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School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.

“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”

Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.

“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”

Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.

“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.

During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”

Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.

Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.

“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.

Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.

“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”

Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.

“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.

He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.

“It’s like any other job,” he said.

Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.

Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.

Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.

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Singer/songwriter to take fans down a road of memories

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

By Rita J. Egan

On Feb. 13, music lovers will be traveling country roads, and not-so country roads, to Theatre Three in Port Jefferson when the venue presents Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver.

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

For the last few years, Ted Vigil has been touring the country with the tribute show and providing the late singer’s fans a night of musical memories. When Douglas Quattrock, the theater’s group sales coordinator and director of development and marketing, and Vivian Koutrakos, managing director, found out the singer was interested in performing on Long Island, they watched a video of him and were extremely impressed.

Quattrock said that Vigil not only physically resembles the late singer but also perfectly captures how Denver would sing and perform right down to every intonation. “I was blown away because I grew up with his music,” he said.

Preferring rock music when he was younger, creating a John Denver tribute show wasn’t always the musical road Vigil was on. However, he couldn’t escape many noticing the resemblance to Denver, who died in a plane crash in 1997. He was only 53.

“I get it every day. I get it at the grocery store. I get it when I’m jogging with my ski hat on. It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: ‘You kind of look like John Denver’,” Vigil said in a recent phone interview. 

When he began performing as a teenager in Olympia, Washington, Vigil would sing and play drums with local rock bands. The entertainer said the resemblance to Denver wasn’t as obvious when he was younger. He admitted he used to have big ’80s hair — “permed and ratted up. I definitely had a different look going on,” he said.

Vigil said that while his style of music was different from Denver’s, he was familiar with the singer’s songs because his mother would play the musician’s 8-tracks in her car.

While Vigil always enjoyed performing, after he got married and had children he took a break from the stage and worked as a truck driver. Through the years, his music style also changed. “As I got older I kind of started moving away from the harder rock and started listening to other stuff,” he said.

Once his children were older, Vigil started performing again, and the Denver look-alike found his musical style meshing with the legend’s more and more.

‘It’s the first thing that my mother-in-law said when I met her 30 years ago: You kind of look like John Denver.’ — Ted Vigil

In 2006 he, along with thousands of contestants from 28 states, New Zealand, Australia and Canada entered the Talent Quest 2006 contest in Laughlin, Nevada. He arrived at the contest prepared to participate in the rock/pop category where he sang the Led Zeppelin song,“Rock and Roll,” and the Guns N’ Roses hit, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” When he arrived, someone suggested he also enter the country category.

While he didn’t win in rock/pop, he walked away with first place in the country category singing Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and “Rocky Mountain High.” While he was in Nevada, many commented on how he resembled the late singer, and after that he entered and won the KOMO TV 4’s Northwest Afternoon Celebrity Look-Alike Contest.

At his appearance at Talent Quest, he caught the attention of a pilot and sound engineer that both had worked with Denver, and they encouraged him to do a tribute show. His first one was in 2006, and by 2009, he was touring all over the states.

In 2010 Steve Weisberg, a former lead guitar player with Denver, began to perform on stage with Vigil. The singer said while touring for four years with Weisberg, who passed away in 2015, he learned a lot about Denver, and during downtime on the road, the guitar player would share with him how the late singer would approach songs.

“He was fun to play with and people loved him. He told stories and jokes on stage about his experience working with John. I really miss Steve,” the singer said.

Vigil admitted that even though he knew a few guitar chords, he needed to learn more for the tribute show, because Denver was an accomplished guitar player. Once he learned the songs on the instrument, he said he was blown away by the technicality.

“It was really a challenge for me to learn these songs on the guitar. I didn’t realize how great a guitar player John was. Also, how difficult it was to sing in a more quiet tone, and you have that voice control, you have the long extended notes, and with all the bravado and all that, it’s really beautiful. John used his voice like an instrument. He was just a really technical singer,” Vigil said. 

John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker
John Denver tribute artist Ted Vigil. Photo by Heather Bunker

The singer, who also is a songwriter, released an album in 2010 with his own and Denver’s songs. Currently, he is working on his next CD with all original tunes. He said performing Denver’s songs has affected his performances overall. “John has definitely influenced me a lot as far as style and just being a more rounded singer, instead of screaming rock ‘n roll stuff,” he said.

Vigil, who had the opportunity to play at Denver’s Windstar Foundation in Aspen before it dissolved, is looking forward to the intimate setting of Theatre Three. The singer, who has performed both solo and with a seven-piece band, said he’ll be bringing his solo show to the theater. While he enjoys performing with a band, he feels in some settings the audience can hear the lyrics better when there are less instruments, which he finds fitting for Denver’s music. “I think John’s music really was emotional, and it really hits the heart,” the singer said. 

Vigil said he will perform at Theatre Three many of the songs that music lovers remember of Denver’s including “Rocky Mountain High,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He also enjoys performing “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” “Like a Sad Song” and “Poems, Prayers and Promises,” which weren’t played on the radio as much as the legend’s other songs.

“My favorite songs are some of the side B record songs where they didn’t get a lot of airplay but they are just beautiful songs,” he said.

The singer will also perform a couple of his own pieces, including “Sing My Songs,” which he wrote as a tribute to Denver and other popular singers who have passed away.

Vigil is grateful to be touring and meeting so many interesting people and sharing their memories of Denver. He believes music is an important part of life. “It’s such a wonderful thing — music. It really helps people I think emotionally and spiritually and mentally to cope with life because life is hard,” he said.

Theatre Three, 412 Main Street, Port Jefferson, will present Ted Vigil: A Tribute to John Denver on Saturday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 per person. For more information, visit www.theatrethree.com or call 631-928-9100.