Story & Video: Steak night raises big bucks for Heidi Behr scholarships

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | Rich Podlas (left) and Chuck Thomas (middle) are honored Thursday night for their service to the Behr family.

Polish Hall was filled to capacity Thursday night for a steak dinner that drew hundreds and raised thousands for local scholarship awards named in memory of 23-year-old Heidi Behr, a volunteer Riverhead EMT who was killed in an ambulance crash in 2005.

Heidi left behind a then-14-month-old son, Jared, who is now 7 and suffers from epilepsy, cerebral palsy and brain damage.

He has been cared for by Heidi’s parents, June and John Behr, who were also on hand Thursday.

Mr. Behr, who said a few words and thanked those who showed up, said he hopes the scholarship award “can keep going and going for the people who serve the community. The young children who have taken the strides to do the best for their community.”

The scholarships are awarded annually to graduates of Riverhead and Mercy high schools in recognition of volunteerism and public service — in the spirit of Heidi Behr.

The steak night event was hosted by Heidi’s Helping Angels, Inc., a nonprofit organization established to honor the memory of Heidi Behr’s “ultimate sacrifice in service to the Town of Riverhead and its residents,” a member of the group’s board, Jim Stark said. Mr. Stark, a former Riverhead supervisor, also emceed the event.

Heidi’s Helping Angels Inc. has to date given out four $2,000 scholarships in Heidi’s memory.

But organizers were caught off guard Thursday when the president and CEO of Peconic Bay Medical Center, Andrew Mitchell, took the mic and announced the hospital would commit $5,000 annually to the scholarship fund.

“Oohs” and “ahhs” and an ovation immediately followed.

“That was a total surprise to us,” Mr. Stark said afterward. “But the ambulance corps works very closely with the hospital.”

Mr. Stark described the event was a tremendous success. The group will likely have double the amount of cash on hand come graduation time next year — about $8,000 — as compared with $4,000 each in June 2011 and June 2010, the first year the scholarships were awarded.

He said the board would have to decide whether to continue to split the awards, or give them to four deserving students.

Also recognized at the dinner were two men who led an effort to renovate the Behrs’ home, now in Cutchogue, so it is handicapped accessible for young Jared. Riverhead architect Chuck Thomas and town building inspector Rich Podlas, who is also a contractor, were presented with two American flags, one for each of them, that had been flown over Washington D.C. in their names.

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