Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 05 November 2010 00:00
Master of Ceremonies Jack Bernstein declared the day “bully”, as the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider statue was re-dedicated and the new TR triangle park was dedicated in a very Oyster Bay way on Saturday, Oct. 30. The town showmobile had those people most instrumental in making this day come true seated along with elected officials who eased the project along.
Jack Bernstein, Esq. took the podium and introduced himself as the President of the TR Statue Committee that owns the statue. He said the success of the project was due to the work of the late Andy Tini who was the innovator of the entire program and was still alive when 90 percent of the work was done. He was present when the statue of TR was put in place on the Boys & Girls Club of Oyster Bay-East Norwich’s corner on Pine Hollow Road and Berry Hill Road on June 6, 2008. “He is not here to see the rededication of the statue and the dedication of the triangle park, but Andy is watching and still working. He is the Lord’s sunshine supervisor,” Mr. Bernstein said. And, it was a sunny day!
“His two sons, Jim and Tom Tini are here, representing him,” said Mr. Bernstein as he welcomed Tom to the podium.
Tom Tini said, “When scores of others tried for nearly a century to place a stature of TR here, my father would thank you for carrying forward and beyond the original concept. Jim and I convey his congratulations to you.”
Mr. Bernstein said the project was Andy’s baby from conception to completion. It all began in 2003 when Dr. Phyllis Harrington, OBEN Superintendent of Schools, was Rotary President. She asked Andy Tini as Rotary Past District Governor to select a suitable project for Rotary International’s Centennial celebration in 2004. He said Mike Rich would tell the back story of how the statue came here.
Mr. Bernstein said part of having the statue become a reality meant finding a suitable location in Oyster Bay. “The triangle was not under consideration, it was an active business, the Busy Bee, and the site was not available.
“When the statue came here, Roger Bahnik was very generous and for the last five years the Boys & Girls Club has allowed us to put the statue there, until the triangle site became available and is now where it belongs.
“We now have one heck of a great entrance to Oyster Bay.” That comment was followed by a burst of applause.
Mr. Bernstein added, “The Rotary motto is ‘service above self, and that he who serves best profits most.’ I am dedicating this project to Andy Tini.” The original statue committee members were Andy Tini, Dr. John Gable, TRA executive director; Mike Rich, TR history buff; Oyster Bay Historian John Hammond; Joe Reilly, a grandson of a Rough Rider; and Fritz Coudert, a local resident and Rotarian whose grandfather was a personal friend of TR. The TR Statue Fund owns the statue, now located on town property. It was the Town of Oyster Bay that purchased the land from Charles Wang of Cove Neck.
“We can’t thank the town enough including for the removal of the telephone pole,” he said and was greeted with more applause.
The TR Statue Fund members are Mr. Bernstein, president; Mike Rich, vice president; John Hammond, secretary and historian; Roger Bahnik, treasurer (taking over for Rich Cieciuch); and present Oyster Bay Rotary President, Jim Fuccio, Esq.
Mr. Bernstein introduced some of those on the platform: James Werner, immediate past president of Rotary; Chris Galagher, president of the Oyster Bay Rotary Foundation; Norm Parsons, former TRA president and lifetime trustee, who took the place of Dr. John Gable when he passed away; and also Owen Smith, a TRA trustee and Liz (Elizabeth) Roosevelt, who tipped her light blue brimmed hat to the crowd – she is a direct descendant of TR and a trustee of the TRA.
Also on the dais was Mary Ann Reardon representing her husband Tom, who was active in the statue project. Also there was NYS Senator Carl Marcellino who helped solve problems with the DOT; and Dr. Surinder Wadyal who worked on the statue project and was a contributor.
Mr. Bernstein said the triangle contains five trees and a plaque in honor of those who served in “the Great War” which was what it was called before World War II broke out. The most familiar name of the men is Quentin Roosevelt, the son of TR, who died in July 1918. A pilot and an ace, he was with the American Expeditionary Force and flew with Eddie Rickenbacker and Fiorello LaGuardia. When Quentin was shot down over German territory, the Germans gave him a funeral, said Mr. Bernstein.
He said, “In 1918, Nelson Disbrow, the editor of the Oyster Bay Guardian appeared before the town board and asked to establish a memorial for Quentin Roosevelt. He suggested the triangle be dedicated to the memory of Quentin and to put in trees for all five of the lost soldiers.” The project went unfinished.
TR died in January of 1919, after grieving so much at the loss of Quentin. Mr. Bernstein said TR didn’t want the memorial put up: that wish is considered an expression of his grief. Instead the Theodore Roosevelt Association offered the property for the TR Memorial Park and as a result plans for the triangle were put on hold and now, he said, “We are finally doing it.”
He gave a bit of personal and American Legion history saying, “In March 1919, Lieutenant Colonel TR Jr., met in Paris with several other officers to form a veterans organization to celebrate the men in service in the Great War. Lt. Col. TR Jr. convinced the legion it would be a homogeneous group for all the services and in March 1919 there was a convention of 1,000 veterans in Paris. My father was one of the 1,000. Later the American Legion was chartered by the federal government as an official organization.” He added, “I know my father [former Legion Commander Dave Bernstein, known as a vibrant president of the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce] is up there now and father is the Veteran’s Sunshine Superintendent. So I am very proud to be here in this position both as a member of the committee and for my father.”
Supervisor John Venditto introduced Boy Scout Matthew LaRosa who led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. There was a moment of silence for those no longer with us: Dr. John Gable, Fritz Coudert, Andy Tini and Tom Reardon. Joann Criblez sang the Star Spangled Banner.
The Rev. Jeff Prey’s introduction gave opportunity to some humor as the supervisor introduced him several times until Rev. Prey started with, “I don’t think I have any time to speak,” but gave a short and appropriate blessing. He thanked all those who died for the nation, and for those involved in the project that made this “special place and this special day.”
“Life is full of embarrassing moments,” said Mr. Venditto, and he told a story about TR saying that being the governor of this state was very difficult but the Colonel thought it would be worse to be the town supervisor.
Mr. Venditto said memorably, “But even he would be proud of this project which represents that all things are doable when people like you care about something and in turn your elected officials respond in kind.”
Terry Brown, the new Executive Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, thanked Supervisor Venditto and Roger Bahnik for all they have done. He thanked his new Oyster Bay buddies, Norm Parsons and John Hammond and said, “In reality, Proctor’s TR has taken but a small 50 feet or so step. But indeed this is a giant leap for Oyster Bay. In reality this is but a hunk of metal and a pile of rocks, but indeed it is a symbol of the spirit of this town.
“I want to thank all on behalf of the TRA for recognizing TR as an important citizen. Then… now… and forever.
“I’m new to Oyster Bay. Every day as I arrive this statue is a reminder of my job – to uphold the ideals of Theodore Roosevelt for the benefit of the people.”
He added a quote from Tweed Roosevelt on behalf of the entire Roosevelt Family: “May I say how pleased we are that the Proctor statue has ascended to this lofty and very dramatic new setting. I personally applaud the town officials, the local volunteers and the many who donated their services to make this permanent new location happen. It will be a constant reminder to all who see it of the very special nature of this town.
“I know that my great-grandfather would be equally pleased to be once again galloping amongst his favorite people, the good citizens of Oyster Bay – of the United States and of the world.”
Mr. Brown ended saying, “As I leave every day —- and like all of you know - you always have to wait at this light. This light is especially timed so that every driver misses it. So while I am at this triangle, instead of checking the price of gas, if there is a sale on paint, who’s running for office, or what is the latest and greatest news at the Boys & Girls Club – instead I will look up at this statue of Theodore Roosevelt and be reminded that this great man called Oyster Bay – ‘HOME’.”
Architect Joe Reilly was the next speaker. He thanked Oyster Bay Highway Commissioner Richie Betz who was there “Whenever I needed anything.” He also thanked past Parks Commissioner Jack Liebert for his help. Mr. Reilly talked about his conceptual vision for the park that was to add a new design standard to the hamlet’s future projects. That included the use of natural stone curbing; historical type ballards, historic lighting, and the removal of unsightly electric wires overhead; historic paving trails that will lead people around town; and TR Park with a grand pedestrian entrance; as well as preserving the nautical history of this vibrant hamlet.
He thanked people who opened their checkbooks and also to those who provided pro bono work including Frank Alesia who lifted the statue - twice. He said when they were drilling the holes for the base of the statue to slot it in, the epoxy dried too quickly and he had to re-drill the holes. “It took eight guys four hours to re-drill the holes,” he said.
He thanked Andrew Woodstock, for providing two men with jackhammers to get the statue out of its foundation on the Boys & Girls Club corner. He also thanked all the staff at his office for their diligence at doing the project including the PowerPoint presentation that helped them explain the project to the town.
Mr. Venditto then announced the Vice President of the TR Statue Fund, Mike Rich. He said his part of the story began in August 2001 when he opened a letter from Sandy Church, the grandson of Alexander Proctor, sculptor, “Offering the statue to me.” And then, the question was - how do you pay for it, especially after 9/11. Then the Rotary Centennial came up and Andy Tini called Dr. Gable who said to call Mike Rich, “That - he has an offer.” So the statue was possible but it needed money and after it arrived it needed a place to be located. He said, that’s when Fritz Coudert suggested they ask Roger Bahnik for the use of the Boys & Girls Club’s corner for the statue. Roger Bahnik asked Mike to build a mockup of what the statue would look like at the site. Instead Mike called William Uhlinger, captain of the Nassau Suffolk Horsemens Association Rough Rider Troop to come in person on horseback at 8 a.m. the day of the meeting. He came in uniform and “It was fabulous,” said Mike.
Now, said Mr. Rich, “This statue belongs to everyone in this community. I hope everyone enjoys it.”
There was no doubt they will, as there was a large crowd watching the proceedings while standing on the hill, next to the statue
Mr. Venditto said reporters have asked him how much the statue and site cost. His answer, “What price do you put on the town’s spirit and the welfare of the community. The price of this for the future of the community and the nation? We’ve all got our money’s worth today!” And on that note, he dedicated the triangle park and re-dedicated the statue adding, “May God bless the memory of TR and may God bless the greatest nation of all, the United States of America.”
That was when Joann Criblez and the community sang God Bless America.
After that it was all praise. Bernadette Walsh said, “It was well done.” Dulcie Fabbricante said, “It was a very, very nice program.” Dave Fischer called it, “Terrific, wonderful. It’s going to be inspirational to come into town.” “It’s a beautiful day and a wonderful occasion to the spirit of America. And vote Tuesday, and do it early,” said Oyster Bay Cove Mayor Rosemary Bourne.
“It was terrific, great,” said Matt Morgan, a U.S. Navy veteran who joined at the end of the war. “I was 17 and my mother wouldn’t sign the papers. My father said, ‘give me that letter’ because he was a WWI veteran.”
“They did a good job. It really makes this town,” said Linda Morgan. “I never make that red light going out of town,” said Matt.
Jake Jarvis of East Norwich, with a long family history here, was there with his sons Ryan and Jonathan, keeping in touch with history.
To veteran John Ceccarelli, his connection to the Roosevelts was Frances Webb Roosevelt, who was an active presence with the American Legion Quentin Roosevelt Post No. 4, the group that her father-in-law, TR Jr. was instrumental in forming.
“I remember when Frances Roosevelt walked around the town with us. She was invited to the 50th Anniversary of the Post,” he said. She lived at the Old Orchard mansion before she built a home on Cove Neck that included her art studio looking out on Cold Spring Harbor.
Ele Franklin, 85, said the statue was very beautiful, even elegant.
Tom Ross, Sagamore Hill National Historic Site superintendent said, “This is a fabulous day and the statue is beautiful and it is the gateway to visit Sagamore Hill. This is something wonderful. The statue is going to be a key location to take photographs, including with him.”
Theodore Roosevelt Association Executive Director Terry Brown asked, “How did they put the stop lights so that they are all red at the same time?” He added that Ken Burns’ staff is using the TRA offices in the spirit of cooperation with the Oyster Bay Historical Society.” They are looking at material Philip Blocklyn, OBHS executive director is providing for an upcoming film on TR.
Mr. Brown said, “Our vision is to bring people to Oyster Bay and to show what the TRA does which includes the Teddy Bear program; the public speaking contest; the police awards. Our roots are here. We operate on a national level but it all comes back to Oyster Bay.”
There were five more people to mention that day. One was Quentin Roosevelt for whom a tree has been planted. The other four men listed on the original Great War plaque are: Luke Kiloran, Fred H. Cassell, Frank Boday and Nicolas Abbati.
The last photograph of the day was of Joe Reilly and Mike Rich, standing on each side of the TR Statue on top of the hill. They deserve the honor for all the work they have done. Sincere congratulations to all.
And, a postscript, Mike says to be sure to see the statue at night when it looks wonderful.