A new bronze bust of Harry Chapin by sculptor and...

A new bronze bust of Harry Chapin by sculptor and former Huntington Bay resident Susan Bahary will go on display later this month at the Hauppauge headquarters of Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank. Credit: Aron Taub

Growing up as an aspiring artist in Huntington Bay in the late 1960s and early '70s, Susan Bahary often received words of encouragement from her next-door neighbor — Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Harry Chapin.

The Long Island legend pushed Bahary, then a student at Huntington High School, to pursue her artistic passion and follow her dreams.

Nearly 50 years later, Bahary, now an internationally renowned sculptor, honored her early career mentor with a bust of the "Cats in the Cradle" singer after being commissioned for the project by Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank.

The bronze piece will be unveiled July 15 at the Hauppauge headquarters of Long Island Cares, which Chapin established in 1981, shortly before his death in a crash on the Long Island Expressway en route to perform a free show at Eisenhower Park.

Bahary, who lives in California, will attend the unveiling along with members of the Chapin family. The public also is invited to attend.

"Harry liked to mentor and encourage young people," said Bahary, who crafted the bust using a compilation of Chapin photos. "It didn't matter if you were just anyone off the street — young or old — you always had the feeling that you had his full attention and that you were as important as anyone else. And that feeling is what's stayed with me always … He was just amazing and remarkable. An example of what we should strive for as human beings."

The larger-than-life Chapin bust, coined “Story of a Life” after his 1980 hit song, is 19½ inches tall, weighs 50 pounds and features the singer smiling and looking upward.

"I wanted to capture his incredible, beautiful soul and spirit in some way and that hope for humanity that he had," said Bahary, who would listen to Chapin’s music while working on the bust over the span of several months. "And in turn, capture some of that hope and that spirit; maybe a little bit of his positive sense of humor. A lot of things about him that I tried my best to incorporate."

Bahary was hired for the project last year by Katherine Fritz, chief development and communications officer at Long Island Cares, who was familiar with her work after she created a bronze sculpture of Sully, the service dog for late former President George H.W. Bush. 

"I had no idea that she grew up next to Harry," Fritz said.

The bust will be mounted on a pedestal in front of the food bank's Davids Drive headquarters. Long Island Cares also created a commemorative brick-lined "Chapin Legacy Walkway" to celebrate the singer's upcoming 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of “Taxi," his first hit song.

“We’re extremely excited about Susan Bahary’s artwork to celebrate Harry’s work in the fight to end hunger in our region," said Paule Pachter, chief executive of Long Island Cares.

Chapin was named by Newsday as one of the most important Long Islanders of the 20th century, and he's been recognized through the naming of the Chapin Rainbow Stage in Huntington's Heckscher Park and the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre in East Meadow's Eisenhower Park. 

A dedicated humanitarian, Chapin was a champion for ending world hunger. 

In 1975, he co-founded WhyHunger with radio personality Bill Ayres, was a key participant in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger, and established Long Island Cares on the premise that access to healthy and nutritious food is a basic human right.

Jason Chapin said he's intensely proud of his father's work and the impact it's made on Long Island.

"It's just remarkable that he had the foresight to realize, back when he founded Long Island Cares, that it was such a critical need to be filled," he said. "And they're doing so much more than in the early years, and they're helping more people than ever."

Harry Chapin's vision, Fritz said, was about more than distributing meals to the needy, but providing a way "out of the cycle of poverty that causes hunger and food insecurity. It was part of the mission of Long Island Cares when he started it. And even after his death, it continues to be the mission of Long Island Cares."

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