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Community mourns loss of former school board president with ‘heart of gold’

08/22/2019 6:00 AM |

Longtime Riverhead school board member Nancy Gassert died last Thursday at the Kanas Center for Hospice Care in Quiogue. She was 74.

Ms. Gassert, who moved to Riverhead with her husband, Howard, shortly after they married in 1974, established a close relationship with the school community when she joined the Riverhead Parent-Teacher Organization. At the time, her two children, Howard and Karen, were enrolled in the district.

She was active in the PTO for over 20 years and formed the PTO Council in 1991.

She was elected to the Riverhead Board of Education in 1996 and served through 2008. She served as board president from 2006 to 2008.

Riverhead Town Justice Lori Hulse served on the board with Ms. Gassert for about six years. She said Ms. Gassert, whom she knew for over 20 years, was always prepared for meetings and was eager to hear comments from the public.

“She always gave 100 percent, she was well respected,” she said. “As a friend, I found her to be a loyal and generous person.”

School board member Laurie Downs recalled that when they first met, they would bump heads at times during board meetings. But Ms. Gassert “was always there to give advice,” said Ms. Downs, a former PTO president.

The two found common ground and became friends, bonding over their love for the children, she said.

“She did have a heart of gold,” Ms. Downs said. “She would do anything for any child.”

Ms. Gassert owned and operated a home and business cleaning service called Cottages to Castles in Riverhead and volunteered outside the school community: She served on Riverhead’s Recreation Advisory and Conservation Advisory committees.

The Baldwin native was a big supporter of the Blue Waves, attending most high school football, basketball and cheerleading competitions, according to an obituary from the family.

“She loved the Blue Waves, she was all about the blue and white,” Ms. Hulse said. “The loss to Riverhead athletics, and Riverhead in general, is huge.”

Football coach Leif Shay said Ms. Gassert was instrumental in his taking over the program in 1998. After he was hired, he said, she advocated for sports programs despite community frustrations and a shrinking budget.

“Everyone was trying to cut sports. Money-wise, sports were the first thing on the chopping block,” Mr. Shay said. “She just wouldn’t allow it. She said it was such a component, such an important part of the kids’ lives. She was a fighter for it.”

Ms. Gassert had a hemorrhagic stroke Monday, Aug. 5, leaving her incapacitated, according to her obituary. She had struggled since 1983 with Lyme disease, which caused her physical and neurological damage.

She was featured in a 2017 News-Review story profiling residents with Lyme disease.

Ms. Gassert is survived by her husband of 45 years, her son and daughter, and two granddaughters, Evelyn, 10, and Adelaide, 5. Services for Ms. Gassert were held Monday, Aug. 19, at McLaughlin-Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead and Tuesday, Aug. 20, at Baiting Hollow Congregational Church, where she attended services.

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