Riverhead celebrates retirement of Judy Doll, longtime Senior Center director

For Judy Doll, there’s no such thing as a typical day.

For more than three decades, Ms. Doll has worked for Riverhead Town, most recently as department head for the Riverhead Senior Center, where seniors can enjoy breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday as well as other recreational activities. About 60 seniors per day use the facility.

“My job is … about being able to drop what you’re doing in a second because there’s a call for you, or there’s an unexpected visitor or there’s an emergency in the dining room,” she said.

So when Riverhead Senior Center manager Debbie Schwarz told Ms. Doll that a fight broke out between two seniors in the banquet hall Friday before shrimp scampi and rice pilaf lunch, she raced to the scene.

Working at the Senior Center, she said, she’s seen it all — but a fight between two seniors isn’t commonplace.

She entered the room and was “floored” — instead of a fight, she was greeted by more than 60 seniors and staff with the Senior Citizen program gathered around a table with an oversized card and balloons to celebrate her retirement.

Ms. Doll, who lives in Riverhead, announced her retirement last week after working for the town for 35 years. On her final day Friday, she was honored at separate events by both the Recreation and Seniors Department and Town board for her longtime service.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent presented Ms. Doll with a proclamation Friday afternoon.

“Judy Doll has inspired and advanced the lives of those who know her, including the staff, her family and the entire community, through her wealth of experience, knowledge and contributions,” Ms. Kent read.

Ms. Doll said she grew up in Levittown. She bought a house in Riverhead in 1974 with her husband, Joe, while her parents were living near Lake Panamoka in Ridge.

She started volunteering with Riverhead CAP in the early ’80s and later worked part-time in the teen center for the Juvenile Aid Bureau. She was a part-time neighbor aid in the Senior Citizen Department beginning June 1984.

Judy Doll’s final day as head of the Senior Center was Friday. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

She was appointed a part-time recreation center manager in March 1985 and became full-time in 1988. In 1992, she was appointed as an administrative assistant in the recreation department. Four years later, Ms. Doll became the senior citizen program director.

On Oct. 29, 2007, Ms. Doll became the department head — a spot she held until her retirement.

The job, she said, has been a mixed bag of emotions: she connects with seniors on a daily basis, but has also watched them pass.

It’s something her longtime friend Daryl Sulzer, who previously worked at the Center, said is unavoidable.

“You can’t help but get personally involved with almost every single one of them,” she said. “Judy has definitely done that, along with all the staff here.”

Ms. Doll is credited with leading the Senior Center’s move from Howell Avenue to 60 Shade Tree Lane in Aquebogue in 2002. At the time, it produced some skepticism among the department.

“We were scared our dreams were too big,” Ms. Doll said. “People were saying we wouldn’t fill the rooms … and now there’s not a seat that’s not filled.”

Ms. Doll’s daughter, Danielle Hendrickson, said her mother’s immense love and consideration is a model others should follow.

“Her warmth and her ability to connect with people is something I’ve seen since the day I was born,” she said. “As role models, mothers and bosses go, she’s impossible to beat.”

Photo caption: Judy Doll received a surprise send-off Friday on her final day. Councilwoman Catherine Kent read a proclamation. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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