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Long Island

Long Island voices

Mary "Polly" Dwyer

81, Levittown; president of the Levittown Historical Society and museum

“I grew up in Manhattan and Garden City, and moved to Levittown in 1954. We came along at the right time and right place for us. My husband was a veteran of the second World War, and it was there for us. I didn’t work until later on in life. I volunteered at church. Now, it’s more frantic, there’s more traffic, wives have to go to work, husbands have to go to two jobs. All the nonprofits and community organizations are affected because there are fewer volunteers as everyone rushes around to take care of their own family. All of our organizations are looking for volunteers, and the problem is the young ones are all busy trying to keep afloat financially and there just isn’t energy or time to do volunteer work. What is needed, is less taxes so women can be stay-at-home moms and they could be freer to do volunteer work. I fear for the children of the future. There’s no Levittown for the young parents to go into now.”

JoAnn Finnegan

55, of Huntington; clerical worker at Huntington Hospital

“Thirty years ago, I was a newlywed renting a place in New Hyde Park. My husband Timothy and I bought a house in Huntington, and we felt like we’d moved out to the country. The open space, the calm – it was just where we wanted to raise a family. These days, it’s terribly, terribly congested. It takes me more than ten minutes to drive a few blocks.

I don’t exactly what happened in the last thirty years, but I noticed a bunch of factors. For a while, construction of houses and condos was booming, those people have cars. Also, although I don’t like to say this, teenagers are entitled – they feel it’s a rite of passage to get a car. There are a lot of people jammed into rental apartments, and many of them have cars. Maybe there was planning in Huntington, but if so it didn’t work. There was a farm stand and that closed, and we heard talk about building condos there. That means more traffic. My husband and I still love it here, but it’s lost something.

Jackie Schweitzer Guerrera

49, of Jericho; job recruiter, organized Long Beach High School class of 1978’s 30th reunion.

“At the reunion, most of the clique lines came down and everybody was talking and reminiscing. Everybody remembers certain incidents, experiences. Everybody says they have Long Beach sand in their shoes. I guess the drinking was a major thing. Everybody went to the boardwalk, under the boardwalk at night. Desegregation began in 1968, in third grade, and all of a grade was in one building. Everybody knew each other ... We had the beach, the parties, the famous bars that everyone went to. Then disco came around. We went to OBI West, a bar-club in Island Park, then we did the nightclub at Rumours and Speaks, we all did the East Bay Diner which is now a CVS. We wore huckapoos, a stretchy print button down shirt that was kind of form fitting, Sassoon jeans were popular, and Izod alligator shirts ... Now people stay in touch. You feel bad you let thirty years go by. Why did we waste all this time and where did it go?”

Rev. Marvin Dozier

58, of Southampton; Pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Mattituck, and director of operations for the Southampton Youth Association.

In 1978 Dozier was director of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center, a not-for-profit social service agency he called “the social hub of the East End for blacks. ... Housing was a big problem then, obtaining mortgages for blacks in particular, finding a place that we could build houses ... There were a lot of places that would not sell to you, that would not open the door to you because of race. There were some great obstacles to overcome ..."

“There has been tremendous individual accomplishment in the community, an understanding of the importance of coming together. I think that’s where the progress has been. Staying together has been a whole different challenge. Sometimes you get success and you feel you have arrived and you’re not really concerned with the next person. The major challenge I see out here: We as African Americans who have achieved positions, who have been able to serve in capacities to a make a difference need to come together and become a voice that begins to speak to both our political, our social, our whole system of life that exists here ...

“We’ve had a lot of blacks out here leave. Blacks are selling their homes, going to Virginia. There’s no jobs for the young people to come back to, and get into some of the schools as teachers, administrators. That’s still a struggle today ...

“We’re going to have to really, really come together. That seems like an oversimplied or easy thing. We’ve got to learn to support each other, lift each other, celebrate each other.”

Myron Blumenfeld

81, Port Washington; Former chairman of the New York State Sierra Club, and a former president and co-founder of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington.
Interviewed by Newsday for the original Crossroads series in 1978 when he lamented pollution in the waters surrounding Port Washington.

In 1978, for the original Crossroads series, he told Newsday, “Twenty years ago you could walk out into Hempstead Bay and Manhasset Bay and see your feet. The water was as clear and blue as that in the Virgin Islands. Now you’re lucky if your feet aren’t infected when you come out.”

His perspective today: “As we speak today, there are four parks being built in Port Washington. Right across the street from where I live is a park that’s being rebuilt — Stannards Brook Park, a county park ... Down further is the Blumenfeld Family Park. I’m almost embarrassed to say it’s a park named after me, but thank God they didn’t ask me to die first before they named it after me ... Then there’s the Mill Pond being built. That’s being built by the Town of North Hempstead, and that’s going to be a great amenity. Then the village of Port Washington North is building a new bay walk all along Manhasset Bay ... But the real thing is this community is going to save its environment. ... Mark my words, this will be a tourist attraction with all of the great restaurants, and great antique stores and these walkways and bay walks along Manhasset Bay and another bay walk along Hempstead ... So I have great hopes ...

“In the next 30 years, Nassau County, if it continues to develop its parks, its open spaces, its water ways, will be the kind of place we all dream about. Port Washington already started it ... I think in the next 30 years, we’ll get over this financial problem that we’re in now and we’ll be able to invest in the environment. And we must do that.”

Click here for video of Myron Blumenfeld

Cynthia Sucich

48, of Baldwin; Director of communications for the INN, a nonprofit agency based in Hempstead that helps with hunger and homelessness.

“A lot of us are selfish as teenagers. In 1979, I was graduating from Locust Valley High School, and my focus was going to college. I did notice some poverty around there and Glen Cove, and of course in the city, but it didn’t hit me. In the 1980s, I worked in Manhattan, and I saw poverty, but you get so used to seeing it that you don’t see it.

I work for an agency that reaches out to the community, and I realize how serious hunger and homelessness are right here at home. Long Island has two of the richest counties in the nation. Many people here think they know their neighbors, but they really don’t. It used to be that Long Islanders were concerned about paying for college, but now they’re struggling to pay the mortgage, or to put food on the table. Even the middle class. Our soup kitchen in Hempstead serves a midday meal, and when I started at the agency four years ago, we might have 200 people show up. Now we have 500 – and many of them started showing up in the past six or eight months. The good news is that we have so many youth groups that want to help, even if they don’t know what to do. The bad news is that the problem is so much more widespread.”

Noel Gish

61; retired social studies teacher at Hauppauge High School for 35 years, retiring in 2004.
In the 1970s, he developed an elective Long Island History course for seniors at the high school.

In 1978, for the original Crossroads series, Gish, then 29, told Newsday that Long Island history was virtually ignored in most school districts.
His perspective today:
“If you’d asked me in 1950 what Long Island was going to look like in 1978, I probably would have said it would have been open fields and we’d still be chasing rabbits. But things rapidly changed between 1950 and 1978. And what I see between the year 2010 and the year 2040 is another race for development. But I think we’re going to have to pay attention to the level of development and how that development takes place ... Education is going to be a large amount of our tax consumption. We’re going to have to be concerned about, maybe, consolidation of schools ... I would like to see a continuation of the concern for the environment ... I would like the Nissequogue River and the Peconic and Carmans and our other waterways to be cleaner. And I would like to see a careful marriage between development and residential homes on Long Island. Those things are essential, like affordable housing, and are going to have to be addressed.”

Click here for video of Noel Gish

Gloria Sesso

66, of Port Jefferson; Social studies director for Patchogue-Medford School District.

“In the ‘70s I [taught] in junior high school. It was great. I love teaching. I only remember really positive things about students and teachers and focusing on children and how they learn ... As far as the numbers of students in the classroom, we always had 24-25 students in the classroom [the same as today]. If you listen to teachers speak, the kids were smarter back then. But you won’t hear it from me. If you’re involved in helping them get excited about something, they’re behaved and involved. I don’t notice much of a difference [between students then and now] ... There were more students involved in idealistic, civil rights protest issues [in the 70s] ... There may still be idealism coming back. I saw kids getting excited about the recent [presidential] election ... [In the 70s school] budgets didn’t go down. The community supported it and they felt they were getting a bang for the buck.”

Harry DiSimone

55, Brookville; Investor consultant.

“Growing up in Hempstead and North Bellmore in the 1960s and '70s, I had a great life. There was so much, from the beach to good schools, to the parks that were opening then. We had a life that was rich beyond our economic station. My father passed away when I was six, and my mother raised me and an older sister on the salary of a junior high school librarian. People could do that — from Massapequa to Baldwin, you found one a middle class community after another. Many things changed. The defense industry jobs shifted. The operating centers of banks moved from the South Shore to states in the South. I still believe Long Island is wonderful, and we've been fortunate enough to keep up with what it costs to live here. But I worry about the overall quality of life, and the end of the robust middle class. My daughter is 14, and I'd like to see her have the option of settling here after school, but I wonder, will she want to stay?” --Dave Marcus

Sherry Chang

65, of East Setauket; Associate director of the libraries at Stony Brook University

"I worry about the opportunities we’re offering young people here. The shortage of good jobs, the cost of housing, the high taxes – they’re driving the young away. My son and daughter were saying “Long Island is not for young people” while they were still at Ward Melville High School. They got a very good education and went to Cornell. My son, who is 27, is a doctor in Minneapolis. My daughter, who is 30, directs catering for a hotel in Los Angeles. I grew up in Taiwan, went to grad school at SUNY Geneseo, and moved here 40 years ago. My husband and I could afford a house. I would love to have my children here. It's a nice place to raise a family. The children of some of my friends did come back – but they can’t buy houses, so they are college graduates living with their parents."