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Mount Sinai

Alan Ghidaleson, left, with his wife Diane. Photo from Alan Ghidaleson

By Aidan Johnson

Mount Sinai is saying goodbye to the beloved pet store Feasts For Beasts, as owner Alan Ghidaleson moves onto the next chapter of his life with his wife, Diane.

Ghidaleson, who has owned and operated his shop since 1977, originally started working in building maintenance in Manhattan. “It was fun in the beginning because it was new, but then it just wasn’t my passion,” he told TBR News Media in an exclusive interview. “What I always had a passion for was pets, especially dogs.”

‘I really had a great time doing what I love.’

— Alan Ghidaleson

The industry was suggested to him by a friend who managed a few pet stores in Atlanta. “He said, ‘This is an industry you would absolutely love,’ and I went for a visit,” Ghidaleson shared. “I did like what he was doing, but said, ‘You know what, I’m a New York boy, so I’m going to do it in New York.’ And that’s what I did.”

Ghidaleson found success in his new business, going from operating a single store to, at one point, running 10 locations including a pet hotel by the mid-1980s. “I really had a great time doing what I love,” he said. 

Among its other professional services, Feasts For Beasts handled dog grooming and dog training.

Ghidaleson described his staff as being “the best staff of employees of anybody in any industry,” taking pride from working with some of them from their teenage years to their 30s. 

He also detailed watching his customers progress through the different stages of life, going from teenagers to parents to even grandparents. 

Over the course of nearly a half-century, Ghidaleson had many fond memories, including participating in the annual Miller Place-Rocky Point St. Patrick’s Day Parade. People from across Long Island would come to watch him and his Rottweiler pet riding on his motorcycle.

Ghidaleson also used to raffle off a new car and loved calling people to tell them they had won. “I’d buy a car from Ram, Chevrolet and raffle it off,” he said. “Calling people to say that you won an automobile, I have to say that was very exciting.”

Being in business for as long as he had meant witnessing several tragedies. After Hurricane Katrina, which resulted in over a thousand deaths in Louisiana in 2005, Ghidaleson and a few friends traveled to New Orleans to help out. They managed to save hundreds of dogs over the course of 10 days. 

Ghidaleson’s service to the community did not end at the pet shop. He completed a 68-mile walk from Mount Sinai to Chinatown in 2019 in order to raise money for the New York Warriors, a Long Island-based quadriplegic rugby team. It took him 28 hours to complete straight through, though it may have been shorter if the torrential rain hadn’t forced him to dry his clothes in the bathrooms of multiple Starbucks locations.

Despite his contributions to the community, Ghidaleson only recently realized the effect his business has had through the years. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words,” he said. “It’s magnificent.”

He added, “I didn’t realize what an impact that Feasts For Beasts has had on the community until the past month or so, because I get an abundance of people calling and coming in, and crying on the phone and crying in the store.”

Ghidaleson said he will still be around as he and his manager, Nick Kucharski, transition into the real estate business. While the pet store may be closing, Ghidaleson maintained he will still be there for anybody needing pet advice and information.

Photo courtesy Elliot Perry/MSFD

The Mount Sinai Fire Department held a memorial service on Sunday, Sept 11, in honor of the lives lost on 9/11.

Community members gathered at the fire department’s memorial. There, various members of MSFD delivered speeches commemorating the fallen. Following these statements, the department performed a ceremonial bell ringing, recognizing those who died in the line of duty. 

In an interview, Chief Randy Nelson discussed the ceremony’s purpose. For him, this annual custom preserves the memory of first responders who risked it all in the name of duty. It also recognizes the many civilians who died during the attacks.

“It’s a way to honor those who were lost on that day and, unfortunately, those that were lost since then battling diseases that stemmed from their work at Ground Zero in the months after,” he said. “It’s a way to honor, remember and — like it’s always said — to never forget. It is important to always have their memory at the top of our minds, especially on this day, but every day.”

— Photos courtesy Elliot Perry/MSFD

Developing Story:

TBR News Media has learned of a remarkable rescue mission of four Mount Sinai-based sailors earlier this month.

Reports indicate that on Sunday, May 8, the sailors aboard the 40-foot C&C  sailboat “Calypso,” owned by local resident and member of the Mount Sinai Sailing Association Bob Ellinger, were approximately 80 miles offshore battling against 16-17 foot waves when the boat was hit by a rogue wave estimated at 30 feet in height.

This blow had destroyed the mast, rendering the ship inoperable. While much of the equipment onboard was beyond disrepair, the crew managed to send out an emergency distress signal.

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the mayday and members of the Air Station Cape Cod MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew located the shipwreck. In a daring effort, battling high seas and strong winds, the helicopter crew successfully rescued all four sailors.

The sailors were later hospitalized and treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

If you have any information regarding this rescue mission, please email [email protected]. Tune into tbrnewsmedia.com for more updates to this developing story.

On Friday, March 25, the faculties of Mount Sinai middle and elementary schools took on their high school counterparts in a fundraising basketball exhibition. Billed as ‘The Battle of the Educators,’ the purpose of the fundraiser was to benefit the school district’s Booster Club. Almost two years since the event last took place due to the pandemic, the 19th edition of this local tradition was held before an enthusiastic crowd. There were T-shirt sales, halftime shooting contests and fun to go all around.   

 — Photos by Bill Landon 

Michael Faughnan stands outside the AOH Div. 9 hall where he gives free bagpipe lessons. Photo by Jim Hastings

Come one, come all to the Ancient Order of Hibernians Div. 9 hall at 172 North Country Road in Mount Sinai. People from around the area are being treated each Sunday to free lessons in the centuries-old art of playing the bagpipes by prominent local piper Michael Faughnan.

It all began in the Fall of 2021 when the famed New York Metro pipe band founding member and instructor for the Nassau County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band contacted Div. 9’s Dan Sharkey and Brian Nealis to gauge their interest in an instructional program. 

“I wanted to give back, so I reached out to the Hibernians in Mount Sinai where I live and told them that with COVID and all the activities I’m involved in being on pause, if there’s any interest in learning to play, then to let me know,” Faughnan said. “Dan Sharkey and Brian Nealis have their finger on the pulse there and the organization wants to give back to the community. That’s why I wanted to help.” 

For many, a check off their bucket list

Whether they were first-timers, second-timers, or old-timers, attendees at this Sunday’s lesson all came for a common reason: To learn a bit about the instrument that’s been calling to them for years. As they gathered around the table with practice pipes known as chanters in hand, Faughnan began to teach them. He showed them how to properly hold the instrument, where to place their fingers and how to blow. First in unison, then solo, then in pairs. 

Long-time Hibernians, Mike Lane from Miller Place and Mike Drennan of Selden always had an interest in bagpipes. “We’d been involved in going to the parades for years,” said Lane, who had been taking the class since the beginning. “It was kind of a bucket list thing to try. And then Mike Faughnan got in touch with us.”

Drennan said this was his first time holding the chanter. He laughed when relaying what his daughter had said to him: “Dad, I love you, but I don’t think you can do it.” Drennan’s reply? “Challenge accepted.”

Teacher and jazz musician Charlie Buonasera takes up his chanter. Photo by Jim Hastings

Charlie Buonasera, a jazz musician from Coram who teaches in the Bronx, had been given a chanter years earlier while bartending at an Irish pub during college but never actually attempted to play it until he saw the flyer. “I have this chanter sitting here so why not?” he said. “It’s been fun so far. It’s just something I wanted to pick up, to show off maybe.”

“It takes over a year working on the practice chanter to learn the finger work needed to play music before actually starting to work on the bagpipes,” said Tom Lamb, a piper who started coming to the meetings to strengthen his fundamentals. “It’s very encouraging to see the progress being made with people who are just starting to learn. We have a few people already starting on the bagpipe, which is not a cheap instrument to buy.”

Lamb said that bagpipes are an expensive hobby. Each instrument costs between $1,000 and $3,000. The rest of the uniform, including a kilt, can run up to $1,500.

The goal for many in the group is to get to a level where they can perform during next year’s St. Patrick’s Day season, but for others it’s a chance to experience something they’d always thought about.

Larry Fischer from Miller Place started a few weeks ago after noticing the ad at his firehouse. “I always thought I’d like to learn to play the bagpipes,” he said. “Everybody kind of laughed at me, but I saw the ad and I came down.”

Librarian Kerry Crovello gets fingers-on instruction from Michael Faughnan. Photo by Jim Hastings

“I love the bagpipes and always watched the parades,” said Toni Kaste, a fiddle player from Eastport. “It was on my bucket list of things to do.”

“I always wanted to play,” said Kerry Crovello, a librarian from Port Jefferson. “I’d been to Ireland — and can’t wait to go back. I had a friend from years ago who built his own bagpipes and it always stuck in my mind. And then I saw the flyer.”

Dan Cavanaugh from East Setauket came because of his grandson. “I wanted to keep up,” he said. “He decided to try and learn the bagpipes — something I’d thought about for years. So, it spurred me to go try and learn.” 

Who are the AOH?

The Ancient Order of Hibernians is America’s oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organization. It was founded in 1836 to help Irish immigrants arriving in the U.S. It has divisions all over the country and continues to support and promote Irish culture through civic participation in charitable causes.

Div. 9’s Mike Lane, on right, shows his fellow Hibernian Mike Drennan where to place his fingers on the chanter. Photo by Jim Hastings

Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 9 Port Jefferson NY, its official name, is a smaller group than others by comparison, but according to Faughnan, their heart is just as big. He hopes that with programs like his and others, their outlet can grow and they can build on their mission to continue doing good while supporting Irish culture.

According to Faughnan, his Sunday sessions aren’t so much a class but more of a club. So, if you want to join the club, send an email to [email protected], or call Dan Sharkey at 631-922-0151.

Spotlight on Michael Faughnan

The 61-year-old father of 3 from Mount Sinai has spent his life playing the bagpipes — casually and competitively. He ran a program in Babylon at the Ancient Order of Hibernians for over 20 years with the Saffron Kilts Pipe Band, which had over 100 players in the organization and competed all over the world and performed at many high-profile events and venues, including at the White House. 

Faughnan took a step back from performing after having his children. In 2010, his students started a band in New York City called New York Metro Pipe Band. He soon joined in as a founding member without the pressure of being the pipe major. They were joined by top tier bagpipers from all around the area and eventually traveled to Scotland where they won the world championship. They’ve been consistent winners at contests in the U.S., Canada and Scotland. 

Michael Faughnan demonstrates the proper finger and blowing techniques on his bagpipe practice chanter. Photo by Jim Hastings

At 8 years old, Faughnan and his siblings were introduced to the bagpipes by world champion Scottish bagpiper Stewart Robertson, whom his parents knew, and their lives were changed forever.

“We were kids. We didn’t know any better,” he said in reference to playing the pipes during his childhood. “We went with the flow and enjoyed the journey and thought it was normal until you looked back and realized there weren’t a lot of other kids doing that. We traveled, competed, experienced success and got in front of people to entertain, building confidence at every step — all traits that help out in every aspect of life.” 

“It’s gotten me everywhere — playing the bagpipe and being good at it,” said Faughnan. “It got me a scholarship to Iona College where I was pipe major from 1978-1982. I got my career as an investment banker through playing the bagpipes.”

It also gave him the chance to record music in the studio, both with his band on their own albums, and as a studio musician for such famed artists as Van Morrison, Sting, Clannad and The Chieftains. To challenge himself, Faughnan joined a high-end band in Ireland. Working remotely in investment banking allows him to travel back and forth regularly. “I’ve been practicing with the band 2 or 3 times a week every other month for the last year just to compete this summer in the tournaments in Ireland and Scotland.”

Faughnan is involved with many bands in the New York tri state area. “They’ll hire me as a coach to come in and work on different things to help them sound better, to play in unison and to grow as musicians,” he said. “While not every band has the same musical expertise, it’s great to see them out there. They’re doing it because of their passion.”

He’s also busy playing and rehearsing with New York Metro Pipe Band in preparation for competing in Montreal at the North American Championships; the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland; and the All-Irelands in Dublin. They will be performing on the Fox & Friends morning program on Saint Patrick’s Day. Faughnan himself can be found playing solo on March 19 at Peconic County Brewing in Riverhead at 3 p.m. and Port Bistro & Pub in Port Jefferson at 5 p.m.

8565-Port Jeff junior Jenna Jacobs and her sister 8564-Alexa Jacob compete in the 300m dash at SCCC Feb 6. Bill Landon photo

Mt. Sinai senior guard Casey Campo looks for the rebound in a league VI home game against Glenn Jan 20. Photo by Bill Landon

The Lady Mustangs of Mount Sinai trailed from the opening tip-off and edged ahead by one, with less than a minute left in the first half. 

John Glenn brought a potent three-point game that the Mustangs struggled to contain in the league VI matchup Jan 20.  

Tied at 41 all with six minutes left in regulation, John Glenn drew several fouls and did their damage from the free throw line defeating the Mustangs 61-53 for their first loss of the season. 

Mount Sinai senior Casey Campo topped the scoring charts with 24 points and Kyle Budke banked 18. 

The loss drops the Mustangs to 6-1 in league to share the top spot with Shoreham Wading River with six games remaining before post season play begins.

Photos by Bill Landon 

Below, Linda Parlante presents Abel Fernandez with a certificate congratulating him on his nomination of Person of the Year at Mount Sinai High School, Dec. 23. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Think of all the little things that make or break your day. 

Were you greeted by a kind man when you came to work that day? Did someone tell you a joke that made you laugh while you whiled away the hours stuck at a desk? Did somebody help you move those boxes when you threw out your back earlier that week? Did somebody help you change your car tire after you got a flat when coming out of the parking lot? 

Abel Fernandez, lead custodian at Mount Sinai High School, is the man who makes people’s days, constantly, day after day, month after month, school year after school year. He’s a man who proves that small acts of kindness add up to a mountain of giving, and that is why Fernandez is named a TBR News Media Person of the Year for 2021.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Linda Parlante, the district secretary to the facilities director, said Fernandez “spends countless hours making sure his building is safe for the students.” Even as a custodian, he makes his love for the school and community known through every action he takes, whether it’s by attending many of the school functions, including being the first to volunteer during the annual Battle of the Educators faculty basketball game, rolling out the red carpet during prom, or always being there to purchase a cupcake or cookie at school bake sales. 

Scott Reh, the district director of buildings and grounds, said all the students know him for constantly being there for them.

“The kids love him,” Reh said. “He’s a fixture in the school and in students’ daily routines. The kids see him, and he interacts with them in a positive manner. He’s a role model.”

Fernandez also serves as the Spanish language interpreter for the district, and even there he goes above and beyond. He’s been known to go to students parents’ homes alongside high school principal, Peter Pramataris, to communicate with them directly about what’s happening in a student’s life or how they can participate in district elections. Reh said that Fernandez has a way about him that “when he [talks to students and parents], it’s in a manner in which they feel comfortable. He’s a soothing presence.”

Nothing takes away Fernandez’s attention from his school work, not even recent personal tragedy. After his brother was involved in a severe car accident, Parlante said the lead custodian has been attending to his brother’s needs, driving him back and forth from the hospital, as well as managing his brother’s barbershop. Even with all this extra work, Mount Sinai school officials said Fernandez has never missed a beat in the district, and that he still comes to work wanting to give 100% of his care to the student body and school grounds.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

“He has been the first on scene for accidents on district property as well as the first in line when an issue arises that needs security,” Parlante said. “If anyone in the building ever needs anything, whether it be boxes moved, a car jumped, a tire changed or help at their house, he is always available and never says ‘no.’ He has created lifelong friends from his work here and everyone would agree that Abel would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it.”

Pramataris has known Fernandez for well over a decade, having especially come to rely on him since he moved up from middle school principal to high school after the untimely passing of former principal Rob Grable in 2019. Pramataris said Grable had elevated Fernandez to the head custodian position “just because he also saw the potential in him.”

Fernandez is in charge of four custodians at the high school, and the principal said he always leads by example and “he’s always the first one to climb the ladder and do whatever needs to be done.” 

What gives Fernandez his can-do attitude? Pramataris said it’s likely his familial bonds that, growing up, taught him the value of hard work. His mother, Angela, is a custodian for the Comsewogue School District.

“His personality is just pleasant, and as someone who’s been knocked down a few times, he could have probably given up, but it’s the last thing that he’ll do,” Pramataris said. “He’s just the type of guy that you want to help and support, and he does the same for you.”

The Heritage Center at Heritage Park. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The Heritage Center in Mount Sinai will soon have new owners, but that doesn’t mean that things are going to completely change. 

As of Dec. 1, North Shore Youth Council took over the operations and activities of Heritage Trust.

Victoria Hazan, president of Heritage Trust, said that for the last two decades, the center and its grounds were run by a devoted set of board members and volunteers, but it was time for the center to have a new life. 

“We were looking for it to be transferred to another nonprofit,” she said. “We loved their mission — NSYC is awesome and are community oriented like we are.”

Based primarily out of Rocky Point, NSYC has been prominent within its community since the early 1980s. 

The organization was born out of concern for the high rates of substance abuse and teenage runaways on Long Island at the time. 

Driven by the desire to save as many youths as they could from drugs and alcohol, these individuals spawned an innovative model for youth prevention programming that continues to this day. Eventually NSYC began to expand and offer additional services along the North Shore including summer camps, after-school programs and mentorships.

Robert Woods, NSYC’s executive director, said that the organization always had a close connection to Heritage Trust. 

“This partnership will allow us to bring in more resources to the community and affords new and exciting opportunities for thousands of residents to enjoy and partake in,” he said. “With this expansion and increase of space for NSYC, we’ll be able to do more of what we love and serve youth and families in greater capacities.”

This doesn’t mean that NSYC will be closing or eliminating their Rocky Point presence, either. 

“We’re expanding our services to reach families in other communities,” he said. “We are thrilled for this next chapter of our organization to expand into the heart of the North Shore communities and build upon the center’s 20-year legacy.”

Lori Baldassare, founder and a board member with the trust, said NSYC was always affiliated with the group — her late husband Jaime was president of the NSYC board for a decade. 

“They share a mission that was similar to ours,” she said. “It just made sense.”

While the deal is not completely closed yet — Woods said it should be finalized within the next month — NSYC has begun hosting events and taking on the operations that Heritage is known for including the annual tree lighting and breakfast with Santa. 

“It’s great for NSYC to have a brick-and-mortar space for them to host events and use that they didn’t have before,” Baldassare said. 

Heritage Park, and the center inside it, began 25 years ago when the open land was slated for construction of a new Home Depot located at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road. Baldassare was a member of the Mount Sinai Hamlet Study for the Town of Brookhaven at the time. 

“People said they didn’t have a central meeting place in the area — not just for Mount Sinai, but the whole North Shore community,” she said. “The Heritage Center and park have been able to create a sense of place.”

Not only will the center host Heritage events in the near future, but Woods said they will be able to bring more activities for residents including LGBTQ youth programs and behavioral art classes. 

“It was bittersweet,” Hazan said. “But at the end of the day, it was the best thing we could’ve done for the park.”

With 997 career varsity points and counting, Mount Sinai’s Drew Feinstein drained a triple from the corner for the juniors 1.000th career varsity-point in a home game against Hauppauge Dec. 18. 

Feinstein a varsity player since the 8th grade seemed unfazed by the accomplishment saying he did nothing different to prepare for the history making game. 

“Pretty much do what I do just play just gotta play hard,” said Feinstein, who led his team in scor-ing with 22 points. “I always show up in the second half.” 

Despite a 4th quarter surge, the Mustangs fell short 76-69 in the non-league matchup. 

Derrek Shechter hit a pair of treys, 5 from the free throw line and 3 from the floor for 17 points and Dominic Pennzello the freshman banked 10.

The Mustangs are back in action Dec. 21 with a road game against Miller Place where tip-off is 4:30 p.m.

— All photos by Bill Landon