On a chilly October Saturday, over 200 members of former Island Trees Superintendent Richard Neil Segerdahl's extended family gathered on the front lawn of what was formerly known as Island Trees Middle School. Friends, alumni, current students, co-workers, and public officials rededicated the building that day, Oct. 23, as Richard N. Segerdahl Middle School.
Current Superintendent James Parla greeted the crowd, welcoming the various groups that comprised the audience, the Segerdahl family among them. Parla moved the ceremony along to the presentation of colors and flag salute by American Legion Post 1711 and VFW Post 9592. The high school Jazz Choir then performed their first selection of the day, The Star Spangled Banner.
Following a moment of silence for war casualties, Parla began introductions. On stage with Parla were Board of Education President Robert Condela, Board Vice-President Carl Bonsignore, Board Trustees Charles Bambino, Bernadette Bento, Kenneth Fazio, Ronald Tauss, and Peter Ray, and PTA President Pat Bierman. Public officials at the ceremony included Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, Assemblymen Joseph Saladino and Dave McDonough, and Senator Kemp Hannon. Various organization leaders were introduced, and the American Legion and VFW members were individually recognized. Lastly, Parla introduced the members of Richard Segerdahl's immediate family- Kathy; his wife, Lisa; his daughter, and Sarah; his granddaughter.
After the Jazz Choir performed their second song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, a group of speakers reflected upon the life and career of Segerdahl. Robert Condela was first to take the stage.
Condela began his speech by thanking the rededication committee and local veterans who aided in the ceremony's proceedings.
"As one looks about over a career and what a person has accomplished, there are a number of ways to measure success," Condela said. "To me, the best measure is to see if someone has left a lasting, positive impression. Through his actions, and many accomplishments, Richard Segerdahl has had such a positive impact on thousands of people."
Condela listed the various occupations Segerdahl had held during his tenure; mayor, planning commissioner and head of the city council. What Condela said impressed him most about Segerdahl was his dedication to the community, and particularly the children.
"It's fitting that we name a school after Dick, because just as this building has a strong foundation, through Dick's leadership, forethought, and dedication, he has provided Island Trees with a strong foundation to build upon for the future," Condela said
Jon Segerdahl, Richard's brother and principal of the middle school was next to speak. Jon praised his brother's ability to lead, and the effect it had on others.
"As administrators, he led; we followed. He picked up papers; we picked up papers. He demanded excellence from his administrators, his administrators demanded excellence from their teachers, and our teachers demanded excellence from their students." Tearing up, Jon wished their parents could be present, as he said, "I'm sure they would be the most proud parents in the world. Congratulations from your family."
James Parla, who succeeded Segerdahl as Island Trees Superintendent, described the various accomplishments of Segerdahl's service, but added, "the list of accomplishments really doesn't capture the things that he really did for the Island Trees School District and for this community."
Before moving onto dignitary speakers, Parla read from a letter from Councilman Gary Hudes, who could not attend due to a family celebration.
"This was not simply a job to you, but a true commitment of your life and heart, which you gave to the children each and every day," Hudes wrote.
Senator Kemp Hannon gave his interpretation of the event.
"It's not a retirement; he already did that, and it's not a memorial; he still has lots of things to do."
Supervisor Kate Murray recalled an incident that reflected Segerdahl's dedication. During a Memorial Day Parade on Hempstead Turnpike, Councilman Gary Hudes' car stalled. Segerdahl, who was marching with other officials while attending to the children from his schools, helped push the car off to the side of the road in order for the parade to continue. No issue was too small for Segerdahl to tackle, according to Murray.
"I know we're supposed to lead by actions and he did that each and every day," Murray said.
Assemblyman Joseph Saladino, who spent much of his childhood among relatives in Island Trees, said, "you're a shining example of what the best of the best can be when you put your mind to it."
Assemblyman Dave McDonough was the final elected official to speak.
"Your management, and especially your stewardship of this school district should be held as an example to all of the school districts on Long Island," McDonough said
Segerdahl was then invited to the stage to receive a plaque presented by Condela. The plaque had the same inscription as the one displayed later inside the school.
Parla, Condela, Segerdahl, and his family then made their way to the left of the schools entrance, where a black tarp had been covering the wall. The covering, which had almost flown off a few times during that windy fall morning, was finally removed, revealing the school's new name; Richard N. Segerdahl Middle School. The group made their way back to the stage, where Segerdahl finally spoke.
"There are truly no words to express my feelings today," Segerdahl said. "I am overwhelmed by the recognition that is being bestowed upon me."
Segerdahl continued to reminisce about programs instilled during his administration.
"Island Trees is a great school district and one that I am truly proud and truly honored to have my name permanently associated with," Segerdahl said. "Island Trees has, and always will hold a special place in my heart. My sincere thanks to everyone for this overwhelming honor. Thank you."
The dedication ceremony ended with the Jazz Choir performing God Bless America. The celebration continued with a reception in the Richard N. Segerdahl Middle School cafeteria. Later that day, Segerdahl performed the coin toss at the Island Trees High School Homecoming football game. True to his form, they won the coin toss, and the Bulldogs routed their opponents, the Jericho Jayhawks 41-6.