Editorial: The heartbeat of Riverhead

Town of Riverhead signYou typically see a lot of space in these pages devoted to the institutions that make up Riverhead and help shape the society in which we live: the local schools, government, business, nonprofits, etc. And they deserve this ample coverage; they form a large part of the day-to-day, week-to-week lives our publications aim to capture.

But, to use a cliché, people are the heartbeat of those organizations — and Riverhead itself. Probably because they themselves have heartbeats, while institutions do not.

In this week’s paper, you’ll find profiles of a few people who embody the best of Riverhead. It’s by no means a definitive list but it is an illustrative snapshot of the Riverhead community, and we want to use this space to recognize some people who’ve made special contributions to that community.

We’ve included, in no particular order, a radio host, a soldier returning from war and a school custodian. But there’s much more to the way Johnny Niecko, Fred Ligon and Carl James make Riverhead hum.

All three are veterans. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ligon returned from duty recently, arriving in Riverhead last Wednesday night after a tour in Afghanistan. A Little League coach, father of three and husband of a school board member, he came home on a cold night to find a crowd awaiting him in a parking lot, with a full fire and police escort.

Johnny Niecko hosted 1390 WRIV’s “Sunday Polka Time” for over 30 years, celebrating the area’s musical roots. The 76-year-old Polish immigrant, who says polka “puts a smile in your heart,” stepped down at the end of last month, though the show will continue.

Anyone who has attended Pulaski Street School in the past 50 years has certainly seen Carl James roaming the halls — or, more specifically, helping to keep them clean. We recently learned that the school’s head custodian, who graduated from the school himself back when it was the high school, is the longest-tenured employee of any North Fork school district.

These folks are just a small representation of the Riverhead community but, we hope, will provide readers with a sense of the caliber of the people who live here.