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Lake Ronkonkoma

Author Brian Muff visits the inspiration for his new book on a frosty Jan. 30. Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Brian Muff’s debut novel combines elements of horror with the everyday challenges of being a teenager. Set on Long Island, Lady of the Lake (Thewordverve Inc.) tells of a high school student’s rescue of her boyfriend from the clutches of an angry spirit.

Brian Muff

For the first time in her life, Miley Monroe is feeling good about herself. Having struggled with body image issues, she has managed to find a sense of self. She no longer has braces, her acne has cleared up, glasses have been traded for contact lenses, and, most importantly, she has found the perfect partner in the kind and handsome Braden. 

The novel begins with the couple swimming in Lake Ronkonkoma. In a surge of teenage love (and hormones), she loses her virginity. Following this aquatic tryst, they pay for the moral transgression in a traditionally leaning trope: Braden is dragged under the water by a demonic entity, the figure of a woman with red eyes and a “devilish grin.”

Miley awakens two weeks later having been in a coma. Her parents, and, in particular, her police chief father, believe she was raped by Braden, who has now disappeared to avoid pursuit and prosecution. Of course, her claim that Braden was carried away by a demon from the depths is met with expected incredulity. This is exacerbated by her parents’ dislike of Braden along with their conviction that he was a distraction and a negative force in her life. 

She returns to school where she faces anger on all sides. The students refuse to accept the rumors that her father has circulated about Braden’s assaulting her. There is an interesting Scarlet Letter element that overlaid on the traditional thriller plot. The student body — clearly “Team Braden”— turns against her.  The reaction is a complicated one that raises issues of victims, accusers, and perception. In the midst of this, Miley is emotionally damaged and retreating into herself. With no support, she is living in a place of grief and roiling anger. “Instead of saying ‘Woe’s me,’ Miley was now asking ‘Why me?’”

She unburdens herself to Quentin Maxwell, a geeky, awkward, but well-meaning intellectual. Quentin and his scientist father Quincy are both well-versed with the legend of the Lady of the Lake and believe in “things that go bump in the night.”

‘Lady of the Lake’

It began in 1665 with English settlers colonizing Long Island and interacting with Native American tribes who had been indigenous to the area for thousands of years. The lore swirls around the Ronkonkoma tribe that held the northern side of Lake Ronkonkoma, where Lake Shore Road is today. Quentin relates the ill-fated romance of Princess Tuscawonta and Englishman Hugh Birdsall. The illicit affair ended up with Birdsall’s murder and the Princess’s suicide in the lake where her spirit now seeks revenge by imprisoning hapless males who make the mistake of coming too close.

Miley joins forces with the Maxwells, who formulate a plan which goes incredibly wrong. From this point on, the action accelerates into a blend of body snatching and resurrection, morality versus mortality. There is also just enough of the hint of mad science: “Pandora’s Box transformed into a solved Rubik’s Cube, and the solution’s pathway was illuminated. The answer was all in the DNA.”

In addition to the looming supernatural stresses that are invading both her waking and sleeping existence, Muff gives an added dose of reality with Miley’s pregnancy that further strains her already tenuous home life. This shade of reality contrasts with the more fantastical actions.

Muff’s writing is uncluttered: it is brisk and succinct. He also provides enough detail to flesh out the characters, making Miley a dimensional and honest portrait. He strives to explore interpersonal family dynamics but never loses sight of the driving arc of the narrative. 

For all of the magic and myth, Lady of the Lake is ultimately not about vengeance but reconciliation. It is a tale of love, both for the Lady of the Lake and for Miley.


A resident of Port Jefferson Station, author Brian Muff’s love of books began when he started reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn aloud to his parents at age five. Throughout his teenage years, Brian developed an interest in writing – specifically scary stories – that would continue to grow as he entered college. After graduating Farmingdale State College as valedictorian and obtaining an MBA from Stony Brook University, he put his career on hold to finish working on Lady of the Lake.

Pick up your copy at Book Revue in Huntington, thewordverve.com, Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

Photo by Rachel Shapiro

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake needs a little help. Join volunteers from the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group for a cleanup at Lake Ronkonkoma on Saturday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. Help clean the beach front, paint a wall to prep for a mural, and clear debris from a wooded area. Students will receive community service hours. All cleaning supplies will be provided except gloves. Children under 11 must be accompanied by an adult. Meet at Michael P. Murphy Beach, Lake Shore Road, Ronkonkoma. This community event is sponsored by Sachem Public Library. Questions? Call Evelyn at 631-588-7599.

Town of Brookhaven Councilmen Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) joined the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and members of the community at Lake Ronkonkoma on Feb. 21 to cover graffiti and restore a popular mural painted on an old concrete retaining wall along the beach. The wall is one of the last remnants of a bygone era when grand pavilions lined the once-popular tourist destination. 

The mural, which depicts scenes that tell the story of the lake’s history, was originally painted by the LRIG in 2017. 

Between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2 vandals spray-painted obscenities and profane images on the mural, which is located along Lake Shore Road. Evelyn Vollgraff of the LRIG put out a rally cry and organized the cleanup. 

“It’s always amazing to work with the LRIG. The group is very proactive in addressing issues around the lake but when something like this happens they always react quickly and turn a negative situation into a positive one. I guess that’s what happens when you work with a group whose catchphrase is ‘Just get it done!’” LaValle said.

“It was great to see so many people come out to help restore the Lake Ronkonkoma mural. These people take pride in the community and are determined to keep it looking beautiful. Vandalism isn’t just mischief, it’s a crime that will not be tolerated anywhere in Brookhaven Town,” Foley said.

“I want to thank everyone who answered the call and helped to turn a bad situation into a group effort to make it better. That’s what this community is all about and I was proud to join in the cleanup of this beloved piece of Lake Ronkonkoma’s legacy,” LaValle added.

The police urge anyone who knows who committed this crime to call 800-220-TIPS (8477). All calls will be kept confidential.

Photos courtesy of LRIG

King Kullen at 153 Ronkonkoma Ave., Lake Ronkonkoma is slated to close — months after Stop & Shop purchased the Long Island-based supermarket chain. When reached by phone, an employee confirmed that Thursday, Aug. 22, was the store’s last day. The announcement comes  exactly two months after the Mount Sinai location shuttered its doors.

“These stores were underperforming and the decision was made to close rather than renew leases that were coming due,” spokesperson Lloyd Singer said. All current employees are expected to be reassigned so no layoffs are anticipated.

Stop & Shop acquired 32 King Kullen locations across Long Island and five Wild by Nature stores in January. Remaining Suffolk County locations include Bay Shore, Blue Point, Center Moriches, Cutchogue, Eastport, Huntington, Hampton Bays, Huntington Station, Lindenhurst, Manorville, Middle Island, North Patchogue, St. James and Wading River.


Jaysun Vodopija of Lake Grove captured these icy images on Jan. 26 at Lake Ronkonkoma, a source of inspiration for many of his photos. He writes, ‘[Saturday] morning the wind was as calm as can be and the air was crisp. Before heading to the lake, I looked out of my bedroom window about one hour before sunrise and noticed clouds overhead but none on the horizon and that was my sign to get moving. In these photos you will see a piece of ice in what appears to be the shape of a dragon. ‘

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

By Melissa Arnold

Artie Weingartner

For as long as Artie Weingartner has taken photos, his focus has always been on others.

Weingartner, who lives in Lake Ronkonkoma, is a fixture at local high school sporting events. He has faithfully chronicled the work of the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and is the official photographer for the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

Now, for the month of July, the focus is on him as Sachem Public Library presents an exhibit featuring a wide array of Weingartner’s photos in a collection titled Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma.

It’s an odd feeling for 58-year-old Weingartner, who admits it took a serious push from friends and loved ones to move forward with the exhibit. But nothing makes him happier than bringing joy to the people who see his photos.

“I like seeing people’s reactions to pictures and hearing their feedback — it really makes me feel good, and it makes me want to do it more. I love the rush of satisfaction that comes with it. I guess you could say I’m addicted to it,” he laughed.

Lake Ronkonkoma on a fall day

While photography has piqued his interest for decades, it took a long time for Weingartner to really find his niche. His father bought him his first camera, a simple Kodak, when he was just 9 years old. But he admitted feeling frustrated over the process of shooting a roll of film, waiting to have it developed, and then discovering that many of the photos were duds. “I didn’t have the patience for [traditional photography],” he said. “Not being able to see what the result was right away was hard for me.”

When digital photography emerged in the early 2000s, Weingartner was thrilled. Finally, he had the instant gratification of seeing each photo, with no wasted film and the option to delete ones he didn’t like with the push of a button. His love for photography was rekindled, and he hasn’t looked back. 

He began casually taking photos of his kids’ sports matches, plays and concerts. Word spread quickly about his natural talent. “Parents stopped bringing their cameras around and my pictures were used more and more. It became a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” Weingartner said.

A swan lands in Lake Ronkonkoma. Photo by Artie Weingartner

Now that his children are grown, the photographer is focusing more on chronicling the history of Lake Ronkonkoma. On a frigid day in January of 2016, he was invited by Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society member Matt Balkam to photograph the historic Fitz-Greene Hallock Homestead on Pond Road. The 14-room home was built in 1888 and contains all of the original furnishings of the Hallock family. In 2006, the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society took over the care of the home, and it is now the only historic home in the community that remains open for tours and other public programming.

That experience would lead Weingartner to become regularly involved with the historical society and the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.

In 2016, News12 contacted Evelyn Vollgraff, the president of the historical society, about filming in the area for a show covering historic places on Long Island. When reporter Danielle Campbell arrived at Long Island’s largest freshwater lake with Vollgraff, she was horrified to see how neglected and filthy the body of water was.

Fog encompasses Lake Ronkonkoma

Campbell, Vollgraff and several others put the word out on social media that they wanted to work on beautifying the area. The response was beyond anything Vollgraff anticipated. “We never asked for help. We just did it,” she recalled. “People got interested — legislators, councilmen. At the first meeting, 90 people were there asking what they could do and how they could help. The community came together in an amazing way. We have joined together as groups of friends that wanted to help our community. But now many of them are a part of the historical society as well, and most importantly, they’re my friends.”

In early 2017, the group held its first cleanup of the lake. Weingartner was there that day, too. They have since removed more than 300 tons of trash from the lake, and turned an old bookstore destroyed by fire into the historic Larry’s Landing, a popular hangout named for the bookstore’s late owner, Larry Holzapfel.

“Artie showed up with a camera at one of the cleanups and just started taking pictures — that’s just who he is,” Vollgraff said. “You have to record history. I can’t save every house in Ronkonkoma, but with Artie taking pictures, the history lives on forever.”

The community has also expressed its gratitude for Artie’s work through Facebook, where he frequently posts his photos on the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group and Sachem Sports pages.

“People were coming out of the woodwork from Florida or South Carolina who lived there 30 years ago to say how much it meant to them to see pictures of the place they grew up,” Weingartner said. “When I first moved to Long Island from Queens in 1970, we used to swim in the lake, but over a few years it got so dirty that we didn’t swim there anymore. Before that, people used to come out from Manhattan just to spend time at the lake. It’s always been an important, historic part of this community.”

While the exhibit is named Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma, Weingartner said it encompasses a range of subjects, including sports and landscapes from other parts of Long Island, including Port Jefferson and Belle Terre. More than 75 framed 8-by-10 prints are on display. His favorite photo features Lake Ronkonkoma at sunset, with two birds and sunlight streaming down to the shore. All the photos were taken with a Nikon D600.

The photography show also includes guest contributions from photographers Richard Cornell and Richard Yezdanian.“This exhibit will be interesting to people in our area because [the lake and other scenes] are literally in our backyard,” said Anne Marie Tognella who works in programming and public relations at Sachem Public Library. “It captures many of the scenes that we see and appreciate every day with natural and historic value.”

Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook will present Scenes of Lake Ronkonkoma in its art gallery on the lower level through the month of July. Join them for an artist reception on Saturday, July 21 at 2 p.m. For more information, call 631-588-5024.

File photo by Rachel O'Brien

Join the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group in keeping Lake Ronkonkoma clean during the Great Brookhaven Cleanup on Saturday, June 16. Volunteers will meet at the Town of Brookhaven’s Michael P. Murphy Beach on Lake Shore Road from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and walk the shoreline of the lake picking up litter. Students are welcome to use this event for community service hours. Come spend an hour or two making the lake as beautiful as it should be! For further details, call Evelyn at 631-588-7599.

Lake Ronkonkoma. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group will present a program about the revitalization of the lake at Sachem Public Library, 150 Holbrook Road, Holbrook on Saturday, March 18 at 2 p.m. The program will include slides of the history of Lake Ronkonkoma provided by the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society and feature guest speakers County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point) and Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden). All are welcome to attend this free event. For more information or to register, call 631-588-5024.