12/12/13 3:30pm
12/12/2013 3:30 PM
FLICKR PHOTO/cogdogblog

FLICKR PHOTO/cogdogblog

Personality. There used to be a lot of it in local radio. It wasn’t just about the music, but the jocks, the people between the tracks. They shopped at the same stores we did. Went to the same clubs. We drove by their offices. They were like pals. The “people” were what differentiated the stations from the mix tapes.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

There was plenty of news to be had as well. WGBB, for instance, was one of the biggest players in the Long Island news game, I’m told. Based in Merrick, the AM station had a packed newsroom in the 1970s, long before Channel 12 or the Internet.

“Election night was always a long haul,” recalled former WGBB newsman Gary Lewi. “We were logging 23-hour days but for us we were at the center of the action. The station only had 1,000 watts, but with the population density the way it was, you had an audience.”

Gary has fond memories of working with guys like Ed Grilli and Larry Barr. The three called their little news crew “Lewi’s Barr & Grilli.”

But something happened in the early 1980s that changed the landscape. Those in broadcasting know it as deregulation. (more…)

11/24/13 8:00am
11/24/2013 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The entrance to Long Island Science Center on West Main Street.

I couldn’t believe 60 first-graders could stay so captivated for so long. Every kid’s eyes were glued to the center of the room, heads tilted, little mouths agape. They were spellbound. But this wasn’t “Fantasia” or a more modern Disney movie. This was science.

Michael White, editor

Michael White

Material science, of all things. This particular lesson was called States of Matter. And when it came time for the children to retreat to individual work stations for some hands-on lab work, the room and the other children around them seized to exist. They had a task to complete, after all, and that was to apply a special solution to the dozen or so pebbles waiting for them in petri dishes.

They were then told by the instructor that, in a few days, they would begin to notice crystals forming on those little rocks. Soon, they’d have their own crystal gardens. Of course, they’re still kids; delayed gratification isn’t exactly their thing. And so began the second part of the lesson, which ended with the Sachem School District students making ice cream. Ice cream!

This is the type of pure magic that goes on almost every day at the Long Island Science Center in downtown Riverhead, and for an adult like myself, who had never stepped inside the center, it was a lesson on how a properly managed and sustainable nonprofit group with a purely altruistic mission can offer a huge public benefit to children and parents alike, not to mention the local school systems.

“A lot of the elementary schools don’t have science teachers, especially with all the recent cutbacks,” said the center’s executive director, Michelle Pelletier. So the schools use the science center for “enrichment” alternatives, she said. While that’s good for business, Ms. Pelletier can’t help but feel opportunities are being missed in the schools, as the younger kids seem to be the most engaged when learning how things work. That enthusiasm is plain to see during any day at the center.

After each lesson, the students — usually on a field trip or a weekend birthday party — are invited to roam the Exploratory Enrichment Center, an interactive, educational display play area. The rules for the kids are simple, and just the opposite of what they’re told to do at home: Touch everything. (Oh, and no running.) So the children will fan out to the interactive weather station or the dino-dig, to look for fossils. They’ll check out the snakes and Madagascar hissing cockroaches or just play with the magnets or building blocks. On Saturdays, this museum side of the center is open to the public, with admission just $5 a head.

Among Ms. Pelletier’s favorite and oft-repeated quotes from the children who visit the center are:

“I didn’t know that!”

“You guys like dinosaurs too?”

“Are you a scientist?”

“I’ve never been to a museum before.”

She’s hoping to hear more of these types of adorable phrases, as the center is planning a big move from its aging West Main Street building to the vacated West Marine storefront on East Main, closer to the Long Island Aquarium. The new space is planned to be much bigger, allowing the center to remain open to the public throughout the week, even when lessons are going on in the classrooms.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more worthy — yet often overlooked — organization in the town or county. Not only does the science center offer programs for children but high school interns build most of the hands-on exhibits. Teenagers from Riverhead, Mercy and other high schools also sit on its Board of Youth Trustees, charged with keeping the exhibits fresh and, presently, improving community outreach through social media.

The museum is in contract to purchase its new space, with real estate developers in contract to buy the current museum building. When the move is complete, the new center will feature more professionally built displays, including a state-of-the-art Leonardo da Vinci exhibit currently mothballed in the science center’s storage room for lack of space. The Board of Trustees, which includes two Brookhaven National Laboratory scientists, also envisions placing an emphasis on technological breakthroughs that are happening, and have happened, right here on Long Island.

It could even be a place where Intel Science Talent Search participants show off their work, I’m told.

By far the most popular exhibit in the museum right now is the dino-dig. Ms. Pelletier said, pointing to a square table covered in sand. The kids brush the sand away to unearth planted fossils that are explained on a chart nearby.

“I would love to have a big dino-dig that the kids could step into,” she said. “But this is our space. I wish it were bigger. But we’re working on it.”

To learn more about supporting the Long Island Science Center, visit 11 West Main St. in Riverhead or lisciencecenter.org.

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

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.

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

12/07/12 7:30am
12/07/2012 7:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

Animal lovers. Animal activists. Cat ladies. Dog zealots. Nut-jobs.

Michael White

Call them what you want, but the people who have been condemning the town’s animal shelter are not going anywhere. This is a virtual sit-in, being waged with constant phone calls, letters and emails to the town’s elected and appointed leaders, as well as to the media.

You can also call these people bullies and ask why they’ve set up shop in Riverhead Town while demanding its taxpayers give up more of their hard-earned money to care for animals when other troubles warrant more attention. But dismissing the animal advocates won’t do any good. They’re activists, and this is their cause. Whether you deem it worthy or not.

And they can bring the heat. Just look what happened to the previous animal control officer/shelter head. He’s gone now, having resigned because he couldn’t take the constant criticism, second-guessing, name-calling and public humiliation.

But it wasn’t his fault. The town’s antiquated system of having dog catchers run the pound and answer to a police chief is what set him up to fail. It’s not the 1950s anymore and this dog pound needs to become an actual shelter — that’s basically the zealots’ demand — complete with properly trained and experienced management, an organized adoption mechanism and a community outreach program to help educate the next generation to properly care for pets, and thus prevent more abused dogs from ending up in shelters. Only then will the activists leave us all alone.

In a system of government controlled in large part by special interests, there are plenty of less worthy causes to cave to.

The pet industry is constantly evolving. (Remember when you could buy a puppy in the mall?) And today’s model shelter operation, described above, is just the latest piece of the puzzle, so to speak, as we strive as a country to treat animals more humanely. Simply put, how we treat animals is a reflection of our overall “goodness” as a society.

The philosopher might say positive treatment of animals is a good in and of itself, and thus begets more goodness, which benefits everyone.

Some have argued, through letters to the editor and our online comments section, that spending so much time and money on animal welfare is a waste because so many human beings are going hungry and homeless. Stop. Certainly a town and its people can strive to help human beings and animals alike. Some advocates prefer to help people, others are more suited to helping animals. In the end, that’s their call.

To me, the argument that we should forgo helping animals because some people are in need holds as much water as saying it’s wrong to build parks, or for someone to buy a Rolex or go skiing, when so many people are starving in this world. Many people value and care for animals.

The town should strive to do the same to the best of its ability, as other towns have done. But doing so takes money, and it all boils down to priorities. Simply put — judging by the dollar figures alone — Riverhead’s dog shelter is not a priority.

A News-Review special report in 2010, found that neighboring Southampton Town spends about $500,000 a year in taxpayer money to fund its shelter operations. Southold Town spends about $360,000, not including debt service on a fairly new building, and Riverhead spends about $200,000.

The inadequate funding here means problems keep arising, like a mauling and a sudden staff exodus that leaves the entire shelter to one part-time worker. That’s why the zealots are constantly up in arms.

Both Southold and Southampton have enlisted nonprofit groups to run their shelters. Riverhead could do the same, but town Councilman James Wooten has said it will take about $300,000 to get a group like the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs Southold’s shelter, to take over Riverhead’s operation. The challenge is to come up with that extra cash, and during tough times.

Here’s my idea. As was mentioned in a recent News-Review editorial, the town has been swatting down proposals from hobbyist groups looking to use some space at town land in Calverton to do things like hold autocross competitions, fly model airplanes and operate a paragliding school — to name a few.

We’ve all seen with the car-storage operation at the former Grumman property that things can happen there, and quickly, without state interference. So let’s let some of these smaller groups rent space in Calverton, then earmark the proceeds for the shelter; $20,000 here and there can add up quickly.

One way or another, there’s no doubt the town must act to get its dog shelter problems under control.

If not for the activists, then because it’s simply the right and decent thing to do.

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

07/27/12 11:00am
07/27/2012 11:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Director Karen Testa holds a snapping turtle that came to the center with a broken jaw. Dental acrylic is holding its broken bones in place as they heal.

Shells shattered, jaws crushed, legs and paws mangled. Karen Testa and the volunteers at Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, which opened in Jamesport in May, see it all. And, Ms. Testa freely admits, it is physically and emotionally exhausting.

They do it because nobody else does, she says.

And it never gets any better.

MICHAEL WHITE

“I foresee doom in their future, because of the pollution in the water and all the development,” Ms. Testa told me last week, not the slightest hint of exaggeration in her voice. “We had to euthanize 20 turtles in just over two months. And these are just the ones that people find. Could you imagine the ones that they don’t find? They die a slow, horrible death off in the woods. Or they drown at the bottom of the bay.”

Most turtles are injured by cars, boat propellers, tractors or  industrial lawn mowers.

If they’re fortunate enough to be found, they end up in Jamesport.

Housed in a two-story 1929 colonial that sits on a full acre, the rescue operation is currently home to about 70 turtles, 30 of which are recovering from surgeries on the building’s second floor, which is complete with an ICU, nursery and operating tables.

Ms. Testa and her two principal volunteers, Ryan Ortiz of Orient and Beth Groff of Jamesport, are available by phone 24 hours a day for emergencies. If someone can’t bring a turtle to the rescue center, the volunteers will go to the turtle, no matter where it is on Long Island or the city.

“We’ll go somewhere just to move a turtle; say a snapper turtle is on a golf course and people don’t know what to do,” said Ms. Testa, the owner of Suffolk-based K Testa Real Estate who, not surprisingly, doesn’t spend much time selling homes nowadays.

It would be easy for anyone to imagine these animals dying out in the woods after seeing the turtles being nursed back to health in Jamesport. Some have their jaws wired shut, others have their shells stapled together. Many are missing limbs. Some have deformed shells or ear abscesses due to water pollution or mis-care or malnutrition.

Just days before my visit, volunteers had to tube-feed a two-inch baby diamondback terrapin after a woman stepped on it in her garden in Sag Harbor.
“Could you believe that?” Ms. Testa added, thrilled that the little one has been doing fine lately.

The Turtle Rescue is the kind of place that’s depressing, in a way, especially seeing the more skittish turtles and wondering what they might have been through. But it also makes you proud of mankind, just knowing there are people willing to give so much to care for these venerable yet vulnerable creatures.

Not only Ms. Testa and the volunteers, but people like Sal Caliguri of Sal’s Auto Body in St. James, which purchased and donated the one-acre property. And Dr. Robert Pisciotta of North Fork Animal Hospital in Southold, a resident vet who works pro bono in his spare time to care for the turtles.

When I asked Ms. Testa just what it was about turtles that sparked such passion in her and the others, she explained that turtles “are the underdog; they need the most help.”

And many of them shouldn’t ever have been born. Red-eared sliders, for one, are farmed specifically for the many pet stores across the state, country and overseas, where anyone could buy a juvenile for just a few bucks.

These turtles aren’t indigenous to New York but instead, Ms. Testa said, get dumped by people “after junior’s been occupied for a month.”

The dozen or so sliders at the shelter will be there their entire lives, as they can’t legally be released into local woods and waters.

“Many of them will outlive me,” Ms. Testa said.

In the wild, red-eared sliders live for about 50 years. Not in someone’s house; that’s a commitment no person can keep.

But Ms. Testa said she’s too busy to lobby in Albany to outlaw the sale of turtles, because she’s at the center all day. In some of her downtime, she hands out informational cards to local landscapers, urging them to look out for turtles and, if they hit one with a mower, to call Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons.

“Tortuga, tortuga,” she’ll tell those who don’t speak English.

A man from East Islip called the center about the time I arrived last Thursday. He had found a terrapin in distress at a marina there. It was probably injured by a boat. The rescue staff told him to take it to a local animal hospital, which he did. A vet had to put it down, the staff later learned.

“Well, that’s one less turtle suffering,” said Ms. Testa.

If you spot a turtle that appears to be in distress, call Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons at 631-603-4959, 516-729-7894 or 631-779-3737. Visit http://turtlerescueofthehamptons.org/ to find out more information about the center, or how to donate or volunteer.

Michael White is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com.

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