Education advocate Fred Breithut of Melville dies

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Fred Breithut, 84, of Melville, the founder and president of the School-Business Partnerships of Long Island Inc., who was credited with helping to spark an interest in science for thousands of students, died Monday.

He died at Huntington Hospital, where he was hospitalized for injuries from a fall about a month ago.

Breithut founded the nonprofit organization, also known as SBPLI, in 1984 to focus on closing the gap between the skills needed in the business community and those taught in schools.

"He was frustrated that children were having such a tough time coming out of school and not really grasping what they wanted to do," said Claudia Nolan, one of Breithut's daughters. "And he felt schools were not giving answers to the kids."

Janet Anderson, SBPLI's acting director, said Breithut spent decades working to build a better future for Long Island's young people. For most of his career he was a teacher and principal in the Sewanhaka Central High School District.

"Fred lived a life that is a model for all of us," Anderson said. "He always had the vision, persistence and tireless devotion to moving our organization forward."

In 1999, Breithut, through SBPLI, established the Long Island Regional FIRST - For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition - in which high school students design a robot with the help of a mentor.

"With the robotics, he wanted the kids to feel and get the reaction from the public the way athletes do," Nolan said.

Breithut also established the FIRST LEGO League, in partnership with The LEGO Group, for students ages 9 to 14.

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Breithut was born on Jan. 24, 1926 in Brooklyn. He graduated from Flushing High School, then joined the Navy and fought in World War II at Okinawa and in the Pacific Theater. After the war he attended Adelphi College and graduated with a degree in liberal arts and education. He later received a master's degree in education from Columbia University.

In 1950, he married Rosetta Copeland, whom he met while at Adelphi. They lived in West Hempstead until 1967, when they moved to Melville.

In 2006, he was presented with a Lifetime Award for his leadership in the nonprofit sector by Execuleaders, a nonprofit business association, and in 2007, inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame.

Breithut is survived by his wife; another daughter, Barbara McDonald of Melville; four grandsons, two granddaughters and five great-grandchildren.

A viewing will be held Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at A.L. Jacobsen Funeral Home, in Huntington Station. The funeral will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at the funeral home. Burial will follow at Melville Cemetery on Sweet Hollow Road in Melville.

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