There has been a steady hand at the helm of Huntington Town Hall for the past 30 plus years.
Jo-Ann Raia, Huntington Town clerk, was elected for the first time in 1981, and ever since then, she has not stopped bringing positive improvements to the town.
Raia has been a Huntington resident since 1958, but spent summers on the Island as child. She has worked under five supervisors and has served as secretary to the town board and board of trustees, among many other duties.
She has devoted much of her time in office to creating a state of the art facility for Huntington’s archives, and a successful records management program.
Raia said when town government moved into what is now Town Hall, in 1979, the archives were being stored in the old gymnasium, as the building used to be a high school.
“I was told that these were my records, as I am the legal custodian for Huntington,” she said in a phone interview. “I went to as many seminars as I could [on record keeping], I lobbied the state for funding and received state grants.”
She said the road was not easy to get a proper archive system in place, as she had to convince many people to give her the funds and resources required.
“When the town spends money on a baseball field, everyone can see it, but to put money into an area that’s restricted and no one will see it is a different story,” she said. “That’s why I had to convince and beg.”
The archives officially opened in October 1991 and ever since then, researchers and students from throughout Long Island have visited.
Through learning so much for the Huntington archives, Raia herself became well-versed in the topic, and has since spoke at conferences and panels on records management.
“We were the pioneers, and now [Huntington archives] runs like clockwork,” she said.
Some of the items in the archives that stand out to Raia are the Revolutionary War claims, the manumission of slaves and the Duke’s Laws.
Raia said she refers to the Revolutionary War claims as an I.O.U. book, with records of all of the things British soldiers borrowed from colonials living in Huntington in the mid 1770s, like oxen and wagons.
The manumission of slaves is a record of all the slaves freed from a former town supervisor who lived on Park Avenue in Huntington, and according to Raia, used to have African Americans enter through his back door as slaves, and leave through his front door as free citizens.
The Duke’s Laws, published in 1665, covered all the laws of colonial life, like no traveling on Sunday. Raia said Huntington is one of the few local governments to still have an original copy of them.
Aside from her many other duties as town clerk, Raia particularly enjoys the marriage marathon she performs every Valentine’s Day, where she marries multiple couples in a row throughout a day’s time.
In 1989, Raia was appointed marriage officer, and starting in 1995, decided to create a special event as marriage officer.
“I wanted to make it something special, so I researched other ceremonies, and found a special poem that I now recite that has sort of become my trademark,” she said.
The event has blossomed over the years, with merchants from all over town donating baked goods, flowers and gifts for the event. Raia personally donates all the paper goods and decorations.
Raia has presided over large and small ceremonies, and has even seen a ceremonial pick and axe procession performed by a local fire department.
“I never know what I’m going to see,” she said.