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Harlan Fischer

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) recently announced the successful restoration of the iconic Stony Brook Eagle, a beloved landmark perched atop the historic Stony Brook Post Office. After 83 years of service, the eagle has been meticulously restored thanks to the unwavering support of local and dedicated community members. The restoration was completed just in time for Memorial Day, allowing the patriotic eagle to be displayed for the holiday.

Built in 1940 and completed in 1941 by the visionary businessman and philanthropist Ward Melville, Stony Brook Village stands as a testament to his grand vision. Among the thirty-five buildings modified or relocated by Melville, the Post Office stands out with its remarkable 20-foot mechanical eagle, captivating generations of visitors with its lifelike movements. However, after so many years in service, the hand-carved wooden fixture was in need of restoration.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright successfully secured a $125,000 grant to restore several of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s (WMHO) historic properties, including the eagle. To supplement the grant, WMHO launched a fundraising campaign. This campaign reached people through newsletters, social media, and word-of-mouth, drawing donations from a diverse group of supporters. Contributions came from former and current residents, locals from neighboring towns, and eagle enthusiasts from as far away as San Antonio, Texas. 

Olivia and Harlan Fischer, Branch Financial Services made a significant donation. Frederick, Jeannie, and Margeaux Ringwald, grandchildren of Friederich Wilhelm Ringwald, the man who carved the 20-foot eagle in the 1940s, also donated to the cause. The restoration, totaling $85,000, was fully funded by the donations specifically raised for the eagle.

Renowned for their expertise in historic restoration, Henry Restoration Ltd. of Nesconset was entrusted with the project. With a reputation built on prestigious projects like the Sheraton St. Regis Hotel and Trinity Church in New York City, the company commenced work on April 2nd, completing the project in less than seven weeks. WMHO worked closely with Timothy Henry, President of Henry Restoration Ltd. on the restoration.

Sidewalk bridging and scaffolding were constructed at the Post Office to facilitate the restoration work. Missing, loose, and broken parts, including the feet and arrowheads, were expertly restored or replaced. New stars, crafted from mahogany by Carl Reinke, Vice President of Henry Restoration Ltd., replaced the original Masonite stars. 

Enhancements included aluminum straps for wing stabilization and a new stainless-steel chain to replace a rusty steel one. The eagle has been reconnected to its internal clock mechanism, which remains in excellent working condition. This ensures it will continue to flap its wings every hour, on the hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, captivating onlookers for years to come.

This project stands as a testament to the community’s commitment to preserving its rich heritage and honoring the legacy of Ward Melville. WMHO has established a dedicated fund to support the eagle and its mechanisms moving forward. Checks can be made payable to the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, and can be sent to P.O. Box 572, Stony Brook, NY 11790. Your donation is tax-deductible.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) kicked off the season with their annual Summer Soirée fundraiser at the Three Village Inn on June 22. The event honored outstanding members of the community including Olivia and Harlan Fischer, Katharine Griffiths, Sally Lynch, Nicole Sarno, and awarded posthumously, philanthropist Judi Betts and featured a live auction.

The primary purpose of the fundraising efforts was to support the restoration of the 20’ wooden eagle that is affixed to the pediment above the Stony Brook Post Office. This beloved local and national treasure has flapped its wings every hour on the hour for over 80 years. 

All photos courtesy of the WMHO

The Stony Brook Post Office by Dino Rinaldi

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization has announced the in-person return of its annual fundraiser, the Summer Soirée. The event will be held on Thursday, June 22 at the newly renovated Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, “where it all began.”

The event will raise funds to support the restoration of the 20’ wooden eagle that is affixed to the pediment above the Stony Brook Post Office. This beloved local and national treasure has flapped its wings every hour on the hour for over 80 years.

Funds raised will also support two new engines for the Discovery Pontoon boat, digitizing Ward Melville’s archives, repairs to the roof at the Brewster House (c.1665), a new exhibit at the Thompson House (c.1709), as well as education programs. 

The benefit will honor community members Katharine Griffiths, Director of Avalon Park and Preserve; Olivia and Harlan Fischer; Sally Lynch, President of Old Field Farm Ltd.; Nicole Sarno, Business Managing Director, Business Banking, Webster Bank; and awarded posthumously, philanthropist Judi Betts. 

One of the highlights of the event will be a live auction where one of the many wonderful items will be a painting of the Stony Brook Post Office by Setauket artist Dino Rinaldi who has been working on creating this beautiful work of art on the Village Green over the last few weeks. 

The WMHO will take phone call bids for the painting from the public until 5 p.m. on June 21. Valued at $1,200, bids for the painting will begin at $400. The successful bidder of the painting will be announced on June 22 and will receive a phone call or email the following day. 

For further information, please call 631-751-2244.

Olivia and Harlan Fischer, above, are among TBR News Media’s People of the Year. Photo from Branch Financial Services

Harlan and Olivia Fischer have been married for nearly 50 years. Even more impressive than the longevity of their marriage is their track record of giving back to the community and surrounding areas.

This year the Fischers funded the restoration of the Hercules figurehead by Stony Brook Harbor. Photo from The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

These philanthropic efforts have earned the Head of the Harbor residents a spot among TBR News Media’s People of the Year for 2022. This year isn’t the first time one of the Fischers has been featured in the special edition. Harlan Fischer, president of Branch Financial Services, was a Man of the Year in 2000 for his accomplishments in business.

Tom Manuel, founder of The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, knows firsthand about the Fischers’ generosity.

“The Fischers were literally the first people to come alongside and support The Jazz Loft when we were in our planning stages back in 2014,” he said. “Each year they have selflessly, generously, and without reservation supported us more and more, and we are honored to have an annual 12-performance concert series in their name.”

Recently, the couple offered a $25K match for the venue to establish an endowment.

“They are true philanthropists doing things for the right reasons,” Manuel said.

The Fischers’ involvement with The Jazz Loft began one day as Harlan was walking one of the couple’s dogs in the Stony Brook Village Center. He ran into Manuel, who was promoting the future venue. The two began talking about jazz, according to The Jazz Loft founder.

Manuel said it turned out Fischer had read about the plans to open the venue, and when he heard the musician was performing at the shopping center, he went to check him out.

Manuel said Fischer gave him an envelope with a check inside. He thought it was for $50, but it turned out to be for $1,000.

The Fischers became even more involved in the Three Village area when Harlan moved his office from Smithtown to Setauket in 2020. Driving past Stony Brook Village Center twice a day, he asked Manuel and The Ward Melville Heritage Organization president, Gloria Rocchio, if WMHO needed assistance with anything. These discussions led to the Fischers sponsoring the installation of a replica of the center’s historic weathervane that shattered last year, and the restoration of the Hercules figurehead that sits by Stony Brook Harbor as well as the pavilion that shelters it.

WMHO board members debuted the restored Hercules figurehead at a press conference on Oct. 14.

“When we make contributions to places, we like to see the results of it,” Harlan Fischer said at the press conference.

Rocchio said in a phone interview that the board members met the Fischers several years ago.

“We found that we have the same interest, which is the love of the community,” she said.

With the Hercules project, Rocchio said Harlan took time out of his busy schedule to get to know the contractors, workers and artists involved in the restoration.

“He’s a very interesting man, and the two of them are very talented,” Rocchio said.

She added, “They’re good people. They have really embraced the community completely.”

The couple are also known for rescuing dogs, and they regularly donate to Little Shelter Animal Rescue’s annual Pet-A-Palooza in Huntington. 

Olivia and Harlan Fischer, above, are among TBR News Media’s People of the Year. Photo from Branch Financial Services

Leigh Wixson, director of Smithtown Animal Shelter, said the Fischers donated $7,600 for a dog park behind the shelter in September 2017. She said the park helps with the dogs’ physical activities and interaction. The park was named the Olivia and Harlan Fischer Recreational and Development Park and is the size of half a football field.

Wixson said the dogs will pull handlers toward the park when they see it, and can play fetch, run and explore. The shelter sometimes sets up small pools and sprinklers for the animals.

“It’s enriching having that large of a park,” she said. “We had outdoor pens already, but they’re quite small and didn’t allow a lot of space for running.”

In addition to their philanthropy, many know the couple for their love of art, and their contemporary studio art glass collection. In an August 2020 interview with TBR, Harlan Fischer said, for him, that love began after a 1988 car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver. He realized he could have been killed, and up until that point his life was mostly about work.

“All of a sudden it got me in touch with my mortality,” he said.

A talk with his physical therapist led him to joining the Smithtown Rotary Club, and he went on to be president of the club in 1997-98. It was during this time he learned about the Smithtown Township Arts Council and became a board member. He eventually became president of the council for five years, and learned a good deal about art from the director of the council at the time, Norma Cohen.

Harlan and Olivia’s love of art has led to raising money for various organizations, including hosting fundraisers in their home. Among their philanthropic activities in the art community have been being members of The Long Island Museum’s Directors Advisory Circle and sponsoring the East End Arts Music Masters Mentorship Program for high schoolers. Harlan Fischer is also a former board president of the Art League of Long Island. Last year, the East End Arts Council selected the Fischers as their 2021 Community Impact Award recipients.

Recently, Olivia Fischer has also been knitting scarves and donating them to Gallery North’s gift store, where all profits from the scarves go back to the gallery, according to Kristen Domiano, a registered service associate with Branch Financial Services.

Over the years, the Fischers have become so much more to the people they interact with than philanthropists.

Domiano described the couple as “generous” and “thoughtful.”

“There aren’t even words to describe how they are,” she said. “They’re so special.”

Due to his profession, Harlan, who is also chair of the Head of the Harbor Planning Board, usually winds up being the main spokesperson for their efforts.

Olivia “never likes to be in the spotlight, but it’s the two of them together,” Domiano said.

She added it’s cute to see the couple together. “He starts talking about Olivia, and he just gets choked up.”

Harlan Fischer is also generous and appreciative regarding his staff, according to Domiano, describing him as honest and a mentor.

Manuel said he and his wife, Laura, “are blessed to have friends with such outstanding character.” 

“Harlan and Olivia have been such generous sources of encouragement, advice and genuine love,” he said. “Our community is lucky to have them here not just because of the amazing projects and things they do, but because they call our community their home. Our community at large is a better place because they are a part of it.”

It was something to crow about! On July 1, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) announced the completion of the rooster weathervane atop the flagpole on the Stony Brook Village Green by Budco Enterprises Inc. and Olivia and Harlan Fischer.

During a storm in June 2021, the rooster on the weathervane fell to the ground and shattered. The rooster is an original piece of Stony Brook Village’s rehabilitation by Ward Melville in 1941. 

Buddy Simmons, President of Budco Enterprises Inc., restored the weathervane and personally attempted to reconstruct the original rooster, but was not able to because too many pieces were missing. He then donated a replica of the rooster.  

Alex Simmons, Vice President, Budco Enterprises Inc. detached the directional arrows, ground them down and painted them, as well as enhanced the rooster by painting it with true colors. Olivia and Harlan Fischer sponsored  the removal and reinstallation of the new rooster, completed by Poletec, which was no easy feat. 

The original weathervane was custom built by Ward Melville and was there for 81 years. Hopefully this one will be perched for at least another 81 years. 

To learn more about the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, call 631-751-2244.

Olivia and Harlan Fischer

The East End Arts Council has selected Olivia and Harlan Fischer of Head of the Harbor as their 2021 Community Impact Award recipients. They were honored at the ARTworks Gala on October 14 at the Suffolk Theatre in Riverhead.

Harlan J. Fischer is the President of Branch Financial Services, Inc. in Setauket. He and his wife, Olivia, have been supporters of the East End Arts Council for many years, and are annual Music Masters Mentorship program sponsors.

Olivia and Harlan have lived in the Town of Smithtown since 1973. They are founding members of The Ennion Society at the Corning Museum of Glass and are members of the Director’s Advisory Circle at the Long Island Museum. They were presented with the “Patron of the Arts Award” at the Long Island Museum in 2018. They were the first supporters of the Jazz Loft in Stony Brook, and established the Fischer Concert Series, sponsoring twelve music performances annually. For 23 years Olivia and Harlan have awarded scholarships to high school students pursuing their education in the arts.

Harlan has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors and, most recently, received the 2021 “Business and Finance Award” from the Long Island Business News. He was named the 2000 “Man of the Year in Business” in Smithtown by the Times Beacon Record Newspapers. In 2006, Harlan was presented with the “Guardian Angel” award from the Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Adoption Center.

Harlan is active in his community as the Chairman of the Planning Board of the Village of Head of the Harbor. He was President of the Board of Directors of the Smithtown Township Arts Council from 1992-1997 and was the 1997-1998 President of the Smithtown Rotary Club. Harlan served as Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum and Planetarium through 2000. He was the President of the Metropolitan Contemporary Glass Group for eight years through 2009, and the President of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass from 2011–2016. Harlan was the President of the board of the Art League of Long Island through 2019.

Harlan Fischer, above, stands by two of several pieces of artwork displayed in his Setauket office. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Setauket recently welcomed a new financial services office to the area, but the company’s president is no stranger to the Three Village community.

Fischer along with his Branch Financial Services associates Stephanie Gress and Kristen Domiano. Photo from Branch Financial Services

Harlan Fischer, president of Branch Financial Services, recently moved his offices from Smithtown to Setauket. His business, which was located on Route 111 for 25 years, and before that, for 21 years in Hauppauge, has now found a home at 21 Bennetts Road.

The Head of the Harbor resident and his wife of almost 47 years, Olivia, are known for their involvement in the art community across the North Shore, and both are familiar names at The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook. For the past three years, the couple has sponsored a monthly concert series at the music venue and museum, which is currently closed due to the coronavirus.

Loft founder Tom Manuel said the Fischers were its first donors. The musician still remembers the day in 2015 when he was in Stony Brook village performing to raise money for the renovation of the venue’s future home. He said a man with a dog walked up to him and they began talking about jazz. The man turned out to be Fischer.

“I was just thinking, ‘Wow, how interesting that there’s this guy that kind of digs what we’re trying to do,’” Manuel said. “Little did I know he’d already read about us, and he came there on purpose. I just thought he was passing by.”

He said Fischer gave him an envelope with a check inside, but Manuel didn’t open it until he was home, thinking it was maybe worth $50. Later he opened the envelope and found the check was for $1,000.

“My eyes were as big as saucers,” he said.

The Jazz Loft founder said that with Fischer’s interest in jazz and the couple’s love of art, the venue is a perfect match for them.

“They’re doing it because it’s a passion,” he said. “It’s not just that they’re looking for a place to make a tax-deductible donation.”

Fischer and his wife’s philanthropy goes beyond The Jazz Loft. While the financial adviser spends the day discussing finances with clients — people from all over Long Island as well as 26 states — his interests lie elsewhere when the workday has ended. Both he and Olivia through the decades have developed a shared love of art.

Fischer said, for him, it began after a 1988 car accident when he was hit by a drunk driver. He realized he could have been killed, and up until that point his life was mostly about work.

“All of a sudden it got me in touch with my mortality,” he said.

“All of a sudden it got me in touch with my mortality.”

— Harlan Fischer

He was talking to his physical therapist who told him about the Rotary club. Not only did he join the organization, but he also went on to become the president of Smithtown Rotary from 1997to 98. Through the Rotary he became involved in various community projects, but when a friend told him how the Smithtown Township Arts Council was looking for a board member, that’s when he found one of his true passions. Fischer told his friend he knew nothing about art, but it turned out the board was looking for a businessperson like him. Fischer decided to join and a year later became its president.

During his five-year tenure, he said he learned a lot about art, thanks to Norma Cohen, who was director of the council back then. He and his wife began collecting artwork, especially contemporary studio art glass pieces that fill the couple’s Head of the Harbor home.

Olivia Fischer said the couple’s interest in art grew together and the two began raising money for various organizations, including hosting fundraisers in their home.

Through the years, the Fischers have been members of many art organizations as well as sponsored many events. Among their philanthropic activities have been being members of The Long Island Museum’s Directors Advisory Circle and sponsoring the East End Arts Music Masters Mentorship Program for high schoolers. The financial adviser is also a former board president of the Art League of Long Island, and in 2000, he was named The Times of Smithtown Man of the Year in Business.

In addition to their work in the world of the arts, the Fischers have rescued dogs and are in the process of adopting their 11th one. In late 2018, the Town of Smithtown recognized them for their $7,600 donation which enabled the Smithtown Animal Shelter to build a dog park that bears their name, the Olivia and Harlan Fischer Recreational and Development Park. The Fischers have also backed Little Shelter Animal Rescue’s annual Pet-A-Palooza in Huntington.

Fischer, who is in his early 70s, said he feels 10 years younger and has no plans to retire, especially in his new office that features some of his art collection. He added that he’s fortunate to work with good people too, which helps with leading a busy life.

“I can’t ask for more than that,” he said.

Success and enjoyment in life are something he believes people find when they feel passionate about what they are doing. He also believes in good timing, which has become a common theme in his life not only with finding ways to give back but also in his career life.

After spending four years in the Air Force and almost a year in Vietnam, he wound up in retail despite having an engineering degree from Northeastern University. He was running the Levitz Furniture & Showroom in Farmingdale when he told someone he no longer wanted to be in retail, and it was recommended he consider the financial field.

“Timing is everything in life,” he said. “Just being at the right place at the right time and saying the right thing. You make a right turn instead of a left turn, your whole life can be different.”

Residents remain skeptical about a maintenance shed project proposal by Head of the Harbor resident and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire. Photo from Anthony Coates

Scores of Head of Harbor residents voiced their opposition and called on the village Planning Board to reject proposed plans for a 8,633-square-foot maintenance shed on property owned by hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer.

Many who spoke at a Dec. 10 public hearing stated that the rural character of the village would change, and that the maintenance shed was too big for the neighborhood. Others expressed concerns that the Mercers have additional projects in the works such as adding a guest house on their close to 70-arce Owl’s Nest property.

Christopher Modelewski, Huntington-based lawyer representing Mercer, said the shed would only take up less than 2 percent of a two-lot section of the property and the architects would make it into a “beautiful barnlike structure.”

Mercer representatives said the structure, called a “tool shed,” would house equipment used to maintain the Owl’s Nest property, including lawn mowers, golf carts, trailers and other vehicles.

Neighbor Michael Folan, who lives on Thatch Meadow Farm with his wife and two other friends, said the proposed development would impact their day-to-day life.

“Nobody stands to be impacted like we do, the northern end of this project will start 70 yards from my kitchen window, we’re the closest residents to this proposed project,” he said. “Mr. Mercer worked very hard for his money, he can spend it however he wants to. For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”

“For him this would be an occasional diversion. It would be a daily hindrance and a nightmare for us.”

– Michael Folan

Other neighbors said the shed would block scenic views of Thatch Meadow Farm and Stony Brook Harbor and were concerned about the increase of noise and light pollution construction would bring.

Constance “Conky” Nostrand, owner of Thatch Meadow Farm, whose estate is adjacent to the Mercer property, said the shed would threaten the location of her water supply and asked for a 30-feet buffer to be reinstated.

According to Nostrand, she reached out to the village a few times regarding the buffer with no responses. She said village officials have left her in the dark on the situation.

“You act like I don’t exist,” she said. “Thatch Meadow Farm is one of the last Smith estates that has not been split up and developed.”

Anthony Coates, village resident, said he is not convinced they have seen the last of the guest home plans and opposes the construction of the tool shed.

“We still maintain this is the wrong structure in the wrong place,” he said. “It needs a full SEQRA review.”

Coates added due to the application being incomplete, the planning board should make the developers go back to the drawing board on any proposed plans.

Harlan Fischer, planning board chairman, said the board would not vote on the proposal until it was revised by Mercer’s representatives. The application, he said, was incomplete and inaccurate because of the inclusion of proposed plans for a guest home.

In response, Modelewski said those additional plans were meant to not “see the light of day” and was never the subject of a site plan review. He admitted that submission was a mistake and that they would withdraw it.

Fischer said it would be better for the board to have a thorough review of the application before moving forward. The public hearing could continue on Jan. 28 at 5:30 p.m. if revised site plans are resubmitted in time.

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Residents remain skeptical about a maintenance shed project proposal by Head of the Harbor resident and Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire. Photo from Anthony Coates

 

Some residents in the incorporated Village of Head of the Harbor are sounding alarms, stating that the rural character of their village is about to change. 

They’re accusing officials of concealing from residents for more than six months a proposed “commercial style” development plan submitted by their billionaire neighbor Robert Mercer, who helped finance the Trump 2016 campaign, Breitbart News and Cambridge Analytica, which reportedly played a role in the Brexit campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. 

“The Mercer project is probably the largest undertaking in our small village in 50 years,” said village resident Anthony Coates. “It’s a medical center, gas station, parking garage and apartment building all rolled into one. Yet, you can’t get a bit of information about it from Village Hall. Why?”

Residents have formed the Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition that aims to gather information about the proposed scope of the project. They estimate that the project may be as large as 28,500 square feet. 

The village clerk and Building Department staff did not respond to telephone messages. Officials have previously stated that its email system is only used internally, a practice that is in potential violation of New York State’s Freedom of Information Law. 

The situation with the Mercer project raises questions about the transparency issues in village operation, perceived and real. 

Harlan Fischer, chairman of the Planning Board for Head of the Harbor has said in a telephone interview that the only project he has in front of him for the 74-acre Mercer property is a roughly 9,000 sq. ft. equipment shed. 

That plan, Fischer said, was submitted one month ago for review. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing for that structure at its Dec. 10 meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Fischer said. “I think that people might have a problem with the political leanings of the property owner, but we’re not a political board.”

The Planning Board, Fischer said, follows the village code, which is published on the Head of the Harbor’s website. Residents, he said, can view the plans at Village Hall.

Cleo Beletsis, a member of the village’s Joint Coastal Commission, which ensures that projects conform with the Town of Smithtown Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, said that discrepancies in the project’s scope may possibly be discussed at the commission’s next meeting Dec. 5. 

There may also be a host of zoning issues that need to be discussed, but these matters are not in the Joint Coastal Commission’s purview.

Coates said he has information suggesting that the Mercer plans call for construction of three separate buildings, a maintenance facility with a six-bay garage, a “guest” cottage equipped with medical facilities including a cryotherapy chamber and hyperbaric suite and “service entrance for doctors and related staff” and an accessory building with a four-bay garage.

The Times of Smithtown was unable to reach Mercer for comment. 

The Village of Head of the Harbor’s meeting dates and code can be found at its website: www.villagehohny.org.

photo by Anthony Coates