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Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Get ready to be enchanted by the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, an annual family tradition on Long Island showcasing thousands of creatively carved pumpkins crafted by Blaze’s skilled team of carving artisans. From September 22 to November 5, this family-friendly Halloween experience will take place along an easily walkable half-mile loop at Long Island’s historic 19th-century village, the Old Bethpage Village Restoration. 

As the county’s largest Halloween event, Blaze has successfully attracted tens of thousands of visitors since its opening in September. Playing a crucial part in honoring Long Island’s history through the exhibition is Michael Natiello, the Creative Director, who has been showcased on HGTV, the TODAY show, and numerous national broadcasts.

“The exhibits are very photogenic, highly artistic, and of course extremely relevant for the fall season,” said  Natiello. “Our artisans work very hard to create magnificent sculptural installations, carved and built right on the Old Bethpage Restoration property. In addition to the initial 7,000 jack o’lanterns, over 800 new pumpkins are carved and added to the experience each week, some taking up to four hours each to design and carve!”   

Blaze’s latest 2023 displays are sure to impress many, as they celebrate the cultural heritage of Long Island. The exhibition will showcase pumpkin portraits of beloved local icons like Billy Joel and Joan Jett, an enchanting “Bones Beach” tribute to Jones Beach complete with pumpkin deep-sea divers, a colossal octopus, a majestic humpback whale, and many other marine creatures as well as the Long Island Lighthouse and an array of other captivating attractions!

“What sets Blaze apart from other local Halloween-themed experiences is that parents can feel comfortable knowing it’s family-friendly, safe, and a gorgeous feast for the eyes!” said Rob Schweitzer, Historic Hudson Valley Vice President for Communications & Commerce. “Steeped in Long Island culture and history, we design our event so all ages can make memories along our candlelit, easily walkable pathway.”

This year includes live, nightly pumpkin carving by Blaze’s expert team of pumpkin carving artisans, the Blaze Boo-tique featuring seasonal gifts and fun merchandise, and Café Blaze, an on-site café featuring fall treats, pumpkin beer, and wine. Proceeds from ticket purchases support the preservation of Old Bethpage Village Restoration and the educational programming of Historic Hudson Valley.

Blaze has limited capacity and all admissions are by advance purchase timed ticket or FLEX anytime ticket. No tickets are sold on-site, and the event is held rain or shine. Online tickets start at $29 for adults and $19 for children 3-17 and are free for children 2 and under. For tickets and event dates, visit www.pumpkinblaze.org.

Old Bethpage Village Restoration is located at 1303 Round Swamp Road in Old Bethpage.

For more information, call 516-572-8409.


By Kimberly Brown

Stony Brook University celebrated the inauguration of Maurie McInnis as the university’s sixth president on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Island Federal Arena, Stony Brook. 

Standing before students, alumni, local officials and representatives from universities across the country as well as family and friends, McInnis was proudly given her title as president. 

Transporting the crowd back to 1962, when Stony Brook University was merely a handful of buildings that has sprouted out of a field where potatoes were farmed, McInnis said the 800 students who first began their journey at the university would know that big plans were in the works. 

“Out of these potato fields and muddy woods on Long Island, an educational powerhouse would soon emerge, and in less than a decade our university grew ten-fold to 8,000 students and ambitiously recruited the faculty and staff that would come to define this institution,” McInnis said.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Chen Ning Yang came to Stony Brook in 1965 and became the university’s first director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics. To which McInnis said he must have sensed the university was making big moves and breaking new ground in areas of science.

“Looking around the arena today, I see that same bold spirit that attracted Yang and legions of other distinguished faculty,” she said. “Thank you for joining me as we celebrate the luminous and ambitious future of Stony Brook University.” 

McInnis thanked the crowd for trusting her to lead the institution.

Also touching on her own family’s heritage, which is rich in careers of education, she mentioned her great-grandparents and grandparents were both teachers. Her parents were also college professors and her husband is a first-generation college graduate.

“I have dedicated my life’s work to this enterprise and I am thrilled and honored to apply my knowledge, experience and energy to Stony Brook University,” she said. “What I have learned is that our institution yesterday, today and tomorrow is a university of dreaming big, of expanding the reach of discovery and creating knowledge for the benefit of society.”

In 1973, the university welcomed Rich Gelfond, who came from a disadvantaged household in Plainview.

Stepping foot onto the campus for the first time as a college student, Gelfond went full force in his academics by working on the school newspaper, designing his own curriculum, winning an election to be the first student on the university council as well as guest teaching at his own sports sociology class.

“He was delivering on his potential, and then some, because he had found a university that valued the promise of first-generation college students,” she said. “He had found a university that wanted to empower its students to be their best.”

McInnis said after college, Gelfond went on to be a successful investment banker, acquiring IMAX Corporation in 1994 where he remains CEO today. 

Touching on the topic of COVID-19, McInnis said she is proud of the way Stony Brook University has succeeded in the past year and a half by providing superior patient care and extending its reach across Long Island to care for new communities.

“The power of a public research university is that it has the ability and the duty to benefit the community around it, as well as foster the groundbreaking discoveries that can impact the world for generations to come,” she said.

As the university’s newest president, McInnis wants to ensure that Stony Brook is leading the way, serving the community and tackling the global challenges that face us in the coming century.

“I look forward to seeing all that we can achieve,” she said. “The moment is upon us. Seawolves, let’s answer this call to greatness.”

As chief executive for Stony Brook, McInnis also oversees Stony Brook Medicine, Long Island’s premier academic medical center, which encompasses five health sciences schools, four hospitals and 200 community-based health care settings. 

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.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.

Elected officials in Hauppauge. Photo by Kimberly Brown

State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.

Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.

“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”

Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.

Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”

The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.

“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”

Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.

“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”