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By David Ackerman

As a part of its continuing series of highlighting cultural holidays from around the world, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization hosted a St. Patrick’s Day celebration at its Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village March 3.

The event kicked off with a lively performance from students of the highly acclaimed Mulvihill-Lynch School of Irish Dance, which competes in regional, national and international competitions. Students have won solo medals at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, the North American Irish Dance Championships, the All-Scotland Championships, the Great Britain Championships, the British National Championships, the All-Ireland and World Irish Dance Championships. Mulvihill-Lynch dancers have also won numerous regional and national gold, silver and bronze medals in ceili and figure dancing.

Children from the audience were invited on stage after the performance to see the costumes up close and learn some dance steps.

The celebration continued with the musical storytelling of The Bard and The Busker. Mike McCormack (the Bard), a noted journalist and broadcaster and the National Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and John Corr (the Busker), a member of the legendary Paddy Doyle’s Boots band, shared stories of Irish history in spoken word and in song.

The afternoon concluded with a delicious treat as the audience was invited to vote for the best tasting Irish Soda Bread in a contest that drew eight entries. Baker Priscilla Kirch of Hauppauge won first place and was rewarded with a $150 Stony Brook Village Center Gift Certificate.

To keep up with events at the WMHO Educational and Cultural Center visit www.stonybrookvillage.com/what-to-do-events/.


Delegation members, above, with The Ward Melville Heritage Organization President Gloria Rocchio, front center, in front of the historic Stony Brook Post Office. Photo from WMHO

Mobile payment platforms have connected the Stony Brook Village Center to China.

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, which operates the shopping center, recently hosted a government delegation from Anhui Province, China. The group consisted of government officials and higher education professionals who were in the United States to visit New York and Michigan State University. Their mission was to learn best practices in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Delegation leader Guang Hu, left, completing an Alipay transaction with Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions

Last year, the Stony Brook Village Center became the first community on Long Island to adopt Alipay and WeChat Pay, which is estimated to have one billion users worldwide. The QR code point of sale terminal systems account for 90 percent of the Chinese mobile payment market, according to the WMHO. The platforms enable Stony Brook village merchants to serve travelers from China better by allowing consumers to purchase goods and services in yuan before then being settled in U.S. currency for merchants.

Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO, met with the delegates in her office and then took them on a tour of the village where they were able to shop and experience the mobile payment platforms firsthand. She said it was a whirlwind trip, but the visitors had the chance to shop in many stores including Chocolate Works, Madison’s Niche and Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions.

“We were happy to host this delegation because they were sincerely impressed with our concern for Chinese customers who are accustomed to using Alipay and WeChat Pay,” Rocchio said.

Jeff Norwood, owner of Camera Concepts & Telescope Solutions, said when the delegates came to his store, one of them wanted to buy a pair of binoculars, but he decided to pay cash instead of Alipay. When he approached the store’s register, Norwood said he realized his point of sales system was offline, and he couldn’t open the register drawer to give the customer change. Another person came over and paid using Alipay, and Norwood said it took two seconds to complete the transaction. It was then that the delegate decided to use Alipay, too.

“I gave him back the fifty, and I said, ‘Look at that, you see, Alipay is easier than cash,’” Norwood said. “It was like the perfect commercial for it.”

The business owner said he’s only had the opportunity to use Alipay once before and said it’s easier to use than the store’s credit card machine. All he has to do is put in the amount, and then the customer has an app on the phone that comes up with a bar code. The sales associate scans the bar code and the store’s machine prints out a receipt.

Twelve government agencies, including the School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, along with the Science, Technology and Intellectual Property Bureau, were represented.

Guang Hu, delegation leader and director of the Division of International Exchange and Cooperation, Anhui Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, thanked the WMHO for hosting the visit in a statement.

“It is very impressive to know that Alipay and WeChat Pay has been implemented by the shops of the village,” Hu said. “Those two are widely used in China, and it shows the technology and innovation offered here. I believe there is great potential to work with [the] Ward Melville Heritage Organization on all levels of collaboration between Anhui and Stony Brook.”

File photo from WMHO

As part of the Young at Heart Alzheimer’s & Dementia Program, St. George Productions will present “The I Love Lucy Story: Birth of the Modern Day Sitcom” on Wednesday, Dec. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook located in the rear of the Village Center.

The program will include a lecture and a video led by a facilitator who specializes in geriatrics and a certified nurse will be present. Cost is $20 for guest and caregiver; light refreshments will be served. Sponsors include Stony Brook Medicine, Stony Brook University, CVS Health, Bristal Assisted Living, Aging Flower and Village Chemists of Setauket. Reservations are required by calling 631-751-2244 or by visiting www.stonybrookvillage.com.

Above, the Stony Brook Village Center in the 1940s. Photo from the WMHO

By Ellen Barcel

It’s been 75 years since the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (originally the Stony Brook Community Fund), under the direction of philanthropist Ward Melville, constructed the Stony Brook Village Center. It was planned as a “living Williamsburg” recognizing the historic importance of the village “where culture would blend with natural beauty as a part of everyday life — the first planned business center in the U.S.”

Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO
Ward Melville in front of the Stony Brook Post Office in the 1970s. Photo from WMHO

Interestingly, the selection of Stony Brook as the site for this center came about by accident. The Melville family was on its way to the South Fork when, taking the wrong train, they found themselves in Stony Brook. “[Frank and Jenny] fell in love with the area,” noted Stephanie Ruales, special events coordinator at the WMHO. They vacationed in the area and finally, son Ward Melville planned the Stony Brook Village Center.

The WMHO has mounted a special exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” which will run now through Sept. 7, to display the memorabilia associated with the history of the center.  “We started to look for a couple of pictures and found so much,” said Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO and exhibit curator.

“What’s very interesting to me, what I didn’t know, was that Jenny Melville [Ward Melville’s mother] was Canadian and that she bought up property here in the early 1930s, the Depression. When she died, Ward Melville picked up the gauntlet. She was the one who started the garden club — the tea house (later becoming the Three Village Inn) at the old homestead,” said Rocchio.

Co-curated by Ruales and Rocchio with help from Karen Kennedy, the exhibit consists of dozens of enlargements of historic photos, showing the village before, during and after the construction as well as the original blueprints for the village center and letters documenting the purchase of the land. In addition, there’s the original model of the proposed village center used by Melville to present the proposal to the village back in 1940. The exhibit also includes some items from the 1940s, representative of the time.

Just a year later, July of 1941, the new village center was completed. Over the years, various businesses have come and gone, including a four-lane bowling alley in the basement of one of the buildings. In the early 1940s, the automatic pin setting machine didn’t exist, so pinsetters, usually young men, stayed down by the pins, ready to reset them after each bowler’s turn.

The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO
The old Hallock Homestead which is now the Three Village Inn. Photo from WMHO

When searching out the historic photos and documents, Ruales noted that they found an eight-millimeter film of the grand opening of the center, “something we didn’t know that we had. We had it converted” to a DVD and it is running on a loop at the exhibit.

One of the unique features of the village center is the mechanical eagle on top of the Stony Brook Post Office, which flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Noted Marie Gilberti, communications manager at WMHO, Ward Melville himself, “planned and instituted,” the eagle.

But, the eagle was installed for a few years, with its wings flapping up and down, when Melville decided he didn’t like the way it looked. The eagle was taken down and reconfigured, so that the wings flap back and forth now.

Melville also had the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheater constructed opposite the bank in Stony Brook. Concerts were held there through the 1950s and 60s. “Big name” entertainers performed at the concert, noted Rocchio. They included Liberace, Ferrante and Teicher, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Louis Armstrong, Pete Seeger, Victor Borge, the Clancy Brothers and Lionel Hampton. “Mr. Melville paid for it himself,” Gilberti added. But, unfortunately, the concerts outgrew the venue and were stopped in 1970.

The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel
The mechanical eagle on the Stony Brook Post Office still flaps its wings every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Today, live concerts are still held, but in front of the post office, sponsored by the WMHO. “We’re going to have a concert from each decade this summer,” said Rocchio. She noted that a history of Dogwood Hollow will be on display at the Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., in a building (originally the fire house) owned by the WMHO.

The Jazz Loft will be a center for music education. It is open through Saturday, May 28, from noon to 5 p.m. Beginning June 2, it will be open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. For details, events and performers, go to www.thejazzloft.org. Beginning in September, Swing Dance Long Island is schedule to hold its dances there.

According to Ruales, the whole idea for the exhibit came from Rocchio. “She was in charge of the exhibit.” It was her idea “to celebrate [the anniversary] and … for people to come and see the history,” of the area.

The name for the exhibit, “It Takes A Team To Build A Village,” came about because “we are honoring a lot of people who were involved in constructing the center. It’s a huge village center,” added Gilberti.

Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO
Ward Melville, left, with Governor W. Averell Harriman and his wife enjoy a Dogwood Hollow concert. Photo from the WMHO

Future events connected with the 75th anniversary include a ceremony on July 9 recreating the 25th anniversary celebration. “We’re going to have antique cars from each decade in the village,” said Rocchio. A talk by her is also planned for the future. “There are so many things I’ve been taught by Mrs. Melville [Dorothy Melville, Ward’s wife] that no one knows. I worked for her for 10 years. She was the president” of the WMHO. “I was the Administrator at that time.” Rocchio added that putting together the exhibit and various events connected with it “has been a labor of love.”

The exhibit is currently on display at WMHO’s Educational and Cultural Center, 97P Main Street, Stony Brook through June 19 (Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and June 20 through Sept. 7 (daily, 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.) — closed Memorial Day and July 4. There is no admission charge, but donations are suggested. For further information, call 631-689-5888 or visit www.wmho.org.

A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO
A photo captures construction underway at the Stony Brook Village Center in 1940. Photo from the WMHO

Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor star in ‘National Velvet.’ Photo from the WMHO
Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor star in ‘National Velvet.’ Photo from the WMHO
Mickey Rooney and Elizabeth Taylor star in ‘National Velvet.’ Photo from the WMHO

By Ed Blair

“I was a fourteen-year-old-boy for thirty years.” So said screen superstar Mickey Rooney, and his assessment of his career was not far off. To a generation of American moviegoers, the diminutive actor was forever a youngster, first as Mickey McGuire and then as Andy Hardy — both iconic roles in Hollywood’s cast of memorable characters.

The legendary Mickey Rooney, 1945. Photo from the WMHO
The legendary Mickey Rooney, 1945. Photo from the WMHO

Mickey Rooney is the subject of a musical theater tribute taking place from May 4 through June 12 at the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center in Stony Brook Village. The Sal St. George production is a celebration of Rooney’s movie career, during which he appeared in over 300 films, as well as his successes in vaudeville, radio, television and on Broadway. His natural gift for acting, singing, dancing, comedy and drama are highlighted in a dynamic presentation featuring delightfully nostalgic songs and rollicking comedy.

Born in Brooklyn in 1920, Joe Yule Jr. first appeared on stage with his parents in a vaudeville act at the age of 17 months. When he was 7, his mother took him to audition for the role of Mickey McGuire in a short film based on the then-popular comic strip, Toonerville Trolley. The film enjoyed wide public appeal and developed into a series. Young Joe adopted the stage name of Mickey Rooney and appeared in the role of Mickey McGuire in 78 of the mini-comedies between 1927 and 1934.

Judy Garland hangs with Mickey Rooney in a scene from ‘Strike Up the Band.’ Photo from the WMHO
Judy Garland hangs with Mickey Rooney in a scene from ‘Strike Up the Band.’ Photo from the WMHO

From the time he was 16 until the age of 25, Rooney again appeared in a long-running role, this time as all-American teenager Andy Hardy, a character he portrayed in 16 films from 1937 to 1946. In three films in the series, he was paired with Judy Garland, and the two appeared together in other films as well, notably the musicals “Babes in Arms” (1939), for which Rooney, still a teenager, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, “Strike Up the Band” (1940), “Babes on Broadway” (1941), and “Girl Crazy” (1943). Of his relationship with Garland, Rooney proclaimed, “We weren’t just a team; we were magic.”

Rooney also appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in the classic “National Velvet” (1944) and showcased his dramatic acting ability, playing the role of a delinquent opposite Spencer Tracy in “Boys Town” (1938). Rooney proved to be an enduring star, appearing on Broadway, on television and on the big screen, memorably in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961), “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962), and “The Black Stallion” (1979), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. His film credits carried well into the twenty-first century.

Rooney’s personal life was as arresting as his stage career. First married to Ava Gardner, he ended up totaling eight marriages, leading him to quip, “I’m the only man in the world with a marriage license made out ‘To Whom It May Concern.’” Mickey Rooney passed away quietly in his sleep at the age of 93 in April of 2014.

Mickey Rooney performs in ‘Mr. Broadway,’ a television special broadcast on NBC in 1957. Photo from the WMHO
Mickey Rooney performs in ‘Mr. Broadway,’ a television special broadcast on NBC in 1957. Photo from the WMHO

The Ward Melville Heritage Organization production follows the familiar format of other St. John presentations. Showgoers play the role of a 1960s television studio audience attending a talk show hosted by actress and long-time “I’ve Got a Secret” panelist Betsy Palmer (Madeline Shaffer), who, along with her domestic, Penny (Sarah Quinn), welcomes guest star Mickey Rooney, who talks about his life and career and also performs.

Daniel Garcia, who portrays Rooney, noted, “Mickey Rooney was the only entertainer/actor who appeared in motion pictures every decade between the 1920s into 2014. He was a masterful and much-beloved entertainer. This will be quite an acting challenge for me.”

The WMHO presents Musical Theatre Performances of “The Mickey Rooney Story” partially sponsored by The Roosevelt Investment Group, at the organization’s Educational & Cultural Center at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village. Shows run from May 4 through June 12 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Admission is $50, $48 for seniors 60 and over and $45 for groups of 20 or more and includes a high tea luncheon catered by Crazy Beans Restaurant. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888. For further information, visit www.wmho.org.

By Ed Blair

“I don’t entirely approve of some of the things I have done, or am, or have been. But I’m me. God knows, I’m me.”

Iconic actress Elizabeth Taylor’s self-appraisal references a life that ranged from the sensation of stardom to the sensationalism of tabloids. She was one of the last superstars of the Hollywood studio tradition, and her life and career, both on and off screen, were a source of entertainment for decades.

Elizabeth Taylor. Photo from the WMHO
Elizabeth Taylor. Photo from the WMHO

Audiences can listen to the legendary actress’ tale as the Ward Melville Heritage Organization presents “The Elizabeth Taylor Story” May 9 through June 17 at its Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook. The popular musical theater and high-tea luncheon series returns to the center with a tribute to the enduring screen idol. The 1963 setting for the St. George Productions finds singer Eydie Gorme (played by Rosie Flore) headlining a musical comedy spring spectacular, with Taylor (portrayed by Lisa Mondy) as the her guest. Along with her faithful domestic, Rosie (played by Kim Dufrenoy), Gorme will talk with her glamorous visitor and delve into the roller coaster ride that marked both a distinguished acting career and an often turbulent personal life. A light lunch of finger sandwiches will follow the show.

The cast members weighed in with their thoughts about the star of the show.

“I think people will walk away with a different perception of Elizabeth Taylor. As she tells her story, you realize that she herself never took her stardom seriously. She felt fabricated by the movie studios, which staged her look as well as with whom she was seen. She never really wanted all the hoopla and drama that went with being a celebrity,” said Dufrenoy.

Added Rosie Flore, “Celebrities and icons are people too. They live, love, laugh and hurt just the way we all do.”

Portraying the former movie idol, Monde said, “Elizabeth Taylor represented glamour. She represented style; she represented Hollywood stardom. At times her personal life overshadowed her screen accomplishments, but in the end, after eight marriages and numerous life-threatening illnesses, Elizabeth Taylor was a survivor.”

Born in London in 1932 to American parents who took their St. Louis art dealership abroad, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor returned with them to the United States at age 7, as the family fled the impending war in Europe. The Taylors resettled in Los Angeles, where a family friend suggested that the arrestingly attractive Elizabeth be given a screen test at a movie studio. Her radiant good looks and charisma captivated the camera lens, and, by the time she was 10, the fledgling actress was appearing in films at Universal, MGM and 20th Century Fox. After playing several small parts, she rocketed to stardom, playing opposite Mickey Rooney, in the 1944 hit “National Velvet.” Now a child star with a contract with MGM, young Elizabeth scored another big success for her role in “Little Women” in 1949.

Blossoming into a voluptuous-figured, violet-eyed beauty as she entered her twenties, Taylor soon found herself playing opposite some of Hollywood’s top leading men. She received Academy Award nominations for her roles in “A Place in the Sun” (1951), “Raintree County” (1957), “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “Suddenly Last Summer” (1959) and “The Taming of the Shrew” (1967). She garnered two Oscars for her role as a call girl in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) and for her definitive roll as Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1966.

She also appeared famously in “Giant” with James Dean (1956) and with Richard Burton in “Cleopatra” in 1963 for which she was paid the then-stunning sum of one million dollars. Taylor became an international star and appeared solo on the cover of People Magazine 14 times.

Taylor was a significant voice in the battle against AIDS, helping to raise funds for research and playing a major role in focusing public opinion on the epidemic. For her tireless efforts, she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001.

“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS,” she said, “but no one should die of ignorance.”

Performances of “The Elizabeth Taylor Story” will run from May 9 through July 17 and take place on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and select Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required. Tickets are $48 general admission, $45 seniors. For more information or to make a reservation, call 631-689-5888 or visit www.wmho.org.