They took over Google's homepage, granted a sick boy's wish to go surfing for the first time, flew home from war to surprise a daughter at graduation, and fought just as hard to save a life as knock out an opponent in a cage. Some are celebrities, most are just regular folks, but each made Long Island proud in 2014.
A friend to the animals
When Sean Posner’s dog Moose was put to sleep in October 2011 after suffering from bone cancer, the Massapequa boy decided to honor his furry friend by giving back in his honor. He held a community drive, collecting pet supplies for a local animal shelter, and soon after launched his own charity Kids Adopt a Shelter. Since then the charity has spawned 26 chapters across the country, encouraging more children to support their local shelters, and has helped find homes for shelter dogs and cats. Sean, now 14, said he hopes to close out 2014 with 100 shelter pet adoptions.
The champ becomes a hero
Baldwin native Chris Weidman is the undefeated UFC middleweight champ, but that's not why he made the list. In October, Weidman was dubbed a hero when he came to the aid of his 94-year-old Dix Hills neighbor Anna Croenlein. While cleaning out his car in his driveway, Weidman, 30, heard Croenlein's faint screams and found her in her driveway bleeding from her head. She had apparently slipped and fallen onto a glass table in her home. "The one thing that kinda broke my heart, was she kept saying, 'I just wanted to live one more year,' " said Weidman, who called for an ambulance while applying pressure to Croenlein's head wound. He said he told her: " 'You're gonna live. You're not dying today. Today's not your day.' "
Eva Casale, of Glen Cove, leads a pack of runners down School Street to the finish line in her hometown on July 13, 2014. The ultramarathon ran seven marathons in seven days -- a total of 183.4 miles -- on Long Island to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
A wish to ride waves granted
When Tommy Grimes, a surfer and Massapequa business owner, dropped everything this spring to make one sick boy's dream come true. Grimes had found out through social media that Aaron Sisa, 6, of Bay Shore, wished to go surfing for the first time before undergoing chemotherapy for a malignant brain tumor, Grimes and his surfing buddies quickly rallied. They tracked down a child-sized winter wet suit and got a board for Aaron, and then, took him out for his very first surf lesson. Grimes has even visited Aaron in the hospital since his treatment began, adding, "He’s a friend now." The boy's mother, Sarah Lindner, said seeing her son catching the waves reminded her of what a fighter he is. “He never gives up.”
Billy remembers his roots
In 2014, Billy Crystal continued to help his hometown, Long Beach, recover from superstorm Sandy. The actor and his wife, Janice, made a generous $11,817 donation to the city for playground equipment to be installed at the Magnolia Childcare Center. That's on top of the $1 million donation the comedian raised for his hometown in 2013 with help from his Hollywood friends. Crystal also represented Long Island well with his tribute to the his friend Robin Williams at the 66th Emmy Awards following Williams' suicide. In 2014, Crystal also brought his one-man Broadway show, "700 Sundays," an autobiographical tale set in Long Beach, to HBO, and he had the honor of being Jay Leno's final guest on "The Tonight Show."
Audrey Zhang, 11, a fifth-grader at Michael F. Stokes Elementary School in Levittown, took over the Google homepage for one day on June 6, 2014. The talented young artist won the national Doodle 4 Google competition and an animated version of her artwork was featured on the site. Google also presented her with a $30,000 college scholarship and her school received a $50,000 technology grant. Audrey's illustration also inspired the company to give back. The theme for this year's contest was "If I Could Invent One Thing to Make the World a Better Place," and Audrey's doodle depicted a fictional machine that improved water quality. In her name, Google pledged to donate $20,000 to a charity that provides clean water and latrines to schools in Bangladesh.
The LIRR rescuer
Bill Gerow had never performed CPR on a person, “only dummies,” he said, until this August, when he came to the rescue of another commuter on the Long Island Rail Road. Gerow, 50, and his son, Max, 15, were on the 5:53 p.m. train from Penn Station to Ronkonkoma when another passenger toppled onto them. The man in distress -- Chris Marshall, 60, of Ronkonkoma, a father of two -- was in cardiac arrest, unconscious, with no pulse, when Gerow used cardiopulmonary resuscitation to revive him. The two were reunited days later at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage.
Eddie the everyman
Freeport’s Eddie Gordon is like you -- someone who sees a sport on TV and says “I can do that.” Here’s the difference: He went and did. Gordon turned to mixed martial arts a few years ago, and in 2014, surprised many by winning on "The Ultimate Fighter" show with a first-round knockout. He accomplished this goal while working full-time, raising his two sons and training somewhere in between, he said.
Surfer of the year
In early January, Long Beach resident and professional surfer Will Skudin, 28, was named 2013 Surfer of the Year by Eastern Surfing Magazine, the first New Yorker to earn the title. When not chasing after the biggest waves in the world, Skudin also operates a surfing school, Skudin Surf, with his brother, Cliff, in Long Beach. The brothers also co-founded not-for-profit called Surf For All with Jim Mulvaney that provides free surf lessons for people with disabilities.
A top teacher
"Live with Kelly and Michael" co-hosts Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan honored Great Neck South High School teacher John Motchkavitz, a finalist in the show's Top Teacher Contest, during his guest appearance on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The show had asked viewers to nominate teachers who made a difference, and Motchkavitz's colleagues sent a letter to producers detailing his contributions to the school district. In addition to teaching technology classes, Motchkavitz oversees the school’s business club and robotics team, coaches lacrosse, builds sets for school plays, and four times a year, he takes students to New York City to distribute food, clothing and blankets to the homeless. Online voters sent Motchkavitz all the way to the finals round.
A friendly Yank
Rockville Centre native Luigi Militello considers himself a die-hard Yankees fan, but when he discovered a lost Boston Red Sox 2013 World Series championship ring in the bathroom of his Manhattan restaurant in July 2014, he put aside the teams' longtime rivalry. Militello not only returned the ring to its owner, Drew Weber, who owns one of Boston's minor league teams, but he also refused to accept a reward. Instead, Militello told Weber to donate the reward money to the Ocean Beach Community Fund, which supports beautification efforts in the Fire Island village where Militello has spent many summers. Militello's good deed also earned him VIP seats to Derek Jeter's final career game in Boston.
New York's football hope
Although a New York team didn't make it to the Super Bowl in 2014, Sebastian Lippman, 8, of Plainview, did earn an invitation to Denver to compete in the national championship of the NFL's Punt, Pass & Kick competition. To get there he had to beat out kids from across the New York tri-state area and then, place in the Top 32 nationally in his age division. In the history of the program, which began in 1961, this was the first time New York had a contestant compete in the national championship.
A class act
The class of 2014 for Holy Trinity Diocesan High School left behind a legacy that will continue to honor one of their schoolmates. Departing seniors raised nearly $9,000 to erect Our Lady of Fatima Grotto in memory of deceased freshman Giovanni Cipriano, who died in October 2013 from a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. This fall the recent graduates returned to their alma mater to dedicate the completed memorial and were joined by Cipriano's family including his mother, Georgina who said, "It was just amazing that in the short time that he was here that they embraced him with so much love and they showed him how wonderful everyone could be.”
Material 'girls' set record, give back
Sporting the many looks of Madonna, 440 men dressed in drag claimed a Guinness World Records title on Aug. 30, 2014 for Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Madonna during the 19th annual Fool's Paradise Drag Party in Fire Island Pines. But that's not all. The party organizers and their guests also raised a little more than $12,000 for the Fire Island Pines Volunteer Fire Department.
Earl Fultz, 90, of Peconic Landing, an entrepreneur who started a seasoning business, cHarissa, two years ago with his late wife, Moroccan native Gloria Elmaleh, won $25,000 in the Wells Fargo Small Business Project Contest that he hopes will catapult the operation to a whole new level. Winners were announced in September 2014.
Mikey Ortiz, 9, wraps his arms around his father, Miguel Ortiz, at Busto's Martial Arts in Holbrook on July 3, 2014. The Farmingville boy thought he was just there for a private lesson, but he ended up having a surprise reunion with his father, a Marine Corps major who had been serving in Afghanistan and Bahrain.
Carle Place native Jonathan Ehlers, 33, left, and one of his co-directors, Patrick Ward-Perkins of Los Angeles, take a break while filming their first feature-length independent film, "Ink & Steel," in upstate Utica. The movie -- about an aging mob enforcer sent to a rural college town to protect the artistic, drug-addict son of his boss after a violent turf war -- won the Audience Choice Award at its premiere at the SoHo International Film Festival on May 22, 2014.
Valedictorian Berthe Gersten, 93, of Commack, congratulates fellow adult education graduates at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Commack on June 19, 2014. It was Gersten's second valedictory honor, the first was 79 years earlier.
Valley Stream's Joe Taglic competed in the 2014 "Jeopardy!" Teen Tournament, hosted by Alex Trebek. He was 17 at the time the shows aired in July 2014. He qualified for the semifinal round and won $10,000.
From Paramount to Pacquiao
In the span of 10 months, Greenlawn's Chris Algieri went from a boxing ring at the Paramount in Huntington to one of the biggest stages in his sport -- fighting Manny Pacquiao for a world title in Macau. Along the way, Algieri took the WBO junior welterweight title from Ruslan Provodnikov in a bout few people gave him a chance to win. Algieri carried the bulk of the promotion for his fight against Pacquiao and did so with class and style. In his loss to Pacquiao, Algieri showed heart by getting up from all six knockdowns.
'Balloon Boy' takes off
Like much of the nation, Hauppauge’s Billy Recce was captivated in 2009 by the boy who was believed to be flying over Colorado in a runaway weather balloon. Recce was age 11 at the time, but the story of the Heene family of Fort Collins, Colo., and the alleged “balloon boy” hoax inspired him to start writing a musical. In 2014, Recce submitted the opening number of "Balloon Boy: The Musical" to Thespian Musicalworks, a national contest hosted by the Educational Theatre Association, and he won. With the title came the opportunity to work with theater professionals -- including the director of the touring production of “Wicked” -- to stage the number at this year's International Thespian Festival.
Education in kindness
Ashley Wade was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2011, during her senior year at Portledge School in Locust Valley. Motivated by a gingerbread house she received from an unknown donor, Wade, now 21, of Massapequa Park, used money she had saved for college to start the Ashley Wade Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children diagnosed with chronic or terminal illnesses.
Crohn's disease kept Keri Dolan from acting. But she found a new creative outlet -- drawing. In 2014, the Commack native auctioned off some of her signed celebrity portraits to benefit the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Davis reunites with his daughter, Stephanie, during Syosset High School's graduation ceremony at Hofstra University on June 25, 2014. His surprise return to hand his Stephanie her diploma produced an emotional father and daughter moment.
Veterinarian Martin Zipkin, left, sits next to Adam Kopelman of Hewlett Harbor, who helped rescue this 2-year-old pit bull terrier from the road after it had been hit in Lawrence in May 2014. Kopelman paid $800 to help cover the costs, with Zipkin's veterinary office picking up the rest of the tab.