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Stony Brook Fire Department

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Santa visits Stony Brook via helicopter in the 1950s.

Santa Claus will make his annual journey from the North Pole to drop off gifts to kids around the world this weekend, but before he does that, take a look back at a visit he paid to Stony Brook in the 1950s.

Ditching his sleigh for a helicopter, Santa landed on the Stony Brook Village Green and proceeded to the Stony Brook Fire Department to greet children.

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"Ride for Becca" foundation created to help promising equestrians

22-year-old equestrian Rebecca Weissbard died suddenly when her horse fell on her during a jumping competition. Photo from the Weissbard family

Gold Medal-winning, 22-year-old equestrian Rebecca Weissbard died Aug. 31 in Saugerties, New York, when her horse accidentally fell on her during a jumping competition.

Her father Eric and her mother Lynne plan to honor their daughter’s memory by establishing a nonprofit for talented riders to help them fulfill their dreams, he said in a telephone interview. Acknowledging the fact that it is an expensive sport, their goal is to provide financial help to working-class kids who show potential and share Rebecca’s passion for horses.

Becca, as she was known, died instantly.  “It was quick,” her father said. “[The paramedics] tried their best, but nothing could be done.”

She was participating in one of the largest horse shows in the country, called HITS-on-the-Hudson. Becca and her mother were in upstate New York, and her father was home on the North Shore, serving a shift as an EMT with the Stony Brook Fire Department.

 Rebecca Weissbard with her father, Eric. Photo from the Weissbard family
Rebecca Weissbard with her father, Eric. Photo from the Weissbard family

“She was such a dignified and well-put-together young woman,” Eric Weissbard said. “She wanted to be the best — to do it properly. She lived her passion and her dream. She worked hard and excelled. It is only fitting that we help other kids pursue their dreams.”

Her grandmother, Rochelle Weissbard, remembered Becca being around horses practically from birth.

“Rebecca was on a horse when she was a few months old — on her mother’s back; on her father’s back,” Rochelle said. “When she was two Lynne went back to training riders at Smoke Run [Farm] in Stony Brook and she took Becca with her. Right from the beginning she was a natural — and fearless.”

Raised in Stony Brook, Becca attended William Sidney Mount Elementary School through sixth grade. Her parents established Sundance Stables in Medford in 2003 but soon outgrew their rented barn and relocated the stable to Manorville.

“Rebecca was the welcoming, cheerful pied piper of the kids,” her grandmother said. “Wherever she was there was love and there was joy — and silliness — but when she was ready to ride, she’d take care of business. And she did. When focused, there was no one better. She rode to win.”

The grandparents have long supported the quadrennial Maccabiah Games held in Israel that bring together Olympic-caliber Jewish athletes from around the world. Traditionally held the year following the Summer Olympic Games, they are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and the World Federation of Sports.

As she became more and more proficient at the sport, Becca’s grandfather, Richard Weissbard, realized there were no equestrian events at the games. He contacted the director to ask why. That was about five years ago. The director said he’d get back to him.

The next Maccabiah Games — in 2013 — included equestrian events. Becca trained with Olympic equestrians Neal and Elisa Shapiro at Hay Fever Farm in Robbinsville, New Jersey, for several years. Neal Shapiro was the coach of the American Equestrian Team, which had 38 athletes. Becca won the first gold medal awarded in individual competition, which also helped the team earn silver overall.

The team members had to compete riding Israeli horses because the expense of bringing their own horses was too great. That was problematic for Becca considering, as her grandparents described seemingly in tandem, the horse she ended up with was “defective.” They said it actually went lame the day before the competition.

Very upset, Becca called her mother to find out what to do.

“She wanted to be the best — to do it properly. She lived her passion and her dream. She worked hard and excelled.”

—Eric Weissbard

“You march in there and you tell them you don’t care where they get a horse — just get one!” According to the grandparents, Becca practiced with a reserve horse for about two hours before winning the competition.

“She flew with him,” Richard Weissbard said; “…because she’s been around horses all her life,” her grandmother added. “We were so proud.”

At the games in Israel the then 19-year-old made connections that provided her with European opportunities.

“Wanting to go where the best horses are she chose to go to Holland,” her father said.

Becca worked at a horse stable in Holland for eight months. Her father said she learned a lot about top-tier horses and established a relationship with one particularly difficult horse. She made riding him look easy.

Labor laws for foreign workers dictated a return to the U.S., but a year later she returned to the Dutch farm for another three months. She’d fly back and forth as an escort for horses.

“In those 22 years she crammed in an awful lot of stuff,” her grandmother said. “But most of all she was a wonderful daughter, a great granddaughter, a terrific niece, and everyone who knew her loved her. Wherever there was excitement, there she was. Never a dull moment. She brought laughter and cheer and happiness and joy to everyone. She will be sorely missed.”

The Weissbards are setting up a foundation called Ride for Becca. “It will be a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the goal of helping kids who have potential to get to the next level,” said Eric Weissbard. “We want to find kids who are good and get them good training and get the horse good veterinary care.” They plan to keep Becca’s spirit and passion alive by helping others.

Once the 501(c)3 is established, tax-deductible contributions made out to Ride for Becca may be sent to Sundance Stables, 37 North St., Manorville, NY 11939.

Members of the Setauket Fire Department participate in the annual ceremony in memory of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The event is a cherished annual event on the North Shore. File photo by Barbara Donlon

By Giselle Barkley & Victoria Espinoza

After 14 years, the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been forgotten, by residents across the North Shore.

In honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11, this Friday, from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m., the Setauket Fire Department is holding their annual 9/11 Memorial service. The department is holding the ceremony at September 11 Memorial Park on the Setauket Fire Department’s Nicolls Road Station.

The East Northport Fire Department will also be hosting its 13th annual memorial service this Friday, with two separate events, both being held at the 9th Avenue side of the Larkfield Road firehouse at the 9/11 Memorial Monument on Friday, Sept. 11. The morning ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m., and the evening candlelight vigil begins at 8 p.m.

Both ceremonies are set around an eight-foot, 8,000 pound steel beam from Ground Zero that the department received from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. During the ceremony, firefighters will read victims’ names, and the sirens will sound at the time of the collapse of the twin towers. The Suffolk County Police Department’s helicopter will do a flyover during the ceremony, and the Northport High School Tights will sing the national anthem and “America, the Beautiful.”

The Commack school district will also be presenting a night of remembrance, also for the 14th year in a row, and the theme this year is patriotism, remembrance and resiliency. The ceremony will be held at the Commack High School football fields at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11. Music will be performed by J.D. Leonard, and honorary guest speakers will attend. This year, there will also be a dedication of the three survivor trees planted in their memorial garden.

Residents, or anyone who wishes to pay their respects, are free to attend this candlelight ceremony. According to Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District, the department will serve light refreshments at the event.

“When it comes to September 11th tragedies, it’s one of the worst things to befall the United States of America, and it was in our own backyard,” Sterne said.

According to Sterne, in light of Sept. 11, the fire department’s park was established and dedicated on Sept. 11, 2004. The park was originally designed by Emily Quinn, who was a Ward Melville High School student at the time. Sterne said Quinn implemented steel beams from the World Trade Center into her design of the park. Additional features were added over time, including lights and a granite wall, which illustrates the twin towers and shows the names of those who lost their lives 14 years ago.

“Unfortunately, in the fire service, it’s a close knit community, and we all knew people that unfortunately [lost their lives].” Sterne said

The Setauket Fire Department’s ceremony is one of several ceremonies responders on Long Island are dedicating to those who died on 9/11. This Friday, Sept. 11, the Port Jefferson Fire Department is holding its annual 9/11 memorial ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on Maple Place in Port Jefferson. Rocky Point Fire Department also scheduled its ceremony on Sept. 11. Residents can attend the service from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Shoreham, next to the Firehouse. Locals can also go to 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, for a reading of the names.

John A. Meringolo, first assistant chief of the Stony Brook Fire Department said his team of heroes would be doing its part to make sure the memories of those lost live on.

“We continue to be mindful of the sacrifices made on that day and believe that it is important that a memorials take place so such events remain in the memory of all those who continue to benefit from living in a free society,” he said.

While many lost their lives on 9/11, Sterne acknowledged that there are also people, including responders, who are still suffering from the injuries or health complications they acquired from 9/11. Regardless of whom someone is remembering, Sterne said it’s simply important to remember him or her.

“It’s important for ourselves and future generations, as time goes by, that we remember to remember,” Sterne said. “And [that we] gather in a beautiful place that was dedicated just for this reason, and that they respect those that were lost, and continue to be lost, as a result of that tragedy.”

Huntington Town will also be holding a small ceremony at Heckscher Park at noon this Friday, Sept. 11.