Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00
Six local community leaders have joined together as the Friends of Mel Warren to help Mel, a longtime active community member, get a handicap access van and a motorized wheelchair.
Mel was born in Oyster Bay in 1928, and has lived in East Norwich for the past 60 years. Although he contracted polio on Labor Day in 1958, he has never slowed down or stopped contributing to his community. He is a longtime board member of the East Norwich Civic Association and has been active supervising the Arts & Crafts portion of the
Oyster Festival [now in its 30th year] almost since its inception. A new van that is wheelchair accessible will help him keep up with his active life.
Mel uses a manual, hand-driven wheelchair and drives an older car that has been equipped with hand controls. With ageing, he is having difficulty getting in and out of his car and maneuvering his wheelchair.
Because Mel has given so much to his family and community, his friends have decided to raise funds for an electric wheelchair and a custom van to facilitate his continued mobility and productivity. They are urgently appealing for contributions as an expression of gratitude and admiration for Mel’s history of selfless hard work and community service.
Readers can join in this worthy endeavor by mailing all checks to the East Norwich Civic Association, PO Box 126, East Norwich 11732 Attention: Liane Guenther, treasurer. Please write ‘Friends of Mel Warren’ in the memo area of your check. For any questions, please call Matthew Meng at 516 606-8053.
The Friends of Mel Warren committee consists of Matthew Meng, president, East Norwich Civic Association; Nick DeSantis, North Shore Rotary/VFW Post 8033 member/Italian-
American Citizens Club/American Legion member; Beverly Zembko, Oyster Festival Food Court Coordinator/OB Rotary past co-president; Judy Wasilchuk, OB Rotary past co-president/Oyster Festival Committee m;ember; and Oyster Bay Rotarians Paul Rosen and Kristin Reardon, Oyster Festival co-chairpersons.
At the East Norwich Civic Association meeting on July 25, Matt Meng explained that the Veterans Administration will give Mel $22,000 to modify the van; the community only needs to raise an additional $38,000. Once the committee has exhausted all resources, his son will try to get a matching grant from his employer. Meng said $8,745 has already been raised; the Oyster Festival committee donated $5,000 and are optimistic about reaching the final number saying, “Checks have been coming in from $5 to $200.”
Many notes with personal messages came with along with the checks. A donation and a note came from Ellen and Nathan Jacobs, prticipants in the crafts fair Bill and Carol
Demarest who are involved in a Suffolk County Craft Fair wrote about appreciating Mel’s work. They purchased a Winnie-the-Pooh clock from him for a young relative that has survived a series of decorating trends. It still fits in with the décor because of its artistry, they wrote.
The group, Friends of Mel Warren, have sent letters out to people explaining why they are helping raise the funds. They said in the letter:
“We are the ‘Friends of Mel Warren,’ longtime devoted community member, who has resided in East Norwich for over 60 years. Born in Oyster Bay in 1928, Mel graduated from
Oyster Bay High School in 1945. He was a lifeguard at Stehli’s Beach and also worked at the soda counter in Snouder’s Corner Drug Store. In 1946, he enlisted in the Air Force and became a corporal. He participated in the Berlin Airlift, getting food and coal to the citizens there by flying over 130 missions in a C54 airplane. Aircraft mechanic was added to his list of achievements. After his honorable discharge, he worked for Ford Motors in Hempstead.
"Mel met his wife Renee at the Mineola Skating Rink. They competed in dance competitions, where they took a second place in NYS and a third place in Alexandria, VA. They married in 1951 and bought a home in Norwich Green. They had three sons, Kenny, Gary (who tragically passed away in 1959) and Ronnie.
"Misfortunately, Mel contracted polio in 1958. He spent three weeks in the contagion ward at Nassau County Medical Center and then was transferred to West Haverstraw, NY where he convalesced for 10 months. Wheelchair-bound, he returned to work as a draftsman: the job that his company held for him during his long convalescence. Confined to his wheelchair, Mel could no longer climb up on the high stool as his job required. Instead of giving up, Mel opted to re-train and became a purchasing agent until retirement.
"Some 15 years ago, he started doing quality craft shows, earning him fame as a leather craftsman. He was known for making custom saddles. Acting on his desire to give back to the community, Mel volunteered to set up the arts and crafts section of the Oyster Festival, a job which he continues to the present. He is an integral member of the
Oyster Festival Committee, where he utilizes his formidable skills as a draftsman and designs the entire Oyster Festival layout, including the food court for over 25 community non-profit organizations, the sponsor areas, and the arts and crafts tents. He is of the corresponding secretary of the East Norwich Civic Association."
It was Mel who worked with the Town of Oyster Bay as they carved out a new area for the festival layout after the multi-sports field took up their original food court. His work with the town, on behalf of the festival, has resulted in a new conformation for the layout of the food court, a great improvement.
The next meeting of the ENCA is on the Wednesday of the fourth week of August at the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich starting at 7:45 p.m. New members are welcome as are residents with any community concerns. For more information call 516-606-8053.