By Heidi Sutton

The T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park in Stony Brook suffered extensive wind damage during Tropical Storm Isaias on Aug. 4. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Last Thursday, Nov. 12, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) hosted a New Beginnings Virtual Party fundraiser to benefit the restoration and maintenance of a very special place — the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park aka the Stony Brook Duck Pond. Located along Main Street in Stony Brook Village adjacent to the Grist Mill, the charming park has been enjoyed by countless families over the years.

This past summer Tropical Storm Isaias ripped through the park and uprooted over a dozen trees. There was also major damage to the park’s Braille engraved handrails, the borders maintaining the gardens and the walkways along the pond.

The 90 minute live Zoom event was hosted by Richard Wiese, President of The Explorer’s Club in NYC and host of PBS’s Born to Explore and co-host of Weekends with Yankee.

News 12 reporter Elisa DiStefano

Now living in Connecticut, Wiese grew up in Head of the Harbor and has always had a special connection to the park. “I just have so many fond memories of the Mill Pond. The more I travel around the world, the more I see how special and unique the Stony Brook area is. I can actually say that the Village of Stony Brook may be even prettier than it was in the 1960s when I first became familiar with it,” he said.

The fun evening included an appearance by award-winning reporter and News 12 host of Road Trip Close to Home, Elisa DiStefano; and host of Fox Nation: Celebrate America and five-time New York Times bestselling author, including George Washington’s Secret Six, Brian Kilmeade. The event also featured performances by Tom Manuel and The Jazz Loft’s Equity Brass Band; America’s Got Talent finalist, Sal “the Voice” Valentinetti; and comedian Rich Walker.

Comedian Rich Walker

DiStefano, who grew up in Hauppauge, visited the park right after the storm and covered the story for News 12. “Stony Brook Village I grew up going to as a treat … Because of the extensive damage [from the storm] it looked like a war zone that day but meeting Gloria Rocchio [President of the WMHO] and her team and seeing their positivity, there was no doubt in my mind that they would do everything they could to restore the area to what it was before,” she said.

Kilmeade, who hosted the evening’s interactive history challenge, “A History Mystery,” lauded Rocchio and the WMHO for keeping the past and Ward Melville’s vision alive. “You can go to [Stony Brook Village] and you really think you’ve gone back 200 years … during the holidays it looks like a movie set. I believe that’s what Ward Melville wanted. He wanted everyone to remember what it was like. While we move forward with progress we can still go back in time.”

Sal “The Voice” Valentinetti

The virtual party was the perfect instrument to introduce the WMHO’s New Beginnings online auction to raise money for this wonderful cause. Available through Dec. 16, it features items starting at $50 and covers everything from travel, fashion, art, antiques, food and wine, health and wellness and unique experiences. Generously donated auction items include a private four-person fishing charter, a family portrait session, a military tank ride, dinner for 4 aboard a superyacht, pizza every month for a year, a golf outing for four, an exclusive champagne toast and drinks for six at the Explorer’s Club with Richard Wiese, a trip to Barbados and much, much more.

The New Beginnings Online Auction is as easy as eBay with free registration to bid on the auction items. You will be notified if someone outbids you and you can bid again and again. The successful bidder’s card will not be charged until the last day of the auction — at midnight on Dec. 16, giving guests plenty of time to compete for a good cause.

100% of the funds generated from this event will support the restoration and maintenance of the T. Bayles Minuse Mill Pond Park.

To register for the New Beginnings Online Auction, please visit wmho.org/the-ward-melville-heritage-organization/virtualbenefit/. For more information, please call 631-751-2244.

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