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Improving The Community For 50 Years

Members of the Oyster Bay and East Norwich Civic Association celebrated 50 years of civic engagement and working to better their communities at the Pine Hollow Country Club on Friday, May 31. Many civic groups come together when a specific issue is raised, and then fade away or become inactive. The East Norwich Civic Association has remained strong and vibrant and has continued to work to better the community.  

As the Civic Association brochure states, “Good communities do not simply exist – they arise with community involvement.  We endeavor to be a proactive organization that resolves concerns before they become greater issues.  We alert residents of plans that may diminish the character of the community, such as downzoning and inappropriate land use.”  Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs and Town of Oyster Bay Receiver of Taxes James J. Stefanich presented the Civic Association with citations in recognition of the 50th anniversary.

The Civic Associations honored Congressman Lester Wolff for his service to his country and to the local community.  As the past executive director of Friends of the Bay, I was asked to introduce Congressman Wolff, who enshrined himself in the hearts of the community by his environmentally sensitive work in establishing the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Congressman Wolff is truly an outstanding individual, and exemplifies community engagement, whether on the local or international level.  

No less a person than President John Kennedy encouraged Wolff to participate in politics, and even before he was a Congressman, Wolff served on numerous trade missions to the Phillipines, Hong Kong and Malaysia. President Lyndon Johnson appointed him US Representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. President Jimmy Carter appointed him as Deputy Chief of Mission, with the rank of Ambassador, to the 32nd General Assembly of the United Nations.  

In his time in Congress, Wolff served in the following roles:  Chairman, Committee on POW/MIA Affairs; Ranking Member, Veterans Affairs Committee; Ranking Member, Committee on Banking and Currency; Chairman, Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control; Chairman of Foreign Policy Planning; Chairman, Asian and Pacific Affairs; Ranking Member Mid-East Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs and Ranking Member of the Science and Aeronautics Committee.

The Oyster Bay and East Norwich communities hold a very special place in Wolff’s heart. President Theodore Roosevelt was a romantic figure to Wolff, so it is fitting that Wolff settled in the area President Roosevelt loved so well. They share the common qualities of loving the places in which they live, and working for the betterment of all communities, whether on the local, national or international level.  

During his tenure in Congress, Wolff went back and forth to China three to four times a as a business and trade envoy, and to discuss human rights. Even after his time as a Congressman ended, he still served as in this capacity, and to this day, travels back and forth to China and Tibet.  Once, when I was at Friends of the Bay I was trying to reach him for a few days without success.  He called me on his return, and stated in a very matter of fact manner that he had been in Mongolia!  

Wolff is a champion for human rights. In addition to his efforts in the Far East, he assisted in the attempt to resolve the religious conflict in Ireland. As part of this initiative he visited the infamous H-Blocks in Long Kesh prison in Ireland during the 1970s to see what he could do to secure better conditions for the political prisoners interned there. To show their gratitude, the prisoners carved him a beautiful Irish harp, and inscribed their names on it. It is a moving and evocative representation of the impact he had not only on the world stage, but to the individual lives he touched.

Wolff has a great deal of personal bravery.  During his career, he received five death threats due to his role as Chairman on Narcotics Abuse and Control and his advocacy for political prisoners in Ireland.  

He has received many awards from many people, but the one he is most proud of is his membership in the Air Force Hall of Fame for his service as a member of the Civil Air Patrol during World War II. Other achievements he is proud of are the establishment of many of the “Great Society” programs during the Johnson administration, including providing federal aid to education, the Clean Air Act, Water Pollution Act, Wilderness Act, Civil Rights Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Congratulations to Wolff, and to the members of the Oyster Bay and East Norwich Civic Associations for the work they have done, and continue to do in our communities.