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East Setauket

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Photo courtesy the Cooke Family

Prepared by the Cooke Family

John Charles Cooke II, of East Setauket and Cazenovia, New York, passed away peacefully in Cazenovia on Tuesday, Nov. 21, at the age of 90.

John was born in Hempstead on Jan. 26, 1933, to John Charles Cooke and Emma Kopec Olson at the height of the Great Depression. He came from humble beginnings, overcame many obstacles and prospered as a self-made man. John, quite simply, lived a full and extraordinary life.

At 16, John founded Cooke Contracting with his uncle, operating heavy equipment at various locations. He then went on to launch Cooke & Olson Inc., designing and constructing custom homes throughout Long Island with his business partner.

John and his first wife had three children: John, Jennifer and Judith. When John met his second wife, Elaine Goldthwaite, their family grew to include Elaine’s son John and daughter Adair.

Aside from being a strong and supportive father, he was also a proud grandfather — “Poppa Cooke” — of 11 grandchildren:  John Mark and Sonya Cicci; Evan and Trevor Cooke; Maureen, Grace, and Meg Milmoe; Katie and Elizabeth DeMarino, Jordan and Sarah Passe Cooke; and great grandchild, Jameson.

As a longtime resident of East Setauket, John was a passionate sailor and a member of the Setauket Yacht Club. He spent many hours racing his legendary Raven sloop around Port Jefferson Harbor. He also competed in classic offshore and Long Island Sound races as a foredeck specialist that included multiple Newport-Bermuda races, Off Soundings regattas and New York Yacht Club cruises.

When not out sailing, you could find John at his easel oil painting nautical scenery, running or walking around his neighborhood of Strongs Neck or at the local range trap shooting.

John was a beloved husband to Elaine Goldthwaite Cooke and is also survived by his five children: John Charles (Deborah) Cooke III, Jennifer Cooke Cicci, John (Alexandra) DeMarino Jr., Judith Cooke (Tony) Weseman, Adair DeMarino (Patrick) Milmoe; 11 grandchildren; one great grandchild; and sister, Gloria Bobbit.

John was preceded in death by his father, John Charles Cooke; mother, Emma Kopec Olson; brother, Dave Olson; and sister, Alice.

No services will be held at this time, and the family requests no donations or flowers be sent. Condolences for the family may be left at www.michaelebrownfuneralservices.com.

The animals will stay at the farm – for now

File photo by Nancy Trump

Grazing animals on the Sherwood-Jayne historic farm in East Setauket will keep their home — for now.

After area residents protested plans to rehome the elderly pony and four sheep, mourning the slated loss of the bucolic, historical scene on Old Post Road, Preservation Long Island is pausing the process pending consultation with local stakeholders. 

PLI, a nonprofit that preserves historic buildings and uses them to inform and engage the public, owns the Sherwood-Jayne property and had decided the animals were not central to their mission, especially since they also brought possible increased liability. The society’s executive director, Alexandra Wolfe, was hoping to find appropriate new homes for the animals this summer. 

After news of the plans spread, frequent farm visitor Kaleigh Wilson of Rocky Point started an online petition. Wilson, who used to work at neighboring Benner’s Farm, has been visiting Sherwood-Jayne Farm as long as she can remember and knows the property’s caretaker Susanna Gatz well. 

“We didn’t really know what to do about it or how to push back,” Wilson said. So she tried the petition. “I was hoping to create the space for community members to speak up.”

She created the Change.org petition on a Friday night and sent it out by text to people she knew cared about the farm, she said, and by Saturday morning there were already 500 signatures. By press time, the petition had nearly 2,400 supporters.

Wilson said she hopes PLI will ultimately decide to change course, as she doesn’t understand how removing the animals and Gatz could enhance the preservation of the space. “Susanna’s living this legacy in this space that it was meant to be lived,” the petitioner said, pointing out that Gatz, who cares for the animals and the property, processes raw wool from the sheep into fabric — according to the virtual tour of Sherwood-Jayne available on PLI’s website, Howard Sherwood also used wool from the property’s sheep to have blankets made. “It’s not just the animals — it’s her practicing a slower way of life that’s so important that we keep alive.”

Gatz had previously been asked to move by early fall, but Wolfe at PLI said they haven’t made any decisions regarding the property’s custodian just yet.

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) also stepped in, speaking directly with Wolfe to encourage PLI to seek out a local advisory board. [See op-ed.]

Kornreich is grateful PLI has decided to hit pause. “I think it shows responsive stewardship that they are listening and responding to community concern,” he said.

The intensity of response surprised PLI, which is involved in some local history-related events, like Culper Spy Day with the Three Village Historical Society, and which has had partnerships with The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and Gallery North in East Setauket. Wolfe at PLI said the organization hopes to consult its local partners before deciding how to move forward.

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Daisy, the mommy mallard protects her ducklings in a flowerpot at Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket. Photo from Bryant Funeral Home

By Carole Ganzenmuller

At Bryant Funeral Home in East Setauket, we work hard caring for families. This past May we were not caring for a family but for a beautiful female mallard duck that became part of the Bryant family.

The duck family takes off for new adventures. Photo from Bryant Funeral Home

One morning in May, the staff came in the back door, where there is a large flowerpot and noticed a hole had been dug in the dirt; but we did not give it a second thought. The next day we noticed a duck sitting in the pot. She blended in so well with flowers that we hardly noticed her. She was there for a few days. Then one day she stood up and lo and behold there was one egg in this hole she had made a nest. Then there were three eggs, then finally six eggs. We were excited and yet nervous for the mommy mallard; we named her “Daisy.”

We did our research and read not to touch or move the eggs, what mallard ducks eat and how long before the eggs would hatch. Daisy loved the fruit and seeds we fed her; but she was always cautious if people came too close. To try to keep her protected we put a sign near the pot so families, florists and delivery companies would try to be considerate and not startle her and they would not be startled. Anyone who saw her became so invested in her: “Oh, she is still here?”

In addition, our families would all ask about Daisy. We even took the time to make a little homemade pond just in case Daisy and her soon-to-be ducklings needed a close water spot to make home.

Bryant Funeral Home is happy to say exactly 30 days after Daisy deposited her eggs, all six little ducklings were born. We were happy yet sad when Daisy and her sweet six little ducklings hopped out of the pot and went off for their new adventures as a family. We at Bryant Funeral Home were so proud to be part of the whole experience with such a happy ending.

Carole Ganzenmuller is a funeral assistant with Bryant Funeral Home.

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Approximately 200 people celebrated the first night of Hanukkah at Village Chabad in East Setauket.

When addressing the attendees, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum talked about the inspiring message of the holiday where even one flame of light can dispel an immense amount of darkness.

“Just like on the menorah itself, every day we must increase on the good we did yesterday and ultimately good will always prevail,” he said.

Setauket Fire Department volunteers were on hand to help with the lighting. Attendees enjoyed a Chocolate Coin “Gelt Drop,” when 2,000 coins were tossed from the top of an extended fire truck bucket up in the air. There were also traditional jelly donuts, hot latkes and hot cocoa for all. Jester Jim performed a juggling show under the Menorah’s glow to conclude the program.

The rabbi invited everyone in attendance to help break a record on the night of Saturday, Dec. 24, for 1,000 Jewish homes in Suffolk and Nassau counties to light menorahs simultaneously on Zoom from the comfort of their own homes. To register, visit Menorah1000.com.

Photos by Gail DeClue

The Village Chabad once again welcomed community members to its Jewish Summer Festival on July 10. The event took place for the first time since 2018 on the Chabad’s property on Nicolls Road in East Setauket.

In 2019, the Chabad held its grand opening celebration for its new building in place of the summer festival, which was held at West Meadow Beach in previous years. The last two years, the festival was unable to be held due to the pandemic.

Approximately 250 people attended this year, according to Rabbi Motti Grossbaum.

Attendees enjoyed a barbecue and activities, which included face painting and giveaways. Tali Yess provided the music, and The Red Trouser Show, from New Hampshire, also performed stunts for everyone.

An SUV crashed into the double doors of Mario’s restaurant located in the Old School House Square shopping center in East Setauket on Friday, July 1.

Restaurant manager Ann Tipley said she was standing at the front counter when it happened, and the car stopped a few feet from her. She said it was scary to witness.

“Fortunately, no one got hurt,” she said. “It was just a big mess.”

The door has already been replaced, and Tipley said they are currently waiting for the glass  for the door.

The Setauket Fire Department and police officers responded to the incident, and the driver and passenger of the SUV remained on the scene.

Staff members quickly cleaned up the broken glass, and the restaurant remained open for business.

Benner’s Farm in East Setauket continued its egg hunt tradition during the spring holidays, and for the second year in a row, created a socially-distanced event. 

On April 16 and 17, families arrived to the farm at their designated time slots to enjoy the egg hunt, take photos with the Easter Bunny, visit with the farm’s animals and check out merchandise from local vendors.

A home on Old Town Road in East Setauket was destroyed by fire Feb. 18. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A tragic fire in East Setauket has left a father and his 10-month-old son in critical but stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Lisa Ostrowski holds baby Leo with Steven Ortner in the background. Photo from Carolyn Ortner

The fire began slightly after midnight on Feb. 18 on Old Town Road, and the home next to the Old Towne garden center was quickly engulfed by flames due to the high winds that night. Steven Ortner, 30, was able to escape with his son, Leo. However, Ortner’s fiancée Lisa Ostrowski, 31, died in the fire.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, both its homicide squad and arson section are investigating the fire. A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be noncriminal in nature. 

A neighbor called 911 to report the fire at 12:01 a.m. Police officers and the Setauket Fire Department arrived on the scene a few minutes later to find the home engulfed in flames. According to SCPD, Ortner escaped through a second-floor window. While he was on the roof ledge, he handed the baby to a passerby below. A responder then took the baby while Ortner tried to go back into the house to save Ostrowski, according to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager.

Sterne said when Setauket Fire Department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw Ortner trying to go inside the home, he advised the father not to do so. Ortner was told to jump and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski was found dead once the fire was extinguished. There were no other occupants at home, and no other injuries were reported.

Barbara Prass set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral expenses for Ostrowski and to help Ortner and Leo once they leave the hospital. Prass is a longtime family friend of the Ortners, being a childhood friend of Steven Ortner’s mother Carolyn. Ortner grew up in the Town of Smithtown and Ostrowski is originally from Centereach.

The GoFundMe Page, titled Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and “Steven,” as of Feb. 22, had 1,400 donors and raised more than $90,000.

In a phone interview, Prass said that Orner’s parents, Carolyn and Clayton, returned to Long Island from the Carolinas as soon as they were notified Friday and have been able to see him and the baby. Prass said it’s a painful time and something that one can see on the news but can never imagine going through. 

“There are no words,” she said.

Prass said at first the parents were told they wouldn’t be able to visit the hospital due to COVID-19, but finally were given the go ahead to visit with Ortner and Leo.

She said Ortner was able to speak the first day when his parents called him, but he was hoarse and medicated. The father has third-degree burns on his head, face and back of arms. His head had to be bandaged, and the other day the father was put on a ventilator. At first, he asked the family to come and pick up Leo.

“I don’t even think he knew Leo was admitted.” she said, adding the baby is still in the hospital with second-degree burns to his forehead and hands. He also has a collapsed lung.

Ortner is now on a ventilator and doctors are monitoring his organs, also his vision as it was blurry, Prass said.

She said from what the parents could gather when talking with their son, Ostrowski handed the baby to Ortner. According to the family friend, he told his parents, “I had to save the baby. I couldn‘t get back to Lisa. I tried.”

Prass said she told Carolyn Ortner that she is sure Ostrowski died protecting her baby.

“It’s just the worst nightmare,” she said. “I hope Steven can live through that.”

In addition to the GoFundMe page, Prass said she and others are trying to find a place where people can drop off clothes and baby items as many community members have offered to do so.

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File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad and Arson Section detectives are investigating a fire that killed an East Setauket woman and injured a man and infant in the early morning hours of Feb. 18.

Sixth Precinct officers responded to the home, located on Old Town Road, after a 911 caller reported a fire at the location at 12:01 a.m. Stephen Ortner, a resident of the home, was able to escape through a second-floor window onto a roof ledge and hand his 10-month-old son to a passerby below, who then handed the child to rescuers. Ortner was then able to climb down to the ground, according to SCPD.

According to Dave Sterne, the Setauket Fire District’s manager, Ortner tried to get back inside to help the child’s mother, Lisa Ostrowski. However, when department Chief Richard Leute arrived on the scene and saw him, he advised the father not to do so as the house was engulfed in flames. Ortner then jumped and Leute caught him.

Ostrowski, 31, the mother of the child, was not able to escape the home and was found dead once the fire was extinguished. Stephen Ortner, 30, and his son Leo Ortner were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where the father was treated for serious injuries and his child for non-life-threatening injuries.

There were no other occupants of the home and no other injuries were reported.

A preliminary investigation has determined the cause of the fire to be non-criminal in nature.

Ortner and Ostrowski’s aunt Barbara Iannuzzi-Prass set up a GoFundMe page, Tragic Fire support for Lisa, Baby Leo and Steven. As of Feb. 19, more than $42,000 was raised from nearly 600 people.

Ianuzzi-Prass wrote on the page that Ortner and Ostrowski were engaged. She reported that both Ortner and his son were in the ICU with severe burns and in critical but stable condition.

“Lisa will need a proper funeral and Steven and Leo will need to restart their lives once they are out of the hospital,” Ianuzzi-Prass wrote.

Just a few of the cookies designed by Kim Carter of Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the pandemic, small business owners have been looking for ways to get customers’ attention. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, a local bakery is providing an option that stands out from the average box of chocolates.

Kim Carter, of Rolling Pin, holds one of the cookies she decorated. Photo by Rita J. Egan

When people first walk into Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket they’ll spy on the shelves colorful cookies wrapped in individual clear bags. The works of art are created by Kim Carter, the bakery’s decorator, who is currently busy preparing cookies for Valentine’s Day featuring cute couples, colorful lovebirds, adorable animals and more. Every holiday for about eight years, Carter said she comes up with novelty cookies for customers to purchase to give away as gifts and Feb. 14 is no different.

When Evelyn Haegele began working at the bakery a few months ago, she was floored by her new co-worker’s talents. Her cookies are “just incredible,” she said. “Each one is a work of art. I felt like, ‘Kim, you really deserve to be noticed.’”

Carter has been working for the bakery, which is owned by David Dombroff, for 13 of the nearly 27 years it has been open. The decorator said as each holiday approaches she looks for inspiration by searching on the internet. She said each cookie takes a different amount of time to create. Making the sweet treats involves a few steps, from first baking them to then cutting them into different shapes. She then creates backgrounds for each cookie by dipping it in a color she has chosen. After the background is ready, she creates the outline for the cookie and fills it in freehand.

Just a few of the cookies designed by Kim Carter of Rolling Pin bakery in East Setauket. Photo by Rita J. Egan

“It takes practice and there has to be the right consistency of the icing,” Carter said. “If not, it will be running or too soft or too hard to squeeze.”

In addition to cookies, Carter decorates cakes, too. Before she started working for Rolling Pin, she worked for various bakeries and has 20 years of experience in the field. Carter’s decorating talent is one that naturally came to her.

“Since I was a kid I just liked art,” she said. “Then, one day, I said, ‘Hey, I can decorate a cake. I see people doing it. I can do it.’”

Her favorite holiday cookies are the ones she makes for Easter, Halloween and Christmas, and the decorator said she feels bad during Father’s Day because it’s one of the holidays that’s difficult to come up with themes that would be fitting for a cookie.

The bakery also takes custom orders for parties and showers. Sometimes, Carter said, the shapes are unique, and she creates a temporary cookie cutter out of tin until she can find one to buy.

Haegele said her favorite cookies since she started working at the bakery are the Halloween and Christmas cookies, including one that was shaped like a snow globe with sugar that looked like glass.

“What she did was amazing,” Haegele said.


The Rolling Pin bakery is located at 1387 Route 25A, East Setauket.