If you don’t know the name Ronald Dominick Winchester, the time is long overdue that you do.
The public corruption conviction of former state Sen. Dean Skelos in December highlighted the absurdity of a sports complex named after him in Rockville Centre, the same village Winchester called home. Appreciation of the achievements of sitting politicians has its place, but our parks and public spaces should not be part of that recognition.
It shouldn’t have taken a public shaming for us to see this was the wrong gesture right from the start. If our elected officials aren’t humble enough to concede the undeserved recognition, we need to remind them.
On Wednesday — the day before the former Republican majority leader was sentenced to 5 years in prison after his conviction on bribery, extortion and conspiracy charges — village officials removed Skelos’ name from the Dean G. Skelos Sports Complex.
Let’s not allow this opportunity to recognize a real hometown hero slip away, as in the past. Let’s rename the sports complex for Winchester. On Sept. 3, 2004, eight days into his second tour in Anbar Province in Iraq, Winchester and three other Marines were killed by a roadside bomb.
I never met him, but his quarter-century life story speaks to me all the same. It is a story of commitment, dedication, selflessness and courage.
“You get a choice to sit on the bench or play the game,” Winchester told a family friend in 2003 about military service. “I don’t want to sit on the bench.”
Winchester grew up in Rockville Centre with his parents and younger sister, Kristine. He attended Chaminade High School in Mineola (Class of 1997) and then went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Shortly after graduation, his family, his community and his country would bear witness once again to the need we have for those who put the lives of others ahead of their own.
Although his resolve to serve predated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — which took the lives of 48 fellow Rockville Centre residents — his commitment would be tested as he went to fight and serve in the Middle East.
On the 11th anniversary of his death in the fall, his mother, Marianna Winchester, expressed her grief to friends and family in an online remembrance: “As usual I had such pain in my heart all day missing you so much. So many told me they would do anything to have you back with us. You are loved and missed by so many. But most of all by me. A mother loves her children beyond what could be put into words.”
No public park should ever be named after a living politician at taxpayer expense so long as our lives are graced, even briefly, with citizens like Winchester. Rockville Centre helped nurture the man he became, and it should now recognize that it, too, benefited from his life and service.
James Coll, an adjunct professor of American and constitutional history at Hofstra University, is the founder of ChangeNYS.org.