While the Ward Melville Heritage Organization had to hold its annual Christmas festival and tree lighting virtually this year Dec. 6, a few of the board members and their friends gathered on the Village Green at the Stony Brook Village Center, not just to see the festive lights, but also for an announcement.
Richard Rugen, WMHO chairman, said the Village Green in the center would be renamed in honor of Jennie Melville, the mother of philanthropist Ward Melville, founder and planner of Stony Brook Village Center. Rugen said she was the one with the idea to change the then “kind of down-at-the-heels Schooner town” into what it is today, including the two-acre Village Green, even though she didn’t live to see it.
“It’s been used now for 80 years, much more so this year with COVID,” Rugen said. “People have been able to come down and have a ball game or a card game or a sunset, whatever their little hearts desired.”
The WMHO chairman said despite the Village Green being used more than usual this past year, visitors have been respectful of the grounds.
“The trustees and the staff of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization worked very hard to keep it beautiful, and you have cooperated very well,” he said.
Rugen said after seeing so many residents enjoying the green, the board of trustees decided to name it the Jennie Melville Village Green, and in the spring, they plan to install a plaque with the new name and some history about both Melville and the open space.
Also on hand was Chris Damianos, chairman of the board and CEO of Damianos Realty Group, one of the sponsors of the tree lighting, and his family. The Norway Spruce that was lit to commemorate the holiday season Sunday is dedicated to his mother Virginia, who passed away in 2009.
“She was a strong woman,” he said. “This tree has too grown strong, tall and resolute.”
He called it a symbol of hope.
“Another symbol of hope and joy is Santa,” he said, adding that the man in red was on his way.
To the delight of attendees, Santa, who had just spent a few hours speaking to local children via Zoom in a virtual event organized by WMHO, stopped by to help light the Stony Brook Village Center tree.
During the Zoom call with Santa, children were able to request holiday presents. A mailbox has also been set up in front of the Stony Brook Post Office to send him letters this season.
In past years, hundreds of residents would line up by the post office to have their children take photos with Santa as part of WMHO’s Holiday Festival, which the pandemic made impossible this year.
The past two years the festival also featured the Legends and Spies Puppets Procession led by a New Orleans-style brass band. The puppets paid homage to former notable Three Village residents such as Ward Melville and his wife, Dorothy.
This year WMHO continues its Holiday Tree Competition. Throughout the shopping center visitors will find decorated trees.
Ballots can be obtained from businesses throughout Stony Brook village, and shoppers can vote for their favorite tree until Dec. 21.