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North Country Road Middle School

Jack Soldano wanted to help the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society repair the roof of the William Miller House, so he’s selling some of his collection of comic books at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park yard sale this month and next. Photo by Kevin Redding

With a little help from some super friends, a local boy wonder is on a mission to save the oldest standing house in Miller Place.

For most 12-year-olds, summer vacation means sleeping in, goofing off and avoiding responsibility at all costs.

Some of Jack Soldano’s collection of comic books. Photo by Kevin Redding

But for Jack Soldano, a North Country Road Middle School student and self-professed “lover of geeky things,” it’s been spent organizing and pricing hundreds upon hundreds of old comic books and making pins, magnets and bottle openers out of the collection’s vibrant panels, sometimes from 8 in the morning until 11 p.m.

Although Jack has a passion for the medium — he dresses up every year as his favorite superheroes at New York Comic Con and even wrote a letter to Marvel Comics when he was 6 years old detailing why the company should hire him — he isn’t doing this for himself.

“With a great supply of comic books comes great
responsibility,” Jack said, laughing.

He will be selling up to 1,000 comic books — Marvel, DC and everything in between — and homemade superhero accessories throughout July and August at Heritage Park’s community yard sale in Mount Sinai to help the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society repair the roof on its main headquarters.

The nearly 300-year-old William Miller House at 75 North Country Road, built in 1720, is the ancestral residence of the family after which Miller Place was named. The oldest existing house in the town, which is open to public tours and serves as the meeting place for the nonprofit organization, needs between $18,000 and $28,000 to renovate its collapsing roof and a total $100,000 for a full-house repair, including window replacements.

Jack Soldano is selling some of his comic books for a cause at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park yard sale this month and next. Photo by Kevin Redding

The society has offered family-friendly programs for years at the Miller House, like Postman Pete, where kids eat cookies and mail out letters to Santa, and the Spooky Lantern Tour of the historic Miller Place district in the fall.

So when Jack, whose family has been involved in the programs since he was very young, saw on the news more than a month ago that members of the historical society were pleading for public donations, he got an idea.

He went to his grandfather, who has an expansive library of comic books that includes everything from “Batman” to “Superman” to “Dr. Strange” as the former owner of a Port Washington hobby shop in the early 1990s, and told him he wanted to sell the collection to raise as much money as possible for the restoration project.

His grandfather simply said, “Okay,” and started donating bins of issues.

“I remember when I was younger in Miller Place, going to the Spooky Lantern Tour and Postman Pete, and having much fun, and I want the younger kids to be able to experience that too,” Jack said, adding with a smile that he won’t be giving away every comic. “I’ve kept some comics for myself, of course, because why not, but I wanted to sell the leftovers to a worthy cause and what’s more worthy than one in your own backyard?”

Jack Soldano is also handmade pins to help restore the William Miller House. Photo by Kevin Redding

Jack’s mother, Cristin Mansfield, said she and her husband are proud of their son for coming up with the idea himself.

“He’s not using the proceeds for himself,” Mansfield said. “He’s sitting there and immersing himself in this thing that he loves, reading the comics, finding funny speech bubbles. We’re super proud.”

Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society Vice President Antoinette Donato said the society is extremely grateful.

“We are so inspired that someone so young has such an interest, and that nobody planted the seed — it all came from him,” Donato said. “I think it’s everybody’s responsibility to keep history alive, so when somebody like Jack comes along who obviously has an interest and is genuine, it’s very reassuring for us and gives us hope.”

Residents can buy comic books every Thursday between 5 and 8 p.m., through Aug. 24, at the Mount Sinai Heritage Park. Visit https://www.facebook.com/comics4acause/ and https://www.etsy.com/shop/ComicsForACause for more information.

Thomas Scully, second from left, and his family out fishing on a boat. Photo from Despina Scully

By Desirée Keegan

Thomas Scully’s life can be summed up by the lyrics of one of his favorite songs, “The Man,” by Aloe Blacc:

I played my cards and I didn’t fold. Well it ain’t that hard when you got soul (this is my world). Somewhere I heard that life is a test. I been through the worst but I still give my best.
God made my mold different from the rest. Then he broke that mold so I know I’m blessed (this is my world).

Thomas, 12, of Miller Place, died on July 7 after a long battle with anaplastic ependymoma, a form of brain cancer. Although he grew increasingly sick over the last few years, Thomas was said to always have a smile on his face, a terrific sense of humor and was always concerned about others.

Thomas Scully and his cat Snowflake. Photo from Despina Scully
Thomas Scully and his cat Snowflake. Photo from Despina Scully

Thomas was so full of life that, even while battling a lung infection the day before he passed, his mother Despina said she put music on, and he was dancing in his bed.

“All the nurses and doctors came running and they were amazed that he was doing that,” she said. “They’d never seen anything like it before, and that was Thomas. He never stopped fighting. He just loved being here. He was strong, resilient and hardheaded, and wasn’t letting anything hold him back. He loved life.”

He also cared deeply for others, and even while fighting his own battles he was more concerned about how others were feeling.

“He always was advising people, talking to people, and here while he’s going through this he was making people happy, always wanting to make people laugh and cracking jokes and doing magic tricks with his friends,” his grandmother Helen Vidal said. “He’s just an incredible, incredible little boy. He was so sweet. He was always so polite, always trying to please everybody, always very in tune with people and always advising people to take care of themselves.”

In his short time, Thomas also made sure to soak in every second of life.

His aunt Joelle Manzo, of Miller Place, sister of Thomas’ father James, said that while the family was vacationing in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., they were boogie boarding prior to a storm. As the waves rolled in and everyone came out of the water, Thomas continued to drift along, taking it all in, Manzo said.

“He wasn’t going to let anything go by without taking it in,” she said. “And I think we should all live like that. We forget to. We take things for granted. We all think that we have time, but we don’t. The talks that Thomas and I had have blown my mind. He was so wise beyond his years.”

Thomas shared many hobbies with his friend Robby Fitton, who he met in 2012 in at North Country Road Middle School.

Thomas eats dinner at Wasabi, his favorite restaurant, with best friend Robby Fitton, at left. Photo from Concetta Fitton
Thomas eats dinner at Wasabi, his favorite restaurant, with best friend Robby Fitton, at left. Photo from Concetta Fitton

“Back before he got very sick we played outside a lot,” Robby said. “He loved baseball. He also loved playing video games, riding around in his golf cart, playing the card game Crazy Eights and going to Wasabi, his favorite restaurant, I felt really bad for him that he had to go through that all and it was upsetting to see him like that because he’s my age and had a very serious sickness.”

But he was there for his friend, and the two continued to get together at least once or twice a week. Once Thomas found himself in the hospital, Robby visited him there, too.

“It was tough seeing him with IVs hanging out of his arms and all the treatments he had to go through, but he always stayed positive,” Robby said. “I thought of him as one of my best friends because if something happened to me he would always call or text me to check and see if I was OK. We’d always be there for each other, that was a big thing with our friendship. He was special in his own way. I miss him.”

Thomas also had a lot of strength, and his mother called his battle “one heck of a ride.”

“He kept us going,” Despina Scully said. “He was our strength. I’m so unbelievably proud and feel so unbelievably blessed to be his mother and to have gotten the time that I had with him. I feel so lucky to be his mom.”

Thomas gives a thumbs-up in his fight against childhood cancer T-shirt. Photo from Despina Scully
Thomas gives a thumbs-up in his fight against childhood cancer T-shirt. Photo from Despina Scully

Those who knew Thomas described him as very humble. His mother said that if you told him you brought him a leaf because you were thinking of him, it’d mean the world to him.

He was also outspoken.

While watching other children with cancer on television, he would ask his mother, “Why can’t I also be on television?” When his mother asked, “What would you say if you were on TV?” his response was to tell everyone, “Hello, world. You need to be kind to each other, embrace and love each other.”

Scully is trying not to let that message go.

“He was never negative — he would always see the good,” she said. “That’s what I’m trying to hold onto. I’m getting caught up in being upset that he’s gone and that he’s not coming back and how things happened, and I’m trying not to do that because I can’t get him back. He’s gone. I’m just trying to hold onto all those things that he was trying to tell me while he was here and I was just too busy worry about what medicines and what treatments and where he’s going to go and how we’re going to beat his cancer, and I wasn’t there, like I should have been. I wasn’t hearing him. And now I hear him, and I don’t want to let that go.”

Thomas is survived by his parents James and Despina Scully; his brother James Jr.; his sister Jillian; his grandparents Emerson and Helen Vidal, and James Scully, husband of the late Jean Scully. Religious service was celebrated at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption in Port Jefferson. Interment followed at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Port Jefferson. Arrangements entrusted to the care of Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place.

Danielle Turner, who is currently the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place, will take over July 1

Danielle Turner was previously the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place. File photo from Danielle Turner

A new athletic director has entered the kingdom.

After an extensive search, Port Jefferson school district hired Danielle Turner to be the new face of Royals athletics, taking the helm on July 1 and replacing Edward Cinelli, who has served as interim athletic director since former leader Deb Ferry left in December.

“I’m super excited to get in there and start,” Turner said. “Being an athletic director has always been my goal. It’s a small community, a very supportive community. I think for me Port Jefferson is the perfect fit.”

The Sayville resident and Farmingdale native is the assistant principal at North Country Road Middle School in Miller Place, a role she took after first applying for the athletic director position there. She will follow former assistant principal Robert Neidig to Port Jefferson, who himself left Miller Place to become the principal at Port Jefferson Middle School.

North Country Road Principal Matt Clark said Turner will do a phenomenal job for the Royals.

“She did a really nice job of acclimating right to our culture and I could tell right away she had tremendous initiative,” he said. “We were very impressed when she stepped in and became a big part of the fabric of what we do. She’s done a great job of team building within teachers and she’s also done a really nice job of supervision of both faculty and staff. We’re really proud of her.”

After graduating from Sachem, Turner received a bachelor of science degree in physical education from SUNY Cortland. She followed that up with a master’s in athletic administration and coaching from Stony Brook University, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational administration and supervision from St. John’s University. She also holds certification in the areas of the Dignity for All Students Act, crisis prevention intervention and first aid, and is a certified personal trainer.

Danielle Turner will take over as athletic director at Port Jefferson on July 1. Photo from Port Jefferson school district
Danielle Turner will take over as athletic director at Port Jefferson on July 1. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Turner received her first teaching and coaching positions at Longwood Middle School, where she was a physical education teacher and varsity volleyball coach from 2008-12, while also coaching lacrosse and basketball at different levels. She later served as assistant principal at Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ Premm Learning Center and Sayville Academic Center.

“I went from teaching phys ed with sixth-graders to being a special education assistant principal, which was extremely difficult but also was just a great learning experience for me in terms of the types of students that I dealt with,” Turner said in an interview.

David Falco, a physical education teacher at Sachem North and the school’s varsity football coach, instructed Turner when she was on the girls’ basketball team there. He said his former athlete was a dedicated, tough inside player. As a SUNY Cortland alumnus, he was an integral part of her college discussion.

“She has a love of sports and kids, she has a great rapport with parents and the other administrators in the building, and I’ve seen her interact with all of those groups in a very positive way,” he said. “I think the sky is the limit for Danielle in regard to athletic administration, and I think that’s because of the way she approaches all the different tasks she has — and that’s because of her work ethic.”

Turner, who is also making waves as a female boys’ basketball referee, said she’s thankful for those like Lisa Lally and Deb Ferry, Miller Place and Port Jefferson’s former longtime athletic directors, for paving the way for females.

“I owe it all to them,” she said. “They’ve been super supportive and helpful, and excelled and thrived in the position.”

She thinks Port Jefferson is the perfect place for her because of its small, intimate setting, and said she was excited to learn that the athletic office was within the high school.

”Port Jeff obviously has a great reputation academically, so I definitely keep up with that reputation while getting a feel of the land,” she said. “I want to continue with producing quality student-athletes and ultimately improve upon those programs in whatever way we can. I am again just so thrilled to be able to see the kids in action, and get out there at games supporting our kids.”

Police say incident is not criminal

A man in a New York Police Department jacket and two others in suits observe the brush next to North Country Road Middle School after a body was discovered there Monday morning. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Suffolk County police responded to a report of a dead body found in Miller Place within feet of the North Country Road Middle School early Monday morning.

Police did not provide any information on the body, which was found close to the building on Lower Rocky Point Road. Police described the incident as “noncriminal” in nature.

Cops received a call this morning reporting the discovery. The caller told police that the body was found just north of the school.

At 2:30 p.m. Monday, a man wearing a New York City Police Department jacket with a police patch was observed browsing the brush next to the school, flanked by other men dressed in suits.

No marked police vehicles were visible at the scene.