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Det. Brian ‘Smiles’ Simonsen Foundation honored for its charitable work in Riverhead and beyond

The memory and legacy of Brian Simonsen lives on throughout his hometown of Riverhead — even in ways unbeknownst to his widow, Leanne.

At St. John Paul II Regional School on Marcy Avenue, the Christian school implemented a scholarship in Brian’s memory not long after the 42-year-old NYPD detective died while responding to a reported armed robbery in Queens. The young students each year research to learn about Brian and his service and sacrifice.

“They did this all on their own without really even knowing who I was,” Ms. Simonsen said.

The woman who began the scholarship, teacher Tanya Diem, didn’t know Brian directly, but was friends with a close friend of Brians.

When the school held its most recent graduation, Ms. Simonsen attended and through the Det. Brian ‘Smiles’ Simonsen Foundation, donated $5,000 to the school that can go toward future scholarships.

“At the graduation I kind of surprised them,” Ms. Simonsen said. “I was like, ‘I have to give back to this.'”

The donation was just one of the ways the foundation, which was formed in 2019 to preserve Brian’s memory, has given back to the local community. For those efforts, Ms. Simonsen and Brian’s mother, Linda, were presented a legislative resolution by Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) Friday in Riverhead.

“He was such a great part of this community in Riverhead,” Ms. Giglio said.

The resolution, which was adopted by the state Assembly in May, outlined the ways the foundation has given back to the communities in Riverhead and Queens, such as scholarships for Riverhead High School students and to purchase safety gear for K-9 police dogs.

“Armed with a humanistic spirit and imbued with a sense of compassion, Brian P. Simonsen leaves behind a legacy which will long endure the passage of time and will remain as a comforting memory to all he served and befriended,” the resolution reads.

“All we want to do is make people smile and do good things,” Ms. Simonsen said.

Photos by Joe Werkmeister

Riverhead Town police K-9 officers John Morris and Christopher Burns attended the presentation along with foundation board member Shawn Petersen, who’s a K-9 officer for Suffolk County police. The foundation donated funds for a kennel for Riverhead’s newest K-9, Onyx, who recently turned 2 and was in attendance Friday.

The foundation recently hosted its annual golf fundraiser with 300 golfers and more than 500 people total participating. On Sept. 10, the foundation hosted a back-to-school event in Queens with a superhero theme. Students receive backpacks filled with school supplies, as well as capes and masks.

“It’s a fun event, it’s probably one our favorites because it’s just all about giving back,” Ms. Simonsen said, adding the event was made possible through donations by Geo Events, Forest Park Trust, NYC Parks, and local officials in Queens.

Ms. Simonsen also threw out a first pitch at a New York Mets game in September as dozens of members of the foundation traveled to Citi Field all wearing orange shirts representing Brian’s favorite color, and favorite baseball team.

In Queens near the 102nd Precinct where Brian worked, 118th Street will be renamed Oct. 8 in his memory during a ceremony, the next way his memory will be preserved.

“I always say it’s amazing how much Brian was loved,” Ms. Simonsen said.