Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum volunteers Christine Fling, from...

Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum volunteers Christine Fling, from left, Sal Iraci and Joe Piacentino Jr. have been working to carry on the museum's mission of preserving local history and educating young people since the death of its founder in late 2022. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Volunteers are working to keep alive the dream of a Kings Park teacher who three decades ago founded a local museum dedicated to preserving the hamlet's history and educating young people on its past.

The Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum, located inside Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School on Old Dock Road, is run by nine volunteers and operates under the school district's supervision, school and museum officials said.

Ostebo, who had been a longtime history teacher at Kings Park High School, died Nov. 20, 2022, of congestive heart failure at age 91, according to his wife, Charlotte Ostebo.

Christine Fling, the museum’s president, said the volunteers “all share the vision Leo had” and are working to not only continue the history project he started, but use it to connect the hamlet’s generations. 

A piece of local history

Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum was founded in 1994.

Its namesake teacher and founder died in November 2022.

Volunteers have carried on with Ostebo’s mission of preserving local history and educating young people.

Challenges the museum faces include limited space and resources and a need for more volunteers.

“When you walk into the museum, you know that all the pieces that are in there are somehow all connected to everyone in this community,” added Fling, 60, of Kings Park, who knew Ostebo when she was in high school. 

The teacher started off with one box of artifacts in a single display before he and other volunteers over time collected thousands of pieces of memorabilia, according to museum officials. 

Artifacts on display at Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum,...

Artifacts on display at Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum, which has grown into a 6,000-square-foot space with eight rooms since its founding in 1994. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Now in its 30th year, the museum has grown into a 6,000-square-foot space with 10 rooms and displays ranging from simple items like scrub boards and 1920s radios and photographs to Ford Model T cars and the first electronic grand piano.

The piano's inventor, St. James resident Wilton Decker, donated the instrument to the museum rather than the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. — which also vied for it.
Joe Piacentino Jr., the museum's treasurer, noted how close the piano was to being shipped off while standing beside it Thursday. 

“It was on the back of a truck ready to be sent to Washington, but one of his family said 'Why do that when we have a museum in Kings Park?' And it ended up here,” added Piacentino Jr., 65, of Kings Park.

In the early 1990s, Ostebo brainstormed with students about how to draw attention to the hamlet because they were concerned about how the state's plan to close the Kings Park Psychiatric Center would affect their community, according to Fling.

In 1994, they came up with the idea of creating the museum, she added.

Artifacts on display at Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum,...

Artifacts on display at Leo P. Ostebo Kings Park Heritage Museum, where the facility's president said volunteers share the late founder's mission of continuing the local history project he started and using it to connect the hamlet's generations. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Looking ahead, Piacentino Jr. said one goal is to digitize the museum's records and photographs and also to eventually create online scavenger hunts featuring museum artifacts to attract visitors.

Museum officials said the challenges they face include limited space and resources, a growing amount of artifacts and a need for more volunteers. They said they also have been working on plans to keep the facility running if current volunteers become unavailable.

Ostebo’s friend Sal Iraci, 70, of Kings Park, the museum’s curator and director, said Ostebo was as passionate about preserving local history as he was about helping students get acceptances into universities and colleges. The museum displays mugs from about 300 schools across the country that students sent Ostebo after getting into college with his help.

“He was a tough cookie, but he got things done and that’s what I liked about him the most. When he was passionate about something, he was focused on getting it done,” said Iraci.

Isabella Cain, 21, a museum trustee who attended the Kings Park intermediate school as a child, said Ostebo was “like a grandfather” to her. Cain, who volunteers and helps organize museum events such as its monthly cultural event series, said Ostebo helped grow her love for history.

“He allowed me to see the inner working of a museum from a very early age,” said Cain, who will pursue a graduate degree in cultural arts studies at University College London starting next year. “And it made sense to me. Why wouldn’t someone want to preserve this? This is our community.”


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