New bench outside Town Hall dedicated to memory of COVID-19 victim

Diana Ruvolo of Calverton frequently finds herself in and out of Riverhead Town Hall. She’s been a longtime board member of the Mobile/Manufactured Homeowners Association of Suffolk, which typically held its meetings in Riverhead prior to COVID-19. She’s been a staunch advocate fighting for the rights of mobile homeowners.

In that role she’s gotten to know many of the elected officials in Riverhead, so it was hardly out of the ordinary when she received a call recently from Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. The message was vague. Ms. Giglio asked Ms. Ruvolo to meet her at Town Hall on a recent Tuesday afternoon. 

“I had nothing going, so I said sure, I’ll be down,” Ms. Ruvolo recalled.

They met in Town Hall, making small talk, and Ms. Ruvolo still wasn’t quite sure why she had been summoned.

Then Ms. Giglio presented a proclamation to Ms. Ruvolo, which recognized her as a “vital member of the community” and honored her for “providing a service above and beyond the standard.” She was humbled at the proclamation, but the surprise was just beginning.

Shortly afterward, they walked outside where Ms. Ruvolo was stunned to see family members, including her daughter and grandson, and the rest of the Town Board and fellow mobile homeowners association board members.

“They took me over to this bench that they had covered up and then unveiled it,” she said. 

In addition to the bench was a plaque that was dedicated to her son, Liborio Alessi, 52, who died in April from complications of COVID-19. Mr. Alessi contracted the virus during the onset of the pandemic at Sayville Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. After 10 days at Peconic Bay Medical Center, he lost the battle, becoming one of the more than 2,000 Suffolk County residents who have died from COVID-19.

“I was just so overwhelmed with everything,” Ms. Ruvolo said.

The Town Board donated the bench and the homeowners association donated the plaque.

A plaque on the bench dedicated to Lee Alessi, who died in April. (Credit: Tara Smith)

“This was one secret they were all able to keep from me,” she said. “Up until now no one has ever been able to surprise me. I always found out something. But this was a total shock all around.”

The pandemic has been particularly painful for Ms. Ruvolo, 75, who contracted COVID-19, as did her significant other with whom she lives in their mobile home. He spent 50 days at PBMC being treated for COVID-19. Ms. Ruvolo didn’t know if he would survive. 

Even now, months after the initial diagnosis, he still struggles with breathing issues and walking and is constantly tired.

“He’s one of those that they call the long-haulers,” Ms. Ruvolo said.

When he was hospitalized, Ms. Ruvolo would make window appointments to see him through the first-floor window. Her son, who was non-verbal after two massive strokes in 2016 had left him paralyzed on his right side, died alone.

“The medical personnel were there, but that’s not the same,” she said.

Ms. Giglio announced the bench dedication at the Nov. 17 Town Board meeting.

She said Ms. Ruvolo has been through a lot and the mobile homeowners association wanted to take the opportunity to recognize Mr. Alessi and thank her for her services.

“The Town Board decided to work with buildings and grounds and engineering to dedicate a bench outside of Town Hall for Lee and Diana,” she said.

She said Ms. Ruvolo will “enjoy the bench for many years to come.”