Former teachers, friends return to Riverhead roots

03/07/2014 8:00 AM |

Former Riverhead teachers Nancy Yakobiszyn-Auletti and George Moravek, co-founders of Riverhead Faculty and Community Theatre, in recent years found themselves far away from Eastern Long Island, in separate states. Both decided to move back last year, saying they each missed their friends and community. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

Decades after they helped found the Riverhead Faculty Community Theatre in Riverhead schools, two close friends from the group found themselves living just hours apart — and nearly 1,000 miles from the East End of Long Island. 

Retired Riverhead schools music teacher George Moravek was living in a five-bedroom French Provincial with his partner and dogs just south of Savannah, Ga. He had fled New York in 2006 for warmer weather and a beautiful home with painted floors, two courtyards and a pool.

Meanwhile, his former co-worker, Nancy Yakobiszyn-Auletti — a longtime second-grade teacher at Aquebogue Elementary School — had landed in a small beachfront community in Florida with her mother in 2003 after impulsively placing an offer on a house she spotted during a visit.

But years later, both of them realized something was missing: the community of friends they had back in Riverhead.

“Having friends around is real important,” Mr. Moravek said during a recent visit to Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti’s home, a half-eaten homemade muffin resting on his plate at the dining room table.

“They’re family,” the ever-smiling Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti chimed in from across the brightly lit dining area.

This October, both of them moved back to Riverhead, where Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti lives in a family friend’s home and Mr. Moravek bought a house in Reeves Park.

Immediately, they began running into friends: old colleagues, themselves now retired, spotted them and called out their names from across crowded stores.

And now, nearly 25 years after they mounted RFCT’s first production, Mr. Moravek and Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti have helped launch a new musical group: the Jamesport Meeting House Chorus.

The brainchild of local historian Richard Wines, the chorus already has about 50 members,

Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti gave a simple explanation for its popularity: “George is back,” she said.

The pair’s roots as performers run deep.

Mr. Moravek, who grew up near the Kansas-Nebraska border, fell in love with the stage after a visit to New York City, where he saw several Broadway shows: “Cabaret” with Joel Grey, “The Apple Tree” with Barbara Harris and Alan Alda and “Mame” with Angela Lansbury and Anne Miller.

He and his partner decided to move to Long Island, where Mr. Moravek began teaching in Patchogue and, later, in Riverhead schools as a music teacher.

Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti traced her passion for acting to her childhood, when she used to stage plays in her parents’ upstate New York garage and charge kids on her block pennies to watch the performances.

“I was born with it in my blood,” she said emphatically.

Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti also acted in school plays. At 15, she saw her first Broadway musical, “West Side Story” — an experience that stunned her.

“It just took my breath away,” she said. “[As] your first experience … my god.”

She later sang in an all-state a capella choir and even won the lead role in her high school play. But her acting career, she joked, ended there.

At 25, she moved to Long Island to attend Stony Brook University.

“When people say they can’t afford college these days I go, ‘You should have done it my way,’ ” Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said. “I gave up my job, I gave up my apartment. I gave up everything. I didn’t own a car until I was 28. I hitchhiked my way to college. They don’t know what poor is.”

With schoolwork consuming most of her time, Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti gave up on theater and began teaching elementary school students in Riverhead, where she met Mr. Moravek.

“Then, one great day, somebody had this brilliant idea: Why don’t we start a theater group?” she recalled.

Five faculty members met in the junior high school library one day after school. From there, word spread. The fledgling theater troupe held tryouts.

“George lit the fire,” Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said. “We did ‘Mame.’ ”

The show’s director, Mr. Moravek, cast her as Vera Charles, the title character’s flamboyant and hard-partying friend.

At first, Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said, she was miffed at not landing the lead.

But any hurt feelings quickly subsided when, in the months following, residents and faculty told her how great they thought the play was.

“Never, ever, in my wildest dreams did I expect the play to get the reaction it did,” she said. “That first show was the talk of the town.”

Emboldened by their success, Mr. Moravek and Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti remained active members of RFCT for years, until their retirements.

By that point, the pair said, things had changed at the school. Teachers no longer knew each other. Retirement parties were sparsely attended. The district and the town had both grown too big.

“Riverhead is no longer a community,” Mr. Moravek said. “That’s long gone. There was nothing we could do about it. That’s the way it’s going to be.”

“We grew up,” Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said with a sigh.

“We got old,” she chuckled.

After retiring, the friends went their separate ways. But both recall that their new homes had challenges. Despite friendly neighbors, Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said she found herself unsure what to do with her life after her ex-husband and mother died.

And while his property was beautiful, Mr. Moravek said he and Robert found it hard to make new friends — and he struggled to find work teaching music in local churches because he is gay.

“That’s a no-no,” he said. “That was a real hard thing to deal with.”

His neighbors, though nice, were mostly military families who moved around every few years, he said.

But the two former teachers kept in touch and eventually moved back to Riverhead.

When Jamesport resident Nancy Gilbert recently suggested that the pair form a singing group to help raise funds for preservation of the Jamesport Meeting House, they were thrilled.

“It’s amazing,” Mr. Moravek said, praising the acoustics of the performing space at the meeting house, which hosted a string quartet performance Saturday. “There were times it felt like it was an entire orchestra.”

But even had they not formed the choir, Mr. Moravek and Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti agreed they’re glad to be back in Riverhead — icy winters and all.

“We’re back where we want to be,” Mr. Moravek said.

“I never looked back,” Ms. Yakobiszyn-Auletti said. “I feel like I’ve come back home.”

psquire@timesreview.com