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Comsewogue Public Library

Port Jefferson Station’s Zach Gallant, who just earned Eagle Scout, stands next to his project — refurbishing a statue at Comsewogue Public Libray originally created by Mount Sinai’s Pauli Suominen. Photo by Julianne Mosher

An Eagle Scout decided to help out his local library and spruce up a Mount Sinai artist’s sculpture. 

Sculptor Pauli Suominen gifted the sculpture to the Comsewogue Public Library in 1999. After more than two decades greeting visitors outside the library’s doors, Zach Gallant, of Port Jefferson Station, decided to make its restoration his Eagle Scout project. 

The 18-year-old from Troop #354 said that he wasn’t even born yet when the sculpture was first created, but he knew that the community would love to see it shine again. 

“I had been working on it for about nine months from start to finish,” he said, adding it was a complete team effort that included his troop, scoutmaster, the library and Suominen’s oversight.

At first, the Scout wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for his final project. It wasn’t until he visited the library and spoke with Library Director Debbie Engelhardt after a tour of the library grounds.

“We walked the property together and saw the sculpture needed some TLC,” she said. “He got support from his scoutmaster and it became a plan.”

The sculpture, titled “Tiger,” previously was on the opposite side of the library, and could be seen from Terryville Road. With Gallant’s renovation, they moved it to the front door, so it be seen easier by all. 

“It’s a focal point now where it’s going to make people smile,” Engelhardt said. “It’s nice and bright, whimsical and we’re shining a spotlight on it.

Suominen, a Vietnam veteran, was a carpenter by trade, but his passion is as a self-taught artist. He uses scraps of metal, pieces of wood and stone to create abstract sculptures, that are seen throughout the library property and across the country.  

“Pauli was very happy to work with Zach Gallant on the refurbishment project,” his wife, Christine, said. “It is always encouraging when younger people are interested in doing something for the community. Zach and his group did a great job of restoring the sculpture to its original luster.”

Gallant said the sculpture is unique because it’s made from recycled materials. 

“Mr. Suominen had just taken scraps off the ground and things he’d seen and created the sculpture with four chairs and a bike rack,” he said. 

During his project process, he and six other people took the whole sculpture off the library grounds and brought it to their scoutmaster’s garage. There, he sanded it, painted it and made sure all changes were approved from its original artist. 

“It was a lot of work, more than I expected,” he said. “But I’m proud of myself … It’s definitely not something you can just do with no help. You need people to guide you.”

Gallant said the whole renovation took about three months, overall. It was put back in its new spot at the library in January. 

“A lot of people love it already, or can’t wait to see it,” he said.

And the statue can now stand there for another set of decades for people to enjoy.

“It was really a wonderful community partnership,” Engelhardt said. “We’re always so happy to connect.” 

The Eagle Scout said that although it was a lot of hard work, he’s so happy he was able to help his community, and earn his new title.He gave advice to fellow Boy Scouts who are thinking of joining the higher rank.

“If you’re close to becoming an Eagle Scout, just finish it because being so close doesn’t get you anywhere in life — finishing it does,” he said. 

Photo from Pixabay

Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station presents an important online program, COVID-19 and Vaccines: Just the Facts, on Monday, Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. 

Get a science-based overview of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 including a discussion on the safety of vaccines, how long immunity may last, and more with Ph.D. pharmacologist Andrew Clair. Open to all. Visit www.cplib.org/a-online-programming/ for information on how to participate in this program. Questions? Call 631-928-1212 and ask for Adult Services.

Stock photo

Comsewogue Public Library in Port Jefferson Station presents a virtual program, Card Magic for Beginners, on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m.  Join professional magician Ari Bisk for an interactive close up sleight of hand card magic show. Following the performance, Ari will teach beginner tricks to perform for your friends and family. Free and open to all. Visit www.cplib.org/a-online-programming/ to register. Questions? Call 928-1212.

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Staff member Jan Liebegott hands goodies to event participants. Photo from Comsewogue Public Library

Comsewogue Public Library, along with Elwood-based culinary school The Baking Coach, hosted a special Hot Chocolate and Cookies to Go! event Friday, Dec. 11. Staff delighted in how the event brought joy to the members and visitors who took part. 

Staff members, Regine Drosos, left, and Denise Ruestow, right, get ready for the event. Photo from Comsewogue Public Library

“I saw a lot of ‘smiling eyes’ that day,” said Adult Services Librarian Jennifer Quirk-Senyk, referring to the fact that all were wearing masks. “And so many people expressed their sincere thanks and said things like, ‘what a great idea.’”

This event was planned by library staff to be as pandemic-safe as possible.  Participants practiced social distancing while picking up their goodies. Nothing was consumed on premises and everything was packaged to go. The hot chocolate part of the giveaway was “add your own hot water at home” but definitely included the marshmallows. The delicious, individually-wrapped iced snowman cookies were made by The Baking Coach, as were the hot chocolate cup and contents ensembles. To add to the fun, the Library gave out a limited number of Snickerdoodle baking kits to those who visited between the hours of 2 and 4:30 p.m., while supplies lasted.

To find out about more of the Library’s programs and services, visit www.cplib.org or call 631-928-1212.

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The Comsewogue Public Library hosted a food drive as part of the SCLS’s annual Great Give Back event. All those who donated food also got to adopt a pumpkin. The library hosted other activities and community service opportunity, though many were based online due to the pandemic. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though, like so many things, the Comsewogue Public Library’s participation in the annual Great Give Back couldn’t go on like normal, residents and patrons still came out to donate to the needy.

The Suffolk County Cooperative Library System’s annual Great Give Back Event asks partnered libraries to allow patrons a day of opportunities for service-oriented experiences. This year, the Comsewogue Public Library hosted a food drive with all non-perishable food and items going to Long Island Cares. Anybody who showed also got to pick out a small pumpkin spread out on the library’s lawn outside the main door.

Nicole Cortes, the Children’s and Teen Services Librarian/Children’s Program Coordinator said about 30 people came on Saturday and more on Sunday to drop off food. Each were given a pumpkin for their troubles. Those boxes are normally located in the library itself, and Cortes said they are regularly filled by their patrons.

“Sometimes we’ve done fall festivals, other years we’ve done volunteer fairs, this year it was a little bit trickier but we not only wanted to share ways for our patrons to give back, but also to give them something because it has been a hard year,” she said.

In addition to the food drive, the library presented ways for young people to claim community service hours virtually, whether it was sending encouragement and/or gratitude cards to Mather Hospital, becoming a pen pal to a resident of the Atria South Setauket senior living community in Centereach or even spending an hour to draw out a positive message to brighten somebody’s day using chalk.

The library also offered a list of local organizations adults could volunteer with, whether it is the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook or the Sweetbriar Nature Center.

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Comsewogue Library's Green Team Co-chairs, on ends, and advisor, center, from left, From left to right: Danielle Minard, Debbie Engelhardt, Debbie Bush. Photo from Comsewogue Library

It seems that the trend of going green hasn’t yet stalled, but the Comsewogue Public Library is looking to make itself a model to the larger community, as it was recently certified by Green Business Partnership.

Comsewogue Adult Services & Outreach Librarian Danielle Minard said the certification was a near-two year process, starting when the library was looking to reduce waste, cut down their carbon footprint as well as become a model for the community. The certification process has been completed by multiple businesses, but there is a long list of New York state libraries who have done it as well.

The aim of the certification is to reduce a business’, or in this case a library’s, carbon footprint, reduce waste and increase conservation practices. Comsewogue took a inventory of its energy use and recycling, and took such actions as adding reusable flatware in the breakroom, converting from plastic to paper tablecloths, using copy paper from post-consumer recycled material and started the process of converting any old lighting that dies or breaks into more sustainable LED lighting, just to name a few. 

The library has also tried to clearly label and separate waste into separate bins, including one for paper waste and another for plastic bottles and cans. 

In the future, the library looks to continue reducing their waste and create a so-called public education garden.

“I hope what we’ve done will be a good model for the community,” Minard said.

Library leaders also said there’s a significant economic impact as well for going green. Library Director Debbie Engelhardt said the library could save taxpayers through general reductions in spending, as in saving on electricity costs and generally having to buy less if the focus is on sustainable products. That’s not to say the library won’t have increases in costs due to inflations and benefits increasing, and the scenario from year to year is, by its nature, going to change.

Though the library also received a PSEG Long Island rebate based on the energy efficiency of their new HVAC units, the director noted, which helped offset the initial cost for their green initiative. The library has also received state Library Construction Aid grants for their new roof and HVAC replacements.

“While the Library has always operated in a responsible manner, our team was excited to learn through participation in the Green Business Certification Program that we could achieve even more in terms of financial savings, equitable practices, and environmental impacts,” Engelhardt said in a statement. “The Program’s tools and takeaways have changed for the better the way we think and do things, and that benefits all our stakeholders.” 

The action is also the first step in the process of being certified by New York Library Association’s Sustainable Libraries Initiative, which looks to make most if not all of the state’s hundreds of libraries focused on sustainability in the next few years.

Comsewogue Public Library, 170 Terryville Road, Port Jefferson Station hosts a flu shot clinic on Thursday, Oct. 8 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A pharmacist from Genoa Health will be on-site to administer flu shots. The event will be held outdoors, weather permitting. Bring your insurance card. Open to all. Questions? Call 631-928-1212 and ask for Adult Services.

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Wendol received a prolomation from State Sen. Ken LaValle, from left, Kevin Verbesey, Director of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Edward Wendol, Founding Director of Comsewogue Public Library Richard Lusak, Ken LaValle’s aid Jeff Kito; Comsewogue library director Debbie Engelhardt. Photos by Debbie Engelhardt

For Ed Wendol, of Port Jefferson Station, time is not marked in years, but in decades.

Ed Wendol has spent 48 years on the Comsewogue Public Library board of trustees. Photo by Debbie Engelhardt

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.”

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The Comsewogue library. File photo

After being given the option to reschedule its annual trustee and budget vote, the Comsewogue Public Library is asking residents to say “yes” to its $6,087,294 2020 budget, during a vote next Tuesday. 

The over $6 million budget is a 1.46% increase from last year, and represents a $58,528 district-wide tax levy increase. This accoutns for a 2% tax levy increase over last year’s tax levy, below the New York State tax levy cap of 2.79%.

Of the total budget, the library estimates $2,981,394 is to be raised by district taxes. This accounts for an annual increase of approximately $6.65 to $10 for a home valued between $2,500 to $4,000, or 27 cents per $100 of the estimated assessed value of one’s home.

The proposed budget includes moderate increases to most budget areas including staff, library programming, library operations and administrative expenses. This year’s capital improvement bond debt service and building expenses decreased slightly from the previous year’s budget.

“The proposed budget ensures the continuation of the library’s high-quality service program, which continually adapts to community needs and interests,” said library Director Debbie Englehardt in an email.

At the same time as the budget vote, residents will also be asked to vote to reelect Corinne DeStefano to library trustee. She is running unopposed to retain her seat for a 5-year term on the library board. She is currently the library board president.

DeStefano is a lifelong Comsewogue resident, having grown up just a few blocks from the library, according to her Comsewogue library bio. She is married to Robert DeStefano, a Comsewogue school board trustee, and has two children, ages 11 and 7.

DeStefano is a software engineering manager at Broadcom, which makes products for the wireless and broadband communication industry. She is a “big fan of the library” who is “always looking for ways to serve the community.”

District residents should have already received a budget brochure in the mail in advance of the original April vote date. Residents should have also received a special library newsletter directing them to the website for more details.

Those interested in applying for an absentee ballot for the library budget vote and election should call 631-928-1212, extension 123, or visit cplib.org/budgetvote.

The vote for this year’s budget is scheduled for Sept. 15, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allowed bodies like libraries to delay their budget votes from when they normally host it in April. Residents can vote at the library on Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Other Area Libraries

The Port Jefferson Free Library has already announced during July the library board voted to cancel the 2020-21 budget vote and maintain a 0% increase in operating budget from last year to this year. Library Director Tom Donlon said in the library’s fall newsletter that the library board “felt that with the current pandemic, high unemployment and staged tax increases due to LIPA, it would be unfair to our community to pursue an increase in taxes this year.”

The library director added the board feels the library can still meet the community’s needs without incurring additional expenses. 

The library will host an election in January 2021 for three trustee seats. Two five-year terms are expiring along with an unexpired one-year term that is up for grabs. Applications will be available at the circulation desk starting Sept. 21.

The North Shore Public Library is also hosting a trustee election this year, where current trustee William Schiavo is running unopposed. The election is set for Tuesday, Sept. 15 from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the North Shore Public Library next to the Shoreham-Wading River High School. People looking to apply for an absentee ballot can call 631-929-4488 or visit northshorepubliclibrary.org/absentee-ballot-application-and-procedure.

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The SLSC's Suffolk Libraries Empowering Discovery bus will be there Sept. 1 for the Comsewogue Library's Census Awareness Day. Photo from SLSC

The Comsewogue Public Library is trying to spread the word that every person counts.

The Comsewogue Library is welcoming community members to its Census Awareness Day event Tuesday, Sept. 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Library staff, Suffolk County Library System staff, and census representatives will be working together to assist community members in filling out the census. 

Library staff said this is a chance for local residents to receive information about the census, be counted, learn about the library, and to enjoy giveaways. 

A grant from Suffolk County and the Long Island Community Foundation is allowing the Suffolk Cooperative Library System to support local libraries by deploying its Livebrary.com outreach bus, also known as the Suffolk Libraries Empowering Discovery vehicle, to events sponsored by local libraries throughout the month of September. The SLED will also be in attendance at the Comsewogue event.

The public libraries in Suffolk are all working with their local communities to ensure that all Suffolk County residents are counted for the 2020 US Census. The census count has a direct impact on funds that state and local governments receive for such programs as those that support highway planning and construction, local schools, and firefighters. 

In a previous article by TBR News Media, statistics showed that many places in Long Island were behind where they were in previous years for filling out the census. New York as a whole is still behind where it was in its self response rate compared to 2010 by close to 4%, according to U.S. Census data as of Aug. 27. New York is also behind the national average in its self response rate as well.

“Our message is that completing the census matters now more than ever,” said Comsewogue Public Library Director Debra Engelhardt. “The census helps shape your community and can personally impact you and yours. Federal funding and representation are at stake. Census data is confidential and cannot be used against you. The Library is proud to partner with SCLS in the census awareness campaign.”

To learn more about Comsewogue Public Library’s Census Awareness Day event, contact the Library’s Adult Services Department at 631-928-1212, option 3.