the Gift of Life program, which works to provide such stateside heart procedures to children from around the globe. Uerda’s Nov. 4 surgery to repair a hole in her heart the size of a nickel was a milestone effort that celebrated the Rotary program’s 40th anniversary.

The atrial septal defect closure performed on Uerda at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn will add 60 or more years to the little girl’s life, Port Jefferson Rotary member Debbie Engelhardt explained, but the surgery was not available in her home nation.

Engelhardt, who is also the director of the Comsewogue Public Library, said more than 19,000 children from dozens of countries have received life-saving surgeries since the Gift of Life program was born in Suffolk County four decades ago and expanded through Rotary International.

The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt
The medical team that took care of Uerda Zena, including Dr. Levchuck second from right, surrounds mom Barbara Zena. Photo from Debbie Engelhardt

Rotary groups in the county are still going strong with Gift of Life, which is doubling up its efforts by providing doctors and medical staff in other countries with equipment and training to perform the heart procedures themselves.

“It’s a unique, renowned and respected Rotary-run program,” Engelhardt said.

Dr. Sean Levchuck, the pediatric cardiologist who performed the life-saving procedure on Uerda at St. Francis, described it as minimally invasive. To close the nickel-sized hole, he fed a catheter “the size of a coffee stirrer” into a vein in her leg and up to her heart, where the catheter deployed a device that, once placed in the hole, expanded to plug it. The cardiologist had to position the device properly while Uerda’s heart was still beating, mostly using ultrasound imaging to guide him.

Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent
Barbara Zena and daughter Uerda have fun at Chuck E. Cheese. Photo from Joe DeVincent

The doctor said the procedure took between 45 minutes to an hour and required a team of nurses, an anesthesiologist and techs to assist with the imaging. The hospital donated the use of its facility and staff for the procedure.

Levchuck does about 15 of those procedures a year for Gift of Life, he said, with a fair number of the child recipients coming from Eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. He also sees kids from places like Haiti and Jamaica.

Just like in those other nations, the procedure to repair a hole in a child’s heart is not available in Kosovo, Levchuck said, because the hospitals don’t have the resources to train their staffs to do it. And the kids who are born with those defects are more prone to pneumonia or respiratory infections, which could also be difficult to treat in a developing nation.

“Problems in this country that are seemingly innocent take a whole new look” in places like Kosovo, the doctor said. But he is willing to help: “Keep ‘em coming. … It’s easy to donate time.”

In Uerda’s case, plenty of Long Islanders donated their time, with many people pitching in to make the girl’s medical procedure a reality. Sayville Rotarian Joe DeVincent wrote letters to get the girl a visa, and she and her mother are staying with a host family in Northport while here. DeVincent has also provided transportation to the Kosovan mother and daughter.

Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent
Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl’s heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

The endeavor to save Uerda had an additional element of kids helping other kids — students at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, one of whom is Levchuck’s son, raised funds to bring the girl to the United States from her home in the Kosovan capital, Pristina, where her mother works at a bakery and her father at a public works plant.

“They’re a fine group of students over there that championed a cause,” the doctor said about the St. Anthony’s kids. “When you see something like that, you really get a nice warm feeling about the future.”

Uerda will be staying stateside for a little while longer, and Rotarians are trying to show her a good time. She has already gone on a play date to Chuck E. Cheese and visited a children’s museum, DeVincent said, and this weekend she will go into New York City with her mother and some native Long Islanders to visit Times Square and Rockefeller Center.

“Uerda really enjoys being with her mother,” DeVincent said.

And she has more energy to do these things than before.

After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent
After a heart procedure, Uerda Zena is now healthier than ever. Photo from Joe DeVincent

“Her heart’s working better, her circulation’s better,” the Rotarian said. “The kid generally feels better than she has in her whole life. So this is a very happy story.”

Uerda will also appear at a Taste of Smithtown, an event in St. James on Nov. 17, where there will be food from restaurants along the North Shore. The 10th annual event will run from 6 to 9 p.m. at Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown on Middle Country Road and will benefit the Gift of Life program, along with the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry and the Smithtown Children’s Foundation.

The plan is for the Zenas to head home on Nov. 22, to be reunited with Uerda’s father and her 18-month-old brother.

“Her mother is in touch with her family in Europe through her cell phone and … Uerda has spoken to her brother over the cell phone,” DeVincent said. “She’s actually very maternal toward her younger brother.”

It is a happy ending for both the Kosovo family and Suffolk County Rotarians.

“When you’re doing something like this with an adorable 4-year-old child, it brings you tremendous satisfaction,” DeVincent said. “This is the best way to spread happiness, certainly for these children and their parents but also for yourself. Nothing that I do or have done in my life has brought me as much joy.”