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File photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

As Mother’s Day rolls around, TBR News Media took to the streets throughout our coverage area, asking locals what this special day means to them.

It’s a day which makes people remember the importance and significance of mothers in their life, and to express love, appreciation and gratitude toward mother figures for their unconditional love, support and sacrifices. TBR wants to know, “What does Mother’s Day mean to you?”

Seema Pandya, Smithtown

Seema Pandya, Smithtown

I think it means the honoring and passing of traditions and wisdoms of mothers to mothers to mothers. Usually, I spend time with my kids, calling my parents and wishing them well.

I used to work at a restaurant in Colorado and for Mother’s Day they would make chocolate-filled buns with raspberries and they looked like breasts! They were so clever. It was a bun with a chocolate areola and a raspberry for the nipple — they were so good!

Jordan Mahmood, Stony Brook

Jordan Mahmood, Stony Brook

Mother’s Day is a day to appreciate my mom for what she does. She is a single mom and she literally means the world to me and my family. Each year we celebrate by spending time together and doing whatever it is she wants to do — it’s really nice spending time with my mom.

Tyler Stephenson-Moore, Queens

Tyler Stephenson-Moore, Queens

I love my mom a lot. Mother’s Day to me is just like the day-to-day stuff, acknowledging all the sacrifices she’s made, honoring her for everything she has done for me. 

Usually, I’ll go to Queens to see her with cards and flowers.

Rubens Meza-Henderson, Centereach

Rubens Meza-Henderson, Centereach

The United States was the country that enacted this holiday. I can say that because before the enactment, nobody cared about that — but now many countries in the world follow the U.S. example. 

Typically, because I am in the restaurant business, every Mother’s Day I work. This year is going to be an exception. Mother’s Day is a very special holiday because we honor the person who has the privilege to carry life in their womb, we were born through that person, honoring that act is very important.

I do believe in the Bible and one of the commandments says that you have to honor your parents. The Bible encourages you to honor your father and mother and there are many ways to honor them. One way is behaving well and another is through words — you have to express your gratitude. I was with my mother a couple of weeks ago in South America. She was a little sick, but she’s well now. I took time off to go see her, to honor and love my mother.

Jen and Jillian Dunn, Setauket

Jen and Jillian Dunn, Setauket

On Mother’s Day, Jillian values time well spent with mom Jen: “I really don’t get to spend too much time with her, so just being able to see her is a gift — that is what is most important to me.” Jillian usually takes her mom out to lunch and goes for a nice walk through one of their favorite spots, Avalon Nature Preserve.

 Jen loves to spend time with her family on Mother’s Day: “This year my son is graduating that weekend, so we will take a trip down to see him.” On a typical year, Jen and her family like to celebrate with a daytime activity like a drive out east or a day exploring local farm stands. “One of my favorite things is picking out flower flats and the kids will help me plant them.” 

Steve Frederico, Stony Brook

Steve Frederico, Stony Brook

My mother has passed and there isn’t a day that I don’t think about her. But on Mother’s Day we always commemorate her. 

I seem to quote her unconsciously — she had these infamous sayings, like, “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.” 

Stephanie Moncavage, Coram

Stephanie Moncavage, Coram

I love my mom. We spend the day golfing and then my sister and I will make her a nice dinner — of mom’s choice of course.

John Connell. Photo courtesy M.A. Connell Funeral Home Inc.

Prepared by Caitlin Berghela

John Joseph Connell, affectionately known as “Eddie” and “Pop Pop” by his grandchildren, passed away on Friday, April 26, surrounded by his family. 

Born March 18,1937, to Michael and Florence Connell, John was a lifelong resident of Huntington who deeply loved his community. Growing up, he attended St. Hugh’s School and Huntington High School, where he met the love of his life, Elizabeth “Betty Ann” Class, daughter of William Class, John’s physical education teacher and the first athletic director at Huntington High School. After high school, John made frequent trips to visit Betty Ann at Cortland State University, while working at the M.A. Connell family funeral home in Huntington Station and serving in the Navy Reserve. 

In 1960, John and Betty Ann married and began building their family and a life filled with love in Huntington. In 1961, the high school sweethearts welcomed their son, Michael and, soon after, John’s Navy service was activated to defend his country during the Cuban Missile Crisis. John was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1962, and in the following year, he and Betty Ann welcomed their daughter, Debbie. 

As he and Betty Ann raised their family and planted deeper roots in Huntington, John proudly ran the funeral home for decades with his brother Peter, furthering his family’s legacy and eventually working alongside his son, Michael, and son-in-law, Nicholas Berghela Sr. In 2018, his grandson, Nicholas Berghela Jr., joined the funeral service, making him the fourth generation that has served the Huntington area now for over 100 years. John’s commitment to his work was seen and felt by every person he served, so much so that he never officially retired, and would come to the funeral home nearly every day, right up until the very final days of his life. 

While John was able to accomplish so much in his life, it is without question that family was at the core of his existence. As his children grew and started families of their own, John welcomed his son-in-law, Nicholas, and his favorite daughter-in-law, Anne Penders, into his family and loved them as if they were his own children. In turn, his children blessed him with four grandchildren, Krysti (Josh), Nicholas Jr. (Caitlin), Edward John and Grace, and three great-grandchildren, Oliver, Myles and Nicholas III. Becoming a grandfather, and eventually a great-grandfather, was one of John’s greatest joys in life and something in which he took immense pride. Alongside Betty Ann, they loved supporting their grandchildren and great-grandchildren by attending every concert, sporting event or graduation. To add to his list of loving nicknames, John proudly donned the title of “El Grande de Grandisimo Great Papa” upon welcoming his great-grandchildren. 

Beyond being supportive parents and grandparents, John and Betty Ann filled their days by traveling the country and the world together. From their summers in Montauk, to trips to Ireland, Switzerland, Germany and Bermuda — John and Betty Ann loved every moment of their travels with their children and grandchildren. For many years, they split time between their home in Huntington, with their homes in Florida, from Palm Coast and, eventually, Fort Myers, ingratiating themselves into their communities, and making lifelong friends. Some of their favorite time spent in Florida were the many trips they made to Sanibel Island, either by themselves or with family and friends.

Perhaps the only thing that could rival the deep love that John felt for his family and community was that of his sharp wit and cunning sense of humor. John could be counted on to make everyone laugh, no matter how serious a situation whether that was by busting out some dance moves, offering one of his signature one-liners that were sure to stop you in your tracks (like offering to lend a hand, and then proceeding to clap), or by making a clean (and sometimes questionable) joke. His ability to keep the party going, lift spirits or soothe a troubled heart, was unparalleled. 

As John rejoins his bride, who passed in 2020, he will be loved and missed by his family, extended family, many friends and the community in which he dedicated his life. Viewings to celebrate John’s life will be fittingly held at M.A. Connell Funeral Home, 934 New York Ave., Huntington Station, Wednesday, May 1, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs R.C. Church, 53 Prospect Road, Centerport, at 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 2, with graveside burial to follow at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, 183 Mount Pleasant Road, Huntington.

By Steven Zaitz

The silver Honda Accord of personal trainer Stephan Reyes can be seen in the same spot each and every weekday.

No, there isn’t a fancy “Reserved for Mr. Stephan Reyes” sign in the parking lot of the Transfitnation Training Studio in Smithtown. The 24-year-old Westchester native is at work before most of us are even out of bed every morning and is fully prepared to improve the mind, body and soul of everyone on his client list for the day. His first appointment is usually at 5:00 a.m.

Reyes, along with his fitness-conscious colleagues at the boutique gym off of Terry Road, emphasizes a holistic approach to personal betterment that includes guidance on not just strength and weightlifting, but lifestyle factors such as nutrition, sleep, science-based stretching and balance improvement.

The team, led by founder Steve Dell’Amore, evaluates each client and formulates a custom program based on his or her age, goals, body type and health history. They like to think of themselves as a one-stop wellness shop.

“I came into this field to give people the tools that they need to change their lives for the better,” said Reyes. “I love the challenge of working with such a wide-ranging group of people who have different challenges, goals and backstories, and helping them to improve their lives.”

Reyes, who was a superstar basketball and baseball player at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, later studied Sports Management at SUNY Oneonta, also completing a sports medicine internship while there.

Upon graduation, he became a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Human Movement Specialist and will complete a course in January, 2024 to become a Certified Nutrition Coach.

Essentially, he is an ever-evolving wellness scientist with the certificates to prove it..

“There are so many aspects of this job that I love, and I’m always trying to learn so I can serve my clients the best way possible,” said Reyes, who has relocated to Port Jefferson Station from his beloved Westchester. “In building individual plans for people, we need to do a lot of analysis before and after, but when I’m one-on-one with my clients, I try to get to know them, so I’m part trainer, part life coach, part motivational speaker, part teacher and part friend.”

Among his clientele, Reyes is legendary for his positive energy and fun-loving approach to the job. He can often be heard shouting his favorite catch phrases like “great work”, “finish strong”, and “excellent adjustment” as he pushes  his trainees to their limits.

“When I first met Stephan, I knew right away that he was a ‘people-person,’” said Dell’Amore, who opened the business in October of 2018. “He has grown his client base from the ground up, and he brings a lot of energy to every single session. People love to train with him, and he’ll take on any challenge that is thrown his way.”

Having worked at Transfitnation for a little over two years, Reyes has accrued a plethora of success stories. Too modest to boast about them himself, many of the people he trains were eager to share their fitness journey.

Jerry Varrichio, 22, works at Home Depot in South Setauket and lives in Stony Brook. He is also one of several of Reyes’ clients who are on the autism spectrum.

“I always feel better coming in to train with Stephan, and I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said Varrichio who enjoys taekwondo and has recently taken up golf. “The moment I come in here and start my stretching before the workout, I feel better about myself.”

Jerry has lost over 10% of his body fat in 18 months since becoming a member of Transfitnation.

Tatianna Morisseau is a 32-year-old nurse from Brentwood who has been training with Reyes for six months. She suffers from lipedema, which is a long-term condition of fat and connective tissue building up in various parts of the body. It is a stubborn impediment to weight loss and fitness.

“Lipedema really messed with me because before I knew that I had it, I would try to lead a healthy lifestyle but would never see the results,” she said. “But working with Stephan, I’ve made so much progress in my body composition, and I’m very happy about that. Coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

A fellow Terry Road business owner is also a “Transfit Transformer.”

“No two workouts are ever the same, and I always feel like I accomplish something when I’m done,” said Tom Bernard, 60, of Smithtown, who is the proprietor of Rockwell’s Bar and Grill. “I was 225 pounds when I started, and now I’m 190 and my body is totally transformed.”

He added, “Not only does Stephan train me when I’m there, but he’s taught me how to do it on my own with the correct form, and it’s great because my metabolism is like a jet engine now. I can go to my restaurant and eat almost anything I want.”

Jean Francois, who is a native of Haiti and was clinically obese when he showed up at Transfitnation, has been under Reyes’ watchful eye for about a year.

“People tell me now how good I look, and I feel great,” said Francois, who works as a counselor for seniors and the disabled. “When I first came to the country, I went to the doctor, and he told me I had to make some serious changes. A year later, I went back to that doctor, and he told me I was no longer obese. I was crying with tears of joy because that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Francois was close to 300 pounds at his heaviest. He lost 60 pounds and 20% of his body fat over the course of 12 months. Reyes shares in the joy in Francois’ achievements.

“Jean is a great story and a good example of someone who worked really hard to get results,” Reyes said. “He had some personal issues to deal with and was not in a good mental space when he came to us, but he really bought into not only the exercises but the diet and sleep programs that we set up. We’re all very proud of what he has achieved.”

Reyes is eager to create more stories like these.

“I’m definitely happy that I chose a career where I’m helping people,” he said. “Impacting people in a positive way and leading them down a path to success by helping to change habits and lifestyles is what I’m all about. Whether it be to help with an eating disorder, fight obesity or just help someone fit into a wedding dress or tuxedo, I’m happy to do it.”

His clients seem to be happy, too, knowing that they have made a most “excellent adjustment” to their lives. 

For helping community members become the best versions of themselves, TBR News Media names Stephan Reyes as a 2023 Person of the Year.

All photos by Daniel Febrizio

On Memorial Day, May 29, hundreds of Smithtown residents gathered on Main Street to watch the 99th annual Memorial Day Parade marching westbound toward Town Hall where a short ceremony was held.

Parade participants included veterans, volunteer firefighters, high school bands, twirlers, Scouts and more.

After the singing of the National Anthem by a Smithtown West High School student at the ceremony, American Legion Post 833 Commander Bill Coderre said a few words to begin the ceremony. “On this memorial day, we are reminded that the rights and freedoms that we enjoy as Americans are possible in large part because of those who have protected our great nation through military service,” he said.

Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) spoke, reading a Memorial Day speech honoring the lives lost in U.S.-involved wars throughout its history. The piece concluded with, “Remember all that has been sacrificed when you look around at your beautiful families, at your homes, your neighborhoods and your friends. Only then can we truly appreciate the incredible gifts that we have: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness.”

The ceremony concluded with a rendition of “God Bless America” while those in attendance sang along.

Other elected officials that spoke at the ceremony included state Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy (R).

Employees from Bedgeat meet with America's VetDogs. Photo by Daniel Febrizio

America’s VetDogs is a nonprofit organization based out of Smithtown which provides specially trained service and guide dogs to first responders, veterans and active-duty service members. VetDogs was created by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in 2003.

On Thursday, May 4, Bedgear, a Long Island-based company which produces what it calls performance bedding, donated all-new items for the dormitory at America’s VetDogs.

VetDogs’ employees introduced some of the dogs to the Bedgear employees and put on a display of the dogs’ training, including opening doors for their owners and comforting them during nightmares. The company representatives then unpacked the new bedding, including dog beds, and set everything up in the rooms in the dormitory.

VetDogs staff were appreciative to Bedgear and its employees for their generous mattress donations as well as their time to set up the rooms. 

“Our clients really are going to love having these incredible mattresses, pillows, sheets,” said Allison Storck, director of marketing and public relations for America’s VetDogs. “Your donation is going to reach so many folks that come through our doors here every year.”

Chief marketing officer of VetDogs, Mike Rosen, also expressed his gratitude. “It’s so extraordinarily generous, and it’s going to make such a huge difference in our clients, our students, feeling at home,” he said.

“Our veterans and our guide dog recipients are going to be blown away,” said Laura English, VetDogs’ chief administrative and financial officer. “We are so appreciative.”

America’s VetDogs organizes two-week programs for veterans and others from all over the country. The nonprofit provides transportation as well as meals and housing, while visitors bond with their guide or assistance dogs and learn to utilize the aid that their dogs provide.

A development proposal has caused uproar over the past month among residents of St. James, as reported in The Times of Smithtown. Mills Pond Group, owned by Fort Salonga developer Frank Amicizia, proposed the construction of an assisted living facility on the former Bull Run Farm on Mills Pond Road.     

The proposal included a two-story, 97-bed assisted living facility to be built on the property, which is 9.02 acres in total and is in residential zoning. At a public meeting with lawyers of the developers of the project in March, many residents were outspoken in their disapproval of the proposal. This ultimately resulted in Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) announcing that a special exception would not be made for the assisted living facility.

Additionally, Wehrheim intends to legislate that assisted living homes will not be approved to be built in areas zoned residential. Smithtown public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said that “for the longest time there was this loophole in the town’s code” which provided an opportunity for a “special exception” for developers when attempting to gain the rights to build on a piece of land.

“One of the most common criticisms was that developers often used this loophole to get through the process without having to go through a zone change,” Garguilo said. 

This special exception essentially enables them to “go right to the Town Board rather than going through all of the zoning boards and environmental reviews — it was very frustrating to residents.”

Garguilo went on to explain that the Town Board intended to propose legislation to remove the loophole even before this issue arose with the Bull Run Farm proposal. She said she believes this would reflect the interests of the community.

“You’re going to be hard pressed to get anybody in the whole hamlet of St. James to support an assisted living [facility] on that land,” Garguilo said. “That land people want to see preserved. They want to see it maybe become an active farm again.”

Garguilo went on to explain that “a lot of it has to do with the sentimental value of the farm and the history there.” People remember when the farm was active, she said. Some might have fond memories such as sleigh riding or feeding carrots to the horses. Garguilo herself used to spend her allowance money on Blow Pops from the farm stand, and her family would frequently buy pies from the Elderkins — the family that ran the farm.

As there does not seem to be a path to building this assisted living facility at that location, an alternative option that the developers could turn to is building homes on the property.

“When they originally presented their plan, they had presented a backup plan with it, which was to build a subdivision of homes,” Garguilo said     .

She went on to say that while members of the community would likely prefer the land simply preserved, they may be more willing to accept this alternative as it would be in line with the town’s codes.

“I think it’s a pill easier for them to swallow rather than seeing assisted living go up on that land.”

The next Town Board meeting will be held Thursday, April 20, at 2 p.m. at Smithtown Town Hall, 99 W. Main St. Garguilo said it is unlikely that the board will be prepared to vote on removing the special exception loophole at this meeting, but that residents should expect a vote in the near future.

Hundreds attended the Smithtown Historical  Society’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt, Saturday, April 8.

The day included two hunts, music by Paul Graf, visits with the Easter Bunny, arts and crafts, and visits with the farm animals. Children and families also enjoyed pony rides, refreshments and the historical society’s grounds.

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This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

A Head of the Harbor native is proving that dreams really do come true.

Courtney File, 24, is among the newest members of the Rockettes who are kicking their way through the holiday season, performing multiple shows in Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.”

Seeing the Rockettes staple at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan has been an annual tradition for File since she was 6 years old.

“I just fell in love with it immediately,” she said.

Her parents were nervous about taking her and her brother Connor when they were younger, but she said her parents told her she was mesmerized by the show.

When the curtain came down, she turned to her mother and said, “That’s what I want to do, and it never changed my whole life.”

The 2016 Smithtown High School East graduate attended Chorus Line Dance Studio in St. James until she was 11. She then started training at the Broadway Dance Center in Manhattan, where she was part of its Children & Teens Program for four years.

File said her parents, Richard and Wendy, have always been supportive of her dreams and would drive her into the city when she was in middle and high school.

“My parents have been unbelievable since I was younger and really decided that I wanted to commit myself to dance,” she said.

This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

The dancer was also taking acting classes in addition to the CTP program. Sometimes she would audition or take a master class.

While she juggled a busy schedule, after being on Smithtown’s kickline team in middle school, she could not be on the Whisperettes, the high school kickline team at Smithtown East. While she wanted to, she said it would have been difficult with her schedule, and she would have missed some practices and games.

“That was probably one of the hardest things that I had to give up,” File said.

She added once in a while she was able to catch a game to see the kickline team perform

“I always supported them, and I thought they were great,” File said. “It was so fun to sometimes be able to watch.”

Standing 5 feet, 8 inches tall, her height fits in perfectly with the Rockettes’ range of 5 feet, 5 inches to 5 feet, 10 1/2 inches. The minimum requirements were recently changed from the previous 5 feet, 6 inches tall.

File, who was part of the Rockettes Conservatory program this summer, said among her fellow rookie Rockettes are a few dancers who were able to audition due to the new height requirements.

“They have made a lot of amazing strides to open up the opportunities to a bunch of different women this year,” she said, adding 17 of the 18 new dancers were from the conservatory program.

File said she was honored to be invited to participate in the program, which enables dancers at no cost to work with the Rockettes as well as performers with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Syncopated Ladies, a female tap dance band.

“It was a really awesome opportunity that the Rockettes gave, to give us a real life experience of what their day-to-day kind of looks like.”

This year wasn’t her first audition, though. She first aimed to be a Rockette when she was 18, and she was cut. In total, she has auditioned six times for the coveted spot.

“It was my dream, and I couldn’t give up on it,” she said.

She was home with her mother and brother when she received the call telling her she had made it. File said she kept asking her mother and brother if it really just happened.

“It was an unbelievable moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life,” she said.

A typical day for File now involves waking up every morning in her apartment and stretching. She said eating enough is also important as the dancers burn a lot of calories.

As a part of the gold cast, she performs in the evenings. The number of shows in one day can vary, and she recently had her first four-show day.

This year one of the new Rockettes is Head of the Harbor’s Courtney File. Photo from MSG Entertainment

The “Christmas Spectacular” began Nov. 18 and runs through Jan. 2, meaning dancers worked Thanksgiving and will be performing Christmas and New Year’s Day, too. Fine said she doesn’t mind as the cast and crew have become like family to her since they have been working regularly together from the beginning of October.

She added she’s lucky that her own family lives close to the city, and it’s easy for them to come to Manhattan to see the show. They have attended the show three times so far
this season.

Among her favorite dances is a lyrical number called “Dance of the Frost Fairies,” where each of the 36 Rockettes has a different costume that includes fairy wings that easily work during the complex, athletic number.

Another highlight, Fine said, was performing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and she also attended the premiere of the Hallmark Channel movie “A Holiday Spectacular,” which features two current Rockettes with speaking parts.

While living a dream come true, File had advice for young people regarding their goals.

“Never give up,” the Rockette said. “Every day in the audience, I see little girls that are looking up at the stage like how I did when I was 6 years old. Just work hard and never give up. Dreams do come true. I’m very lucky to be able to say that. Just keep going because all the hard work will be worth it.”

The Stony Brook-based nonprofit Cooking for Long Island Veterans held its first 5K race at Blydenburgh County Park in Smithtown on Sunday, Oct. 9.

A few dozen runners, including volunteers with Cooking for Long Island Veterans, took to the park’s paths to help raise money for the organization. The goal is to raise funds for expenses and a possible future expansion.

On hand to cheer on the runners were nonprofit founder Rena Sylvester, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy and county Comptroller John Kennedy.

Keith Masso, upper center photo, was the overall winner of the race, and Alison Briggs, upper right photo, was the first woman over the finishing line.

For more information about Cooking for Long Island Veterans and upcoming events, visit   cooking4livets.com.

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The Bulls celebrate Jack Melores, center, touchdown against Northport Sept. 9. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Jack Melore, of Smithtown High School West, was named the New York Jets High School Player of the Week.

On Saturday, Sept.24, in a 20-14 upset victory over No. 4 Half Hollow Hills East, Jack had 10
catches for 226 yards and three total touchdowns. On defense he had six tackles, including a
quarterback sack and batted away three passes.

For being selected as player of the week the New York Jets will be donating $1,000 to the West
football program.