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Port Jefferson

Irene Friedman. Photo courtesy Pamela Friedman

Prepared by Pamela Friedman

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Irene Veronica Friedman. Irene passed peacefully in Palm Harbor, Florida on March 5, with her children and grandchildren by her side. 

Irene was predeceased by her husband of 58 years, Ernest L. Friedman. She is survived by her children; daughters Pamela Friedman Horner and Deborah Irving; sons David Friedman and Gregory Friedman; daughter-in-law Virginia Friedman, as well as her grandchildren: Taylor, Thomas, Ashley, Brianna, Cameron, Aaliyah, Cassandra and Gregory. Irene is also survived by her brother, Robert Hilliard, as well as many nieces and nephews.   

Born in Port Jefferson on January 24, 1936, to loving parents Anne and Frederick Hilliard and one of four children, she grew up in East Setauket. Irene graduated from Port Jefferson High School. She also graduated from the City University of New York in Manhattan, earning a teaching degree in Cosmetology, and continued her education, graduating from Valley College of Los Angeles, CA. 

She worked as a stylist with a celebrity clientele before marrying her husband Ernie in 1959. They moved back to her hometown, where she raised four children, and was an integral part of the family retail business. Later in life after moving to Florida, and her children were grown, she received her Real Estate License. 

Then at 55 years old, she went back to school to earn a bachelor’s in nursing from St. Petersburg Junior College and became a practicing Registered Nurse for Hospice of Florida Suncoast. It was perhaps, other than her children, her proudest accomplishment. She was dedicated to caring for terminally ill patients with the kindness, patience and empathetic care that came so naturally to her.  

Irene will be remembered for her dignity, courage, strength, generosity, devotion to her family, and unwavering faith. Her grace, warmth, playful spirit, endless love, and kindness will be deeply missed. She will be forever in our hearts. 

Services will be held at Serenity Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens in Largo, FL on April 6. A Celebration of Life will be held in the summer in Setauket. 

In lieu of flowers, charitable donations in memory of Irene Friedman may be made to Suncoast Hospice Foundation/Empath Health or St. Matthew Church in Largo, FL.

Further destruction of terracing and plantings on the East Beach bluff after recent rainstorms. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

Recent setbacks in East Beach bluff stabilization project have officials and residents on edge 

By Lynn Hallarman

East Beach is a village-owned strip of sandy shoreline situated between the northern front of the Long Island Sound and the base or toe of a steeply set bluff, roughly 100 feet high.

A jetty opens into Mount Sinai Harbor eastward of the bluff. To the west, the shore stretches past a series of private properties, then past the village of Belle Terre, and finally curves inward, reconfiguring as Port Jefferson Harbor. 

For decades, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club, perched near the crest of the bluff, was invisible to beachgoers below, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff’s north front. 

But in recent years, a series of intense rainstorms, combined with sea rise and pressures from human-made alterations in the landscape above the bluff, have set in motion deforestation and scouring, denuding the bluff of vegetation and accelerating erosion in the direction of the country club’s foundation. The club has become precariously close to the bluff’s edge. Without a plan, there was no doubt it would slide down the bluff onto the shoreline below within a few years. 

To make matters worse, the bluff stabilization project, whose aim is to stabilize the position of the club, has been beset with complications in the wake of a series of recent storms unraveling costly work completed just last summer as part of Phase I of the project.

As communities across Long Island are confronting relentless coastal erosion, TBR News Media focuses on the obstacles facing the bluff stabilization project at East Beach, exploring the complexities, costs and alternative solutions to rescuing the country club.

The big picture

Bluffs change naturally over time, feeding sand to the beach and replenishing the shoreline. They respond to the force of winds, waves and tides, creating new states of equilibrium with the beach below and the landscapes above. The Long Island shoreline has been reshaping for thousands of years, sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes in dramatic fits of landslip that is, chunks of shoreline abruptly falling into the sea. 

East Beach and its bluff are inseparable from the adjacent coastline they move as the coastline moves. When humans make changes in the shorelines by adding bulkheads, jetties and other rigid structures, the effects resonate laterally, affecting the movement of sand and ocean from beach to beach along the shoreline. 

“Port Jefferson’s experience with bluff restoration is a microcosm of what has been happening all over Long Island,” said Chuck Hamilton, a marine biologist and former regional natural resource supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for some 33 years.

“For a long time, farmers on Long Island had their farms right on top of the bluff, and shoreline erosion happened naturally,” he said. But now those same areas are being subdivided and developed, adding weight and impermeable surfaces abutting the shoreline. “And guess what? Now we need to stabilize.”

For decades, Port Jefferson Country Club was invisible to the beachgoers, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff. Undated photo courtesy Port Jeff historian Chris Ryon

The project

When Port Jefferson’s mayor, Lauren Sheprow, took office in July 2023, the bluff stabilization project was already in motion. Sheprow, a former public relations professional, had campaigned on a platform of two core values: financial transparency and safeguarding of village assets. However, the realities of rescuing the country club purchased in 1978 when her father, Harold Sheprow, was village mayor while keeping project costs under control have proven to be complex and demanding. 

Most of Phase I of the project happened before the current mayor took office. This work included the installation of a 454-foot rigid wall at the base, terracing and native grass plantings on the bluff face. With Phase II now under her purview, Sheprow believes it is her responsibility to see the project to completion: the installation of a wall system along the bluff’s crest, directly seaward of the imperiled country club. 

“I swore to protect and preserve the property owned by the Village of Port Jefferson, and therefore the residents. Preserving and protecting is not ignoring an erosion issue,” the mayor said.

Phase I, costing approximately $5 million, relied on local taxpayer dollars financed through a bond repayable over time. Phase II, estimated at $4.8 million, will be financed mostly by federal taxpayer dollars by a FEMA grant of $3.75 million.  

Financing the endeavor has been rife with holdups and stymied by a six-year-long permitting process. It has been almost a year since Phase I was completed. Final signoffs related to the FEMA funding for Phase II are still pending, preventing the village from seeking bids for construction of the upper wall. However, the village treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, said he hopes to see the signoffs come through this month. 

By many accounts, questions about the project’s funding have rankled residents for years. The prevailing sentiment is that the village pushed through a $10 million bond for the stabilization project (phases I and II combined) without a community vote through a bond resolution. 

“When I am asked about my position about the bluff restoration, I never saw the arguments on all sides of the project flushed out,” said Ana Hozyainova, president of Port Jefferson Civic Association. “Village officials took the position from the beginning that the building must be saved, no matter what. That imperative has limited the discussions about options.”

Complications

The uncertainty surrounding the cost and timing of needed repairs because of winter storm damage to the bluff faces further complications in Phase II. “Negotiations are ongoing” between the village and the contractor about who is responsible for absorbing these additional expenses, Gaffga said. 

Drainage issues at the bluff’s crest are also hampering progress, and likely contributed to the recent collapse of the newly-installed terracing along the western part of the bluff, below the tennis courts. “There are huge puddles sitting at the crest, after heavy [recent] rainstorms,” Sheprow said. The strategy and cost related to addressing the drainage issues have not yet been determined, she added. 

Although the project was divided into two phases because of funding constraints, “its ultimate success,” according to Laura Schwanof, senior ecologist at GEI Consultants of Huntington Station, “hinges on both walls working together to curtail erosion and prevent the club slipping down the slope.” 

GEI has been involved with village erosion mitigation projects since 2009. The two-wall system for the bluff stabilization was their design. “The problem with this project is protection number two the upper wall has not been installed,” Schwanof said. When asked how long the wall system might hold up, she couldn’t say. 

“What does happen, and has been seen across the Northeast, is that as we get more frequent storms, higher wave energy, higher rainfall events, rigid wall structures may work in the short term. But if you look 50 years down the road, they may not be as effective,” she said. 

“Hard erosion protection structures such as revetments or bulkheads can be costly, only partially effective over time and may even deflect wave energy onto adjacent properties.” Jeff Wernick, a DEC representative, wrote in an email. The DEC, he said, permitted the East Beach project based solely on “the immediate threat to significant infrastructure.” 

Completion of Phase I in spring 2023, before winter storms unravel work on the bluff face.
Photo from the PJ Village website

Retreat?

 When Steve Englebright, 5th District county legislator (D-Setauket) and geologist, was asked about the stabilization project, he started with a lesson about glacial formations dating back 17,000 years. Englebright scrutinized photographs of the bluff during an interview with TBR News conducted after the recent storms. 

“When the bluff, which is partially made of clay, is overweighted it behaves like squeezed toothpaste,” he said. “You can see toothpaste-like extrusions on the beach.”

Missing from the conversation, according to Englebright, is a reckoning of what is happening along the entire Long Island coast. “People don’t understand the overall dynamics,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to give you the big picture that the entire North Shore is unstable.”

“Trying to defend a single property is human folly,” he added. “You can buy some time, but how much are we paying? I don’t believe it’s realistic because you can’t stop the overall dynamic. The village should celebrate the fact that they have the ability to retreat and use that ability. Right? The bind is if you don’t have land, but they have the land. Strategically retreat, rebuild the building.”

Stan Loucks, a village trustee and a former country club liaison, was asked to put together a retreat plan by former Mayor Margot Garant confirmed by her to TBR News. “I did a plan A proceed with the restoration project or plan B, retreat about three years ago,” Loucks said. “I got prices for the demolition of the country club, moving the tennis courts and an architectural rendering of a new club further inland.” 

“The drawings had a huge deck on this side overlooking the Sound, and the huge deck on this side overlooking the golf course. I would have loved to take that plan to the end,” he added. 

Loucks’s retreat plan was never vetted publicly. Sheprow told TBR she never saw a retreat plan. 

Loucks remembers when tennis court No. 5 went in a landslide a few years ago. “It was massive and happened overnight,” he said. “And the slide took the gazebo, too.”

The Port Jefferson Civic Association meets inside the Port Jefferson Free Library on April 8. Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

At the Monday, April 8, Port Jefferson civic meeting, residents congregated to tackle one of the community’s most pressing issues: the fate of the Port Jefferson power plant. As the world pivots toward renewable energy and sustainable practices, the discussion revolved around embracing new energy sources while addressing the environmental and financial concerns associated with the current plant.

Xena Ugrinsky, a member of the Village of Port Jefferson Budget and Finance Committee, urged the need for a collective community conversation stating, “Everything is in motion. All we can do is ensure that we’re a part of the conversation and do our best to guide them to the right decisions.”

The conversation highlighted two essential work streams: Exploring new energy possibilities and navigating the political landscape in order to best incorporate the voice of the civic and community more broadly. Residents recognized the political sensitivity surrounding the issue and emphasized the importance of engaging local leaders to facilitate meaningful dialogue and action.

Ugrinsky and other affiliates have organized a committee to gather thoughts, concerns and invite further conversation on this issue.

“This is kind of a second run at this problem,” Ugrinsky remarked about the formation of the committee. “We’re going to do a bunch of research and we’re going to engage all the stakeholders. We’re not solutioning — we’re trying to gather the data, create a common conversation about what’s going to happen to the power plant and ensure that Port Jeff village has a voice in that conversation.”

“We’ve got the right people on board and we’re gathering more people. If you know of anybody who has either the background or the willingness to roll up their sleeves and participate let me know and we’ll get them engaged,” Ugrinsky said of the committee. “Our charter is to explore forward-looking and innovative possibilities for the future of the power plant, be a catalyst for positive change, while fostering a transparent and inclusive decision-making process.”

During the previous civic meeting, on March 11, Bob Nicols, a resident, shed light on the financial implications, emphasizing the need for strategic decision-making. With potential tax increases looming, residents expressed concerns about the economic impact on the community and the desirability of living in Port Jefferson.

As discussions delved deeper, the focus shifted toward finding productive solutions that align with the community’s values. In conversation, residents explored the possibility of repurposing the existing infrastructure to support new energy endeavors, such as hydrogen or battery storage, thereby maintaining the plant’s value to the community.

The urgency of the matter was brought to light by the recognition that delaying action could lead to missed opportunities and increased financial burdens. As Ugrinsky remarked, “If we don’t do this now, 20 years from now, tons of places will have done it, and we’ll think, ‘You should have done something about that when you had the opportunity.’”

The meeting also served as a platform to address broader community concerns, such as waste collection costs and upcoming events like the village’s first Arbor Day celebration. 

The Arbor Day event will take place on Wednesday, April 24, at 5 p.m. in the parking lot behind Old Fields, Billie’s and The Pie where county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine (R) will hold ceremonial plantings of two trees.

Looking ahead, the path forward for Port Jefferson’s power plant remains uncertain, but the commitment to engagement and collaboration remains. At the next meeting, the civic plans to invite candidates for the Port Jefferson school board. 

“The next meeting will be May 13 and we hope that we will be able to invite the school board candidates to come and present their platforms, and have a discussion about their vision for their role,” said civic President Ana Hozyainova.

From left, County Legislator Steve Englebright, Assembly District 4 candidate Rebecca Kassay and District 1 Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich. Photo courtesy Abigail Choi

By Sabrina Artusa

Rebecca Kassay (D), current Port Jefferson trustee and deputy mayor, will be running for election to the New York State Assembly as the representative of District 4, which consists of Port Jefferson, Stony Brook, Setauket, Belle Terre, Old Field, Poquott, Port Jefferson Station, Terryville, Coram and Gordon Heights. 

In addition to her work as an elected official, Kassay was a youth program director at Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook and the owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson. 

Kassay received an endorsement from county Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), the assemblyman for District 4 from 1992 to 2022 when he was defeated by Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), as well as Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook).

“With Rebecca’s experiences and deep understanding of the many overwhelming issues facing our communities, I am certain that she will be effective on day one in the Assembly,” Englebright said in a statement.

Kassay said that she and Englebright share an interest in the environment, if elected, she intends to continue his environmental efforts, including the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, which holds companies responsible for the waste they produce through their packaging.

With a degree in environmental studies and over a decade of experience working on environmental conservation projects, Kassay believes that environmental sustainability is a necessary consideration behind any decision. “The fiscal side of decision-making is on the top of the list of priorities,” she said, adding that, “Environmental responsibility is fiscal responsibility.” 

 As someone from a science background, facts and trends shape her views rather than the “fearmongering” political approach she said is commonplace. That is why she hopes to carry the ideals of community-rooted, nonparty politics of local legislation to the state level.

“Here are the real issues, and we are going to work together to fix them,” she said, describing her approach to leading. “It is fear versus pragmatism — I don’t want to call it hope [because] I know we can get this done.”

Some of the issues include more efficient transit systems, more affordable housing, securing sufficient funding, affordable health care and maximizing the worth of every dollar to the community’s benefit. 

“She has gained authentic experience as a longtime business owner, a member of community organizations, an environmentalist and as an elected representative, and I’m confident she has the real-world experience to be an impactful and successful member of the NYS Assembly,” Kornreich said. 

Being grounded in the community is a foundational value in Kassay’s view of leadership, and it is something she plans to do by keeping in close communication with local officials and strengthening the relationships between offices, organizations and nonprofits.

Municipalities across Suffolk County struggle with inefficient transportation and oppressive traffic, and District 4 is no exception. Kassay, like many other officials, hopes to alleviate the burden of transportation. 

At the end of her first term, if she is indeed elected, Kassay said she wants to feel “confident that the community knows I am there for them.” A resident herself, Kassay acutely feels Flood’s absence from local events — events she considers are opportunities “to better understand the community.”

“Through all those different experiences — working with the environment, having a business, being elected and working on the legislation — I have seen how important it is to have effectively engaged officials on all levels,” she said. 

There will be a Democratic primary election on June 25 for Kassay against Skyler Johnson of Port Jefferson Station. 

Xena Ugrinsky. Photo courtesy Ugrinsky’s LinkedIn page

By Aidan Johnson

Port Jefferson resident Xena Ugrinsky has announced her bid for the village board of trustees.

Ugrinsky served as the head of financial reporting, budgeting and planning at Young & Rubicam, a New York advertising agency/public relations firm. After becoming involved in the software and technology fields, she worked with clients in the utility industry. She moved into management consulting with national companies including Arizona Power, PG&E, Con Edison and National Grid.

She described her background in a letter to The Port Times Record editor on June 29 last year: “The proudest day of my life was when my parents and I took the oath to become citizens of the United States. I was 8 years old. As a Russian emigrant, my father applied for and received a Tolstoy grant, which sponsored our family’s journey to America. They arrived on these shores with a baby, a box of books and dreams for a brighter future.”

In an interview, Ugrinsky, who currently sits on the village’s Budget and Finance Committee, said that she was running for trustee because “I’ve reached a point in my career where I want to give back to the community I live in.”

One of her major issues is figuring out the future of the Port Jefferson power plant. 

“My goal was to figure out a way that I could help the village be involved in the broader conversation, and I believe we have a moment in time where we have the opportunity to be in the forefront of what is happening in energy,” said Ugrinsky, who also sits on the village’s Power Plant Working Group. She suggested the plant could be used to start producing “green hydrogen.” 

Ugrinsky said that while she may not have the solution for how to handle the power plant’s future, she is trying to “create a collective conversation among all of the stakeholders so that Port Jeff has a voice, has visibility into what’s happening and, in a best case scenario, can become a beacon to the rest of the United States for innovative power.”

“Let’s collectively figure out what we need to build so that Port Jefferson has a future with this power plant,” she said.

Ugrinsky’s other key issues include fiscal responsibility and transparency. She believes that Mayor Lauren Sheprow has increased transparency, including establishing an ethics board, along with other volunteer committees.

The election for the trustees is on Tuesday, June 18.

Port Jefferson fire chiefs accepting recognition of Mayor Lauren Sheprow at the March 27 village trustees board meeting. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

By Lynn Hallarman

Village officials honored the service of the Port Jefferson Fire Department at the board of trustees meeting at Village Hall on March 27. 

Chief Soeren Lygum, first Assistant Chief Anthony Barton and third Assistant Chief Christian Neubert were present to accept special recognition on behalf of the fire department. 

“I thought it was an important time to recognize the fire department after the recent fire in the Port Jefferson village on Feb. 22 in which you preserved the health and safety of many people in the community by curtailing that blaze,” Mayor Lauren Sheprow said. 

“We’ve had a great working relationship with Mayor Sheprow,” Lygum said. “We’re constantly communicating with her when anything is happening in the village.” 

The mayor recounted numerous fire and rescue operations for the public, in which the fire department participated. 

Villagers were reminded they could become volunteer firefighters. “You can stop by, and we have applications readily available,” Lygum said. 

Dangerous roadways

Several residents spoke about long-standing problems with traffic accidents, dangerous intersections and a lack of walkable corridors into the village.

Janice Fleischman described the “multiple scary moments with cars” walking her dog on Old Post Road East near Laurel Drive. “It’s gotten worse because of debris and encroaching foliage,” she said. 

Fleischman cited data issued by Suffolk County between 2017 and 2021 demonstrating that the county had the highest number of people who died while walking, bicycling, riding a motorcycle or driving than any other county in New York State during the same period. 

“The suburbs were engineered for cars, not for people to walk,” she said. “Now we know that’s not good for our health.” She advocated for a network of sidewalks and to remediate dangerous intersections before “a terrible accident happens.” 

Lisa Jaeger reiterated Fleischman’s concerns about dangerous walking conditions on Old Post Road near Laurel Drive. 

“I can’t tell you how often I’ve almost hit people coming around that corner from Laurel Drive going down the hill toward Old Post Road. It’s very dangerous,” she said

Barbara Sabatino described perilous traffic conditions and numerous accidents near her home on East Broadway. She advocated for traffic-calming measures and enforcement. 

Trustee Rebecca Kassay responded to concerns by informing the public of a recent walkability study completed by the village. The next steps will include strategic discussions with the planning board and trustees, and seeking grant funding to address dangerous areas in the village’s most trafficked areas.

Municipal parking administrator position

Kevin Wood, an employee of the Village of Port Jefferson for the past seven years as the municipal parking administrator, gave an impassioned speech arguing against eliminating his position as part of the tentative 2024-25 fiscal budget.

“I won’t go into the complexity of our system but, suffice it to say, it is extremely complicated and busy. The village needs and deserves a dedicated parking administrator,” Wood said. 

He added, “Port Jefferson Village processes 250,000 transactions per eight-month season. No other village on Long Island even comes close to that. Parking brings in good revenue.” 

Wood highlighted some of his accomplishments in the past several years, including the revenue-generating digitally managed parking; the completion of the “first downtown parking lot in 50 years” — the Barnum parking lot, that is free for village employees; EV charges, merchant billing, pay-by-plate parking and lot security cameras. 

 “Parking is hugely complicated. It takes somebody to negotiate and bring what we’re up against to the board,” Wood said. 

Sabatino questioned the elimination of the parking administrator position. “The parking is so complex nowadays I can’t see eliminating the position without something else taking its place,” she said. 

Village attorney, David Moran, responded: “The board, when it decides to act, will act in this room publicly, and if it decides to go whatever way, we’ll fully lay out the plan in this room.”

The board of trustees will hold a work session Wednesday, April 10, at 5 p.m.

By Aramis Khosronejad

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson hosted its sewcond annual St. Baldrick’s event on March 15. During the event, students and faculty volunteered to shave their hair in solidarity with all those who are struggling with or have already gone into remission from a childhood cancer. 

In addition to those who “brave the shave” during this event, Port Jefferson high school helped fundraise by selling merchandise or simply accepting donations. All the money raised was donated to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. 

According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, there are more than 300,000 children diagnosed globally with cancer each year. In the U.S. alone, more children die due to cancer than any other disease. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is an international organization dedicated to funding research for different kinds of childhood cancer to help accelerate and improve this type of research. 

The principal of the high school, John Ruggero, is passionate about hosting St. Baldrick’s events annually and exposing the high school to these kinds of events. 

“I want to get it so it occurs every year, so that lots of students and faculty and families, and people off the streets, come to donate,” he said.

Ruggero has been hosting St. Baldrick events for “over a decade,” he said. The principal is a firm believer that the most important education “takes place outside of the four walls” of a classroom. 

“When you have a philanthropic mindset, it really opens your mind out to what’s happening around us,” he said. Ruggero pointed out that these events can show students the most important lesson: If possible, doing things for others “should come first.”

“What happens is that kids who start to see that people rally behind these [events] become a little more confident in sharing their stories and want to get the word out,” Ruggero explained. He elaborated on how he wanted students to learn “the impact their actions have on others’ lives.”

The event was also supported and promoted by a 16-year-old student, Kyle Martin. When he was a child, Martin was fighting cancer and has been in remission for almost been eight years. 

Martin approached Ruggero and expressed his own desire for the school to host such an event, and the two worked together to bring the dream alive. Ruggero expressed his admiration for Martin’s mindset and ideas, explaining how because of his remission, Martin has been inspired to help other kids who are battling cancer. It’s safe to say that St. Baldrick’s will become a powerful tradition that Port Jefferson will adopt in future years. 

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Susan Bebb Seel. Photo courtesy Wylie Hunt

Prepared by Wylie Hunt

Susan Bebb Seel passed away after an eight-year battle with cancer on Feb. 29 in Stony Brook, surrounded by a loving family. 

Sue was born on March 27, 1950, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was raised by Hellen and Dr. Kenneth Bebb in Wichita Falls, Texas. After living in the Washington, D.C., area, Sue moved to Stony Brook in 1994. She attended Wichita Falls public schools and graduated from the University of Texas with a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology.

In the D.C. area, she was a founder of Rivendell School. Sue had a vision for unique ways of educating children. She poured her heart into developing a curriculum that reflected her faith and interest in literature, history, art and music. She was always an avid reader and member of the same book club of lovely ladies in Stony Brook for more than 30 years.

In 1996 she received certification as a life coach and coached clients of all ages. She coached clients at John T. Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, The Stony Brook School and countless others all over the country. She will be remembered as someone who received life from encouraging and inspiring others. Sue’s greatest joy came from relationships with family and friends. 

Her motto was “Show up and connect.” She did that well and to her fullest capacity even with stage 4 cancer. Sue loved to hear other people’s stories and was a shining light to everyone who met her. Her passion and love for people was unsurpassed. Sue and Spencer shared that enthusiasm and compassion in their community outreach and in their business, Made to Move Tennis & Wellness. In conversations with her husband, sharing their faith about God’s design for us to be healthy and to move, the name of the club, Made to Move, came into being. Sue loved to move. She was a triathlete, and before she competed in triathlons, she was a tennis player and active every year at summer camp.

As a member of Caroline Episcopal Church in Setauket for 28 years, she was passionate about music and sang in the choir. Sue also led adult education classes and Bible study; taught Sunday School; volunteered for Vacation Bible School; was active in Long Island Episcopal Cursillo, a program that seeks to grow Christ-centered leaders to fulfill the mission of the church; and made many, many prayer shawls and meals for those in need.

In 2016, before being diagnosed with cancer. she and her husband started The Village Spot, a nonprofit organization committed to helping young people, ages 18 to 30, who might be struggling to find a career or a meaningful place in their communities.

She leaves behind her husband, Spencer Edelbaum; her sons, David and Alex Seel; her daughter-in-law Erin Seel; her grandchildren, Ian and Eliza Seel; her cousins, Carolyn Kelly, Beth Russell, Louise Ratz and her second cousin, Susan Hernly Reed. Sue was preceded in death by her parents, Hellen and Kenneth Bebb, and her brother, Richard Bebb.

A memorial service will be held at Caroline Episcopal Church, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket, on Saturday, April 13, 10 a.m. The service will be live streamed, with the link on the church’s website: www.carolinechurch.net.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Rivendell School, 2410 N. Kensington St., Arlington, VA 22205; Caroline Episcopal Church, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket, NY 11733; or GIST Cancer Research Fund at gistinfo.org.

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Mary Ellen Niciu. Photo courtesy Legacy.com

Prepared by Christine Mackowiak

Mary Ellen Niciu, 83, of East Setauket passed away March 3 at Sunrise Senior Living in East Setauket where she had been in residence in the Memory Care facility since 2019. 

She was born July 10, 1940, in Brooklyn, the daughter of Thomas and Mary Maraia. She married William T. Niciu on July 5, 1964. 

Ellen graduated from SUNY Center on Long Island at Oyster Bay, in 1962 with a bachelor of arts in history. Upon her marriage to Bill, Ellen devoted her life to the care and upbringing of her family. She spent much of her time supporting her two daughters’ extracurricular interests, highlighted in particular by her volunteer time with The Clarkettes of Port Jefferson. 

In the latter portion of her life, Ellen worked for the NYS Department of Labor where her focus was assisting others with obtaining employment. Ellen also volunteered with The Guide Dog Foundation, raising several guide dog puppies. 

She was a dedicated daughter and aunt and adored her many cats. Her three grandchildren, Chris, Nicole and Jessica, were the pride of her life, and she reveled in all of their successes. She was predeceased by her husband of 56 years and beloved sister Rosanne Maraia. She is survived by her two daughters, Christine Mackowiak of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and Elizabeth Niciu of Columbia, South Carolina; her three grandchildren and her brother Michael Maraia.

 A celebration of the liturgy of Christian burial was held on March 11 at St. James R.C. Church in East Setauket and interment followed at St. James R.C. cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations would be appreciated in her memory to Good Shepherd Hospice at www.catholichealthli.org.

Kelly Ng and Adelaide Matthews. Photo by Lynn Hallarman
Stony Brook University pre-health students step up as volunteer EMTs

By Lynn Hallarman

Stony Brook University master’s student Kelly Ng didn’t intend to be an emergency medical technician. Then, a friend took her to a training as part of the Port Jefferson Emergency Medical Services volunteer program.

“At first, I was tagging along,” Ng said. Her friend eventually quit the program, but Ng discovered she loved emergency care and the adrenaline rush of helping people. 

 I met with Ng and her fellow EMT, Adelaide Matthews, a junior also at Stony Brook, at the headquarters of the not-for-profit PJEMS, based in Mount Sinai. Both live at the station as part of the “bunk-in” program open to full-time university students. Matthews decided to undergo EMT training because “it seemed cool,” and thought it would be a good way to get hands-on experience in medicine. Both are planning on applying to either physician assistant school or medical school. Ng has been with the program for almost four years, and Matthews for two years. 

PJEMS developed the bunk-in program as part of an organizational initiative to engage pre-health care university students as volunteer EMTs. “We had an urgent need to get creative in our approach to recruiting and retaining volunteer EMTs,” said Mike Presta, paramedic and deputy director of special operations for PJEMS. Presta saw the initiative as a win-win: Pre-physician assistant, pre-medicine and pre-nursing students would get the volunteer hours they need as part of their application process, and the organization would have a pipeline of volunteer EMTs.

In 2015, the Port Jeff organization started the College Student EMS Program. Students train to be full-fledged New York State-certified EMTS and respond to calls in the community alongside paid professionals. “They get invaluable experience as primary patient-care providers” Presta said. 

At first, the organization focused on recruiting from the pre-PA program since they have the largest hourly volunteer requirement. “Then it just spread like wildfire because there weren’t a lot of opportunities like that around for the students,” Presta said. 

In 2016, the bunk-in program was added. Students must be willing to commit to three eight-hour shifts per week. In return, the students get free room and board at the station and the opportunity to serve in leadership positions in their mentorship program. The bunk-in program is the first in New York state, according to Presta. “A couple of EMS upstate have replicated their program, but none locally,” he said. The Port Jeff College Student EMS Program currently has about 135 student volunteer EMTs, 15 of whom participate in the bunk-in program.

Over the years, Presta has seen a massive increase in the total number of calls per year as the population density in their coverage area has increased: “When I started here in 2007, I remember we broke 1,000 calls a year. And that was a big deal. But now, I can’t believe how busy it is. Last year, we did about 3,500 runs.” 

A visit to Port Jeff EMS

The day I met with Ng and Matthews, the station was quiet. A cluster of unassuming low-slung buildings houses PJEMS on the corner of Route 347 and Crystal Brook Hollow Road. A row of ambulances sits in front of the garage, repurposed as a makeshift gym. 

The rear of the building has been extended with a trailer unit to make room for the bunk-in program, which now replaces the spaces in the main building once used for offices. The largest space in the building is part command control and part community center, with a circle of comfy oversized recliners meant for weary bodies in need of rest between runs. A spotless kitchen overlooks a fenced-in backyard designed for the canine unit. Big screens line a wall, tracking deployed crews. EMT students — “probies” (shorthand for “on probation”) — lounge around a conference room table in Uggs and sweatpants, waiting for a teaching session to start. 

PJEMS is the primary ambulance service for the village of Port Jefferson, Belle Terre and Mount Sinai. According to its website, the coverage area comprises several schools, hospitals, medical facilities, a ferry terminal, two harbors and 6 miles of residential and commercial waterfront on the Long Island Sound. 

The organization is one of the region’s few “station-based” response units, meaning every shift has two professional paramedics and a crew of volunteer EMTs on site 24/7. The system is tightly designed with checks and oversight. Paramedics are trained in advanced lifesaving techniques beyond the basic skills learned by EMTs. No Port Jefferson volunteer EMT is left on their own or without backup from a paramedic. 

PJEMS, which has existed since 1959, started as 100% volunteer. However, as the area’s population grew and demand increased, the service added paid staff. According to Presta, community residents represent only about 10% of the 150 total number of EMT volunteers, with the rest mostly university students — including those in the bunk-in program. Still, Presta wishes more residents were interested in volunteering. “But there is no sell,” he said. “A person must have a strong intrinsic motivation to serve.”

New York State EMS crisis 

In 2019, a NYS Emergency Services Medical Council report identified insufficient EMS workforce reaching critical levels. EMS agencies statewide identified workforce shortages as impairing their ability to respond to need, causing delayed response times or resulting in missed calls. 

The report identified a tsunami of circumstances that have led to the workforce shortage, including the aging of volunteer EMTs, lack of pay equity for professional EMTs and antiquated insurance reimbursement models. Add in an uptick in mental health calls, older patients with complex care needs plus drug and alcohol-related calls, EMS programs across the state started showing signs of critical strain. These problems worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with an alarming overall drop in volunteerism to today’s levels, characterized by the NYS Association of Counties as a crisis. 

I was surprised to learn from state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) that EMS are not designated as essential services by New York State. I met with the senator at her office in Hauppauge to better understand the statewide response to the EMT crisis. Martinez has been at the forefront of advocating for policy changes at the state level as part of a legislative initiative called Rescue EMS. She has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills meant to bolster the volunteer EMT workforce, including increases in tax credits for volunteer EMTs, establishing a “Vets to Vollies” program which encourages veterans to join their local EMS or fire department and establishing a 90-day death benefit payment for volunteer EMTs and firefighters. 

Martinez loves what PJEMS is doing with its student program, and imagines replicating the program in her 4th District at perhaps the high school level or as part of their junior leadership program. 

Ng and Matthews are happy to be part of the Port Jefferson EMS first responder community. “It’s not just the medical knowledge we learn, it’s about how to talk to people and get them to trust us,” Matthews said. “And I really like the crew I work with.”