Maria Heaney’s hometown of Greenport will always hold a special place in her heart, she said, and now her version of the “Welcome to Greenport” sign first created by her late brother and his high school classmates holds a place on Route 48, greeting visitors to the North Fork village.
The original sign was created in 1977 as part of a Greenport High School project to welcome summer visitors. Southold Town paid for the effort. Former art teacher Bruce Meirowitz led a group of seniors to create the sign, including Heaney’s older brother Bernard Timothy Heaney.
“It was fun for him to do,” Maria Heaney, 54, said, recalling her brother’s excitement in working on the sign. “It was very bright and colorful. It was a nice thing.”
Bernard Heaney was fatally shot in December 1988 while working late outside his auto customizing business in Riverhead. Yusef Abdullah Rahman, identified as the “Riverhead Sniper”, is serving a 42-years-to-life sentence on convictions in connection with Heaney’s death and three other shootings. Heaney was 30 when he died.
Over time, the sign fell into disrepair and was taken down last year.
Village officials contacted the Heaney family, asking if they wanted to help create a new sign. It was a job Maria Heaney said she was more than happy to take on.
With help from her nephews Sean and Tim Heaney, who operate a construction company in Greenport, and her husband, Bernard O’Callaghan, Maria Heaney spent a year and a half cutting new pieces of wood, painting, sanding and designing the sign at her Westfield, New Jersey, home. It recreates the look of the original sign with a big yellow sun, blue water and two colorful sailboats. No color photos of the original sign were found.
Maria Heaney called creating a new sign “a labor of love.”
“It brought back a lot of things,” Heaney said, including “remembering being young and thinking about his [her brother’s] family he left behind.”
The sign-creating process “was very nostalgic,” she said.
The new sign was installed by village road crews and unveiled on Nov. 18 in an official village ceremony.
Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, who knows the Heaney family, said he loved the new sign.
“It looks better than ever,” he said.
The new welcome sign also was a hit among those on the “Let’s Talk Village of Greenport” Facebook page, with several messages about the sign ranging from “wonderful” and “beautiful” to “glad to see it back where it belongs.”
Maria Heaney said she was surprised by how much the sign meant to people and was sure her brother would have been delighted with the response.
“I’m sure he’s somewhere looking down and he’s happy to know that the sign brought so many happy feelings to people,” she said. “I had no idea that it would mean so much to so many people. I think he’d be really happy and proud about that.”
The ‘Welcome to Greenport’ sign
- Originally created in 1977 by high school students, including Bernard Timothy Heaney.
- The original sign was intended to be “very summery” to depict Greenport’s maritime culture.
- Maria Heaney designed new sign with help from residents who emailed pictures of original sign.
- New sign tried to recreate colors from sailboat piece of the original sign because they had no colors from original sign pictures.