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Riverhead woman cooked Thanksgiving dinner for state police for 40 years, now they found a way to return the gratitude

For about 40 years, Adele Ambrose cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the troopers at the New York State police barracks in Riverside.

A past president of the Polish Town Civic Association and a cook at the Elk’s Club, it’s just one of the ways she liked to give back to her Riverhead community.

She’d wake up at 6 a.m. that Thursday and prepare a complete meal, drop it off and then start cooking her own Thanksgiving feast to share with her husband and six children.

“She’d cook the turkey along with all the fixings,” recalled son Michael. “Everything from scratch.”

When Ms. Ambrose, who has suffered a series of strokes in recent years and lost her vision in 2019, turned 91 last Tuesday, the state police wanted to pay tribute to her. It isn’t uncommon for them to drop by on her birthday and so they hosted a birthday parade for Ms. Ambrose to celebrate the special day. Because she is blind, they played their sirens so she’d be able to hear. The Riverhead Fire Department joined in as well.

“It made her day,” Michael said of his mom, who lost her husband, John, 31 years ago, but still lives in their home on Ludlam Avenue. “She’s a good lady and she’s always been there for other people.”

Video of the parade, filmed from outside the home by Ms. Ambrose’s niece, Mary of Jamesport, has since gone viral. The New York State Police posted the video to its Facebook page and it was picked up by CNN and other news stations. It has since been viewed more than 230,000 times.

“It was very touching,” said youngest daughter Tracy Ambrose Wanat. “Up until about 2 1/2 years ago she would have been right out there clapping and cheering along. She ran circles around her children.”

Tracy admitted she was nervous about how her mom might react to the parade, but her sister Dawn was persistent and the family is now glad she organized it along with the police.

The Ambrose family’s connection to the state police dates back decades. Ms. Ambrose was a local leader of the REACT CB club, which served as makeshift dispatchers at a time when technology limited other methods of communication. If someone had an accident, it would be radioed in to Ms. Ambrose and others, who would report it to police. The state police also frequented the family’s trucking and repair shop next to the home, where John, a self-taught mechanic and a Marine, would return home at lunch each day to share a meal with the love of his life. John died at age 64 due to complications from diabetes.

Dawn, who is a cleaner for the state police barracks and has continued her mom’s tradition of preparing meals for the troopers the past few years, said the family’s appreciation for the officers at the barracks was eternalized when someone broke into the auto shop and stole an engine from one of two race cars the family owned that were driven regularly at Riverhead Raceway and other Long Island tracks.

“A [state police investigator] got back every bit of what was stolen,” recalled Dawn.

Due to COVID-19, Ms. Ambrose hasn’t been able to see all of her children in person. Michael and a trio of professional caretakers are the only ones allowed inside the house as they practice social distancing.

Ms. Ambrose is not fully aware of what is happening with the virus, but is at least able to speak to each of her grown children by phone each day. Three of them live out of state. She also has 13 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Dawn and Tracy watched their mom from outside the day of the parade.

Michael said there was some concern the video wouldn’t come out well given social distancing, but the reflection in the window allows viewers to see both his mom and the passing parade. The family is thrilled to see it being shared by television stations around the country.

“It’s in Texas, it’s in Tennessee, it’s everywhere,” Dawn marveled.

Ms. Ambrose has always been keenly aware that she shares a birthday with Queen Elizabeth of England, though she’s two years younger. It’s been a running joke that she’s not the most famous person born on April 21.

But when Michael noticed just how many people had viewed mom’s video, he couldn’t help but wonder if things were a little different this year.

“‘I said, ‘Mom, you know you got more shoutouts than Queen Elizabeth this year,'” the proud son joked.