Babylon Village officials gathered recently to announce the plan for "Heroes...

Babylon Village officials gathered recently to announce the plan for "Heroes Fountain," a salute to essential workers from the pandemic that will feature a statue of a nurse. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

When COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began in 2020, many people could work from home. But those who helped maintain essential services couldn't.

Now, Babylon Village officials are planning to recognize those essential workers with a “Heroes Fountain.”

The tribute will be off Montauk Highway near Hawley’s Pond and feature a nurse statue from California-based sculptor Jose Fernandez.

Village historian Wayne Horsley said the aim is to have the fountain, which will be 20 feet wide and 17 feet tall, completed within 18 months. He said it will cost about $400,000, with fundraisers planned to help pay for it. The Town of Babylon has pledged $50,000 in federal pandemic relief aid.

Newsday recently spoke about the tribute with people who were essential workers during the pandemic and live or have a job in the Town of Babylon — or both. Their interviews were edited for clarity and length.

TEACHER

Michael Sherwood, 63, of West Babylon, worked as a teacher at Madonna Heights School in Dix Hills. 

When the governor put everybody on remote learning, we were told to go to work because we had residential students. It was strange to be going to work while everybody else is staying at home. But I was kind of grateful to still be able to go in. These are mostly kids who don’t have a family to go back to, so we felt a need to be there.

We tried to enforce the distancing with the kids as much as possible, but it was hard. I was worried because sometimes they would run away and come back and you don’t know who they were in contact with. I was concerned about getting sick because my mother was past 90 and at high risk.

I think the fountain is a great thing to do.

SUPERMARKET MANAGER

John Beneventine, 31, of Merrick, is a manager at Stop & Shop in Deer Park.

It was absolute chaos at first. You couldn’t even walk across the front of the store; it was jam-packed. It was incredible seeing every aisle turn into empty shelves.

Even though it was a huge bump in the road, you still had to get up, go to work, pay the mortgage and feed the kids. We were all thinking why do we have to be here, but at the end of the day we all know why we were there. Everybody’s got to eat, and there has to be somebody there to try to feed them. 

I think it’s fantastic they’re building the fountain. I think it’s great to be recognized, to have something to remind everybody.

NURSE

Elisabeth Vallone, 56, of West Babylon, is nursing services director at Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip. 

It was really scary for us because we were entering the world of the unknown. We were running toward it while everybody else was running away. We couldn’t have patients’ families here, so we were it. We were at the patients’ bedsides with iPads and iPhones to FaceTime the families, sometimes for them to say goodbye. 

At first, I think I worked 23 days straight, 16-hour days. Nothing was more scary than thinking, am I bringing something home with me? But you sign up for this and it is a sense of duty. 

I think it’s great that they’re doing this dedication to all essential workers. We’re so used to hearing about health care workers, but there were so many other people involved, so labeling it for essential workers is such a great honor.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION

Robert Johnson, 55, of Wyandanch, delivered food for Wyandanch Family Life Center.

I had started at the center working with kids and then when the pandemic hit, next thing I knew I was giving out food. It started off as people coming to pick the food up but then I started to deliver. At times I was the only one on the road, it seemed like the apocalypse. I had a lady, she had all her kids and grandkids, and when I brought groceries to her house, she just grabbed me and cried.

No one had any idea of what this thing was or what it could do to you. Was I scared? Yes. But I put my fear aside because I knew those babies needed to eat. I ended up getting COVID. But if I could do it again, I would. It gave me a sense of loyalty, gratefulness and respect.

The fountain is great because we get forgotten. It’s good to be recognized.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR

Michele Libertella, 54, of Lindenhurst, worked as a funeral director in Rosedale, Queens.

The calls were nonstop. I was burying six people a day. We couldn’t have any real funerals: It was just they died, pick them up and bury them. It was terrible.

I was taking videos because the wife would die and the husband is in the hospital and he wants to know his wife was buried. We were getting people from everywhere. People were calling their local funeral home and they were giving them outrageous dates of when they could have something or say they’re filled to capacity or they were taking the phones off the hook. Services were in the parking lot because you could only have so many people in the building.

It got overwhelming, but if you’re doing this, you’re doing this from the heart. People need you; they need some type of closure. I’ll go visit the fountain.

When COVID-19 pandemic restrictions began in 2020, many people could work from home. But those who helped maintain essential services couldn't.

Now, Babylon Village officials are planning to recognize those essential workers with a “Heroes Fountain.”

The tribute will be off Montauk Highway near Hawley’s Pond and feature a nurse statue from California-based sculptor Jose Fernandez.

Village historian Wayne Horsley said the aim is to have the fountain, which will be 20 feet wide and 17 feet tall, completed within 18 months. He said it will cost about $400,000, with fundraisers planned to help pay for it. The Town of Babylon has pledged $50,000 in federal pandemic relief aid.

Newsday recently spoke about the tribute with people who were essential workers during the pandemic and live or have a job in the Town of Babylon — or both. Their interviews were edited for clarity and length.

TEACHER

Michael Sherwood, 63, of West Babylon, worked as a teacher at Madonna Heights School in Dix Hills. 

Michael Sherwood, 63, West Babylon, worked as a teacher at...

Michael Sherwood, 63, West Babylon, worked as a teacher at Madonna Heights School in Dix Hills during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Jessica Hyde Kelly

When the governor put everybody on remote learning, we were told to go to work because we had residential students. It was strange to be going to work while everybody else is staying at home. But I was kind of grateful to still be able to go in. These are mostly kids who don’t have a family to go back to, so we felt a need to be there.

We tried to enforce the distancing with the kids as much as possible, but it was hard. I was worried because sometimes they would run away and come back and you don’t know who they were in contact with. I was concerned about getting sick because my mother was past 90 and at high risk.

I think the fountain is a great thing to do.

SUPERMARKET MANAGER

John Beneventine, 31, of Merrick, is a manager at Stop & Shop in Deer Park.

It was absolute chaos at first. You couldn’t even walk across the front of the store; it was jam-packed. It was incredible seeing every aisle turn into empty shelves.

Even though it was a huge bump in the road, you still had to get up, go to work, pay the mortgage and feed the kids. We were all thinking why do we have to be here, but at the end of the day we all know why we were there. Everybody’s got to eat, and there has to be somebody there to try to feed them. 

I think it’s fantastic they’re building the fountain. I think it’s great to be recognized, to have something to remind everybody.

NURSE

Elisabeth Vallone, 56, of West Babylon, is nursing services director at Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip. 

It was really scary for us because we were entering the world of the unknown. We were running toward it while everybody else was running away. We couldn’t have patients’ families here, so we were it. We were at the patients’ bedsides with iPads and iPhones to FaceTime the families, sometimes for them to say goodbye. 

At first, I think I worked 23 days straight, 16-hour days. Nothing was more scary than thinking, am I bringing something home with me? But you sign up for this and it is a sense of duty. 

I think it’s great that they’re doing this dedication to all essential workers. We’re so used to hearing about health care workers, but there were so many other people involved, so labeling it for essential workers is such a great honor.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION

Robert Johnson, 55, of Wyandanch, delivered food for Wyandanch Family Life Center.

I had started at the center working with kids and then when the pandemic hit, next thing I knew I was giving out food. It started off as people coming to pick the food up but then I started to deliver. At times I was the only one on the road, it seemed like the apocalypse. I had a lady, she had all her kids and grandkids, and when I brought groceries to her house, she just grabbed me and cried.

No one had any idea of what this thing was or what it could do to you. Was I scared? Yes. But I put my fear aside because I knew those babies needed to eat. I ended up getting COVID. But if I could do it again, I would. It gave me a sense of loyalty, gratefulness and respect.

The fountain is great because we get forgotten. It’s good to be recognized.

FUNERAL DIRECTOR

Michele Libertella, 54, of Lindenhurst, worked as a funeral director in Rosedale, Queens.

The calls were nonstop. I was burying six people a day. We couldn’t have any real funerals: It was just they died, pick them up and bury them. It was terrible.

I was taking videos because the wife would die and the husband is in the hospital and he wants to know his wife was buried. We were getting people from everywhere. People were calling their local funeral home and they were giving them outrageous dates of when they could have something or say they’re filled to capacity or they were taking the phones off the hook. Services were in the parking lot because you could only have so many people in the building.

It got overwhelming, but if you’re doing this, you’re doing this from the heart. People need you; they need some type of closure. I’ll go visit the fountain.

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