“The purpose of the Warrior Open is to celebrate those who have served our country, and to remind our fellow citizens how fortunate we are to have men and women volunteer in the face of danger.” — President George W. Bush (2011)
The former president supported a golf outing to honor the wounded warriors on the 10-year anniversary of September 11. For two decades, American soldiers from every part of this nation had served in Iraq and Afghanistan to defend the country in the face of terrorism.
Since 2008, Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 has run an annual golf outing similar to that of Bush’s to show appreciation and support to our local veterans who have served under Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
This outing was established by Michael Mauro of Baiting Hollow through the simple idea of helping veterans who have fallen on hard medical and financial times as a result of their fighting time overseas.
As a former technical sergeant who was a heavy truck operator at the 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach and a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, Mauro initiated the local push to provide comfort to our local veterans. He was deployed to Iraq, left his newborn son and young family behind, and was wounded in that conflict.
This golf outing emerged during the height of the costly War on Terror fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was estimated there were over 52,000 soldiers severely wounded, as many as 500,000 living with post-traumatic stress disorder, and about 320,000 service members who have suffered from brain debilitating injuries.
With post Cmdr. Joseph Cognitore at Mauro’s side and many of the veterans from different components of the armed forces and conflicts, VFW Post 6249 has created one of the strongest golf outings on Long Island. Over the last 14 years, more than $220,000 has been raised by the participating golfers, businesses, veterans, law enforcement, union organizations and post members.
Cognitore has taken over the responsibilities of this outing for the last two years, and has expanded on this tradition to use golf as a tool to help our veterans. And the devotion to continue these efforts toward helping hurt veterans is still a necessity, as the national chapter of the Wounded Warrior Project recorded that over 184,000 veterans, family members and caregivers are registered for financial support.
While the fighting and deployments have ended in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are vital needs of veterans who are still handling physical and psychological ailments. This North Shore community is no different than any other part of the United States, as there are many local veterans impacted by combat. Cognitore and VFW Post 6249 are eager to help them with financial assistance.
These outings have been held at Long Island National Golf Club in Riverhead, the old Calverton Links, Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead, Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai and Baiting Hollow Golf Club. There has been a tremendous amount of loyalty toward this function with golfers who have attended this function since 2008.
Next year, it is expected that VFW Post 6249 will carry out this tradition by having this event at Great Rock Golf Club in Wading River. To make this annual event possible, Cognitore counts on the support of Mike Wern, Gary Suzik, Pat Biglin, Bill Fitz, Tom and Ray Semkow, Gil Jenkins, and many of the women from the military ladies’ auxiliary.
This outing would not be possible without the participation of the golfers along with the businesses and organizations which have always been very generous. Financial donations have been received from B.A.C. Systems and Brian May, Landmark Industries and Mark Baisch, Stanley Steemer and Keith Burtis, the team from Drexel Hamilton and Mike Parisi from Parkside Fuel in Mount Sinai.
Next to these participants are the former Major League Baseball players: Yankee Frank Tepedino, Met Art Shamsky, Pittsburgh Pirate Fred Cambria and longtime scout Larry Izzo. These professional baseball men have been a constant staple within this golf outing that has seen them hit long drives, strong puts and the telling of unique baseball stories from many years ago.
Cognitore has donated proceeds to local military scholarships, building homes for veterans, and has the constant goal of helping wounded service members. This is a special golf outing.
VFW Post 6249 continues to shine as a major veterans organization that works to make this community into a better place. Through its most recent efforts to build the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Statue in Rocky Point, the Diamond in the Pines 9/11 Memorial in Coram and the Rocky Point High School Veterans Wall of Honor, this golf outing is another example of support to provide comfort to our local citizens.
And much of these efforts are carried out by Vietnam War and Cold War veterans who have a new mission of compassion to ensure that the men and women who fought for this country are properly recognized and are never forgotten.
Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. Members of the Rocky Point High School History Honors Society contributed to this story.
“Always remember those service members that died on this day. They did not lose their lives, they gave their life to support the freedom of the American people,” John Fernandez, Shoreham resident.
These are the words of army veteran, 1996 Rocky Point High School and 2001 United States Military Academy graduate Fernandez on the meaning of this national holiday. A combat veteran that was severely wounded in Iraq, he has the constant reminders of his service to America. This local father of six children, recalls the sacrifices of his grandfathers, who both fought during World War II. The North Shore does not have to look far to understand the importance of Memorial Day through the experiences of our local citizens.
Gary Suzik, a resident of Rocky Point, served in the navy from 1963 to 1967. He has the unique experience of being stationed on naval ships that were off the coast of Vietnam, within the Mediterranean Sea, and during the Dominican Crisis in 1965.
Suzik was on the first crew to serve on the USS La Salle, where he operated the landing craft that were launched from this ship. While Suzik is a native of Michigan, the La Salle was built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it was launched for its duty in 1964. This Vietnam and Cold War veteran’s father fought during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, and his three uncles were in the air force, army and marine corps during World War II.
Longtime resident of Miller Place and Wading River veteran Dan Guida was an army lieutenant. This 76-year-old member of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars was drafted into the army in 1966.Guida had extensive training as an armor officer at Fort Knox, Kentucky and he was deployed to South Vietnam between 1967 and 1968. He was stationed 50 miles south of Da Nang near the former border between these two warring nations.
Some 54 years ago, Guida vividly identified his time with I Corps in this war, as there were no days off against an enemy that was dangerous and willing to fight at every moment. As a tank platoon leader of tanks and armored personal carriers, Guida is proud of his time in uniform and is always pleased to be with his fellow “brothers in uniform” at Post 6249.
Pat Biglin had a vastly different military job than many of his fellow comrades at this post. From 1963 to 1967, Biglin was in the air force where he was stationed in Turkey, only 60 miles away from the former Soviet Union. As a young man, he spied on this communist Super Power on a base that was located on the Black Sea, that was situated in north eastern portion of this North Atlantic Treaty Organization power.
Biglin’s position was part of the security service that was made up of 1% of all members of the air force through its ability to analyze communication and intelligence transmissions from this former enemy.This special unit tracked every plane that took off within the Soviet Union and he broke coded messages that were sent directly to the National Security Agency. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, Biglin continues to serve Post 6249 as its military chaplain.
A resident from Middle Island Glenn Ziomek was a finance administrator that was sent to Frankfurt, Germany after the end of the Vietnam War. While this was a difficult period for this country after the loss of Vietnam, Ziomek recalled that the morale was good among American soldiers at this European army base.
He enjoyed the traveling throughout Germany and Austria, the culture of these countries, and personally speaking to these people. But he vividly remembered hostile anarchy that was created by the German terrorist group Baader Meinhof Gang that caused havoc near the American military bases.
For Ziomek, Memorial Day is a moment where he likes to think of his father who served in the navy during World War II and his uncle who survived the D-Day landings, who was later shot in the arm and wounded.
Since the creation of this republic, there has always been family ties of defense of this country. You do not have to look far to notice the strength of character of patriotism that is still demonstrated today by Tom and Ray Semkow. Like many families, their parents endured many stressful times, as these two sons were involved within continuous fighting over several years in South Vietnam.
A city boy that grew up on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan, Ray entered the United States Marine Corps in 1965. After he graduated from boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina, he was sent to South Vietnam. Overseas, Ray was a mechanic and a door gunman that was attached to the I Corps out of Phu Bai, that was near the city of Hue.
Ray flew countless missions in the Quang Tri Province to pick up numerous casualties, where he helped bring them to safety for medical attention. He also conducted classified operations that saw him enter Laos to deter the enemies use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail that supplied the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong with soldiers and supplies.
Before Tom was sent to Vietnam, he spent two weeks with his brother, who returned home from completing his duty in this war-torn country. In 1968, Tom was a combat medic in the army’s 5th Special Forces that was in the Mekong Delta during deadliest year of this war during the Tet Offensive.
Tom trained South Vietnamese soldiers and he identified the terrible losses amongst the civilians and the many children that were killed and wounded by booby-traps that were used by the Viet Cong.
On this Memorial Day, he thinks of the losses that were felt by his own men during the extremely dangerous days of Tet against the enemy. Both brothers still serve today through their devoted efforts of Post 6249 into making this community into a better place.
Mike Biscardi is a younger member of Post 6249 that served in the army from 2009 to 2018. He was a military police officer that was attached to the 800th Military Police out of Fort Totten, New York, and the 305th that was in Wheeling, West Virginia.
This local veteran was sent to Bagram, Afghanistan and later to Germany through “Operation of the Atlantic” to monitor the Russian invasion of the Crimea, Ukraine. Most recently, Biscardi has been deployed to Jones Beach to help the New York Department of Health to administer the COVID-19 vaccination shots. On this Memorial Day, he recalls the military service of his good friend from Shoreham who had passed away. To remember this lost service member, he participates in the annual Michael P. Murphy four-mile race around Lake Ronkonkoma to honor his good friend.
And always next to these veterans from various conflicts and times within every branch of the military is Joseph A. Cognitore. This long-time commander of Post 6249, served in Vietnam as a platoon sergeant, that fought in Cambodia, and was awarded the Bronze Star.
Ever since the first Gulf War, Cognitore’s has always presented an iron will to help the veterans of this community, state and nation. On Memorial Day, Cognitore thinks of the army soldiers that fought with him at the end of the Vietnam War, and his own son — graduate of Rocky Point High School — Joseph Jr., that is currently serving as a colonel in the army.
Like that of the Semkow brothers, this part of the North Shore has a multitude of families that have seen their loved ones enter the military. Nicholas, Kevin, Brian and Larry LoRusso were talented athletes and all attended West Point where they played lacrosse.
Three of the brothers, Kevin, Brian and Larry served as platoon leaders within the field artillery and Nicholas was an engineer that also taught military sciences at this school. Currently, Nicholas is still in the army as a major, and was deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2012.
A former captain of the Army lacrosse team, Kevin served in Afghanistan in 2011. Three of the older brothers are married and they have started families of their own.
On this Memorial Day, Nicholas said, “I was able to come home, where other service members did not.On this date, I hug my kids a little tighter and give my wife an extra kiss.”
Kevin wants to remember his lost classmates and soldiers that he was deployed with overseas. He believed that these soldiers were the “true heroes” that he honors on this holiday.
A graduate of Rocky Point High School in 2013, Matthew N. Amoscato, attended the United States Maritime Academy at Kings Point, New York, graduating in 2018 with a degree in marine engineering.
Right now, Amoscato is training to become a pilot in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas. Currently he lives in Oklahoma, where he is undergoing survival training in Coronado, California. This pilot of E-6 B Mercury Boeing 707 military aircraft would like to thank all those men and women that have “carried the torch of duty” before his time in the navy.
Craig McNabb, a current Suffolk County Corrections Officer, and the son of a veteran that fought in Iraqi Freedom, believes there is more to Memorial Day than “BBQ’s and a shopping holiday.”
A graduate of Rocky Point High School in 2014, he was trained as a Protection Service Detail that ensured the security of high-ranking officers, and American and foreign political officials at Bagram and Kabul, Afghanistan. He personally escorted former Secretary of Defense leaders of Ash Carter and James Mattis.
McNabb was stationed in this tumultuous nation during a dangerous period of when the Taliban utilized explosives to strike fear and losses into the American military and the civilian population.
Rocky Point High School Social Studies Teacher Bill Weinhold spent several years in the United States Coast Guard before entering the classroom. This teacher and coach is the youngest veteran to be serving in this school district.
Weinhold remembers Memorial Day of 2010, “as my first military holiday in the service. I had been on my ship for several months at this point and was underway on the USCGC Naushon running fisheries enforcement missions. I remember the cool, rainy Southeast Alaskan spring day handling lines for the small boat we would launch to intercept fishing vessels to ensure they were acting in compliance with Alaskan and federal regulations.”
It is not difficult to see the positive influence of the Coast Guard on the daily routines that Weinhold presents to his students through his teaching and coaching abilities.
Thank you to those veterans that continue to make this nation extremely proud of their on-going service to defend the United States. Especially those graduates from the North Shore that have fought within every branch of the military.
Rocky Point High School students Madelynn Zarzychi and Sean Hamilton helped write this article.
Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.
Rocky Point High School students helped make over 12,000 flowers this week to help Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars with their Poppy Fundraiser. Here they are pictured with members of the VFW inside the school.
Rocky Point High School unveiled its new Alumni Wall of Honor Nov. 16 in recognition of the many graduates of the district who have entered the armed services over the years.
High school students and teachers were joined in an assembly honoring those on the wall by veterans families, local veterans from VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point with Cmdr. Joe Cognitore, Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai).
The wall features close to 60 graduates of recent years and those who graduated from many years ago. Also on the wall are bronze plaques emblazoned with the emblem of each branch of the U.S. military.
When Charles Murphy returned home to Northport in 1971 after serving 14 months in the Vietnam War, he wasn’t greeted with open arms or hand shakes. In fact, it was just the opposite.
“There was no band, no rallies, no thank you’s,” said Murphy, 68, an Army veteran. “You went back into the population and tried to cope with who you were. And you were a different person then. As a group, we Vietnam vets got the short end of the stick.”
Thomas Semkow, 71, who was in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969, said he remembers being looked down on when he came home.
“People weren’t very nice to us,” the Wading River resident said. “We were the outcasts of society.”
But Aug. 1 — more than 50 years since members of the U.S. Armed Forces first set foot on the battlegrounds in Vietnam — Murphy, Semkow and dozens of other Vietnam veterans within Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and beyond finally got the recognition they’ve always deserved.
“People weren’t very nice to us. We were the outcasts of society.”
It happened during the intermission ofSuffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the VFW’s annual Rocky Point free concert series.
Each of them stood together in front of a grand stage outside St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church as Anker and Military Liaison Steven Castleton presented Vietnam veteran lapel pins on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and a special proclamation signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. Family members of veterans were also honored.
The veterans smiled with gratitude and hundreds of residents applauded as they received the accolades. Part of the proclamation read, “Let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful nation.”
“I salute you all, thank you for your service … and welcome home,” said Joe Cognitore, the VFW post commander.
Cognitore, who served in an Army reconnaissance unit in Vietnam between 1969 and 1971, said the VFW has been putting on summer concerts for the community for more than 10 years and was excited at the prospect of giving back to those who warrant the attention.
“They were never welcomed home, and so I’m anxious to see them all come up tonight,” Cognitore said earlier in the evening. “Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them. Men and women who serve today are just unbelievable and we don’t want anything to happen to them like it happened to us.”
“Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them.”
Daniel Guida, of Shoreham, was an Army lieutenant in 1967 and 1968. He said it felt really good to be recognized not just with medals, but love and support from the community.
“Recently, when I had my Vietnam veteran hat on walking into K-Mart, six or seven people thanked me and wanted to shake my hand before I even got in the store,” Guida said. “That’s a foreign concept to me and it really brings a certain reality to what you did and shows that people do appreciate it.”
Members from the Long Island Young Marines stood holding flags during the concert’s opening pledge of allegiance and “God Bless America” performance before Cognitore addressed all the veterans in the crowd, from those who served in World War II to those currently enlisted.
The pin and proclamation ceremony ended with residents and veterans holding hands in a large group circle, swaying and raising them in the air to the chorus of the Southbound band’s cover of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”
“We’re all forever brothers,” Murphy said of his fellow Vietnam veterans. “No matter where we go. Forever brothers. We’re the only ones who know what we dealt with.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is unquestionably synonymous with Black History Month. He courageously confronted social inequities and racism in the midst of an adverse anti-black administration largely due to J. Edgar Hoover who had been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. Few could compete with Hoover’s power and he went virtually unchallenged for half a century.
Hoover opposed making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. His smear campaign attempted to label Dr. King as a communist and a homosexual. He ordered illegal wire taps of Dr. King’s hotel room to try to justify his stance and used the power of government to satisfy his own bigotry toward blacks. Dr. King persevered.
There were many other individuals way before Dr. King who challenged the system in the name of justice. I am certain their actions helped define his political strategies. These people — and God bless them — were not just slaves, demonstrators or rioters.
I must include Glenn Beck in this article. I am not suggesting he is an authority on black history. As the colorful conservative that he is, his question as to why the many contributions of black people continue to remain hidden from the mainstream is a legitimate one — and yet another reason to celebrate Black History Month.
In one of his tapings, “Glenn Beck Founders’ Fridays Black American Founders” (Fox News), that I listened to on YouTube, he mentioned Peter Salem, a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill who saved scores of American lives. During the Battle of Lexington, white and black parishioners who worshiped together were commanded to fight. James Armistead served as a double spy. And is that Prince Whipple, the black crewman, in the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? I am not so sure because many blacks fought in the American Revolution. Freedom was not an automatic option.
There have been unsung black heroes making all kinds of contributions throughout American history. The members of the 333rd Battalion, for example. The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of the largest and most successful black businesses in America in the 1870s.
“Dirty Little Secrets About Black History: Its Heroes & Other Troublemakers” by Claud Anderson reveals that in the late 1800s, blacks invented and filed for patents on a number of transportation-related devices. Andrew J. Beared invented an automatic train car coupler. Albert B. Blackburn invented a railway signal. R.A. Butler invented a train alarm. Although many inventors were fresh out of slavery and the literacy rate among slaves was 50 percent, black inventors filed hundreds of patents for transportation devices. The Safe Bus Company was a black-owned city-chartered bus line in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1930 to the 1960s.
Black history celebrates regular people engaged in positive activities. Here are some examples:
My father Herman Lee resided at 34 Christian Ave., Setauket, between 1956 and 2011. He was employed at the Setauket yard of the Brookhaven Highway Department in the 1960s and promoted to foreman in the 1970s. He did carpentry/home improvement projects for Three Village homeowners; among his regular clients, the Windrows and the Strongs. In World War II he served on the USS Hornet CV-12. After he became a chaplain for the VFW along with his wife Barbara Lewis Lee who was a practical nurse and historian in her own right. They sent all of their four children to college: Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter.
Uncle Sherwood Lewis was an employee of Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). He came up with an idea that saved the company more than $100,000 a year according to a Newsday article dated April 23, 1977. He, too, was raised on Christian Avenue and now resides in Massachusetts.
Grandmother Ethel Lewis, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, resided at 32 Christian Ave. with her husband Howard Lewis. They subdivided their property so my parents could build their house on Christian Avenue.
Aunt Hazel Lewis, salutatorian of her graduating class, was employed at Peck & Peck in New York City back in the day — a high-end boutique clothing store for women.
Aunt Pearl Lewis Hart received an associates degree in accounting in her 40s, was promoted to supervisor of the payroll department at SUNY Stony Brook and, until her death last month at age 92, was living in her own home on Christian Avenue.
Uncle Harry Hart, Pearl’s husband, owned his own excavation and contracting business from the 1940s to the 1980s. He acquired land on Christian Avenue and rented to many local folks.
Remembering a few of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence can help provide the foundation for a healthy society: “Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; attack problems, not people; know and do what is right even when it is difficult.”
I know there are many individuals who believe in these principles.
Black History Month means different things to different people, but if it can fill in the gaps, identify injustice, encourage positive dialogue and provide a platform for people to work toward understanding one another, it is a valuable ongoing process.
Geral Lee returned to her Setauket home in 2013 to be with her father after living in Rhode Island for 12 years. She taught physical education and health in Hempstead early in her career and received a personal invitation from her primary school coach Jack Foley, who later became athletic director for Three Village schools, to teach at Ward Melville. She served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, loves dogs and cats and currently relieves stress as a reflexologist.
Receiving keys can be a magical moment for anyone, but for Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch, they’re more excited about handing them over.
The Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 commander and the developer and owner of Landmark Properties, respectively, have been building and giving homes to veterans for the last four years. They’ve created 11 homes so far, and this year, the duo amped up the intensity to build three homes, with a fourth in the works.
For their work in the community and for dedicating their time and efforts to honoring and helping those who served our country, Cognitore and Baisch are Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.
“It’s bittersweet,” Cognitore said. “There’s many candidates that we come across and every one of them deserves the home. Just to hear their stories is amazing.”
Cognitore first met Baisch at a fundraiser Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) was hosting. Not knowing anyone at the event, the two found themselves sitting at the same table, and Cognitore began talking about the possibility of building a home for a disabled veteran.
“I thought it’d be one and done,” Baisch said, laughing, while thinking about the first home. “I never thought it would get to this level, but what we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this.”
The two recently unveiled the 11th home for returning veterans to the Cote family, who now own a home in Miller Place. The Bonacasas and Johnsons also received homes this year.
“I’m at a loss with words for everything they did for me and my family,” Deborah Bonacasa said. She is an Air Force veteran whose husband, Staff Sgt. Louis Bonacasa from Coram, died after a suicide bomber detonated himself outside Bagram Airfield in northwest Afghanistan. “They’re professional and thoughtful. I think it’s great what they’re doing for veterans and recognizing and advocating and stepping up to do things for those who do so much for our country. This house is, and they are, a constant reminder that there are great people still out there willing to help people.”
Rocky Point social studies teacher Rich Acritelli said no one cares more about veterans — and the entire hamlet — than Cognitore.
“He’s always got the community at his heart,” he said. “He personifies everything that a citizen should be, in terms of national and local service, between being in the military and always working for the betterment of his community.”
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was proud to see how the two stepped up for the Cote family, who were kicked out of their home when the landlord let the Sound Beach property fall into foreclosure. The family has also struggled with illness. Mother Renée Cote has acute intermittent porphyria, a rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson. Her 7-year-old son, Zachary, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was also diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria.
“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue. Talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”
Cote’s husband Glen was a U.S. Army combat medic in the Gulf War, before coming home and suffering an on-the-job injury that disabled him.
“Anyone that met them couldn’t believe what a great family,” Cognitore said. “Especially Zachary, what a little gentleman.”
But Renée Cote said she can’t believe what a great group Cognitore, Baisch and the rest of the developers and donators are.
“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”
Baisch said his contractors and the community showed more support for the Cotes’ new home in Miller Place than on any other house. There were over 30 volunteers, some of whom have been helping Baisch since the first home. Many of them donate windows, garage doors, bathtubs and furniture. Local supermarkets and civic associations also give gift cards to help the new family acclimate to the area.
“They just continue to give and give and give every time we do one of these homes, and they never let me down,” Baisch said of his contractors. “It’s really the only way these homes could come together. We’re not a charity; we consider these homes a hand up, not a hand out. They do the best they can and it’s amazing how much they keep giving. It shocks me after 11 houses that they’re like ‘Mark, let’s do more.’”
Cognitore said he enjoys creating a community of veterans.
“Once they get into these homes, they’re a great neighbor, a great citizen, they keep up their homes, they pay their taxes, so everything works out,” he said. “It’s a win for everybody.”
The veterans appreciate that as well.
“It makes me feel at home knowing there are veterans out there like me,” Bonacasa said. “If we ever needed each other, we’re right there.”
Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said she’s thankful that most of the homes have been built in her district.
“It’s very heartwarming,” she said of the welcome-home ceremonies. “It’s impossible to not get choked up. Especially the most recent one with the Cote family — they’ve had some significant challenges. They were struggling, and Joe and Mark saved them.”
Baisch said that the real tragedy of it all is the fact that without his help, the families wouldn’t be able to remain on Long Island.
“They had no real chance of having a family here and living here if it weren’t for these homes, so that’s the all-encompassing enjoyment out of it,” he said. “These people would have been long gone, and they’re not the types of people we’d like to see leave Long Island. They served their country and they’re Long Islanders, each and every one of them. For them to have to leave because they can’t afford to live here, there’s something wrong with that.”
Bonner said what the “dynamic duo” does shows their true character.
“Mark is very altruistic, and he’s never looking for a pat on the back about it, he just feels passionately about it and does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “And Joe is a tremendous advocate for veterans and a true Patriot. Their hearts are bigger than their wallets. It’s more about doing the right thing than it is about making money.”
Baisch said as long as Landmark Properties is around, he’ll continue to do something like this.
“It’s one of the best feelings of my life,” Baisch said. “I can’t explain it. I can’t come up with words enough to tell how wonderful it feels. The thought of not continuing doing this doesn’t even enter my mind.”
Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) and Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) joined with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Sgt. Santora/Staff Sgt. Bonacasa Memorial Post 400 to announce the completion of new sidewalks from the VFW to the traffic signal at the entrance to the Ammerman Campus on Suffolk County Community College’s Selden campus on College Road. In addition, the Brookhaven Highway Department installed a pedestrian crossing at the signal.
“The enhancements made along College Road, across from both the VFW and SCCC, will allow for increased pedestrian safety in the area,” Losquadro said.
The highway superintendent said the VFW Memorial Post 400 offered the use of its parking lot as an overflow lot for students from Suffolk County Community College, many of them returning vets.
“Vehicle and pedestrian traffic is very heavy in the area around the college and the new sidewalk will make it much safer for all, especially for our student veterans,” LaValle said. “I thank Superintendent Losquadro and the Highway Department for the work that they did to complete this project.”
VFW Memorial Post 400 Commander John Rago also extended thanks to all of the Town of Brookhaven members involved in the project.
“They may think that they built a sidewalk and a crosswalk,” Rago said, “but what they really built is a bridge that connects those veterans who attend Suffolk County Community College with our VFW Post, where they can receive support from fellow veterans.”
After Glen, a Gulf War veteran, and Renée found out that they would be receiving a new home for veterans in Miller Place, they got a phone call that some of the proceeds from Joe Cognitore’s VFW Fischer/Hewins Post 6249 ninth annual Veterans of Foreign Wars Rocky Point Post 6249 annual golf outing at Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai, on Sept. 26, will go toward their new home.
“People keep asking us about the process with the house,” Renée Cote said. “I’m still trying to absorb everything — and then we get a call about this — there’s so much love here and to be on the receiving end of that, it’s a blessing.”
The Cotes have been through several hardships, from Renée Cote being diagnosed with a rare and painful metabolic disorder called acute intermittent porphyria, which requires expensive biweekly treatments that she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, to her 7-year-old son Zachary being diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in 2014.
Most recently, the family was told they were being kicked out of their home because the landlord had let the rental fall into foreclosure.
“It’s awesome to see this much love for somebody from out of town like myself, that they don’t know, it’s incredible,” Glen Cote, who’s from Texas, said. “Everyone is so supportive and friendly.”
The family recently met with Cognitore, Rocky Point’s post commander, for the first time when Landmark Property owner and developer Mark Baisch chose the family to receive the 11th home for returning veterans. The two are still looking for a family for the 12th home.
“It’s a good feeling, especially given their circumstances,” Cognitore said of helping the family. “We’ve been doing things over the phone, and it helped me in the hospital. I felt very good. It was a big relief to know that we’re helping this family out.”
The Cotes said they’ve begun meeting their new neighbors and community members and they’re excited to make the move. Their previous rental home was in Sound Beach,
“They are the nicest people,” Renée Cote said. “I like the fact that — because, we kind of stalked the house — they came out and they were saying hello to us, they’ve been in the community for 30 to 40 years, they were very welcoming and we’re excited. I’m excited to have little BBQs with them and stuff like that.”
“When Mark [Baisch] heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, [Mark Baisch and Joe Cognitore] are our local superheroes.”
— Sarah Anker
At the golf outing, where more than 160 golfers hit the course to help support veterans, Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) came out to meet the family and commend Cognitore and Baisch for all of their work helping local veterans.
“They are literally warriors to those that need help,” Anker said. “They get out there, they understand the struggles and they’re there to help, and that’s what’s so important. When Mark heard about Zachary Cote’s situation, he came to the rescue, and talk about superheroes, they are our local superheroes.”
LaValle was glad to seewho have helped him remain in the Miller Place school district, which was most important to his family.
“It all comes together very, very nicely,” he said. “We can’t do enough for our veterans to say thank you, and this is one of many ways that we can appreciate their service that they have made to our country.”
Renée Cote said she is also teaching her son to give back, and said she feels thank you will never be enough.
“I could sit there and write a million thank you cards, and to me, it would not be enough for what they’re doing,” she said. “And I don’t even think they realize what they’re doing. To first serve our country, and then to give back — and I mean give back in a huge way — it’s good to be surrounded by people like that. They’re angels walking the Earth.”
The North Shore Beach Clubhouse became a young girl’s paradise.
On July 23, the historic Rocky Point clubhouse hosted the 6th annual Dollie & Me Tea Party, where girls were encouraged to bring their favorite dolls for a day of dress up, filled with snacks, raffles, prizes and more.
Presented by the North Shore Beach Property Owners Association, and organized by longtime club member Maureen O’Keefe, the two-hour fundraising event brought moms and daughters, and aunts and nieces, together to help girls form new friendships, and even provided medical tables for treating and taking care of the dolls as part of its “dollie hospital” theme.
In the large, spacious room of the clubhouse, the girls rotated between different stations like the “medical” area, a hair and makeover spot for dressing up their dolls, and another to get their own nails polished by adult volunteers. Rows of dining tables served tea and bagels. At the end of the event, O’Keefe raffled off prizes, which ranged from her homemade doll accessories to store-bought craft kits.
She decided to get the event going when her grandnieces were young, and obsessed with American Girl dolls. With a knack for sewing, O’Keefe saw an opportunity to give girls something to look forward to every year.
“They learn how to care for their dolls and for one another.”
Even though the $10 admission for each adult and child will go toward the organization — which holds several fundraising events every year — and clubhouse maintenance, she says that the children’s events are more about goodwill. By bringing all the parents and children together, there’s a strong feeling of community cohesiveness.
“Everyone has a ball,” she said. “The girls just love getting their nails done, their hair done; getting the attention. You know, girls will be girls. And you’d never know that a lot of them didn’t know each other before today. In an event like this, we probably average 500 dollars. All the food is donated, and the [money from the] doll clothes we sell will be given to VFW.”
Rory Rubino, an auxiliary officer for the association, thinks the event will be a “wonderful childhood memory” for the girls — one they’ll always remember.
“They learn how to care for their dolls and for one another,” Rubino said. “They learn how to get along and make friends. It’s a lot of work, but we do it for the children. These are the events that really glue everybody together.”
O’Keefe plans to continue the event for as long as possible, but recognizes that she herself won’t be able to run it forever. Once she and the association ages out, O’Keefe said that she’d love for some of the younger parents and families to take it over.
Colleen Tornabe, whose 5-year-old niece was one of the doll-carrying girls in attendance, was in awe of the event overall.
“This is the first time I’ve come here, and it’s wonderful,” she said, excitedly. “It’s a great idea for young girls to just get together and have fun, enjoy each other’s company, and meet some new friends. I think it’s great.”