Bellone, others laud Lake Ronkonkoma cleanup efforts
Town, county and state officials convened on the eastern shore of Lake Ronkonkoma Saturday morning to name a grassy bluff in honor of a longtime community member and to celebrate local efforts to clean up the lake.
Larry Holzapfel “left an indelible mark on the community,” County Executive Steve Bellone said of the late Nesconset resident, whose bookstore on the lakeside knoll was once a vibrant neighborhood hub.
The bookstore closed around 2005, and a fire gutted the building in 2015, according to Evelyn Vollgraff, president of the Lake Ronkonkoma Improvement Group.
Brookhaven Town workers demolished the structure, but its crumbling foundation remained, adding to the overall deterioration of the lake and its shores — a prime summer tourist destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Vollgraff said.
“It was a mess,” she said. “Broken trees, brush, tires, motors — you name it, it was there. It was a dumping ground.”
Vollgraff and others formed the Improvement Group in July 2016 and began a cleanup. Their efforts caught the attention of Bellone, who reached out to the group last summer and offered to lend a hand, Vollgraff said.
“When you find people in the community who really deeply care . . . it’s amazing,” Bellone said of the group.
The county cleared the rubble remaining from the bookstore and restored the scenic spot to its natural state. It is now covered in grass leading to the sand, and features a pair of benches.
The site will be maintained by Suffolk County and a nearby funeral home, Vollgraff said.
“I never thought that a community could come together like this,” said Vollgraff, who has lived nearby for nearly her entire life.
The lake is “definitely making a comeback,” said Danielle Saint Hilaire, another member of the Improvement Group.
The government and civic leaders capped off the restoration effort Saturday by unveiling a sign bearing the site’s new name: “Larry’s Landing.”
“It means so much,” said Donna Brown, Holzapfel’s daughter, who attended the event with her mother, Dolores Holzapfel.
“He would be so proud,” Brown said.