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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

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A fallen tree in T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park. Photo from WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization launched a volunteer and fundraising effort after Tropical Storm Isaias left piles of debris and damage throughout Stony Brook village.

The storm destroyed more than a dozen trees in T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park on Harbor Road adjacent to Avalon Nature Preserve, and many more in the surrounding area. It also ravaged the park’s braille engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the park’s gardens, the walkways along the pond and more.

For 80 years, the park has served as a community space for people to enjoy the great outdoors and watch ducks, geese and other birds. The Stony Brook Mill Pond Fishing Club has been teaching fishing techniques to youngsters since it was established in 1951.

The park damage is still being assessed to determine a complete restoration cost. Local Girl Scout Troop 2907, of Setauket, and Girl Scout Troop 824, Service Unit 45, of Centereach, have committed to assist in removing debris at the park’s sensory garden, which features plants with an array of textures and scents.

The WMHO’s volunteer cleanup effort is part of a larger fundraising initiative titled the New Beginnings Online Auction and Virtual Party to benefit restoration of the park. The online auction and virtual party kickoff are scheduled for Oct. 19 when donors will have the opportunity to go online and place their bids for a good cause on a wide variety of highly prized items.

To learn more about the restoration fundraising efforts, call The Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244.

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In previous years, events such as the Memorial Day Parade and the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach, above, filled up the days of Three Village residents. File photo by Seth Berman/Rapid Shutter Photograph

Starting with the annual Memorial Day Parade down Main Street and Route 25A, the Three Village area is normally filled with activities all summer long. While many annual favorites were canceled this year due to the coronavirus, some event organizers are striving to stay connected with residents.

In previous years, events such as the Memorial Day Parade, above, and the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach filled up the days of Three Village residents. File photo by Rita J. Egan

Jay Veronko, post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars East Setauket Post 3054, said the Memorial Day Parade is usually the group’s biggest event that they host each year. This year’s parade was canceled due to COVID-19.

“I’m not sure of when the last time it was canceled for reasons other than severe weather,” he said.

Veronko said the event means more than simply memorializing former local soldiers who lost their lives in combat overseas or honoring living veterans.

“The parade also serves as a source of local pride in our way of life — the community getting together and coming out and celebrating life and the beginning of summer, as well as getting many diverse groups together to march and let the community know about them and what they stand for or do,” he said. “For the fire departments, it’s a way for the community to cheer them on for doing a great volunteer job and for the departments to display their pride and commitment to serving the community they protect.”

The post commander said many older post members are hesitant to socialize due to fear of getting COVID-19 and are not visiting the post for social interaction, something he said may not be good for physical and emotional well-being. Veronko said while the future may not be clear, the post doors and the members are there for each other.

“The VFW of Setauket will be there for the veterans who need help or want to gather in the comradeship of arms,” he said.

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said there have been no in-person events at the Educational & Cultural Center since the mandatory shutdowns. While events currently can be held inside with 50 people or less, WMHO, like many organizations, had to furlough a few employees, and they currently would not have enough people to work on events even if they could be held as usual. The Discovery Wetlands Cruise, which takes participants on a trip through West Meadow Creek, has been suspended for 2020, and the WMHO also decided not to hold its summer music series this year.

While it’s still a couple of months away, the organization has already canceled Walk for Beauty, which is normally held every October to raise money for breast cancer research. Rocchio said many expressed concerns about those who are battling cancer, who may be immunocompromised, attending such an event. As for the future, she said they are waiting for the updates to state guidelines.

Despite the cancellations, the WMHO president said residents have not forgotten the Stony Brook Village Center.

“We get people on the Village Green at night,” she said. “They sit there with their families usually, some might be two people, some are four people. They do social distancing, and they bring food, some even play ball at the lower part. They feel it’s a nice place to watch the sunset.”

She said residents have also noticed people taking advantage of the view more so than in previous years. To continue connecting with the community, WMHO is also offering virtual classes from the wetlands.

“We’re trying to reinvent ourselves,” Rocchio said.

Lise Hintze, Bates House manager at Frank Melville Memorial Park, said many of their usual events, including their outdoor concerts, had to be canceled this summer, but other activities have been able to take place again. She said the size of the park allows for proper social distance for various classes such as yoga, meditation and tai chi where participants have been wearing masks.

“We can continue with our community and come together, because we have the Bates House and parks grounds that are perfect for what they need with those classes,” Hintze said.

Missing this year will also be the Jewish Summer Festival at West Meadow Beach, which Village Chabad in East Setauket hosts in August. The event also didn’t take place last year due to the grand opening of its new center in June 2020. Despite the lack of in-person events, Rabbi Motti Grossbaum said the center has been trying to maintain a sense of community and connection with virtual classes and events. He said while many have said they appreciate the virtual options, the Chabad staff is looking forward to seeing everyone in person in the future.

“There’s nothing that can replace face-to-face and in-person connections,” Grossbaum said. “A community is all about interaction, sharing, schmoozing, kids playing and enjoying friendships in real life.”

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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted another successful A ‘Taste’ of Stony Brook Village … Ladies Night Out! at the Three Village Inn on Feb. 25. Now in its second year, the evening, which was emceed by Mark Daniels, featured a fashion show by Chico’s, food tastings from restaurants, wine, raffles, giveaways, music by Roberta Fabiano and more. Judy Betz was honored for being nominated for the Town of Brookhaven’s Women’s Recognition Award for Community Service Volunteer of the Year. The sold-out event raised $50,000 for Stony Brook Medicine’s targeted research fund for breast cancer in memory of the late Dr. Lina Obeid.

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In the midst of Chinese New Year, which began Jan. 25, North Shore residents packed into the The Ward Melville Organization’s Education & Cultural Center Feb. 2 to commemorate the Year of the Rat.

WMHO’s annual event featured a lion dance, which is believed to bring good luck and fortune, and a martial arts demonstration by Authentic Shaolin Kung Fu.
Manhattan Taiko performed on ancient Japanese drums blended with modern movement, and the Long Island Chinese Dance Group was on hand to perform along with Jojo Feng who sang Chinese-language songs.

The Gardiner foundation awards the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia a grant to collaborate with the Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay to present demonstrations on colonial crafts and trades. Photo from Raynham Hall l Museum

Since 1639, the Gardiner family and their descendants have owned a 5-square-mile island in the Atlantic Ocean nestled between Long Island’s North Fork and South Fork. The property, known as Gardiner’s Island, was obtained from King Charles I of England as part of a royal grant. Today, that legacy is benefiting all of Long Island, thanks to Robert David Lion Gardiner, the island’s 16th Lord of the Manor, who died in 2004.

In 1987, Gardiner established the Robert D.L. Gardiner Foundation to support the study of American history. Each year, the foundation awards $5 million in grants to Long Island and New York nonprofits focused on preserving history. Look around at preserved pieces of history all across Long Island and in New York City, and you will likely find the foundation often behind the scenes offering support.

Thanks to the Gardiner Foundation, the new interactive software display highlights the displays in the First Order Fresnel Lens Building that is alongside the Fire Island Lighthouse. Photo from Gardiner Foundation website

The foundation helped reinvigorate the Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site in West Hills, for instance, in preparation for this year’s 200th birthday year celebration.

And as the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City prepared for its 50th anniversary of the Apollo mission this past July, Gardiner helped fund programs and space travel exhibits. It’s considered a substantial addition to the museum and Long Island’s contribution to the space program.

The 107-year old Huntington Lighthouse was preserved and restored with a $145,000 matching grant from the foundation. The Whaling Museum & Education Center at Cold Spring Harbor has the foundation to thank for its climate-controlled storage rooms for its collections.

Big or small, the foundation has been a wonderful resource for nonprofits. Since the foundation aims to preserve Long Island heritage and encourages collaboration, it is possible to find many success stories.

In Setauket, some may have noticed the sagging 1887 carriage shed at the Caroline Church has been replaced. The foundation over the last few years has helped fund its stabilization and replacement.

St. James is currently undergoing a revitalization, and the foundation helped fund the Celebrate St. James organization in staging a musical comedy about the entertainment history of the community.

This month, the foundation awarded its 2019 grants. Recipients include the Order of the Ancient and Honorable Huntington Militia which presented Dec. 14 a demonstration at Raynham Hall Museum in Oyster Bay of handmade colonial crafts and trades. The presentation included a free exhibition with artisans who showed how to do silver and black smithing, weaving, horn and leather work and basket weaving.

Harriet Gerard Clark, executive director of Raynham Hall Museum, is one of many people from organizations that recognize the distinct value of Gardiner.

“I would say that the Gardiner foundation is profoundly changing the way we understand history on Long Island, not only by providing very much needed brick-and-mortar funding, but also by proactively encouraging and incentivizing new ways of networking and collaborating among institutions concerned with historic scholarship, so that we Long Islanders can gain a truer understanding of our own identity,” she said.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which owns historic properties in Stony Brook and Setauket, has also benefited from the Gardiner’s work. The foundation most recently sponsored a live historically-themed play entitled “Courageous Women of the Revolutionary War.” The production highlights the previously unsung female heroes of George Washington’s spy ring.

The Gardiner foundation is comprised of a five-member board, plus an executive director. Kathryn Curran bears that title and deserves special recognition.

“Kathryn is a terrific lady, she is very creative and brings people together.”

– Gloria Rocchio

WMHO president, Gloria Rocchio, is very grateful to the foundation and recognizes Curran’s unique qualities.

“Kathryn is a terrific lady,” Rocchio said. “She is very creative and brings people together.”

One of the conditions of WMHO’s grant was to talk to other historical societies.

“We are making new connections because of that effort,” Rocchio added. “That was all because of Kathy.”

The Smithtown, Northport, Port Jefferson, Miller Place-Mount Sinai and many other Long Island historical societies have grown or become better established because of the Gardiner foundation.

The organization also announced this month that it will fund a Long Island Radio & Television Historical Society documentary that will explore the development of wireless technology on Long Island, featuring the Telefunken wireless station in West Sayville and an international spy ring in the lead-up to World War I. The project also highlights the work of Nikola Tesla of Shoreham and Guglielmo Marconi of Babylon.

The foundation seeks to support 501(c)(3) organizations that demonstrate strong and organized internal capacity, effectiveness, financial and human resources as well as the intellectual capacity to successfully manage the project. Newly formed historical entities are welcomed to apply for a grant.

At a time when historical preservationists report a decline in financial resources, the foundation’s support becomes more and more noteworthy.

For high school students interested in studying history, the foundation also offers a generous undergraduate scholarship worth $40,000.

The Gardiner’s grant portfolio and scholarship information can be viewed on its website at www.rdlgfoundation.org, which gives an in-depth overview of its preservation efforts.

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The Ward Melville Heritage Organization welcomed hundreds for its 40th Holiday Festival in Stony Brook Village Center Dec. 8.

The event kicked off with the arrival of Santa in a Stony Brook Fire Department truck and the Legends and Spies puppets procession led by Tom Manuel, president and founder of The Jazz Loft, and a New Orleans brass band.

The parade featured 14-foot puppets representing local historical figures such as philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville, Culper spies Caleb Brewster, Benjamin Tallmadge and Anna Smith Strong, shipbuilder Capt. Jonas Smith and American genre painter William Sidney Mount.

There was music from community school bands plus a petting zoo, holiday train display, carolers and decorated holiday windows at Wiggs Opticians.

According to Santa, based on children’s requests, Pokémon items and the Barbie DreamHouse are making comebacks. Other gift wishes included train sets, toy trucks, iPhones, drones and Xboxes. Dolls were the biggest request as well as puppies, which Santa checks with mommies and daddies first since they are a big responsibility.

Three children requested for their brothers to come back from the military and one 5-year-old boy asked for peace and love.

A family trick or treats from store to store at Stony Brook Village Center. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Children and adults dressed as Disney, Star Wars and other iconic characters didn’t let some rain and strong winds keep them from trick or treating store to store in the Stony Brook Village Center Oct. 31.

Part of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s annual Halloween festival, in addition to trick or treating, attendees could participate in games and find out the winner of the annual scarecrow competition.

The community came out in droves for the 5th annual Culper Spy Day on Sept. 14. The interactive self-guided tour of the Three Villages and Port Jefferson celebrated the members of Long Island’s courageous Culper Spy Ring who helped change the course of the American Revolutionary War. The event featured tours of historic homes and churches, Colonial cooking demonstrations, military drills, children’s activities, blacksmith demonstrations, book signings and more.

More than 40 organizations took part in the historical event which was hosted by Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum.

Photos by Anthony White

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Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, third from right; alongside Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman; second from right; and, far right, Gloria Rocchio, WMHO president, check out conditions at Stony Brook Creek this summer. Photo from The Ward Melville Heritage Organization

Stony Brook Creek will receive much needed help in mitigating pollution from stormwater runoff after Suffolk lawmakers voted Sept. 4 to contribute $251,526 in funding toward installing new drainage systems, while the Town of Brookhaven will match an additional $251,526, totaling over $500,000 in funds.

The project would disconnect four discharge pipes that had carried stormwater from the Stony Brook community directly to the creek. A new drainage system will be installed where pipes will lead to bioretention and water quality units in an effort to divert runoff water away from the creek.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who sponsored the bill in the county legislature, said the plan will improve water quality in the creek that had been polluted for decades from stormwater runoff.

“I’m really glad about this partnership with the town to help invest in Stony Brook Creek and improve its water quality,” she said. “We should be doing all we can to protect our intricate water bodies.”

Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said the plan is a positive step forward in cleaning the creek.

“We are very pleased that these funds were approved, and we are looking forward to working with the county and town [on this project].”

Rocchio also mentioned the creek’s importance in Stony Brook’s history, saying the original logo of Stony Brook University was based on the water body.

Due to decades of stormwater runoff and silt being deposited into the creek, it has led to overgrown vegetation like phragmites. The invasive species plant has been known to choke many waterways on Long Island. In Stony Brook Creek, the debris caused by the phragmites has created silt buildup, which in turn has caused flooding along the waterway.

Another issue is when the creek overflows, water has been found to go into the Stony Grist Mill, which was built in 1751 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The continual water flow has caused damage to the lower parts of the structure.

In August Suffolk County awarded the organization a $10,750 grant that will be used for a program to remove 12,000 square feet of phragmites from the shoreline of the creek. WMHO and Avalon Park & Preserve decided to match the grant total. The total cost of the project is $21,500.

The new drainage system will be built through the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department and construction on the project is expected to begin this winter and is scheduled to be completed by summer 2021.

Photo from WMHO

By Leah Chiappino

From now through Sept. 29, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization is turning back the clock with Journey Through Time, a summer exhibit at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center that highlights the national, regional and local events and inventions of each decade, from the 1940s to the 2000s, that have had impacts on our lives.

The exhibition, which took several months of research, was culled from the collections of 16 contributors including Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, the Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum, Long Island state parks and the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, as well as WMHO’s extensive archives and seven private collectors. Newsday also provided notable news covers from each time period.  

Visitors to the exhibit can enjoy a game of hopscotch.

“It was a collaboration of nine staff people, and trying to secure these items from all over Long Island,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, during a recent tour. Kristin Ryan-Shea, director of the Educational & Cultural Center, came up with the idea for the exhibit to have national, regional and local events highlighted. “That crystallized what we should do,” said Rocchio.

 Though major national somber events such as 9/11 and World War II are highlighted in their respective decades, most of the exhibit is bright and fun-loving, giving it a feel of nostalgia, with a focus on early technology and entertainment. Visitors can even partake in an I Spy worksheet and be entered to win a $50 gift certificate to use at the many shops, restaurants and services offered at the Stony Brook Village Center. “It makes them look a little closer and remember a little more,” said Ryan-Shea.

Items on view include a wooden score chart from the bowling alley that used to be in the basement of what is now Sweet Mama’s in the 1940s, fashionable outfits from the 1950s, a 1977 Mercedes Convertible, a newspaper announcement of the World Wide Web in 1990 and a 1997 Moto-Guzzi motorcycle. Visitors can also experience a blast from the past with vintage telephones and radios, dolls including Barbies and Betsy Wetsy and the spring toy Slinky. 

Play a game of Minecraft

Children can particularly enjoy an interactive Nintendo game along with Minecraft, and the pool full of sand collected from Jones Beach, a symbol for which showcases the Melville family’s closeness with Robert Moses. “It is educational without being boring,” Rocchio explained. 

 Much of the exhibit focuses on the history of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and its reach, from which the original idea for the exhibit came from. “It’s our 80th anniversary and we wanted to show what we do and what has been done over the years” Rocchio said, adding that she wanted to highlight how far the organization and the world has come. 

For instance, the 1940s panel includes plans that Ward Melville had to transform Stony Brook Village, followed by the 1950s panel that includes photos of the old Dogwood Hollow Amphitheatre, an auditorium that was located where the cultural center stands today that showcased concerts with the likes of Tony Bennett and Louis Armstrong. The display also features a map of plots of land Ward Melville presented to New York State in order to build Stony Brook University in the late 1950s which Rocchio said wound up being 600 acres. 

Check out a 1977 Mercedes Convertible

The exhibit also showcases information on the Erwin J. Ernst Marine Conservation Center at West Meadow Beach, where they conduct educational programs, and own the wetland side of the beach. Additional renovations and improvements to the village throughout the decades are also on view.

Ryan-Shea said the exhibit, which opened in mid-July, is creating multigenerational enjoyment. “Recently there was a family here that spanned four generations. The great-grandfather was born in 1940, so the great-grandchildren were teaching him how Minecraft works and the father was teaching his children how a record player works; the family was criss-crossing the room teaching each other things,” she laughed. 

The director also recounted how she witnessed a 77-year-old man playing hopscotch, a game from his childhood; a grandmother was telling her grandson stories about World War  II; and a little boy walked out begging his father for Battleship, a game he had not seen before. “I feel like kids nowadays don’t even think about history, and this makes it real and a conversation. The exhibit is connecting all the generations together,” she said.

WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook will present Journey Through Time through Sept. 29. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tickets are $5 general admission, $3 for seniors and children under 12. Call 631-689-5888 for further details. 

The WMHO is also conducting Walking Through Time walking tours on Aug. 10, 21, Sept. 14 and 15 for $15 per person, children under 5 free. There is the option to purchase a premiere ticket, for $20, which includes admission to both the exhibit and a walking tour. For more information, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

All photos courtesy of The WMHO