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Ward Melville Heritage Organization

Three Village Historical Society’s Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler at last year’s event. Photo from TVHS

Margo Arceri first heard about George Washington’s Setauket spies from her Strong’s Neck neighbor and local historian, Kate W. Strong, in the early 1970s. Arceri lights up when talking about her favorite spy, Anna Smith Strong.

“Kate W. Strong, Anna Smith Strong’s great-great-granddaughter, originally told me about the Culper Spy Ring when I used to visit her with my neighbor and Strong descendant Raymond Brewster Strong III. One of her stories was about Nancy (Anna Smith Strong’s nickname) and her magic clothesline. My love of history grew from there,” she said.

Seven years ago Arceri approached the Three Village Historical Society’s President Steve Hintze and the board about conducting walking, biking and kayaking tours while sharing her knowledge of George Washington’s Long Island intelligence during the American Revolution.

Today, Arceri runs Tri-Spy Tours in the Three Village area, which follows in the actual footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring. “I wanted to target that 20- to 60-year-old active person,” she said.  “I have to thank AMC’s miniseries ‘Turn’ because 80 percent of the people who sign up for the tour do so because of that show,” she laughs.

It was during one of those tours that Arceri came up with the idea of having a Culper Spy Day, a day to honor the members of Long Island’s brave Patriot spy ring who helped change the course of history and helped Washington win the Revolutionary War.

“Visiting places like the Brewster House, which is owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, the grave site of genre artist William Sidney Mount at the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery (whose paintings are at The Long Island Museum) and the Country House, which was built in the 1700s,” Arceri thought “there has to be a day designated to celebrating all these organizations in the Three Villages and surrounding areas; where each of us can give our little piece of the story and that’s how Culper Spy Day developed.”

After a successful five-year run, plans were underway for the sixth annual Culper Spy Day when the pandemic hit. At first the event was canceled out an abundance of caution but now has been reinvented and will be presented virtually on Facebook Live on Sept. 12 and 13 to be enjoyed from the comfort of your home.

The Three Village area is full of hidden intrigue and stories of how America’s first spy ring came together secretly to provide General George Washington the information he needed to turn the tide of the American Revolution.

Over the course of the weekend, you will have the chance to visit many of the cultural organizations from years past who will share their story, including the Three Village Historical Society, Tri-Spy Tours, Ward Melville Heritage Organization, Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University, Preservation Long Island, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Drowned Meadow Cottage, Caroline Church of Brookhaven, Ketcham Inn Foundation and more in a virtual format.

Join Margo Arceri from Tri-Spy Tours live from the Village Green on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Meet Big Bill the Tory live at the Sherwood-Jayne House.

Take a Virtual Spies! exhibit tour with TVHS historian Bev Tyler.

Visit the famous Brewster House with Ward Melville Heritage Organization Education Director Deborah Boudreau.

View a resource guide to everything Culper Spy Day courtesy of Emma Clark Library.

Watch a short film on Long Island’s South Shore from the Ketcham Inn Foundation.

Make your very own periscope with Gallery North.

Read up on the Revolutionary War History from the Caroline Church of Brookhaven.

Look back at the festivities from 2016 Culper Spy Day.

Don’t miss the five part virtual spy tour series with historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the lecture “Spies in the Archive: A history of two George Washington Culper Spy Ring letters presented by Kristen Nyitray Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries.

Learn about SBU’s two Culper Spy Ring letters and access images and transcripts Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Dive into George Washington & the Culper Spy Ring A comprehensive research and study guide Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries

Find out who Agent 355 was from historian Bev Tyler.

Listen to the story of Nancy’s Magic Clothesline, written by Kate Wheeler Strong, and told by Margo Arceri.

No registration is necessary. For more information, visit www.tvhs.org/virtualculperday.

Photo from WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization is currently accepting submissions for its annual Scarecrow Competition. This will be the 30th year the spooky and silly six-foot creations will adorn the pathways of picturesque Stony Brook Village Center for visitors to enjoy and vote for their favorite.  

Registration for this event is required. You can pick up a registration form at any of the shops in Stony Brook Village, or you can download it digitally from the events section of the Stony Brook Village Center website. To enter this competition, please return the completed registration form to The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, P.O. Box 572, Stony Brook, NY 11790, with the entry fee of $25 by Sept. 25. There is an early bird entry rate of $20 for all entries sent in before Aug. 31.

Ballots will be available in shops and restaurants at the Stony Brook Village Center from Oct. 1 and 26. Categories are divided into Previous 1st place winner/Professional, Adult/Family and Children’s. The winners will be announced virtually on Oct. 30.

For full information on this and other Stony Brook Village events, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.stonybrookvillage.com.

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Lance Gumbs. Photo courtesy of WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in Stony Brook continues its Master Class series with a presentation by Lance Gumbs titled “Shinnecock Nation: Past, Present and Future.” This free virtual experience will be offered via Zoom on Aug. 26 at 1 p.m.

Vice President of the National Congress of American Indian and the Tribal Ambassador for the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Gumbs will take participants on a journey back to his ancestors, some 10,000 years ago, explaining how, through their creative ingenuity, the Shinnecocks survived centuries of change, and how they continue to keep their traditions alive.

Today, Gumbs is working not only on having his people survive, but to flourish — especially through capital investments, along with their commitment to land and tradition. Gain insight into Gumbs’ life and his role as a tribal member who seeks to use his skills in business to benefit his tribal nation – currently through a new enterprise: a 100,000 square feet medical marijuana dispensary and wellness lounge on the tribe’s 700-acre reservation.

To register for this virtual event, email [email protected] or call 631-751-2244.

Carl Safina and Patricia Paladines. Photo from WMHO

Save the date! The Ward Melville Heritage Organization continues its Master Class series with Forces of Nature: Travel, Conservation and Love, on Wednesday, July 29 via Zoom at 1 p.m.

Forces of Nature brings you internationally renowned conservationist, Endowed Professor of Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University, and Macarthur Genius recipient, Dr. Carl Safina and his wife, Patricia Paladines, a photographer, naturalist and writer.

The couple will engage you with powerful stories of travel, their drive to conserve the environment near and far, and their love of nature and each other. With each story, they will challenge you to see the natural world, how humankind is responsible for changing it, and what those changes mean for us and the nonhumans we share it with.

To register for this free event, please email [email protected] or call 631-751-2244.

From left, Callie Brennan, Kristin and Barry Fortunato
Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

Fort Salonga residents Kristin and Barney Fortunato (pictured on right) have joined the ranks of many helping to make a difference in the lives of all the health care warriors on the COVID-19 front lines.

Maintaining a massive backyard garden that neighbors and friends lovingly call the “Fortunato Farm” is one of their passions. Kristin, a teacher in the Huntington School District and Barney, in construction management, originally started the garden as just a hobby. Over the years, it grew into a large-scale project that continued to expand growing produce, plants and beyond.  They now have 16 raised garden beds with 700 square feet of growing space. All produce is grown from seed using organic growing practices.

Kristin and Barney Fortunato. Photo from WMHO

This year they had an amazing bounty and wanted to share not only with family and friends but also those healthcare workers in need. They organized a huge plant sale and raised almost $700, all of which was donated to their friends Callie and Tim Brennan, owners of Crazy Beans Restaurant in the Stony Brook Village Center. This donation helped Callie (pictured in top photo on the left) and Tim in their ongoing efforts to create and deliver even more lunches to those dedicated Stony Brook Hospital workers.

“I love gardening. I love the feeling of my hands in the dirt, the ability to provide healthy food to my family and friends and community. I was able to both share my passion for gardening and healthy living with the community, while doing good and giving back to front line workers in the hospital. It was a win – win,” said Kristen.

For information on making your own donation to Stony Brook eateries, call the Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244.

Photo from WMHO

Stony Brook Village restaurants, shops, community residents and others throughout Long Island are continuing in their efforts to support the hometown heroes at Stony Brook University Hospital during this ongoing pandemic.  

Three Village Inn/Lessing’s, Fratelli’s, Crazy Beans and Sweet Mama’s have delivered over 11,000 meals to these dedicated medical professionals, and some of the restaurants are donating extra meals with deliveries. 

Other participating shops in the village include The Crushed Olive, Village Coffee Market, Chocolate Works, Premiere Pastry, Brew Cheese and Penny’s Car Care who have delivered a variety of snacks, cheeses, pastries, cookies, drinks and much more. 

Donations have also been received from private citizens throughout towns in Nassau and Suffolk County as well as out of state.

If you would like to help show your support for healthcare professionals, you can donate to Stony Brook eateries or call the Ward Melville Heritage Organization at 631-751-2244. Your donation is fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and every dollar will go to this cause. 

Dr. Brooke Bateman Photo from WMHO

Senior scientist at the National Audubon Society, Dr. Brooke Bateman, will offer “Virtual Birding” on Wednesday, May 27 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. via Zoom as part of Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s (WMHO) Master Class Series.

Dr. Bateman’s first summer job as a teenager was aboard WMHO’s “Discovery” pontoon boat cruises where she would see snowy egrets, night herons and osprey along Stony Brook Harbor into West Meadow Creek. During this session she will explore spring migration of birds from the Arctic to Long Island, the beauty and science of many species of birds across the world, as well as her invention, “Climate Watch,” a tool to monitor and combat the effects of climate change on birds.

In her role at the Audubon Society she has led a team of scientists in developing the 2019 Birds and Climate Change Report. She is also the Director of Climate Watch, where she works with community volunteers to understand how climate change currently affects birds in North America. Her research focus is on spatial ecology and conservation, emphasizing the effect that extreme weather events and climate change have on biodiversity.

To register for this free event please email [email protected] or call 631-751-2244.

When the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic truly hit home back in March, after businesses were forced closed from state mandates, many turned to their insurance providers and filed for business interruption insurance, which they expected would be used for just this sort of occasion.

Only many received notifications back that their claims were denied. The reason: Insurance companies put in provisions within their policies that excluded coverage due to damages “caused by or resulting from any virus, bacterium or other microorganism that induced or is capable of including physical distress, illness or disease,” according to the Insurance Services Office, an insurance advisory organization.

Though business owners and small business advocates such as The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio pay the premiums year after year, she said they and so many others were denied coverage despite the fact that small businesses didn’t close because they or their shops were confirmed with the virus, but government orders forced them to close. 

“Very simplistically, [business owners] buy themselves a job for the community, and now they’re made to lay off people, keep their business closed, pay all fixed overheads and maybe they don’t have a reserve at home,” Rocchio said. “Everything the government is putting forth is not helping the small businessman — the one who doesn’t have a million in the bank and is paying fixed expenses.”

Efforts on Local and State Levels

The provision in many insurance policies was instituted little less than two decades ago after the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic of the early 2000s. It is only now, almost 20 years later, that owners filing claims learn of the provision despite them having paid premiums for years.

There is a combined bill in the New York State Assembly and Senate to require companies to accept current interruption claims. 

WMHO submitted a public letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) April 22 requesting he supports the Assembly and Senate bill. 

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable.”

— Steve Englebright

“An insurance policy is a contract between the insured and the insurer that clearly spells out those conditions covered and excluded,” the letter reads. “In recent years, because of severe losses, insurers have added exclusions to their policies, slowly diminishing the very purpose of insurance.”

The state Assembly bill is being sponsored in part by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), and there is a concurrent bill in the state Senate. It would require insurance agencies to cover businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and would renew any policy that would have covered businesses during shutdown if they expired in the meantime. New York is just one state of seven which is proposing bills to mandate coverage.

“Insurance is controlling risk, that’s what insurance companies do,” Englebright said. “What we’re saying is risk transfer needs to occur with this type of policy in a more predictable manner and a more eligible manner than the fine print currently allows.”

The bill is still in the Assembly Insurance Committee, but Englebright, a ranking assemblyman, said it is picking up widespread support in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature. 

He added he does not believe what insurance companies say when they argue accepting businesses claims would bankrupt their agencies.

“What we’re saying is to do business in our state, we in the state government do have the power to make sure contracts are fair and equitable,” Englebright said. 

Multiple local government and industry groups have come out in support of such a bill. The Long Island Builders Institute released a letter supporting the legislation, saying that if a business has been paying for its insurance, it should honor the claims. 

Mitch Pally, CEO of LIBI, said the insurance companies denying these claims will only create a deeper hole in the economy, which will be an even greater burden to the insurance companies if they go under and no longer can pay their premiums. He also predicted dire consequences to many businesses if claims continue to be denied by June 30 “because the people who bought them didn’t assume their business can be interrupted by something that doesn’t apply [to the insurance].” 

The Brookhaven Town Board and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also signed a letter asking Cuomo to throw his support behind the bills.

Federal Efforts

There is a bill currently lingering in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Financial Services, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) that would require insurance companies in the future from denying company’s claims based on a pandemic, but even that has seen “tremendous pushback from the insurance industry,” he said during a Zoom call hosted by Discover Long Island May 19. “It’s very controversial — I’m getting the crap kicked out of me by certain people.”

Suozzi, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the economic reopening task force, said he did not believe anything regarding interruption insurance will see the light of day in some of the large stimulus bills Congress is currently working on.

Some policyholders nationwide have sued their insurance companies for denying their claims. A barbershop owner in San Diego has created a class action lawsuit against his policyholder, Farmers Insurance Group, for denying his claim under such virus damages provisions. Several other class-action lawsuits have been filed in the past month and a half against several other insurance companies.

Though such lawsuits take months if not years to get going, and especially with many court systems largely shut down from the pandemic, it will be a while before any cases see a judge.

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business,” Pally said.

Insurance Providers Respond

The American Property Casualty Insurance Association has said if governments required the companies process these claims, it would mean companies would have to process over 30 million businesses suffering from COVID-19-related losses. APCIA President David Sampson was quoted on Twitter saying requiring so would “significantly undermine” their abilities to cover such things as wind damage, fire or other losses.

The industry as a whole currently sits on an $800 billion surplus, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. That business group released a report May 15 with statements from 50 experts from the Wisconsin School of Business insurance panel that if local governments force insurance companies to accept the claims, it will “threaten the solvency of the insurance industry.” Though the report is sponsored by the association through its independent research division, most experts on the panel largely agreed the private marketplace could not handle all the losses with the current surplus in the industry. 

“By the time those lawsuits get done, those businesses will be out of business.”

— Mitch Pally

Though in that same study, some experts, 13 percent of the 50, argued the industry could be able to handle the claims, depending on how federal legislation was enacted. 

Industry lobbyists have said the federal government should be providing help, but one example of small business aid, the Paycheck Protection Program, which was supposed to help keep many small shops in business, has been mired in problems since its inception, and many owners are simply refusing to use the funds fearing they will have to pay back the money long term as a loan. 

The Washington Post reported last month that insurance associations and business groups are hiring lobbyists specifically to play out this fight in Washington, D.C.

What some are hoping for is some kind of middle ground, a place where insurers and the federal government’s interests meet. One suggested draft bill, the Pandemic Risk Insurance Act of 2020, would pay agencies losses when those exceed $250 million and capped at $500 billion over the calendar year, though that bill would only cover future pandemics, and more insurance companies have come out saying it should be the federal government which needs to handle such calls for aid, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Suozzi said he agreed most insurance companies would be “wiped out” trying to cover interruption claims during the pandemic, but also put stock in a public-private partnership, including the possibility of using the infrastructure of the insurance industries to funnel money back into these businesses.

“The bottom line is there’s no relief right now — it’s not going to solve anybody’s problems right now — and I don’t want anybody to get their hopes up,” the congressman said. “But it’s something I’m conscious of and other people are working on it — we just don’t know what the right answer is yet to get it done, because there is so much incredible pushback from the other side.”

In the meantime, Pally said it’s best for businesses to continue writing their state and federal officials. Rocchio suggested that owners, despite the fact some agencies are advising not to bother to file a claim, should apply anyway should anything change in the near future.

Photo courtesy of WMHO

Here are some fun and educational ways for your kids to enjoy winter break:

Benner’s Farm

Ever wonder what it’s like to be on a real working farm in the winter? Kids ages 7 to 14 can enjoy winter break at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, E. Setauket on Feb. 17 and 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Learn how to make maple syrup, help care for the animals and more. Snacks provided. Bring lunch. $60 per day, $100 for both days. To register, call 631-689-8172 or visit www.bennersfarm.com.

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery

Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, 1660 Route 25A, Cold Spring Harbor will hold several winter break events from Feb. 17 to 21 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Make snow that won’t melt, make homemade ice cream and create slippery, sticky slime. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors, $5 kids ages 3 to 12. Call 516-692-6768.

Huntington Historical Society

Kids in grades 1 to 6 can join the Huntington Historical Society at the Conklin Barn, 2 High St., Huntington for a variety of hands-on history activities, including learning traditional weaving techniques and Presidents Day-themed crafts, games and activities on Feb. 17 and 18 from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Campers will go home with a piece of their very own hand-woven fabric. Fee is $35 per day. Call 631-427-7045.

Smithtown Historical Society 

Enjoy February break with the Smithtown Historical Society,  239 E. Main St., Smithtown from Feb. 18 to 21 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Enjoy a different theme each day including Kaleidoscope Fun, Mid Week Mardi Gras, Snow Day and National Biscuit Day. Fee is $30 per day. To register, call 631-265-6768.

Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

From Feb. 17 to 20 from 10 a.m. to noon children in grades K through 3 can take part in several workshops at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s Learning Center, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Participants will take tours of the museum’s collections and then create a related craft including an owl diorama, animal portrait and a mixed-media deep-sea collage. $20 per child. To register, call 631-843-5539.

Ward Melville Heritage Organization

On Feb. 18 to 20 from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook hosts a Puppet Making workshop for ages 6 to 11 with acclaimed artist Liz Joyce ($100 for all three days) and Music Mornings with Johnny Cuomo for ages 3 to 5 ($85 for all three days, $30 per day). To register, call 631-751-2244.

Stock photo

Telescopes 101

Is there a telescope gathering dust in your closet because you don’t know how to use it? Have you been thinking of buying a telescope and want to know what to consider before making a purchase? Jeff Norwood of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions will answer all your questions at a workshop held at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook on Saturday, Jan. 25 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. $40 fee. To register, call 631-689-5888.