Throughout this week's Town Focus series in Hampton Bays, we are profiling people we meet, from community leaders to residents we bump into around town.
BRENDA BERNSTEIN, 54
Community associations: President, Hampton Bays Historical Society; on the committee involved in preserving Canoe Place Inn; member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the American Legion Hand-Aldrich Post 924.
How long have you lived in Hampton Bays?
Fifty-four years. I was born here. My dad was born here 87 years ago. My grandfather was born here around 1880, or something like that.
What brought your family here to begin with?
We don't know much about my grandfather. He died when my dad was 15 or 16 and my dad was the last of 18 kids. My grandmother was born in Ireland and the story is she ran away from home and came here to work as a chambermaid.
What was Hampton Bays like when you were growing up?
I spent a lot of time outdoors. It was a very small town. I don't think I appreciated it back then that everyone knew me and my family. My parents always found out everything I did. One thing I always tell my son and he has no idea what I'm talking about is I used to have lots of summer friends. They were people who came out during the summer and you never ever saw them other than the summer.
Why did you decide to stay here as an adult?
My family has a business here, Quogue-Sinclair Fuel. I've lived other places for a while. I lived in Missouri a few years but came back for the business. I never felt the need to live other places as long as I could visit them. This is my home.
What do you think is appealing to people who move to Hampton Bays now?
It's cheaper to live here than other places east of here. It's got a strong community and I don't know what to attribute that to. There are always fundraisers. My brother died of brain cancer and we started a fundraiser and the support was just overwhelming.
How has it changed in the last 50 years?
There are a lot more city people, less community, even though I still think its strong. There is more development, things like that.
In the last 15 to 20 years, there are a lot of illegal workers here and that affects the community, it's a fact.The population of the schools went crazy, we needed more Spanish speaking teachers.
There are more services and the cost of living has gone up. Who pays for that? My son once had a friend who was living with 21 of his closest family members in a three bedroom home. I don't begrudge anybody for coming here but it does impact your neighbors when all those people are only paying enough school tax for one family.
That brings me to the next question, what challenges does the community face?
The tax base. Taxes keep going up and up, it's getting expensive to live here. A lot of people -- in this downturn economy with lower prices -- can afford a house but they can't afford the taxes because they are absurd. The school is hit really hard. They have to serve more free lunches, more special services, more cost to educating a child.
Define the character of Hampton Bays.
It's a small town that's trying to remain small -- or maybe that's just my view.