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Brookhaven Town renames North Bellport park for community icon

Cousins Joshua Hunter, left, of Patchogue, and Paris

Cousins Joshua Hunter, left, of Patchogue, and Paris Griffin of North Bellport play basketball at Martha Avenue Park in North Bellport on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Brookhaven Town has rededicated the park in honor of the late NYPD Det. Anthony Gazzola, who for years helped make the recreation area a destination for youths. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Anthony Gazzola’s legacy has been etched where it started.

Brookhaven Town has rededicated North Bellport’s Martha Avenue Recreation Park in honor of the late NYPD detective who for years helped make the park a destination for youths.

“Tony was a great advocate for the Bellport community. He worked tirelessly to make the park a safe environment for all the kids to enjoy,” Brookhaven Town Parks Commissioner Ed Morris said.

Gazzola, 75, a former Brookhaven Town chief investigator, died in 2015 from complications of multiple ailments, including congestive heart failure and cancer.

Town officials said Gazzola spent countless hours volunteering in East Patchogue and Bellport, advocating for baseball and football fields, and founded the South Country Community Conference, a regional nonprofit focused on quality-of-life issues such as pothole repairs and drug intervention.

Family members did not respond to requests for comment about the park renaming. Gazzola’s son, Vito Gazzola, 52, of Manorville, told Newsday last year that his father’s days included “driving up and down every block in the East Patchogue-Bellport area. He still played cop, even 30 years after he retired.”

Gazzola worked as an undercover detective in Far Rockaway’s 101st Precinct, before retiring in 1983.

“We need more people in the world like him,” said North Bellport resident Shamir Odom, 27, who was shooting hoops at the park on a recent warm afternoon.

“He was a good guy. He was always helping out, telling young guys to play at the park and stay off the streets,” said North Bellport resident Akbar Orr, 32.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Michael Loguercio sponsored the April resolution for the rededication.

“He was a great man, he was such a community activist,” Loguercio said of Gazzola. “He fed the poor, gave sandwiches to the homeless and talked about cleaning up Montauk Highway.”

Loguercio said he relied on Gazzola shortly after being elected in 2015 as they drove together around the district pointing out abandoned homes and streets that needed signage.

“He was such a wealth of knowledge,” the councilman said.

Town officials said Gazzola created the Safe Summer Youth Program in the 1990s, later turning the effort over to the town.

The youth program, which has expanded to a collaborative effort between Brookhaven and the Suffolk County Police Department, included several game nights for dozens of people under age 20.

The stories about Gazzola’s community efforts are still being told.

Residents said he drove drunken-driving offenders to locations where they had been ordered to pick up litter. He organized the annual Brookhaven cleanup that drew hundreds of volunteers.

He was often called the unofficial mayor of Bellport and also came to be known as “The Cake Man” for collecting day-old cakes from a local bakery and delivering them to retirement homes, churches and families in need.


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