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Babylon Village Sunday hosts photo and oral history program

Larry Nye, who helped design the exhibition about

Larry Nye, who helped design the exhibition about longtime Babylon Residents, stands next to a display at the Conklin House in Babylon, Aug. 25 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Babylon Village’s Conklin House on Sunday will honor the village’s most longtime residents with a photo exhibit and oral history program.

This hardy group crewed dinghies for races on the Great South Bay and in the winter skated on Argyle Lake. They watched the Tulip Parade and drank milkshakes at Zanetti’s, both fixtures of village life in the mid-twentieth century but unfamiliar to most residents today.

Organizers say the group, who are all 85 or older and were born in the village or moved here in their school days, numbers about 20. They are among the last who knew the village on both sides of the post-war population boom that took it from 6,015 in 1950 to 11,062 in 1960, still the most dramatic growth in the history of the village, which was founded in 1893.

“We wanted to acknowledge these people who’ve been part of the village their whole lives and have added this flavor,” said Karen Petz, who organized the event along with Larry Nye and Al Ruggeri. All three are members of the Conklin House Steering Committee.

The baby of the group is Joan Holmes, 85, a retired West Babylon schools art teacher whose father, John Stahlberg, was an architectural engineer who designed part of the LaGrange Inn in West Islip as well as several houses near Little East Neck Road South in the village, including the split-level where she and her husband live today.

Babylon Village was a community of dirt side streets, so sparsely populated that the children were collected for school in a taxicab, she recalled. Decades later, her husband, William, a recreational sailor, agreed to move to her hometown from where they were living in the Finger Lakes region: “He saw the bay, and that sold him on Babylon,” she said.

Also participating is Alice Zaruka, 92, the village historian. She graduated in 1941 from Babylon High School in a class of 131 drawn from the village, West Babylon, North Babylon, Deer Park and West Islip, none of which had their own high schools, she said.

It was in high school that Zaruka met Bill Zaruka, the boy who would become her husband. Bill Zaruka, a longtime teacher in Hempstead schools who ran the concessions at Cedar Beach for many years, died in 2008.

He flew 32 missions over Germany in a B-17 heavy bomber in World War II carrying in his wallet a photograph of a young Alice.

“It was me in a bathing suit with the straps down,” she said.

That picture will be in the exhibit.

The exhibit will open 1 to 4 p.m. at the Conklin House. Refreshments will be served and the Babylon Women’s Club will provide “old time” games for children attending.

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