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Middle Country

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Photo from the Middle Country Library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral routes. The pictures and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

For over 40 years, Aggie’s Bar and Grill (also known as Aggie’s Steakhouse), located on Middle Country Road in Selden, was the “local watering hole” for area residents. 

Aggie’s opened its doors in 1927 and was owned and operated by Agnes O’Hagan, who moved to the United States at age three from Calabria, Italy. Events at Aggie’s and their contributions to community life were a mainstay in Selden during these years. Celebrations like wedding showers, birthday parties, costume balls, amateur nights, card nights and St. Patrick’s Day parties were held there. The staff even formed a shuffleboard team, which participated in local competitions with neighboring teams in the area.  

Saturday nights would find considerable crowds enjoying 45 cent spaghetti and meat sauce, square dancing and other specialty dances with music provided by Aggie’s Brown Jug Mountaineers. An advertisement for a Gala New Year’s Eve Party was placed in the Patchogue Advance of Dec. 25, 1936 to publicize the event, which featured noisemakers, hats and souvenirs, music and entertainment, and a seven-course turkey dinner. Tickets cost $1.00 for this specially licensed nightlong event, which concluded at 8 a.m.  

In the summer of 1939, Aggie’s showed appreciation to their summer patrons by announcing “a surprise” for them on a Saturday night from 10 p.m. until midnight. 

The festivities included dancing to the music of Leonardi and his Club orchestra, and listening to the pride of Harlem, “Singing Sam” and Aggie’s customary entertainer, Eddy Kane. Earlier that summer, Aggie’s advertised their official Ham and Cabbage Summer Opening for the night of July 22 in the July 19, 1939 edition of The Mid-Island Mail. Performers included Don Ritchie and his Rhythm Masters as well as Eddy Kane and Virginia Servidio. 

These are just a few examples of the central role that Aggie’s Steakhouse played in Selden’s social world, bonding its residents in family, friendship and community for more than four decades. 

A Level Up latte. Photo from Cat Smith

A Centereach couple is looking to score big with their coffee café concept.

Cat and Tim Smith both had experience working in different coffee spots. Being natural baristas and mixologists, they decided they wanted to open up their own spot, blending some of their favorite things — coffee, snacks, games and a cozy atmosphere everyone can enjoy.

“There’s really nothing on Long Island that has both a gaming atmosphere and a café,” she said. “When were younger, we would play games all the time. We’d have game nights every week.”

But the duo and their friends and family all began having kids — making it harder to go out, chill with their friends and find a space that can accommodate board games.

Cat and Tim Smith have been experimenting with different coffee flavors and showing off their new Level Up logo, seen on Tim’s shirt. Photo from Cat Smith

“We’ve put the feelers out there,” she said. “And so many people have said that they would love a place like this.”

Their idea for Level Up — a coffee and gaming café — originally started up nearly three years ago. While collecting more games to add to their library and finding a local roaster for beans, they devoted their weekends to finding a home to their soon-to-be business endeavor.

The Smith’s began saving, with the goal to settle down and officially open in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic derailed them. But Cat said that was a blessing in disguise.

“It’s been good in a few ways because we’ve been able to really take time and make sure we’re doing it the right way,” she said. “We want to use everything that we’ve been able to accomplish in this past year and really try to give back and make our business as community centered as possible.”

And it’s allowing them to thoroughly search the North and South Shores to find the best location possible. They want to be on a Main Street, with tons of foot traffic. 

“We’ve been primarily looking on the South Shore, but we’re also considering Port Jeff,” she said. “We want to be where we can attract people who are interested in supporting local businesses and have a place to go to spend time with their friends when COVID settles down.”

But Level Up won’t be just for board game lovers, she said. 

“We want people to nerd out and talk with fellow fan geeks about pop culture, comics and anything like that,” she said. “We want to have this community where people who are the deepest fans will come in and get really nerdy and chat with other people who are just as interested or people who are just mildly interested and want to learn more.

She added that Level Up will be a place that offers something different to do for locals. 

“I think we want connection,” she said. “We want people to be able to come to us and find connection if they want it, or just delicious coffee.”

And the coffee drinks will be something out-of-this-world. Working with Brooklyn-based Sweetleaf Coffee Roasters.  

“Our goal is to be really creative,” she said, adding that Level Up is going to be a “pop culture coffee house.”

For fans of Marvel, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, they’re working on some themed drinks that even Professor Severus Snape will want to order. 

The couple said their goal is to be opened up sometime in the summer, so stay tuned. 

To stay updated, follow @LevelUpCafeNY on Instagram and Level Up Cafe on Facebook.

Stock photo

School districts across Long Island have been offering free meals to children throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the policy from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the program to the end of the school year. 

Over the summer, at the height of the pandemic, the USDA allowed school districts to apply for free meals for all students. Usually, districts only provide free breakfasts and lunches to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

But the coronavirus prompted the federal government to create child nutrition waivers based upon available funding at the time to end in June, then December and now throughout the 2020-21 school year. 

And it’s benefiting hundreds of students, local school representatives said. 

Mara Pugh, Elwood school district food services director, said when the pandemic started in March, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue gave schools the flexibility and waivers to be able to serve lunches to everyone in the community who were learning from home. 

“Back then, we had a grab and go for any family,” she said. “No matter what the financial eligibility was, they would get a free lunch.”

Before the pandemic, families who were struggling or below the middle-class line were able to enroll their children in the free or reduced-lunch programs. The pandemic, however, affected everyone, and some students who came from middle-income households were now struggling. 

When the waiver was passed again at the end of the 2020, Pugh said it was “a relief.”

“It definitely will help to ensure all the children in our district and community have access to the nutritious foods they need,” she said. 

Whether the student is remote learning or in-person, everyone is eligible if they so choose, no questions asked. 

“We have around 2,500 kids in our district,” she said, “And about 30% to 40% of them are taking advantage of it.”

Remote families are able to pick up their meals at the school, where the district packages meals for two or three days at a time, she said. 

“There’s no enrollment needed,” she added. “With these times, people who were well-off last year may not be well-off this year.”

In a release last year, USDA stated that the challenges facing the country called for an effective way to feed children. The waiver allowed changes, like serving meals in all areas at no cost, permitting meals to be served outside of the typically required group settings and mealtimes, waive meal pattern requirements and allow parents or guardians to pick up meals for their children. 

“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Perdue said. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”

Three Village school district also has taken advantage of the waiver. Jeffrey Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, said that he thought it was “a great idea.”

“I’ve felt for a long time that school lunches should be free for all schools,” he said. “Either the district pays for it or the federal government pays.”

Carlson said the free lunches also have gotten better than when parents were in school. 

“It used to be a lot more obvious as to which kids were getting free lunch and then the stigma comes along with it,” he said. “So, if every kid just got lunch in school then we wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore.”

While there are still snacks and extras that must be bought à la carte, he said that daily participation in the program has increased. 

“I think it’ll go up even more after COVID,” he said. “People will be more comfortable with food being prepared for their children again.”

Beth Rella, assistant superintendent for business at Middle Country school district, said they are “thrilled” to be able to offer the program to all of their students — whether they attend in-person, virtual or hybrid classes. 

“Although we began the year starting a little lighter than typical, which was anticipated due to COVID, we have noticed an increase in the number of meals served daily as the school year has progressed,” she said. “We see more and more students enjoying tasty breakfasts and lunches each day. We hope that students, who may have not tried out the food services program previously, use this as an opportunity to taste the various menu items.”

Carlson said that when USDA extended the program, there wasn’t a big announcement about it. Rella added that her district has “utilized ConnectEd messages, board of education meetings, printed flyers, the website and have even encouraged faculty and staff to spread the word about the program.” 

Middle Country students even had the opportunity to design and compete in a “Free Meals for All” poster contest, where the winning poster was used as a promotional display. 

Smithtown school district publicized the program via email to parents. Superintendent Mark Secaur wrote back in September, “The USDA recently announced that all school districts participating in the National School Lunch Program could temporarily serve free lunch to all students until Dec. 31, 2020. We have now also received approval from NYSED to participate in the free lunch offering.”

Memos were sent out to residents within the Port Jefferson School District, too, and Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister said that while “around 10% or 15% of students are remote, this brings a level of normalcy to them.”

Leister added his district has also seen an increase in families participating. 

“There’s always a gap of people who don’t feel comfortable with signing up for the reduced lunch program,” he said. “But the federal government, state and Port Jefferson School District all realize that not having a meal is important to keeping students engaged and attentive — and no one will know they got it for free.”

Rella said Middle Country offers a week’s worth of frozen meals so students can continue to enjoy hot meals during their time off. 

“Having the USDA free meals for all program has not only allowed more students to participate in the program, it has helped to lessen the financial burden that was produced,” Rella said.

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Photo from library

Amongst the Middle Country Public Library’s many historical artifacts are a few that explain just how far the area has come from its pastoral routes.

The pictures and story below comes courtesy of a collaborative effort among the librarian staff.

Maybelle Still (Walcott) sits at the wheel of this automobile along with three of her colleagues who are out promoting the Work Projects Administration in Selden. 

The WPA was an ambitious employment and infrastructure program created by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 during the Great Depression with the goal to put Americans back to work. 

In Brookhaven Town, sidewalk projects were approved at the cost of $63,531 for Lake Ronkonkoma, Mastic Beach and Selden. 

The Federal government contributed $38,512 to those projects. 

The Selden project plans were drafted by Norton Brothers of Patchogue and called for the construction of sidewalks along a strip of land on the south side of Middle Country Road from Evergreen Avenue to Dare Road. 

The materials for these projects were purchased through the Brookhaven Town projects office by purchasing agent and Centereach resident, Arthur W. Murray.

Suffolk County police car. File photo

Suffolk County Police said Sunday they have arrested two alleged motorcycle gang members in connection with drugs and weapon charges during a traffic stop in Centereach April 6.

Police said a 6th Precinct police officer pulled over a vehicle, driven by Salvatore Manfredonia III, on Hawkins Road for failing to stop at a stop sign at around 8:45 p.m. Manfredonia was allegedly found to be in possession of Oxycodone. His passenger, John Balogh, was found in possession of a 9mm handgun. Police said Manfredonia is a member of the Satans Soldiers Motorcycle Club, and Balogh, a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, had just left the Hells Angels April Bash held on Lynbrook Street in Centereach.

Manfredonia, 35, of 15 Louise Drive in West Nyack, was arrested and charged with Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th Degree. Balogh, 58, of 1500 Parker Street 5B in the Bronx, was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon 2nd degree, criminal possession of a firearm and unlawful possession of marijuana. Balogh was arraigned at the First District court in Central Islip April 7, and is next set to appear in court April 12. Police said Manfredonia will be arraigned on a later date.

By Amanda Perelli

The recognized valedictorians and salutatorians of the Middle Country school district were active community members who set a positive example for this year’s graduating class. The driven students excelled in and outside the classroom, engaging in several extracurriculars and college-level classes.

Centereach valedictorian Anthony Roman and salutatorian Olivia Zhu. Photos from Middle Country school district

Centereach High School 

Valedictorian Anthony Roman graduated with a 98.2 GPA and was recognized by the college board as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Scholar. He was enrolled in 14 AP classes at Centereach and four other college-level courses.

Roman was a member of several clubs and organizations within the district, including the Thespian Honor Society, Italian Honor Society, National Honor Society, the school newspaper and Science Olympiad team.

He is attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall to study mechanical engineering and computer science. 

Salutatorian Olivia Zhu, who graduated with 11 AP courses and two college-level courses under her belt, also earned the recognition of National AP Scholar with Distinction from the College Board.

A member of National Honor Society, Tri-M Music Honor Society, and Math and Science Olympiad teams, Zhu also made time for sports, competing as a member of the varsity tennis team since eighth grade. She served as captain and earned most valuable player nods from her coach the past two seasons.

She will be attending Cornell University to study computer science and engineering this fall.

Newfield valedictorian Photos from Middle Country school district

Newfield High School

Valedictorian Logan Ortiz graduated with an unweighted GPA of 98.7 and more than 40 college credits. He participated in student government, National Honor Society and Tri-M Music Honor Society and served as
captain of the Mock Trial team while also remaining president of the Video Club.

Ortiz was also busy serving as captain of the golf team.

He plans to attend Georgetown University next fall and study political science. He said he hopes to attend law school and has his eye on becoming a government official.

Salutatorian Diogo Martins finished his high school career with an unweighted GPA of 98 and more than 45 college credits.

During his four years at Newfield, Martins helped out with almost every fundraising event in the school and served in leadership roles in the Thespian Honor Society, World Languages Honor Society and National Honor Society.

Martins will attend Villanova University in the fall and intends to major in finance.

The 4x400 relay team of Maritza Blanchard, Jess Faustin, Lexie Roth and Dana Cerbone took home multiple medals a the state track and field meet. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

Middle Country’s seniors have shown the strength, determination and dedication to achieve greatness, and now they have the success to prove it was all worth it.

After undergoing six brain surgeries and having a shunt put into her skull to help her manage an incurable disease, Lexi Roth hit the ground running. She helped Middle Country’s 4×400-meter relay team cross the finish line a fraction of a second behind first at the Division I state championships last weekend. The girls clocked in second among Division I schools in 3 minutes, 52.92 seconds. Rush-Henrietta Senior High School finished in 3:52.52.

Maritza Blanchard, above with Bay Shore’s Nia Singer, finished third among all schools in the 400 dash. Photo from Middle Country school district

The quartet, which also includes seniors Dana Cerbone and Maritza Blanchard and sophomore Jessica Faustin, placed fourth among all schools during the June 8 and 9 meet at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

“That group especially had an immense amount of talent and the work ethic that goes along with that, so I’m not surprised they got where they got to,” said former coach Matt Torres, who worked with the seniors their first two years. “Jessica, being the young one, works incredibly hard. She has some great leaders in front of her.”

Cerbone is about five feet tall, but Torres said you wouldn’t know it. She placed fourth among Division I athletes in the 200 dash (24.94) and fourth overall (25.33).

“Girls tower over her, but she has a bulldog-type mentality,” he said. “It wasn’t just practice, it was after practice that she would want to do more to see if she could get even just a little bit better. She’d push to have that edge, get in the weight room.”

He said none of the athletes would stop between seasons. They showed a desire to remain in shape and continue to try to take their talents to the next level.

“Maritza was always on the brink of being great, and I think coach Cuzzo really helped push her toward that,” he said.

Blanchard also brought home an additional medal with a third-place overall finish in the 400 dash. She crossed the finish line in 56.78. She ranked fifth among Division I schools (57.39) and bounced back to have a better showing in day two.

“Everything is moving in the right direction,” two-year spring track and field coach Charley Cuzzo said. “I’m very proud of how the kids ran. What they’ve been able to do is quite an accomplishment. They were ready to go, and they proved it.”

The quartet came out of nowhere and shot right up to the top. The girls were ranked No. 1 in the state prior to the meet. Cuzzo said they’ve made improvements that are impressive, and ones that the seniors will take with them to the collegiate level.

“They haven’t gotten there by accident,” Torres said. “They got there by how hard they work.

Smithtown West’s Nick Cipolla leads the pack. Photo from Facebook

Gabby Griffin gave it her all in what could have been her final race across the hurdles, and clocked in with a top spot and a personal best.

The Comsewogue senior sprinted her way to a third-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles, clocking in at 1.03.94 seconds at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Travis Colon races down the track during the 55-meter hurdle during the last indoor season. File photo by Bill Landon

Griffin was also part of Comsewogue’s 4×400 relay and placed third in 3:57.53 that move on to the state finals with other top county winners at the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8-9.

Sabrina Donoghue, Brianna Quartararo and Annalise Russo rounded out the relay, which set a new school record, breaking its own record of 4:02.34 by almost five seconds.

Comsewogue junior Travis Colon came in third in the 110 hurdles (15.06) and fourth in the 400 hurdles (56.40).

Comsewogue Fernando Toledo third in the 400 dash, clocking in at 49.72.

Middle Country’s Maritza Blanchard blasted her way to the finish line, twice.

She took first in the 400-yard dash by clocking in at 56.39 and ran the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay team that placed first.

The relay team of Blanchard, Dana Cerbone, Jess Faustin and Lexie Roth, which now ranks second in the sate, crossed the finish line in 3:52.96. 

Her teammate, Cerbone, who ran the third leg of the relay, also capitalized on two opportunities, sprinting her way to second in the 200 dash with a time of 25.37.

Middle Country’s he 4×400 relay team of Maritza Blanchard, Jess Faustin, Lexie Roth and Dana Cerbone.

Nick Cipolla can also run.

The Smithtown West senior crossed the 3,200-meter run finish line in 9:27.31 for first place.

Other area runners excelled in the 3,200.

Northport senior Dan O’Connor came in third (9:40.92), Smithtown East junior Kevin Cawley fourth (9:41.44), Smithtown West junior John Cuff fifth (9:42.91) and Northport sophomore Thomas Fodor sixth (9:47.13).

Smithtown West junior Nick DeFelice finished second in the 3,000 steeplechase (9:44.70). Smithtown East’s Cawley came in fourth (20:02.76).

Smithtown West junior Emily Eng placed second in the pole vault with a 10-6 leap.

Kings Park junior Mike Perez jumped 6-2 in the high jump for a fourth-place finish.

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By Bill Landon

Middle Country’s girls lacrosse team came up short at the buzzer in a Class A quarterfinal game that saw nine lead changes. No. 5-seeded Riverhead’s defense held down the fort in the final 30 seconds against the No. 4 Mad Dogs to pull away with a 13-12 win.

“It was a tough one today,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “We made some mistakes that we didn’t need to make.”

Down 6-4 at halftime, Middle Country junior Sophie Alois scored her third goal of the game to make it a new one, knotting the score at 6-all three minutes into the second half. After a Riverhead goal, Middle Country senior Emily Diaz dished the ball to Alois, and then to senior Sydney Juvelier 35 seconds later to help the Mad Dogs retake the lead.

The Blue Waves tied it up again before Middle Country did in return, and Diaz scored on a penalty shot with 14:07 remaining to give the Mad Dogs what would be their final lead of the game.

Riverhead rattled off four unanswered goals to take a 12-9 lead and ran crucial seconds off the clock by stalling until the four-minute mark.

With 3:37 left in regulation, Alois split the pipes unassisted and scored her fifth goal of the game a minute later off a feed from junior Jennifer Barry. Middle Country won the ensuing draw and this time, it was the seventh-grader Kate Timarky who wouldn’t be denied, as her solo shot found the back of the net to retie the game, 12-12, with a minute-and-a-half left in regulation.

After a shot on goal by the Blue Waves, controversy ensued and the game’s three officials conferenced on the field. After a minute of deliberation, the trio ruled it a good goal and Riverhead retook the lead 13-12 with 30 seconds left.

Middle Country won the final draw and called timeout with 22 seconds remaining as the Mad Dogs planned their final shot, but failed to get the ball near the cage as time expired.

It was a stinging defeat for the defending Long Island champions.

“When we were down by three we didn’t panic — we have plans for that, and we finished with good draw controls and were able to [retie the game],” Dolson said. “I thanked the seniors for their hard work their dedication — they will be greatly missed and we wish them good luck next year.”

Members of the Carol Putahl Literacy Foundation have access to the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which is a collection of classic childhood books. Photo from Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation

Students in the Middle Country Central School District’s Universal Pre-K program are receiving the gift of literacy from the Long Island-based Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation. 

Thanks to state funding secured by the office of State Sen. John Flanagan (R), the foundation is providing free, age-appropriate books each month to the children, in keeping with the foundation’s mission to increase early childhood literacy. The grant will help offset the cost of the program.

The literacy foundation delivers what’s known as the Dolly Parton Imagination Library to each child enrolled in the UPK program as part of a system that includes access to books and family literacy. Founded by the country singer in 1996, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library is a set of books beginning with the children’s
classic “The Little Engine That Could.” Each month, a new carefully selected book is mailed directly to the home of children enrolled in the program. Registration is free, with no cost or obligation to the family.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that early literacy is the key to academic and lifelong success.”

— Roberta Senzer

The Middle Country UPK is the largest program on Long Island, serving more than 400 youngsters from Centereach, Selden, Lake Grove, Lake Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson Station and Farmingville. Participating family members have been overwhelmingly positive about the program’s impact on their children since it was first introduced last month.

“My son gets so excited to open the mailbox to look for and get his monthly book,” said mother Jennifer Capinigro. “Thank you.”

Flanagan is a long-standing education advocate, having previously served as the chairman of the New York State Committee on Education.

“It is my pleasure to be able to assist the Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation in its mission of providing children in our community with a strong educational base,” he said. “By delivering books directly to young children in the Middle Country school district, the foundation helps ensure that these children enter school already acquainted with reading. This will help them reach their full potential and allow them to succeed in the coming years.”

Research has shown that children raised in homes that promote family literacy grow up to be better readers and do better in school than children raised in homes where literacy is not promoted. This is also supported through the Carol Pufahl Literacy Foundation’s Family Literacy workshops, which teach families how a child can be an active participant, rather than a passive one while reading with parents.

“Studies clearly demonstrate that early literacy is the key to academic and lifelong success,” foundation CEO Roberta Senzer said. “The Imagination Library is one way our foundation is working to foster a child’s love of
reading and to put books in the hands of all Long Island children to ensure they have the advantage they need when starting kindergarten.”

To learn more about the foundation or to make a tax-deductible donation visit www.cpliteracyfoundation.org.