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The Strovink family, including, from left to right, youngest son Kyle, dad Eric and oldest son Brennan. Photo by Christine Strovink

By Rich Acritelli

“As a major league scout for over 38 years and the last 18 for the New York Mets, the Strovink family is without a doubt the finest players and people that I ever scouted.”

Eric Strovink playing baseball with his two children at a young age. Photo by Christine Strovink

So said longtime baseball scout Larry Izzo, who watched some of the best talent to emerge from Long Island to play in the major leagues. Izzo wrote the earliest scouting reports on Houston Astros Hall of Famer Craig Biggio from Kings Park, career hitter and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto and over the last couple of years Ward Melville talent and pitcher Stephen Matz of the New York Mets. Izzo repeated several times how wonderful his relationship was with the Strovink family from Rocky Point over the last several decades. Armed with the ability to hit the ball over many different fences and a trademark smile, Eric Strovink and his two boys, Brennan and Kyle, always present a natural passion and respect for this game.

As a kid growing up in the 1980’s, it was likely that when you read the local papers and Newsday about the prominent players in Suffolk County, Eric’s name was a constant presense. During his first season playing the game, he only made contact once and it seemed as if baseball might not be the sport for Eric, but through the guidance of his father who coached his earlier teams and a strong determination, Eric began hitting the ball consistently and became a feared player on the local fields and teams of Wading River. His talent was noted when Eric as a fifth grader hit a homerun 325 feet in a game.

His father was not originally tied to the game, but he went to work at an early age, was an ROTC army officer after he graduated from college and was a noted photographer and film maker that worked on projects for Brookhaven National Laboratory and Grumman. But his father loved the game and believed in the importance of analyzing baseball statistics. It was this aspect of the game which allowed Eric to identify his own strengths and weaknesses and for him to closely watch the opposing pitchers. He also learned about the unique way of harnessing “visualization” from his dad, who taught his son how to properly concentrate about future playing situations.  Eric always credited the devotion of his father for helping prepare him for the most stressful games.

Always smiling, this 50-year-old physical education teacher from Mount Sinai School District vividly recalled his earliest moments of success on the diamond as if it just happened. After his varsity game was over, it was observed by his coach, mentor and friend Sal Mignano during an at-bat junior varsity game in Easthampton the explosive potential that Eric held. He was amazed at the past ability of the then-13-year-old to hit a homerun that completely surprised the older members of the varsity team. Mignano marveled at the strength of his former player and the extensive knowledge and motivation that Eric held in his early years. 

As a junior, Eric’s batting average was .465, where he drove in 45 runs and batted in and hit another nine homeruns. During his senior year, his average climbed to .516, and while pitchers attempted to throw around him, he was continually on base. He was a three-time all league, two-time all-county, featured as a Daily News all-star and was an all-state player. Along the way, he guided his team to many winning seasons in league, county, and capped it by achieving a New York State Championship title in 1987. Eric recalled the benefits of the visualization that his father taught to him and the lessons his good friend Keith Osik taught him about where they saw themselves in pressure game time situations. Izzo recalled Eric’s father and believed that “he was one of the kindest and sincerest parents that was extremely supportive, and he could always be seen taking pictures at the games with a high-powered camera.”

Eric Strovink was a renaissance man of sorts, playing Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo from Strovink family

Always with a genuine manner, Eric laughed that he was not even the best player within his own household. For a time, Osik lived with his family and he is considered a brother to Erik and an uncle to the Strovink kids. Osik was a phenomenal athlete and a dominant pitcher that was recognized as the best baseball player in Suffolk County through the Yastrzemski Award winner, while Eric was the runner up. These players were a dynamic hitting duo that saw Osik constantly reach base and Strovink drive him home numerous times during a game. Osik played at Louisiana State University and was later a professional ball player for several years with the Pittsburg Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, and Baltimore Orioles. Both Osik and Eric’s hitting skills tormented the best pitchers in state.

Eric also demonstrated his athletic presence as a feared Suffolk County Wrestling Champion at 215 pounds. Although he did not wrestle until the sixth grade, Eric held his own against all-state and national wrestlers like that of Adam Mariano from Comsewogue High School. And when he was not playing sports, Eric was a devoted thespian within his school’s drama program. He performed in an arousing performance as Tybolt in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” 

Eric was motivated to further his baseball career in college where he garnered interest from the powerhouses of Clemson, Georgia Southern, Nebraska and North Carolina State. When a scout from Louisiana State University watched Osik during a high school game, Erik showed his own skills by hitting three homeruns. In 1988, this powerful tandem left the to play baseball within the deep south in Louisiana.

At college, Eric was amazed about the vast amount of instruction that was given to each player through every part of this game. Always a student of this game, Eric always absorbed the intricacies of baseball information from this college and when he was an instructor for Mignano’s clinics and camps. For years as a coach, he constantly presented tidbits of wisdom to his players. 

“You can learn more baseball tips in one practice from Eric, compared to what others learn in a season,” Said Rocky Point’s athletic director Charlie Delargy.    

At LSU, he became good friends with pitchers Ben McDonald who played seven years for the Baltimore Orioles, and Russ Springer, a pitcher for 18 years who played for 13 different teams that included the New York Yankees.  

As Eric enjoyed attending LSU, he had to leave school and play closer to home. It was a hard time for him, as his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to be near his family.  While he was dealing with this sickness, he played for a junior college in New Jersey and eventually made it to C.W. Post in Brookville. This was a bittersweet moment for him, as he dealt with the sickness of his beloved mother, Eric once again excelled in front of local fans by hitting 17 homeruns and driving in 50 runs to help his team win their conference.

This was a painful time for Eric, while he played well, his mother passed away after a battle with cancer. While he dealt with this heavy loss, it was Izzo that wrote the scouting report on Eric that allowed him to be signed by the Texas Rangers to a free agent contract. Leaving CW Post and Wading River, Eric was sent to Port Charlotte, Florida. He earned $850 a month, lived with several different teammates and was a “starving” rookie within this league. Eric was on the field with ball players that were just drafted and were rehabbing from injuries. His time with this organization came to an end after the following spring training, after it was explained to Eric that while he was a solid player, he might not have the chance to reach the major leagues.  With baseball behind him, he returned home to finish his college education, to coach wrestling at Shoreham-Wading River and to work for his father. By May 29, 1994, he married his high school sweetheart Christine and they looked to start a family of their own.

Resembling his father, Brennen Strovink was also a dynamic figure within the Rocky Point High School baseball and wrestling teams. Always armed with a big smile and a can-do attitude, this 2014 graduate of Rocky Point was a three-year starter on the varsity team. Brennan immediately made his mark as a sophomore who attained a .370 average and led the county with six homeruns. As a senior, Brennen was a finalist for the Yastrzemski Award, and he was named most valuable player for his league. Many teachers and coaches enjoyed having Brennen in their classes, club’s and teams. 

These warm thoughts were echoed by his former baseball coach Andrew Aschettino, who said he was a “larger than life personality and incredible role model. My kids simply look up to him and I can’t think of someone better in that role.”

Like his father, he was an aggressive wrestler who enjoyed the competitiveness of this sport.  During his junior year, he took first place as a heavy weight in his league and was the runner-up as a sophomore.  He wrestled extremely well through the difficult Eastern States Tournament where he placed sixth in the contest. While he established himself as one of the premier heavy weights, Brennan was unable to reach his goal of possibly being a county champion because of a necessary back surgery.

Brennan Strovink rounds a base during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

As an all-state baseball player, Brennan received a scholarship from Division I Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. He was excited to hit against some of the best college pitchers in the nation, but after a year, Brennan suffered another back injury that led to a second surgery. Brennan had to stop playing baseball and for a brief time he came home and attended Suffolk Community College. At this moment, his grandfather believed that his lefthanded hitting grandson had the chance to change his luck by hitting righty. In an amazing accomplishment, Brennen resurrected his college career by learning how to hit from the right side of the plate.

With his best friend Joseph Zabbara who was a college baseball player who was recovering from a serious arm injury, both young men had the opportunity to suit up for Hudson Valley Community College. With a positive mindset that enabled him to become a switch hitter, that old feeling of consistently making contact returned to Brennan as he attained an over .300 batting average. In a short period of time, his confidence returned, and he again faced pitching from the left side. When this happened, Brennan in his first eleven hitting lefty, he was on base with eight hits. Once this rejuvenation occurred, both Brennan and Joseph hit the road again as they enrolled into Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina.  

During his first at-bat for this school, he hit a homerun and was a fixture in the lineup as a first baseman and a designated hitter. Although he was in a different atmosphere, Brennan was nagged by reoccurring back injuries that made him make the permanent decision to stop playing.  Always with a positive demeanor, Brennan was pleased with his time at Limestone where he was able to become a first base coach and attain a degree in physical education.  

Finally, Kyle is the youngest Strovink to continue the family tradition of playing this game hard and doing it with a smile. Like his dad and brother, Kyle was a dominant varsity player during the extent of his high school years. As a capable catcher, Izzo stated Kyle has a “major league arm” to quickly prevent base runners from stealing bases.  

With grit and determination, he handled the pitchers and challenges of this strenuous position.  Like the two elder Strovink’s, he was a fierce competitor that opposing pitchers struggled to get out. As a sophomore, Kyle hit .392 with two homeruns. As a junior, his average climbed to .429 with four homeruns and eight doubles, and while he batted .349 as a senior, he was playing with a broken hand. Kyle was Rocky Point’s first All-American and one of his proudest moments was playing in front of a thousand local fans in the semi-finals set against Shoreham-Wading River.

During the winter months, Kyle, like his brother and father, was a tough wrestler. Unlike the other males in his household, Kyle wrestled only for one full year and still he placed second in his league at 195 pounds. Though he had limited experience, Kyle pinned two all-county wrestlers during his senior year.  Longtime assistant wrestling coach and a state champion Billy Coggins was always pleased with the progress. 

Kyle Strovink during his time on the Rocky Point Varsity baseball team. Photo from Strovink family

“Kyle was a rare athlete that you could plug into any sport and he would find a way to succeed.  He was an important factor that helped our team secure a county championship,” Coggins said. 

Always with a big smile, Kyle was the President of the Rocky Point Varsity Club where he made two speeches for the 9/11 and Veterans Day programs. This genuine young man shook the hands of the rescue workers, veterans and alumni and thanked them for their service to our nation.

Like his brother, Kyle had the plans to play at Lamar University, but he decided to play at a junior college in Douglas, Arizona near the Mexican border. Kyle played in excessive, dry heat of 110 degrees — vastly different from the conditions at Rocky Point. At Cochise College, Kyle was 2,500 miles from home, and he wanted to transfer to play at the east coast school of the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Right away, he enjoyed his head coach that still calls Kyle during special moments and holidays. After playing extremely well, Kyle was offered a scholarship to play ball at Limestone, where he was reunited with his older brother Brennan.  Again, Kyle demonstrated his ability to hit with a commanding .308 average and he eventually became the clean-up hitter for this team through a shortened season due to the COVID-19 virus.

At Limestone, Kyle continued to demonstrate his catching prowess in throwing out opposing runners through his impressive arm strength. During a pro-day scouting program, it was estimated that Kyle had an extremely quick release from home plate to second base that was only 1.8 seconds. Izzo was not surprised about this catcher’s abilities and he believes that Kyle is a “special player.” While Kyle has lost part of his season, he is pleased to be spending time with his family. Looking at the Strovink’s, it is easy to see why people are always drawn to their good will. Every year Kristine Strovink organizes a team community service trip to a soup kitchen, she helps run the Live Like Susie fundraiser baseball game against Mount Sinai and serves the team an annual breakfast. While this family is led by these likable big men, Eric credits the devoted role that his wife and daughter Katie play in running their household.  

Retired social studies teacher Brooke Bonomi loved to joke with the boys and talk sports with them on a regular basis. As the teacher that created the Live Like Susie Kindness Award Night, Bonomi enjoyedStrovink’s participation to help honor the character of Rocky Point High School students through the outstanding memory of Susie Facini.  Bonomi glowingly stated that the “spirit of happiness runs deep in each Strovink. Their good cheer always inspires others to become better people.” Similar feelings towards this North Shore family has also been described the by the decades of respect that Izzo holds within these local ball players. This long-time major scout sums up the make-up of this family whom he considers to be the absolute best, saying “the way you play the game, is the way you’ll live life.”

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Stacey Wohl, center, with her daughter at her shop Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in Wading River. Photo from Wohl

By Leah Chiappino

Local entrepreneur Stacey Wohl has moved her store, Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique, which first opened Nov. 22, from its original East Northport location to Wading River Square. Despite the change in location, it still has the same mission, to give people with disabilities a chance at employment.

In 2015, Wohl opened Cause Cafe in Northport, a restaurant that employed people on the autism spectrum, with the help of her parents, Susan and Gerald Schultz. Her interest in doing so was taken from her own two children, Brittney, 22, and Logan, 20, both of whom have autism.

Wohl says the business struggled because of the lack of a nonprofit being able to subsidize the rent. Her children were unable to work in the kitchen as the environment could get chaotic, and it grew very loud. 

“When you own a business, you have to do everything, and I am not a chef,” Wohl said. “It was a very large undertaking that we weren’t prepared for.”

Despite putting her best efforts into it, Wohl was forced to shut down the restaurant when it was not able to sustain itself and personal tragedy struck. In 2016, Cause Cafe was featured on the Rachel Ray Show, which sent Wohl on a cruise with her children and parents. Two days into the trip, her father had a heart attack while dancing with her mother on the ship and passed away. 

When the family returned home, Wohl closed the doors, as she felt the need to care for her mother, who was mourning the loss of a husband of 55 years.

Wohl’s first love is fashion, having been a showroom salesperson, fit model and boutique owner in her 20s, so she opened Be(Cause) Lifestyle Boutique in East Northport. However, tragedy struck again when her mother passed away three weeks later. Wohl relocated to Wading River after her daughter got accepted to a day program in Abequogue.

“I saw the need for a place like this,”
Wohl said. 

The front of the store has a coffee bar with repackaged baked goods to take home, complete with inspirational coffee mugs for sale. The back of the store is filled with apparel and gifts that mostly come from women-owned companies and charitable causes. There is local artwork for sale as well as her own coffee brand. 

“I want the store to be a place where people go to buy a gift, and not just feel like they are doing something for charity,” Wohl said. 

Recently the business has been struggling. Business boomed over Christmas, but after the holidays business slowed down. 

“I only sold one $3 dollar cup of coffee today,” Wohl said. However, she affirms the community has been very supportive. Wohl hopes that people will make the store their go-to place to grab a cup of coffee and is even looking to expand to have art classes and job training. She is also hoping to make a clothing line from her former fashion background. 

“I lost that part of myself in [dedicating myself to my children] for the past 20 years.”

The boutique is located at 6278 Building A, #2 along Route 25A in Wading River and is open Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 5.p.m. Online ordering is also available through the boutique’s website at www.becauseboutiquecafe.com.  

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The Rocky Point firehouse on King Road in Rocky Point. File photo by Kevin Redding

This year, fire commissioners from the Wading River through the Mount Sinai fire districts are running unopposed, but despite that fact, these small municipal entities have several issues and boons on their plates, and now is a good time to find out just what’s happening with your local fire personnel.

Commissioners are unpaid elected board members who run the district, which is a connected but distinct entity from the fire department. The district is a taxing entity whose board is elected by the residents in the district. They determine yearly budgets, go out for grants and propose bonds to maintain equipment and personnel of both the district and department.

All districts have set the date of Dec. 10 for residents to cast their ballots.

Here is a rundown of those seeking another term at their respective districts.

Wading River Fire Department headquarters. Photo from Google maps

Wading River

Commissioner Joe Marino has been serving through the year 2019, having been elected in 2018 to fill out the term of a commissioner who left before the end of his term. Marino is seeking another five-year term.

Marino did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents can vote Dec. 10 at the fire district headquarters located at 1503 North Country Road from 2 to 9 p.m.

Rocky Point

Kirk Johnson has been with the Rocky Point Fire Department since 2006 but had been involved in fire companies previous to that when he lived in West Babylon. By day he’s also a Suffolk County police officer and has worked in the 7th Precinct for 23 years.

Permission was asked of the Rocky Point Fire Department to dig for potential underground tunnels relating to Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe lab. Photo by Kevin Redding

Having been with the department for over 20 years, he originally ran to contribute his experience to upper management, and now he is running again to continue ongoing projects, such as construction of the new Station 2 firehouse, while trying to keep taxes down.

Johnson, a Shoreham resident, said ongoing work on the Station 2 firehouse is “rolling along very well,” and they are currently staying within their $7,250,000 budget. The foundation is currently in, and residents will soon see more of the skeleton of the building going up.

He added that the five commissioners are working on getting a New York State grant to help them replace breathing apparatus that have reached their life span. Johnson said they hope to receive news of that grant later in
December. 

The district has finalized another grant for a fire prevention training trailer, one with different rooms that can simulate a fire with fake smoke. The trailer, he said, can also be used to teach schoolchildren what to do in case of a fire in a classroom or at home.

Rocky Point residents can cast ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse on Hallock Landing Road from 3 to 9 p.m.

Sound Beach

James McLoughlin Sr. has been involved with the Sound Beach Fire Department since 1973, but it was only five years ago, after a spot opened up, that the veteran department head and former chief decided to throw his name in for commissioner. Five years since, he’s running again unopposed. 

“I had been toying with the idea for years, but most of our commissioners were doing a good job, so I saw no reason to run,” he said. “When I had the opportunity to run, I went for it.”

McLoughlin, a retired Suffolk County fire marshal, said he has “been involved with fire my entire life.” 

Sound Beach Fire District headquarters at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. Photo from Google Maps

Sound Beach residents recently passed a $2 million bond that department and district officials said was necessary for much needed repairs to the main firehouse. This includes replacing windows and adding sprinklers in the building. It also includes drainage repairs to the parking lots in the front and rear of the building, which will also even out the pavement. 

The commissioner said it has been several years since they asked residents to pass a bond, adding he and the other commissioners know the issue with taxes on Long Island.

A growing problem for Sound Beach and other departments, he said, is the diminishing number of volunteers as people work more jobs and for longer hours. State mandates and training requirements require more hours of training from prospective volunteers, which has only exacerbated the problem, especially for as small a district as Sound Beach. 

“The first EMT course I took in 1974 was about 70 hours,” McLoughlin said. “Now it takes over 120 hours for the course. It’s hard to find people to commit to that training.”

While he said the district is not currently looking for full-time fire personnel, the district has hired a full-time EMT ambulance driver. Other districts, like Setauket, have hired a few full-time firefighters to deal with declining volunteers. 

Sound Beach residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the firehouse located at 152 Sound Beach Blvd. between 2 and 9 p.m.

Miller Place

Commissioner Jeffrey Kinkaid has served three five-year terms as commissioner and is seeking a fourth term. However, he was with the department for many years, joining in 1989 after moving to the area in 1988. Overall, he said he has spent 40 years with fire departments both on the North Shore and in New Hyde Park.

“I went through the ranks, became chief for two years and in watching how the commissioners interacted with the chief, I thought I could help with that,” he said.

Miller Place Fire Department. File photo by Kevin Redding

Kinkaid said he has been able to interact with volunteers in the department, adding he has been out on more than half the calls that have come through to see what goes on. 

In the past 15 years, Kinkaid said the district has been busy renovating facilities and updating equipment, including upgrading the headquarters located at 12 Miller Place Road, updating equipment and the construction of a new Station 2 building on Miller Place-Yaphank Road, which was completed by a bond. Kinkaid said this has been done while at the same time trying to keep taxes low.

“I also live in the district,” he said. “I’m in touch with what’s going on, you’ve got to be.”

For the future, the commissioner said they plan to purchase a new rescue truck after decommissioning another one several years ago. The district went out for a New York State grant, but not getting it the district has decided to use budget funds to purchase another, albeit smaller truck at the tune of around $200,000 to $300,000. Kinkaid said they are also working on replacing volunteers’ breathing apparatus packs with budget funds, which could be another $350,000 bulk item. 

“My goal is to maintain equipment and keep the tax burden low,” he said. 

Miller Place residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 at the main firehouse, 12 Miller Place Road, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Mount Sinai

Peter Van Middelem is running again for his third term as commissioner of the Mount Sinai Fire District unopposed. He has been with the department since 1984 but has been in fire rescue for longer than that as a retired member of the New York City Fire Department. As a third-generation area resident, he also serves as trustee on the Mount Sinai board of education. He also volunteers as a coach with the girls varsity lacrosse team.

“We’re just focused on trying to serve the community and make sure our members are safe,” he said. “It’s about what we can do and what we can do without adding burden to the taxpayers.”

Mount Sinai Fire Department. Photo by Kyle Barr

Like many fire departments on Long Island, Van Middelem said Mount Sinai is suffering from a lack of volunteers, whether it’s from residents working multiple jobs, a lack of interest or young people leaving Long Island. The commissioner said his department in particular has been aging, and at age 53, he himself is one of the younger members in the department.

The district has looked at some ways to mitigate the lack of membership. One has been shared services with the Miller Place Fire Department, where they respond to calls in part with Mount Sinai and vice versa. 

Though he added they may look into additional sharedcall agreements with neighboring departments, another idea on the books is paying firefighters. Setauket recently hired a few paid members, and while Van Middelem said it has been discussed, the district is not currently looking for paid members.

“We have no idea how things will look in another five years,” he said. “A great portion of the district’s costs come from personnel — it’s something we’ll have to think about.”

Otherwise, the district, he said, is looking to get a handle of New York State insurance regulations, specifically covering cancer. It is a major turn from when he started in fire rescue several decades ago, he said, adding the district has been performing comprehensive medical screenings for members. 

“I’m very appreciative of serving,” he said. “I take this job very seriously.”

Mount Sinai residents can cast their ballots Dec. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse located at 746 Mount Sinai-Coram Road.

25-Year-Old Looks to Continue Legacy of Family Farming on North Shore

Marianne and Justin Bakewicz on one of their tractors. Photo by Kyle Barr

In Justin Bakewicz’ eyes, the world is sepia toned. Autumn has reddened the leaves and browned the plants on his farm in Wading River. The cornstalks of the corn maze he built have gone dry and stark as gravestones, while the last few pumpkins of his you-pick patch squat among rows of now bare plants. All the farm’s last vegetables are being packed up for the remaining few farmers markets and festivals before winter truly sets in. The farm is closed until spring of next year, and he and his family have started to get ready for what could be a snowy, cold winter.

Justin scratches Boss Hog’s belly while their dog Remington sniffs about. Photo by Kyle Barr

To Bakewicz, his small 11-acre farm along Route 25A in Wading River is a vintage photograph of a barn and fields, a lingering ideal he has worked for three years to make a reality. 

He calls that ideal a legacy from his grandfather, Henry Kraszewski Sr. Justin, a Rocky Point resident, remembers working with his uncle on his grandfather’s farm in Southampton as a kid. 

He too found solace from the drudgery of a desk job working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Riverhead by working on his farm, where they farmed eggs and potatoes. 

“He hated that job to all hell, but when he came home at night his favorite thing to do was to take off the suit and put on his boots and jeans and farm his own potatoes out there,” the farm owner said. That farm lasted until his grandfather passed away and went out of the family’s hands.

While other kids in Danielle Donadoni’s sixth-grade English class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School wrote about wanting to be sports stars, young Justin wrote about how when he grew up, he wanted to be a farmer.

Donadoni said she often visits the Bakewicz farm, saying she loves what the young farmer has brought to the community and how he has even left an imprint on her own children with a love for gardening and raising chickens.

“I remember asking him specifically, ‘What do you like about being a farmer?’” the teacher said. “I remember him telling me an uncle had a farm and it was right about this time of year. I may have given him a ‘Get out of here’ comment and ‘No way you’re working on a farm every weekend.’ Sure enough, that next Monday morning Justin exited the school bus with a pumpkin almost the size of him.”

Getting to where the farm is now was difficult. Already running a landscaping business and selling flowers out of their landscape yard, the Bakewicz family learned about the small patch of land for rent off Route 25A owned by Joe Manzi, of Rocky Point-based Manzi Homes East. 

Justin pets his two rescue calves Woody and Buzz. Photo by Kyle Barr

Justin’s mother Marianne has worked with her son on both the landscaping business as well as the farm. She called the whole project a family affair, with brothers, nieces, sons-in-law and others.

To say the farm has been a passion project for the young farmer would be an understatement. Justin’s mother said very few farms now can operate because even fewer people have the energy to put the work into them. 

“He’s worked really, really hard on this,” she said. “There’s not many young people willing to get up at 5, 5:30 in the morning and work 12-14 hours a day seven days a week. That’s why there’s not a lot of farms left.”

The farm started with barely enough tools to get the job done, even on such a relatively small property. Much of the land was “six-foot-tall weeds,” and borrowing a tractor from a friend, he planted corn for a corn maze and pumpkins. He would drive out to Southampton after working all day to return that equipment. 

Using a New York State grant they got for young farmers, he bought a new tractor to use on the farm. Other equipment came from as far away as Pennsylvania second hand. The plow is a two-bottom, one-way, meaning when he’s digging troughs, he makes one row before going all the way around the field to plow the next. 

Other equipment now sits near the playground as part of what the family calls an educational component to the farm, explaining what it is and how it’s used. 

Compared to the miles and miles of farmland just down the road in Riverhead, Bakewicz Farms is relatively small. The frontage is dedicated to a playground of sorts, all hand-painted cutouts of mythical figures and characters from popular fiction. Some were painted by one of the farmhands, some by Marianne, and others by a friend of Justin’s from Rocky Point, Jen Chiodo. It’s a small wonderland, a mix of down-home sensibility with modern pop culture, like a straw chewing cowboy putting his feet up on the soap box to watch the latest Marvel movie. 

The farm’s frontage has been a playground not just for kids, but for the farmer himself. Bakewicz built his own barrel train and hay wagon. The family created a life-sized cow out of a milk jug and tank, and a small scaled silo out of an old propane tank. Instead of just a run of the mill corn maze, the Wading River farm makes it a scavenger hunt based around a movie, from “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “Harry Potter” to this year’s theme of “Toy Story.” When kids walk through the corn maze, they are looking to find trivia about that movie and make a rubbing to show it off when they come out.

Marianne Bakewicz and their dog Remington at Bakewicz Farm. Photo by Kyle Barr

Even the oft-seen farm animals seem to have come out of a storybook version of a farm. Many of them are rescues, such as Woody and Buzz, two calves that were saved from New Jersey by Port Jefferson Station-based animal rescue Strong Island Rescue. When the Bakewicz got the two young animals, they were both sickly. The mother and son raised them in their own house, taking them for walks and feeding them from a bottle as long as a grown man’s arm. Less than a year later, Woody and Buzz are as big as a small tractor and act more like dogs than cattle.

The story is the same for the other animals at the farm, from the chickens originally raised by a local school, the one duck rescued from students at the University of Rhode Island, the goats to the pig they named Boss Hog. All act more like pets than farm animals, and more and more animals keep ending up behind Bakewicz’ fences.

“They all act like that because they were human-raised,” the mother said. “That’s why people love them, so they come right up to you.”

The farm has increased in popularity over the years, the mother and son said, mostly due to word of mouth and posts online. As they’ve grown, they have made a larger impact in the community, having put up the fall decorations for the Shoreham hamlet signs and having a big presence at the Town of Brookhaven Farmers Market at Town Hall in Farmingville. Their advertising can even be found in such innocuous places like the People’s United bank in Shoreham.

Despite the popularity, Justin has lingering fears of losing the small plot of land. In February, Brookhaven and the property owner announced talks with the developer Tradewind Energy about building solar batteries on the property. Those batteries would only take up a small amount of farm space that Bakewicz had not used, mostly from previous owners using the space to dump branches and trees the farm had used for composting. 

The bigger fear is if that development does not go through. The other idea for the property would be to build homes in that location, pushing the small farm out the door. 

Bakewicz has not heard anything about the issue since earlier this year, but no matter what, he does not plan to stop farming and hopes to continue it on the North Shore.

“It’s the community is what made my farm possible — it’s because of the love and support from them,” he said. “We started family traditions for people.”

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Inside the Hounds Town USA Dog Daycare. Photo by Kyle Barr

Taking Care of Your Pup Come Winter

“It’s common sense,” Deszcz said. 

Dogs not accustomed to cold weather, she said, should not be out longer than 15 minutes at a time, enough time for them to do their business. Sometimes, if the ground is frozen, an owner should be outside with them to watch and make sure their paws don’t attach to any iced surface. A dog’s paws can crack in cold temperatures, and they may be inclined to lick road salt, so they need to be watched especially when out on walks. 

In winter, she said people should keep dogs inside, but she knows of several of her customers who are the athletic sort, who may be taking their pets out for extended runs. In those cases, she suggests a balm or wax for a dog’s feet. Both keep the dog’s paws safe from cracking and from road salt. That’s especially important for people who live in apartment complexes that constantly salt their sidewalks.

Some dogs, like Newfoundlands or huskies, may want to stay outside in the snow, them having multiple coats of fur. Short haired or smaller pups may need a little help.

“If you have a short haired dog, they do like to wear little coats,” she said. 

Deszcz also reminded that dogs will need to drink water, even if it’s cold outside, especially after walking or running.

A small, colorful storefront in Port Jefferson Station, behind two doors at the local Hounds Town USA, goes back 17 yards of space, with over 20 dogs trying to bark louder than the next. 

Marianne Deszcz has worked at the Hounds Town USA since 2006. In 2012, she came to own the location and has worked there ever since. She has six employees and many others who work seasonally, with a surprising number of teachers coming back in the summers. Deszcz said they can’t seem to stay away from educating whether they have two legs or four.

Marianne Deszcz has worked at the Hounds Town USA since 2006. Photo by Kyle Barr

For years, she has seen both small and big changes in the way people interact with pets.

There’s a little bit of good but plenty of bad as well. 

“People always think the pet business is such a money maker, but they also forget about the liabilities involved,” she said. “For a long time, it was in-home pet sitters, but then they realize Fluffy is going to chew your sheet rock, and that animals pee and poop — not always outside.”

She has seen other trends in the pet industry come and go. When she originally started, the general concept of interactive doggy daycare had boomed, but the idea quickly sputtered over the next few years.

“That was the briefest faze of all, because this is really hard,” she said. “Gauging how a dog will be in a group, being able to walk out of a room to get a mop without the rest of them having a WWE smackdown is really difficult. It’s an expensive business to run, and there’s not a high profit margin here.”

Despite it all, she’s kept with it because, as she said, “I know what I’m doing.” Much of her staff have been with her for years from when she bought the location from the previous owner.

The veteran dog caretaker said one problem is always with animal rescue groups never having enough funding. As ever, animal shelters constantly publicize their residents to try and get them adopted, and there are always more pets that need a home than people looking to adopt.

“Shelters are so overcrowded, and there are so many people who do not take responsibility for their animals and dump them in a shelter or dump them in a rescue,” she said.

As someone who has taken care of dogs for months at a time, she said it has become apparent that less people are doing the work to train their pets. 

“Just walking on a leash, sitting if you ask them to, just the basics,” Deszcz said. “I have noticed that trend. It’s refreshing to us for someone to walk in with a trained dog.”

A Wading River resident, she and her husband own a house on North Country Road notorious for its continuous Halloween decorations, with them sitting on the porch by the nearby duck pond waving to those passing by during the annual Duck Pond Day and the recently held Fall Festival. She herself has owned many dogs, many of them rescues. From her viewpoint, more people have strayed away from buying pure breeds from breeders, instead putting rescue dogs and mutts in their homes.

“People are much more receptive to rescuing now,” she said. “Back when I started, it was very unusual to see a pit bull or a mixed breed. Now people are very receptive to it.”

It’s a turn she said is a result of local rescue groups like those she’s worked with, such as the Port Jefferson Station-based Strong Island Rescue and Southampton’s Last Chance Animal Rescue. She has seen an influx of rescue groups come onto the scene, more than there had been when she started, and their messaging of the plight of abandoned animals seems to have made an impact.

 

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Ryan Augusta and two of his children. Photo from East Wind

The culinary industry will come together to support an executive chef who is currently battling an aggressive and rare cancer. On July 31 from 7 to 11 p.m., East Wind Long Island in Wading River will host a Super Ryan Fundraiser in honor of Ryan Augusta, who in 2018 was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. 

Ryan Augusta’s kids dress up as Superman to support their father. Photo from East Wind

After undergoing surgery and medical treatments, it seemed that the cancer was in remission. However, recently he found out that the cancer had returned and is now more aggressive. Augusta has endured another major surgery and will undergo 34 rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatments, causing a financial strain to his family. 

Augusta has been working at East Wind for over three years and manages a staff of about 50 people. The executive chef lives in East Northport with his wife, Christa, and their three children.  

Christa Augusta said she is blown away and thankful for what East Wind is doing. 

“They put this all together on their own, as soon as they found out about his [Ryan’s] surgery in May,” she said. 

The mother of three said she is grateful to all the people, staff and chefs putting in time and energy into the fundraiser. 

“We are looking forward to a great night with people we love,” she said. “This will give my husband strength.”

Charlotte Cote, director of marketing at East Wind, said Augusta’s work ethic is second to none. 

“It is a pleasure to work with Ryan on a daily basis — he is the type of person that makes your job easier because he’s always ahead of the game and his staff is ready to go,” she said. 

The fundraiser will feature well-known professional chefs and restaurateurs from Long Island to Las Vegas who dedicating their talents to the event. Each chef is expected to have an active workstation.  

Sixteen professional guest chefs will lend their talents to the fundraiser, including local chefs such as Steve Gallagher of The Trattoria in St. James, John Bauer of Danfords in Port Jefferson, Justin Scarfo of Ruggero’s in Wading River and John Louis, of Maui Chop House in Rocky Point. 

Food purveyors will be Prime Foods & Braun Seafood, all brought together by Ralph Perrazzo from BBD’s Las Vegas-Beers Burgers Desserts 

Ryan Augusta, top, Christa Augusta, bottom, and their children. Photo from East Wind

“Chef Ryan is a valued member of our close-knit family here at East Wind and we are committed to give him our unconditional support for his hard work and dedication in this time of need,” Lou Ambrosio, general manager at East Wind said.

Five breweries will also be on hand serving their signature brews, including Sand City Brewing Company of Northport, Barrier Brewing of Oceanside, Root & Branch in Copiague, Evil Twin in Ridgewood and Grimm in Brooklyn.

“I’m truly fortunate to have amazing friends in this industry who will always show support in time of need,” said Ralph Perazzo of BBD’s Las Vegas-Beers Burgers Desserts.

The fundraiser will include a buffet, live DJ, beer, wine, soda, a Chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle. Raffle prizes include a two-night stay at Foxwood Casino Resort with dining and spa credit plus other prizes. 

Tickets are $75 per person or $700 for a table of 10. Tickets can be purchased here. All proceeds go directly go to the Augusta family.  

If you are unable to attend, Augusta’s family have set up a GoFundMe page, which will help with medical costs that has already raised over $4,500 of a $50,000 goal. People wishing to donate can visit here.

This post has been corrected to reflect Augusta still has to undergo treatment.

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SWR High School Principal Frank Pugliese, Kathleen Loscalzo, Natalie Epp, Alanna Santa Maria, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and Town of Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith. Photo from Anker’s office

Three Shoreham-Wading River Girl Scouts were each honored with their Gold Award June 7.

At Shoreham-Wading River High School, Natalie Epp, Kathleen Loscalzo and Alanna Santa Maria, of Service Unit 669, all received the highest Girl Scout award. The event was attended by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker and high school principal, Frank Pugliese. 

“Congratulations to the Scouts from Service Unit 669 on receiving their Gold Awards,” Anker said. “These young ladies are great role models for the other girls in their troop and I look forward to seeing their future accomplishments with our community.”

Service Unit 669’s Gold Award projects included creating silk flower arrangements and pens to be used during services at the First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, making fleece blankets for residents of the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, and creating alphabet audio books in Spanish and English for the Southampton Head Start preschool.

The Gold Award requires that a Girl Scout identifies an issue, investigates, gets help by building a team, creates a plan, presents that plan to a Girl Scout council, gathers feedback, takes action, and educates and inspires others. 

Richard Anderson shows art skills to elementary student. Photo by David Luces

“They give me so much life — so much energy,” Richard Anderson, an Edna Louise Spear Elementary School art teacher said of his students. “It is so much fun.”

Anderson, who has been a fixture at the elementary school for the past 34 years, will retire at the end of the school year. He will be leaving behind a lasting impact on his current and former students over the years. 

Richard Anderson shows the artwork of one of the students. Photo by David Luces

“It has gone by so quickly, but I’ve had a blast teaching something I love,” he said, reflecting on his career. “I’ve been a part of the school community for so long and that’s coming to an end. I’ve been getting all these letters from the kids and it’s really nice but it’s sad at the same time. But it tells me that I have done a good job.”

Anderson’s love for art began when he was young. He fondly remembers a trip to The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan when he was 7 years old and laying eyes on the work of famed artist Chuck Close. 

“My art teacher took me down to The Museum of Modern Art, and they had huge airbrush paintings of Chuck Close and some of his friends,” he said. “At 7 I was like, ‘I want to be an artist just like him.’”

This began a lifelong passion for the Port Jeff art teacher. From there, he would go on to State University College at Buffalo to get his art degree. During that time, he started experimenting with chainsaw wood carvings. He mentioned one of his inspirations was Wendell Castle, a renowned art furniture artist.  

“I had experience with a chainsaw working in the woods, cutting down trees with my father,” he said. 

Anderson would compete in wood carving competitions in upstate New York and found success, winning some events. He said the wood carving scene has really grown over the years and has gotten more refined from carving bears and eagles into more complex designs, such as his rendition of a mermaid carved in wood. 

The elementary art teacher said he enjoys wood carving because it is challenging and pushes his personal abilities further. Anderson hopes to continue to do wood carvings for the village’s harvest festival as well as coming back to the school to do wood carvings for the students. 

Meghan McCarthy, a fellow art teacher at the elementary school, has worked with Anderson for the past two years and says he sets a great example. 

“He’s has been an excellent mentor,” she said. “He’s taught me to approach elementary art as a fine-arts program. He sets the bar high and it shows in the kids’ artwork and shows what they are capable of doing.”

“He laid down a solid foundation for me.”

— Meghan McCarthy

McCarthy said she really lucked out having someone like Rich who has immense amount of experience teaching. 

“He laid down a solid foundation for me,” she said. 

Anderson admits it will be hard for him to retire, but he is looking forward to spending more time with family, getting back into his artistic furniture business and enjoying motorcycling and hunting. 

“I’ve been really blessed to have had a great career and leave a good impact,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to work with some former students of mine and be able to teach some of my former students’ children.”

The Wading River resident said the students motivate him to push himself and in turn he pushes them. 

“It works together, these kids have so much ability and we need to support them,” he said. “I have been given his great gift and it has meant so much to me.”

Locals were out in force June 2 for the 25th annual Duck Pond Day, and though there was a conspicuous lack of fowl in the pond, visitors got to have a taste of music from the Jan Hanna Band, pet young calves and goats at a stand by Bakewicz farms and check out the wares of a multitude of local vendors.

Hosted by the Wading River Shoreham Chamber of Commerce, events started at 8:30 with a 5K run, where the $1,500 raised from the run was donated to the Fight Like a Girl Army, a Wading River based nonprofit that fundraises for breast cancer research and local scholarships.

File photo

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced April 30 the arrest of a Town of Brookhaven employee for allegedly stealing more than 500 gallons of diesel fuel from Town fuel facilities since August 2015.

Daniel Curtin, 50, of Wading River, was arrested April 29 and charged with multiple counts of grand larceny for stealing the fuel.

“We will not tolerate the theft of public funds or government property for someone’s own personal use,” Sini said. “I thank the Town of Brookhaven for bringing this matter to my Office’s attention and continuing to partner with us to protect taxpayers.”

Curtin, who is employed as a foreman for the Town of Brookhaven’s Highway Department, was issued a 2012 Ford pick-up truck by the town to be used for official business and to transport him to and from work. Curtin was permitted to obtain unleaded gasoline for the truck at various town fuel facilities. Curtin’s duties and responsibilities did not require any use of diesel fuel, the DA said.

Curtin is alleged to have stolen a total of 510.40 gallons of diesel fuel from town facilities on 75 separate occasions between Aug. 8, 2015, and Jan. 2, 2019. The fuel had a total value of $1,023.50.

The investigation revealed that Curtin was allegedly using the fuel for a heater in the garage of his house.

The case was referred to the District Attorney’s Office by Town of Brookhaven officials. Curtin has been an employee of the town for approximately 29 years.

If convicted of the top count, Curtin faces a maximum sentence of two and one-third to seven years in prison.

Curtin was arraigned on the charges April 29 by Suffolk County District Court Judge Gaetan B. Lozito and was released on his own recognizance. He is due back in court June 18.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Kevin Ward of the Public Integrity Bureau.