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John Smillie and his American flag retirement drop off box at Comsewogue Library. Photo by Julianne Mosher

There’s a new way to donate old flags thanks to one local Eagle Scout. 

John Smillie, from Boy Scout Troop 454 of Terryville, made it his mission over the last year to create an American flag retirement drop box for Comsewogue Public Library as his Eagle Scout Service Project. 

He said that his mother, June, would enroll him in library programs since he was small.

“I’ve been coming here my whole life,” he said. “And it gave so much to my childhood that I wanted to give back when I had the chance, and this was my chance.”

It started last year, just before the pandemic hit, when Smillie was thinking about his project. After his initial idea fell through, he contacted the library who was thrilled to have him come on board. 

“I knew we wanted to do something with the flag,” he said. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Smillie said his troop always had a need for flags, because during summer camp, they have a flag retirement ceremony. Usually during the month leading up to the event, the scouts scramble to find flags to properly dispose of. 

It is illegal to throw away an American flag, and they must be destroyed with dignity, preferably by burning. 

“So, I took that need, and turned it into a solution to that need with my projects,” he said. “Now we can continually collect flags all year and then retire them properly in a ceremony at camp every year.”

The project took a long time, he said, and kept him busy on top of his already intense schedule. Between work, school, buying a car, applying for college and his other household duties, he said it was a challenge — but a fulfilling one. 

When Smillie reached out to director Debbie Engelhardt last year, she was thrilled to have another scout donate his time and project to the library. She said that over the course of her nine-year tenure at Comsewogue, he is the second Eagle Scout to work with her.

“This was my second experience partnering as a beneficiary, which came right on the heels of the other project,” she said. “It was just a no brainer for me to want to help him, and to have the library gain a lovely project in the process, and to have that available for the community as much as we are open, is a win-win.”

Englehardt said literally a few minutes after the box was dropped off, librarians said they had flags to put inside. 

“Five minutes later, it had its first deposit,” she said. 

June Smillie said that it can be hard to find a spot to donate retired flags, since there aren’t many drop off boxes around. The only place she knew of was to give it to an associate at Ace Hardware. The box at the library makes it easy for others to find now. 

“For him to want to do the box because it helps represent the military and his grandparents, it’s just very overwhelming because I know how much he cares about it,” she said. “I’m very proud of him, and I honestly couldn’t have asked for anything more than what he’s already done.”

Smillie will hopefully achieve his rank within the next few weeks — a huge accomplishment he’s waited a long time for.

“It’ll open up so many doors for you and so many opportunities for you in the future,” he said. “You join pretty much an exclusive group of people who can say, ‘We went and achieved the Eagle Scout rank. We did this. We earned this,’ and just to be a part of that was always a goal of mine ever since I was young.”

Port Jefferson Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With New York state opening back up since the March 2020 shutdown, businesses can now start resuming normal operations again.

However, four local Suffolk County public school superintendents believe schools have been overlooked when it comes to no longer wearing masks, leaving teachers, parents and students confused and frustrated.

A June 10 letter signed by the Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Miller Place and Rocky Point school superintendents, directed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York State Department of Health officials, criticized the one-size-fits-all approach to school mask mandates.

“Our communities need our schools to be able to adapt to updated health guidelines that are applicable to our specific areas, yet we as administrators are constrained by inflexible regulations that are not reflective of individual community positivity or vaccination rates,” the letter said.

In order to avoid any further confusion amongst parents and school districts, the schools solution would be to work directly with local health officials rather than the government.

According to Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has been extremely helpful in aiding the county’s school districts throughout the pandemic.

Working closely with regional data is something Schmettan feels will be a more effective strategy for mitigation of the virus rather than blanket guidelines for the entire state of New York.

“I have great hope that the governor and the NYDOH will consider our request,” Schmettan said. “We are proud of the work our schools have done through this pandemic. We hope to end the year without restrictions just as they have been removed for other businesses across the state.”
Many parents of the students have made it clear they are also dissatisfied with the state’s mask mandates on school districts, and believe it should be a parent’s choice on whether or not their child should wear a mask.

Rocky Point school district superintendent, Scott O’Brien, said although the state’s mask mandates have been overwhelming for all, students have done an excellent job following the guidelines.

“It has been that level of cooperation from students, parents, teachers and staff that have enabled our schools to successfully stay open and deliver in-person instruction throughout this school year,” O’Brien said. “We are grateful to the entire Rocky Point school community for coming together and making this most challenging school year a success.”

The other superintendent signatories to the letter were Jennifer Quinn, Comsewogue, and Marianne Cartisano, Miller Place.

By creating a unified voice to highlight the importance of local control regarding mask mandates, the four county school districts hope the letter to Cuomo will make a difference for their students, even though the final day of school is June 24.