2017 Community Leader of the Year: Ron Fisher

In just the last year, Ron Fisher has served as both president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association and as a member of the Riverhead Board of Education. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also supported groups including SEPA Mujer, which seeks to empower immigrant Latinas on Long Island; Head Start, a nonprofit preschool program for 3- to 5-year-olds from needy families; and the Butterfly Effect Project, which mentors underprivileged young women. 

With FRNCA, he’s also been heavily involved in the effort to revitalize Riverside. Along with Pastor Keith Indovino of Truth Community Church, he helped set up the first-ever food truck festival in Flanders, which raised more than $7,000 for local charities and community groups. In addition, he spearheaded a proposal to get the Children’s Museum of the East End to build a facility in Riverside’s Ludlum Park, kept the community informed of issues affecting them through social media and participated in efforts to create a maritime trail to Peconic Bay in Riverside.

On top of all this, he also found time to operate his own sign and T-shirt company, which often donates signs for good causes.

Oh, and he also ran — albeit unsuccessfully — for Southampton Town Trustee in the fall.

Because of all this, and more, Ron Fisher now has another title: News-Review Community Leader of the Year for 2017.

Mr. Fisher’s original involvement with FRNCA was not as a supporter but as an opponent of a plan the organization had championed in 2015 to create a garbage district in the hamlets of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton.

Mr. Fisher and his brother, Frank, who owns a sanitation company, opposed the plan and quickly drew the support of others in the community, to the point that the Southampton Town Board dropped the idea.

To make a long story short, when garbage district opponents said they knew nothing about the plan, the proponents said they’d been discussing it for years at FRNCA meetings and suggested that the opponents start attending.

So they did.

Mr. Fisher and others began attending FRNCA meetings regularly, becoming involved in community issues beyond the garbage district.

A Facebook page created by residents who objected to the garbage district was rebranded as “Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Residents United for Positive Change,” and continues to inform residents of issues in the three hamlets, with Mr. Fisher often posting items.

Mr. Fisher eventually was appointed to the FRNCA board and became its president. At one point, he was serving simultaneously as president of three groups: FRNCA, the Bay View Pines Civic and Taxpayers Association and Southampton Town’s Citizen Advisory Committee for the area. He later stepped down from the last two to concentrate on FRNCA.

“This is the only experience in my life where my worst enemy becomes my best ally,” said Vince Taldone, who both preceded and succeeded Mr. Fisher as FRNCA president. “We both started out believing we were fighting for our community, but on opposite sides. It was a bruising battle where I was the lead advocate for the garbage district and he was the chief orchestrator of the opposition.”

Once the garbage district issue was behind them, things changed.

“Then he got to know us,” Mr. Taldone said. “Rather than being our enemy, he started working with us.”

He said that once they started coming to meetings, Mr. Fisher and other adversaries of the garbage district began agreeing with FRNCA on other issues.

“They started volunteering for things,” Mr. Taldone said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am about this. We’ve never had this level of enthusiasm before, with people getting involved in so many things.”

Mr. Taldone said FRNCA had never even considered trying to get the Children’s Museum, based in Bridgehampton, to build a facility in Riverside before Mr. Fisher became involved. Mr. Fisher also helped to get more diversity in FRNCA, which now has its first Hispanic board member, Mr. Taldone said.

“We’ve raised more money for scholarships and other projects within the organization than ever before,” Mr. Taldone said. “We have a monthly flow of food we donate to the food pantries.”

“Ron Fisher is a delight,” said Angela Huneault, assistant community liaison for Riverside Rediscovered, the group leading the Riverside revitalization efforts.

“In every area where there has been a need, you just call Ron and he’s right there,” she said. “He figures out what needs to be done and how to do it. He knows where to find grants; he’s been a big advocate for groups like the Butterfly Effect Project and SEPA Mujer. He’s a ball of energy.”

Mr. Fisher stepped down from FRNCA in August to fill one of two vacant seats on the Riverhead Board of Education.

He and Riverhead police officer Byron Perez were chosen from about a dozen applicants, according to school board president Greg Meyer, who said they will both have to run for election in May to keep their seats.

“They’ve both been valuable assets to the board,” he said.

But Mr. Fisher hasn’t forgotten Flanders, Riverside and Northampton and still attends FRNCA meetings.

“He still does everything he did before even though he had to step down to join the school board,” Mr. Taldone said.

Photo caption: Ron Fisher (far left), the News-Review’s Community Leader of the Year, at the Flanders food truck event he helped coordinate this summer. (Credit: Elizabeth Wagner, file photo)

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Previous Winners
*The award was previously called Civic Person of the Year

2016: Dwayne Eleazer and Larry Williams
2015: Tony Sammartano
2014: Thelma Booker
2013: Vince Taldone
2012: Georgette Keller
2011: Nancy Swett
2010: Rich Podlas and Chuck Thomas
2009: Tom Gahan
2008: Keith Lewin
2007: Open Arms and Bread & More Inn
2006: Mike Brewer
2005: Sid Bail
2004: Kathy Berezny
2003: Jill Lewis
2002: Chrissy Prete
2001: Joe & Gloria Ingegno
2000: George Klopfer & Lt. Col. Anthony Cristiano
1999: Louise Wilkinson
1998: Charles Ramsey, Gwen Mack
1997: Judy Jacunski
1996: Peter Danowski
1995: Sherry Patterson
1994: Barry Barth, Bobby Goodale
1993: Arnold Braunskill, Don Owen
1992: Bernice Mack
1991: Judy Weiner
1990: Nancy Gassert, Gwen Branch
1989: Betty Brown
1988: Paul Baker