11/11/13 7:00am
11/11/2013 7:00 AM

T

When I was a boy and my grandmother was still alive, I can recall how no one in my family was allowed to play “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” around her. Her brother was killed during World War II, my mom would explain, and he had promised in his last letter home after two years overseas that — like Bing Crosby had sung in that hit 1943 tune — he, too, would be home for Christmas.

He was supposed  to get leave that December. Decades upon decades later, my grandmother would still break down in tears whenever she heard the song.

That’s all I ever really knew about my great uncle — until I was much older, and a relative uncovered some forgotten paperwork. What I learned was the story of a great American hero, and of love and sacrifice in a time of utter darkness and desperation.

Charles “Chic” Quinn, a Long Island Rail Road machinist from St. Albans, Queens, was 19 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. A week later, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to military records, Corporal Charles D. Quinn was 5 feet, 7 3/4 inches tall with blue eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion.

During his almost two years overseas, he took part in several military campaigns against the Japanese in the Pacific, including a 1944 reconnaissance mission in Peleliu, in the island nation of Palau.

THe completed his last mission but suffered wounds at the hands of the Japanese along the way. Five days later, he died on a Navy hospital ship in the arms of a Catholic chaplain. Cpl. Quinn, a baby brother who in battle wore the Presidential Unit Citation, was later posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest award for valor in the face of the enemy.

His citation reads: “While carrying out an extremely hazardous reconnaissance mission to obtain vital information, Cpl. Quinn observed a marine officer pinned down by intense enemy rifle and machine-gun fire and imperiled by snipers. Disregarding his own personal safety, he courageously advanced in the face of the hostile fi re and killed the most threatening sniper, thereby saving the officer’s life.

“Although he received wounds during this action which later proved fatal, he steadfastly refused medical attention and completed his reconnaissance, subsequently dispatching a written report to the regimental command post before he was evacuated.”

Yes, Cpl. Quinn never made it home for Christmas. He received a military funeral at sea, according to records. He left behind three sisters; his parents had both already died. Some four months after his death, the priest who held “Chic” as he passed away sent two letters to his surviving family in the U.S. He mailed one letter to my grandmother’s home in St. Albans. The other he sent to my great-aunt Winifred, a Catholic nun then known as Sister Mary Coronata, who lived in Toledo at the time.

Both letters were typed on letterhead from the U.S.S. Samaritan, the ship on which my great-uncle died, but they are devoid of the buttoned-up military speak of the telegrams and citations.

The letter to Toledo, dated Jan. 4, 1945, reads as follows:

My dear Sister Coronata: May our dearest Lord bless you and your work abundantly during this New Year.

I was very pleased to receive your letter concerning our dear little “CHIC.” This is just what he was. During the few days that he was with us I visited him often. He was always so pleased to see a priest. He was such an innocent child and his faith so deeply rooted that I really loved him. When he first came aboard I told him that someone’s good prayers had been heard. I meant that he had not been called on the field, as so many other poor boys. He immediately responded, “Yes Father, my sister, she is a nun.” Having a sister of my own a Dominican, we had something more in common. I could not help but feel for you; for I know how my good sister would feel.

Chic was conscious till the very last moment. He was so attentive to the prayers for the dying; which was the greatest edification to me. When he breathed his last, I actually broke down myself before the doctor and nurse, as I continued to say prayers. Our dearest Lord wanted another little angel for His heavenly choir.

Please continue to pray for me, Sister; and may I ask that you have the children pray for me also. We priests of the service have so much need for prayers than before.

Sincerely in Christ,

Joseph S. McCauley

Catholic Chaplain

Not just on Veterans Day but throughout the year, let us all take time to remember our brave men and women in arms — especially those who never made it home for Christmas.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com  or at (631) 298-3200, Ext. 152. A similar version of this column first appeared in this publication in November 2008.

10/05/13 8:00am
10/05/2013 8:00 AM

Things to do: Add baby sticker to wife’s car.

My wife and I entertain a lot. We have a good house for visitors. It’s got an open floor plan, unfinished basement replete with table games and, during the summer months, an ice-cold pool. (The thing just won’t warm up.)

We often joke that the frequent visitors help the house not fall into total disarray. When there’s company coming, you’ve got to clean up. So before we entertain, we scramble. There’s the vacuuming. The tidying up. The toilets.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

Lately, we’ve been scrambling a lot, because permanent disarray is on the way in the form of a little girl named Abigail Serafina White.

The baby’s middle name is that of my wife Suzanne’s beloved late grandmother, Serafina (Sophie) Bonomo. The baby’s first name, well, we just liked it. We’ll call her Abby. As a bonus, the name is also that of one of the country’s most revered women in history, Abigail Adams. That Abigail was born Nov. 11, 1744. Our Abigail is due here Oct. 9, 2013.

Now, I can handle deadlines; it’s what I do for a living. But this particular deadline has had me and Suzanne running frantically. I guess that’s because we’re now anticipating a different type of company — the kind that’s expected to stay around for a while. We’ve been using our firstborn’s arrival to take on every chore and project that’s ever needed attention in our house, all in just a few short months and weeks.

It’s been a slog. Finally, on Saturday afternoon, we found ourselves lamenting — no, panicking — because I likely wouldn’t have time over the weekend to install the bathroom towel rack, a chore I had put on my list a few months back but had never gotten to. Voices were raised, and then it dawned on us, eventually: What the heck does an extra towel rack have to do with a little baby? Come to think of it, why did I put “organize workbench” on the list at all? For one, I barely even work down there. Why would I suddenly need it nice and tidy?

We might have gone a bit overboard, we realized. So, instead of tackling any more projects in the house before the baby’s arrival — a psychological process called nesting, say the experts — we went out to dinner. It was someplace real fancy, too. I had the duck and she had the lamb shank.

Sure, a baby on the way is a nice excuse to get work done around the house. But there’s no reason for added stress over the last few weeks of pregnancy. What we should be doing is R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G. (It feels good to say it nice and slow like that.) No more madness, we decided. The essentials are done. Our bags for the hospital are packed. The baby’s room is near completion and the side-sleeper — which I just found out is like a bassinet, whatever that is — is all set up.

I’ll still try to get that towel rack installed some time between now and Abby’s delivery day, but no pressure. It’s just a towel rack and the baby’s towels will probably be about the size of napkins for a while. And I suspect that, one day, when children are driving me a bit mad, I may just get around to organizing that basement workbench after all.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. Follow him on Twitter @mikewhite31

09/28/13 8:00am
09/28/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Glenn Townsend operates out of the Red Barn.

I set out to write about my vision for Wading River’s historic hamlet center, believing it has the potential to become the “hippie capital” of Long Island’s North Shore. I figured the owner of BarnStock Trading Post and Woodstock Home Improvement — right in the heart of the district — could help me in those efforts.

And I finally had Glenn Townsend on the phone.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

“The historic district reminds me a lot of those artsy, upstate towns, like New Paltz. It’s got the old barns and old buildings, and hills. Unlike many other Long Island downtown areas,” I said, hoping he would say that’s why he came here.

But Mr. Townsend has never been to New Paltz, I learned. He’s from Ohio.

“Well, I just ask because, some of those areas upstate have adopted the whole, y’know, hippie culture — excuse the term,” I continued. “Do you think that could be what attracted you to the area?”

He said simply that the presence of Bob Dylan probably had a lot to do with the culture up there.

“What type of items do you sell in your store, BarnStock?”

“Well,” he said. “Basically, I’ve got a lot of classical rock and roll music.”

Then he let it slip — reluctantly, but with pride in his voice — that he’d been one of the 500,000 people who had actually attended the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, N.Y., in 1969.

I congratulated him on not being an impostor, given his businesses’ namesakes.

“So … would you call yourself a hippie?”

“As they say, I’m a licensed contractor,” he said, dodging the question.

I figured Glenn Townsend has had enough of labels in his lifetime. I wouldn’t push it anymore.

What I did learn about Mr. Townsend, who operates out of the landmark Red Barn building, is that he’s also one of a few people trying to bring life back to an area that’s been suffering from a general lack of foot traffic recently. (Or, depending on your vantage point, maybe since the time of Woodstock.)

First, he’s been doing contracting work for his landlord, who owns the Red Barn and other properties, to help beautify the area.

He’s also been helping to run a weekend farm stand for the past couple months.

He even tried to plan a big farmer’s market in the hamlet center’s main parking lot, but hit a wall with Riverhead Town.

“If you want to do something like that, you have to have insurance and go through red tape as if you’re putting on a concert or something,” he said. “So unfortunately that didn’t fly.”

The smaller farm stand has been running from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday, outside the Red Barn and overlooking the Duck Ponds.

“Basically, we’ve got a farm stand and a lady who does some cookies and some bakery things,” Mr. Townsend said. “Somebody that does crystal, dream-catcher things. There’s a knitting person.”

Mr. Townsend has been working with the owners of the neighboring Thrifts & Gifts store, as well as the Wading River Historical Society, he said.

“We’re just trying to revitalize,” he said. “If we can get enough artists or something to set up an art show in the fall. We’re all looking to promote the area.”

He may not have given me the hippie money-quotes I was looking for, but Mr. Townsend’s vision for the hamlet pretty much jibed with the one I was hoping to lay out. One way or the other, the area needs to become a mini mecca for small shops offering artisanal foods and crafts. That would likely require conversion of the mothballed mechanic’s garage on Sound Road into a horseshoe of small rental spaces and chasing away the inactive financial planning and accounting offices.

We also agreed that this asphalt-happy historic district needs more green space, with picnic tables and room to throw a Frisbee. Perhaps this could be achieved by clearing some space around the ponds, Mr. Townsend suggested — or if the parking lot was trimmed down. Certainly a few cars parked on the streets wouldn’t hurt; it could even help slow down traffic.

As much as he’s hoping to attract more craft-makers and artists to the area, Mr. Townsend also knows a couple of well-received eateries would be paramount to creating more of a buzz downtown. And, he assured me, things will be happening in the near future.

“Things are going to be on the upswing soon,” he said, hinting that there are people very interested in investing in the district while reminding me that he works for the area’s principal landlord.

He also believes people are yearning for that connection with the past, and with trees and nature — all offered in historic Wading River.

“As you well know, they’re trying to develop up on the hill, the main strip on 25A, and the people are up in arms,” Mr. Townsend said. “You can see what’s happening to Riverhead, everything is getting developed.

“As Joni Mitchell said, ‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.’ ”

And they may just be chasing people back to historic Wading River.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

Follow him on Twitter at @mikewhite31

08/16/13 12:00pm
08/16/2013 12:00 PM
NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside

FILE PHOTO | Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside is the most diverse school in Riverhead.

Here’s a not-so-bold prediction on an uncertain future.

State officials are going to have to backtrack mightily on the Common Core State Standards now being used in public schools to, supposedly, better prepare all American children for college and “21st-century employment.” It’s going to be quite a drastic reversal and, for many outspoken officials, an embarrassment. But like the Department of Transportation having to count a certain number of fatalities at an intersection before erecting a stoplight, there will have to be victims first.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

And those victims will likely be the poorest among us.

Consider that many children in poverty-stricken areas will still be living in single-parent or no-parent households in our new, Common Core world. They still won’t be eating or sleeping properly. They won’t be getting proper medical attention for physical or emotional issues that interfere with school. They won’t be getting help with homework, or even having their homework checked at home. In fact, extra attention for such students will be increasingly funneled away from them, as the focus shifts to teaching to the Common Core assessments.

For these kids, school’s simply getting harder, with no significant amount of funding set aside to provide them better access to school supplies, computers and internet access, or any plans to expand the school day or school year or bulk up after-school enrichment programs. With higher test failure rates, there’s also sure to be a huge spike in students in need of additional support through mandated programs such as academic intervention services. Where does that money come from?

State officials keep arguing that we must adopt Common Core because America’s education system lags behind those of other industrialized nations. But they never acknowledge that much of the disparity is accounted for by the performance of students in poor and non-English-speaking immigrant communities, which aren’t as prevalent in more homogeneous nations like Finland and South Korea.

While the performance of top-scoring students may improve under the more vigorous Common Core standards — they and their parents and tutors are up to the challenge! — students in many poor and working-class households will see scores dip. Eventually, as these children grow increasingly frustrated with school, dropout rates will rise. This will lead to higher unemployment and incarceration rates, prolonged cycles of generational poverty and a widening disparity between rich and poor.

Let’s use some common sense to break this down.

Trust that most kids from Long Island’s Jericho, Syosset and Commack school districts, for example, will be fine in college — no matter how they perform under the Common Core. And many of them will be just fine after college, too, no matter how they perform in college. This is thanks to engaged parents — and many of those parents’ connections to people already established in their child’s career field of choice.

The aforementioned districts and others like them will likely see their state assessment scores rise across the board, though without much real-world benefit — other than maybe having graduates attend marginally better colleges.

In the economically diverse Riverhead School District, the state has revealed that for the 2012-13 year, 74.7 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard, and 73.8 percent failed to meet the ELA standard.

Those numbers will change very little moving forward (at least not after some initial curriculum adjustments). Here’s why. In Riverhead, scores will increase somewhat for wealthier students but will fall at about the same rate, with potentially disastrous results, for those who don’t have the same support systems at home. Those in the middle will break one way or the other.

When these disparate results between wealthier districts and the rest of the state become apparent — especially in New York City — the backtracking on these numbers-driven policies will begin.

Yes, it’s my prediction Common Core will be reversed. But it’s also my hope. My fear is that so much money will be tied up in pricey books, testing materials and other increasingly entrenched funding sources for this initiative that the politicians and policymakers won’t ever budge.

Meanwhile, our teachers will remain handcuffed and will continue teaching to tests, and more and more students who lack either a natural aptitude for learning or parental support will disengage from the classroom and the educational process in general.

Eventually, we’ll be wondering how we slipped even further behind Finland and South Korea.

Michael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at (631) 786-5708 or mwhite@timesreview.com.

07/21/13 7:00am
07/21/2013 7:00 AM

PETER WALDNER CARTOON

Of all the topics I’ve covered in this space, some serious, others not so much, I think I received the most reader responses from a 2011 column about bad drivers.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

I started the column with an apology, calling it lazy and cliché, in so many words. I was surprised with all the phone calls and emails I received in return. I guess vehicle traffic is like weather, everyone’s got to deal with it.

So with that in mind, I’ll make no apologies here, in this column about my pet peeves involving aggressive or absent-minded shoppers. Unlike in the driving column, I’ll refrain from calling these people idiots or worse. I mean, they can’t kill anyone, right? But their antics can be entertaining in print.

So here’s another Top 5 list, some light summer reading we could all relate to, one way or another.

The threshold stopper

Buddha preached about trying to view the world with childlike wonder. While that may be good spiritual advice, it doesn’t mean you have to enter every aisle or section of a store with mouth agape, stopping dead in your tracks to take in all the sights and sounds like a 7-year-old staring up at a lit Ferris wheel after dark. Step aside, threshold stopper, because people are falling into each other like dominoes behind you as you weigh the pros and cons of going left, right, straight or forward.

The runaway train

As with our networks of rivers and roadways, stores have main arteries and smaller tributaries. Know when you’re in a tributary. I was in a packed Costco recently when someone pushing a cart barreled eastbound out of the snack aisle into north-south traffic without slowing or looking left or right. If I hadn’t dodged her I would’ve ended up in a TV screen.

The camper

I love spending an extra three minutes in CVS while you organize all the receipts, gum, mints, funeral cards and Canadian nickels scattered around in your bag. You’ve already paid, so why take care of all your bookkeeping as you camp out in front of the cashier? At least shift on down and do business in front of an empty cash register. The cashier camper is a close cousin to the parking lot camper, the person who gets into his or her parked car and fumbles around endlessly, paying no mind to that person waiting not-so-patiently for the spot.

The sweethearts

No one’s less aware of people around them in a store than a husband and wife shopping together. Especially if they’re fighting, then they’ll argue as if they’re in the comfort of their own living room. So of course they’re some of the worst offenders when it comes to blocking traffic. Sometimes this involves abandoning carts in the middle of an aisle, but often it’s a husband standing next to the couple’s cart and taking up space while the wife browses. Sir, you have to sense someone’s trying to pass. Get in front of your cart and out of the way.

The unapologetic

People bump into each other in crowded stores, sure, but some missteps require a quick, “I’m sorry,” or at least a smile and a little wave or bow. Any form of acknowledgement that you just plowed your cart into the back of someone’s legs or elbowed another shopper in the head while reaching to grab something from an upper shelf. Nothing is more awkward then expecting a quick apology and having someone stare right through you.

*****

I started writing a top 10 list but the column was running a bit long. Feel free to drop me a line about your own pet peeves while out shopping and maybe I’ll get enough interesting items to compile another short list. I tried to avoid obvious complaints, like people cutting cashier lines or talking loudly on their phones while trying to pay for items. We all know those people are the worst.

mwhite@timesreview.com

04/14/13 7:00am
04/14/2013 7:00 AM
MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Whig editors weren't sure what to call me, so they went with Whig Correspondent.

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The Cecil Whig editors weren’t sure what to call me when I was showing up every day without ever being hired, so they went with ‘Whig Correspondent.’

I wasn’t sure if the young people in the classroom were going to get the “Seinfeld” reference. I figured the St. John’s University journalism students I was invited to speak with Monday had to be 5, maybe 6 years old when that show went off the air.

Michael White, editor

MICHAEL WHITE

I was in Queens to talk about the art of interviewing, which I did, and the students gave me their undivided attention. But they appeared most interested in how to land a job. I didn’t blame them; they know they’re entering a competitive field in a down economy.

What I told them was pretty simple, and it probably applies to most things relating to building a career and a happy life: They have to take chances — and, I guess, be a little nuts.

I first got into journalism my junior year of college, when I took a Reporter 101 course and began writing for the school newspaper, fittingly called The Review. Although I was passed over for a city editor job at The Review the next year, I had compiled a bunch of decent clips come graduation, and the paper’s editor-in-chief referred me to a small daily newspaper in neighboring Cecil County, Md.

Soon after graduation, I interviewed at The Cecil Whig — which covered a rural and suburban area not much different from Riverhead Town. There were no jobs open at the time, the Whig’s editor told me, but he asked if I would be interested in freelancing and gave me a story about gypsy moths to work on. (I now realize the assignment was probably a tryout.) The editors liked my story and told me I did a good job; it even ran on the next day’s cover.

After that — like Seinfeld’s neighbor Kramer, who started showing up for work at a company called Brandt Leland, even though he’d never been hired there — I began arriving at the Whig’s newsroom every morning in a suit and tie. I figured I would sit at one of the empty desks until I got an assignment. And if I didn’t, I would go home at 5 p.m. I can still recall the surprise of managing editor David Healey when he saw me that first day.

On Monday, the St. John’s students quickly got the Kramer comparison. Many were laughing and a few even yelled out some memorable quotes from the episode. I went on to tell them I “worked” every day at the Maryland newspaper for three or four months. The students continued to laugh.

Later in life, I came to realize that the editors there probably had little choice but to keep giving me assignments as if I were a staffer. They were nice people; how could they tell a kid who showed up every morning in a suit and did a decent job to leave — even if my weekly freelance pay wasn’t in the budget? (At $40 a story, it started to add up.)

Sometime that September, when the Whig staff’s political reporter left for a job elsewhere, editor Terry Peddicord said something along the lines of, “I guess this is your position; you’ve already been doing the job for months.”

My faux job didn’t end like Kramer’s, and that was a good thing. As Kramer was being fired, he famously explained, “I don’t even work here.” But I needed to pay my back rent, and I managed to make a career out of my own goofy stunt.

I also told the St. John’s students that back in college, when I finally chose to study journalism, people came out of the woodwork to discourage me — most likely not on purpose. People, I found, just loved to point out how competitive a given field is and how it’s so tough to break into. But I was pretty good at newspaper writing. Besides, there were people in every city in the country working in journalism. What did they have on me?

I was fortunate enough to ignore my classmates and even the misguided adults, but I know that more often than not, students and young people get discouraged instead of sticking to their dreams. So I was glad to be able to offer some words of encouragement on Monday.

And provide a laugh.

Michael White is the Riverhead News-Review editor. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or (631) 298-3200, ext. 152. 

@mikewhite31

03/02/13 12:00pm
03/02/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO  |  A view of downtown Riverhead.

It was like watching protesters shouting and arguing with one another over a police barricade.

Michael White

Michael White

You’re probably familiar with the images from nightly newscasts: “Equal Rights for Gays!” one side would yell. “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” the other would retort.

Except in this case, those who gather in Jerry Steiner’s Allied Optical store for the semi-regular “Gathering of the Misfits” lunch have all been hoping for the same result: a re-energized and revitalized downtown Riverhead.

They just disagree about whether it will ever happen.

Here’s what the skeptics — all beleaguered business owners Steiner calls The Misfits — were saying:

Downtown’s a mess. There are shootings, druggies and prostitutes in plain sight, not to mention legal users seeking treatment at the nearby methadone clinic at the County Center. People with bucks are scared of the place. The only businesses that seem to be doing well are delis and travel places catering to migrant workers. The “Arts Means Business” and “Live, Work, Play” slogans that have emerged during the latest attempt at a downtown resurgence are just a window dressing; everyone’s losing money hand over fist.

Government help, be it from the town, state or county, seems to be available for nonprofits, bigger projects and connected folks, but not for the little guy, the guy who’s been dumping his kids’ college funds into his shop for the past decade, waiting for the big turnaround. The little guys are tired of waiting and losing money and being nickel-and-dimed by the state and town at every turn.

In the meantime, they feel largely ignored by the police department — and even when there is a boost in police presence and foot patrols downtown, they say, it never lasts much longer than the initial newspaper photo-op. Things are going nowhere fast.

On the other side, for the optimists in the room who crashed the party — those Steiner calls “Men of Vision” — downtown Riverhead could be the pride and joy of the East End. Resurgences have happened in once-blighted and beleaguered areas like Patchogue Village and Bay Shore, they say. Why not here? Downtown Riverhead has even more to offer than those areas. It’s the county seat. It’s got history. It’s got a river running through it with access to the Peconic bays and beyond. Families can drive boats to downtown Riverhead, dock and then hop ashore and walk around, taking in the sights.

It’s got culture and diversity, grit yet arts, historical components yet modern structures like the Hyatt Place hotel. It’s got potential.

But guess what? Potential doesn’t pay the bills.

How can you argue with that?

If I’d sat in Jerry’s any longer my neck would have gotten sore from all the back-and-forth. Things got a little heated at times. And just like those rallies outside the Supreme Court, no one was changing anyone’s mind.

I chimed in here and there if I thought I had a nugget of information that could help someone make or finish a point, but didn’t offer much by way of opinion. I’ve always managed to remain an optimistic guy, but who was I to these business owners they should be optimistic, that everything’s going to be OK? I haven’t dumped any money into downtown.

In the couple of weeks since Steiner’s gathering I’ve figured out that good news is indeed on the way.

Experts say stress comes from uncertainty. It seems to me this argument, which has raged pretty intensely over the past decade, is coming to a head. We’re truly, finally going to get an answer.

There are now more reasons for people to visit the expanded aquarium site, three apartment projects are in the works for Main Street and the newly renovated Suffolk Theater is about to hold its first big bash tonight, Saturday. Without a doubt, we’ll be finding out in the next few years which way things are going to break. We’ll know whether downtown will re-emerge as the bustling business district it was in the ’50s and ’60s, or whether everyone’s going to lose their shirts and get out of Dodge, leaving it once again to the druggies and prostitutes.

In the meantime, what choice do we have but to be hopeful?

Most of the downtown business owners who drop in for a joke and a drink at Steiner’s have been on Main Street for a while now. Even in the last couple of years, they’ve been dumping even more money into their establishments — so I suspect hope is still alive in them, too. If things do turn around downtown and people start making money there, it will be up to the rest of us to give these guys their due.

They’ve been the true believers.

mwhite@timesreview.com

01/31/13 2:59pm
01/31/2013 2:59 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Demitri Hampon appeared on the cover of a Suffolk County Community College campus magazine in 2012.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Demitri Hampton appeared on the cover of a Suffolk County Community College campus magazine in 2012. He would have graduated this spring.

The extended family had already suffered a big blow two years ago, when grandma died. She was the rock who for so long seemed to hold everything together. But during those trying times of late 2011, as the first holidays without her approached and a long winter set in, everyone had Demitri to lift their spirits

Michael White

Michael White

Never too far away, the then-teenager could make for a moment of levity during any time of despair, and by any means necessary. That meant he wasn’t above donning a wig or a skirt, or randomly spraying himself with air freshener. He was also prone to rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. With Demitri around, you couldn’t help but smile and forget whatever pain you might feel.

“I don’t think I would have been able to get through Grandma’s passing without Demitri,” said one of his cousin’s, Fawn Gettling.

“He always lived on a positive note” and was never in a bad mood, explained another cousin, Latisha Diego.

That’s the cruel irony behind Demitri Hampton’s death during a home invasion early Sunday in Flanders. His personality and positive outlook is exactly what his family and the rest of his loved ones need most right now.

And they are at an utter loss to imagine how, exactly, they will manage without him.

Demitri had the misfortune of being awake and playing video games when two armed men broke through the front door of the Priscilla Avenue house at 3 a.m. Determined to protect his sleeping girlfriend and family, he had fought with the intruders before he was shot in his chest and later died at Peconic Bay Medical Center. No one else was hurt before the suspects fled.

“He will forever be a hero,” said his sister, Jennifer Davis. “There won’t ever be a time when I won’t miss my little brother.”

For Ms. Gettling, she believes her loss is the gain of her grandfather, who died in 2004, and grandmother.

“The thing that I keep saying to my brother, and I keep in my brain, is that he was always doing whatever he could to keep my grandma laughing,” she said. “I believe that he’s in heaven making my grandma and my grandfather laugh hysterically, so they’re up there cracking up.

“So that helps a little bit.”

Demitri was hardly a do-nothing prankster though; he had big dreams and he was working toward achieving them.

Whether it was going to be through acting, modeling, comedy, a college degree or the Air Force, the charismatic young man had been intent on becoming “somebody,” as his relatives said. Just the type of person who usually makes it in this world.

But he wanted to help others just as much as he wanted to help himself, performing small, heroic acts long before his death.

“He was very encouraging,” said Ms. Diego, recalling the hours before his death, as the two shared some of their hopes and plans for the future as they watched movies on her king-sized bed. “He was saying, ‘It’s gonna be OK. It’s gonna be OK. I know you’re going to do it.’ ”

“He had that ‘no man left behind’ type of mentality,” added his cousin Neko Gettling. “He believed that if he could make it, everybody else could too.”

That showed through his extracurricular activities at Riverhead High School and the middle school, where he volunteered for seven years with the Council for Unity anti-gang group. Then, at Suffolk County Community College, he served as a mentor and role model through the Black Male Network, a newly founded student club devoted to encouraging high school students to go to college.

Basically, his family and friends explained, he had a simple message to high school kids: “I’m going to college; and so can you.”

That’s the other irony in Demitri Hampton’s tragic death. What’s almost certain is that these killers — whose race or ethnicity is unknown — were at some point the type of at-risk youths Demitri had always sought to help through his volunteer work. Had they all met in another time and place, Demitri might have taken them under his wing to get them on the right track.

In killing him, they not only brought unspeakable grief upon his friends and family, but theirs as well, as they will surely be caught and wind up spending decades in prison. During that time, they’ll get to reflect not only Demitri and his shortened life, but the lives of all those other souls he never got the chance to help.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, ext. 152 or mwhite@timesreview.com.