The Gus Scutari Challenge Coin

Photo of Gus Scutari Challenge Coin by Katheryn Laible

Thank You Gus

I always mention Gus Scutari on Memorial Day as coordinating that parade down Jackson Avenue in Syosset was very important to him. It was also how most of the broader community got to know him. Maybe, though, the 4th of July is an even better time to talk about him.

Here is the story I was blessed to write with Gus. I share it often because I think what Gus had to say was important, that the impact he had on people was incredibly positive, and that his brand of patriotism is among those I most deeply appreciate. I also find that, the more I read those words, which are mostly his, the more I learn.

Gus was friendly, and witty. He knew how to have a good time, and how to make other people feel seen and heard. He felt very strongly about the American Flag, and honoring our Nation’s Veterans. At the same time, his patriotism was very personal. Gus cared about the big systems and decisions, for sure, but what he really emphasized was the importance of the individual; the everyday choices we make as citizens, and the idea that America will only ever be as good as we, its people, will.

Gus wanted folks to give it their best and to think for themselves. He wanted people to be good to each together. Mostly, he wanted us to give it our best to be worthy of so many who give so much, and to let the world know that most of the folks he met in this life seemed to agree. For this, he was deeply thankful.

From an event honoring local champion of veterans Gus Scutari in 2016

Honoring Good Citizenship

I wrote recently about Max becoming an Eagle Scout. One of the things a parent is instructed to do when their child earns this honor is to alert all the localities’ elected officials and other key civic associations, all the way up to the President and whomever else, that someone has basically just earned a degree in good citizenship. Everyone has their own way of responding and you end up with this pile of certificates that I find fascinating.

By far, the most meaningful token came from the local VFW, Post No. 6394, recently named the “Gus Scutari” Post in Syosset: A Gus Scutari Challenge Coin. This coin speaks not only to who Gus was as a person, but to the impact he had on those around him; an impact perhaps most directly illustrated in this very endeavor by our local veterans to imbue Gus’ joyful, earnest civic spirit in others. It’s what Gus did himself, after all, for so many years with whomever caught his eye and returned his friendly smile.

In addition to his nickname, “Mr. Memorial Day,” Gus was also the “Americanism Chairman of Nassau County.” A proud booster of the Scouts, he attended ALL local Eagle Ceremonies. He was known for his entertaining, thoughtful speeches, and for his way of pinning a US flag on the kid’s chest as a badge of good citizenship and a reminder to keep it up.

I don’t think Gus ever left the house without his VFW hat. He was known as a WWII hero, though he’d tell you over and again, he got lucky. When he told the Vietnam Veterans and so many others that their own service was at least as honorable, thank you for doing the best you could figure how, it meant a very great deal. Every Memorial Day, Gus encouraged folks to make the best of things; to be good citizens worthy of the fact that young people give their lives for them. Gus was a great booster for both the VFW and the American Legion in Syosset and beyond. Moreover, he was an incredible ambassador and a proud, responsible member of the United States. If you asked, many who knew of him would tell you that Gus was The Community Spirit of Syosset, if not America herself.

Because it’s up to US

Gus advanced the Patriot Pen and Voice of America Scholarship Programs and would regularly talk to young and old alike about history and current events, honoring people for their service and asking folks to think about things and consider what it is best We the People do.

Why? Because the basic message from Gus is that we have the freedom to make what we will of this Nation, and that, yes, the grand actions of leaders and heroes are important, but it’s how everyday people choose to conduct themselves that makes a difference, and that sometimes it may seem like a crazy thing to do, but doing the right thing seems to work out pretty well most of the time. Even when it doesn’t, it’s still the right thing to do.

It was an honor for Max to receive this coin, and I am blessed that he shares it with me and that together we can offer it to you. May we go on out there, try to stand up straight and make the best of whatever life hands us. May we take it at least as well as we give it, give it our best to be decent and honorable, and remember, whatever happens, to laugh.

May God Bless America.

 

What We Give vs. What We Get: Long Standing Imbalance at Crisis Point – The Time for Action is Now

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The imbalance of what Long Island gives versus what it gets has long been felt. Now, it’s at a crisis point.

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Complete Streets Summit – Let’s Do This!!!

Presser for the 2023 Complete Streets Summit. Photo by Katheryn Laible

Complete Streets Summit

The 2023 Complete Streets Summit recently convened by Vision Long Island was powerful and informative. This is an important annual event that brings local stakeholders together to address the tragic reality that Long Island has the deadliest roads in New York State, and to recognize the incredible potential we have to not only make our streets safer, but to make them healthier and more pleasant for our people, our environment, and our economy.

For the last 25 years, Vision has brought together folks who are passionate about community service; who care about better understanding their context, and who are willing to work together with others to make a positive difference in our built environment. At their events, there are always those who have taken great joy in being involved for years, and people whose faces are alight to be experiencing this group for the first time.

A big challenge Vision has is getting people to be quiet while the program is in progress. This is not due to lack of interest. In fact, the murmur often relates to the content. It happens because the relationships nurtured here are deep and valued. Folks are so happy to see each other, to catch up and to see how best to connect.

Those engaged cover fairly diverse sectors, perspectives, and walks of life. What they tend to share are fundamental values and care for this Island we call home.

Photo of presentation at the Complete Streets Summit. Vision Director of Operations Tawaun Whitty is speaking

The Tragedy is Real

I have always cared passionately about safe, inviting streets that are designed to serve human beings and that respect their broader environment. This year, though, the event hit closer to home.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Benjamin Daggart, a 16-year-old who went to my kids’ school, Benjamin suffered for two weeks before passing away after being struck down on South Oyster Bay Rd. while riding his bicycle to work at 10:45 on a Sunday morning.

He was not the only person I heard of lately who got hit, nor the only one who suffered for weeks before dying.

Surely. we can do better.

Benjamin was not the only person I heard of lately who got hit, nor the only one who suffered for weeks before dying. Surely. we can do better.

It's About Basic Quality of Life

At the event, I ran into Jorge Martinez, a longtime trustee of the Village of Freeport, business owner, and friend of Vision LI, who now serves an organization called The Age Friendly Center of Excellence. You can see a great interview of their leadership team with Vision Long Island here.

“You know,” he said, “being suitable for all ages isn’t just about the elderly, though that’s really important. It’s about our kids and their families, too.”

“Nassau County, in fact, is great in many ways,” he continued, “It hits six of the eight requirements for being considered an age-friendly community. The two it fails at are big ones, though.”

“Let me guess,” I responded, “Walkability/Transportation and Affordable Housing.”

He smiled grimly and nodded.

These are indeed key details.

“Nassau County, in fact, is great in many ways. It hits four of the six requirements for being considered an age-friendly community. The two it fails at are big ones, though”

Walkability/Transportation and Affordable Housing.

People Are Doing Something. Help Them.

I am grateful the folks of Vision persist at working with anyone who will engage to figure out how to solve our biggest challenges as a region, while operating fundamentally at the community level. I’m even more grateful that, each time around, more people seem on hand to listen hard, make connections and report on progress.

Ever human-focused, Vision’s work is incredibly down to Earth. Federal and state funding and other initiative are great, and they are a force at that level, but those regional solutions are really only as good as the local stakeholders who help shape and apply them. Our local elected officials live and raise their families here, care for their parents here, and more often than not work in the private sector here as well. It is these folks who know our communities and who roll up their sleeves and work with local civic groups to make things happen. Here.

We used to be grateful to have a roomful of people who cared. For years now, they have had roomfuls of people who are experienced and have real progress to share.

Stakeholders armed with markers and aerial views of well known streets considering the traffic engineering

Progress is Happening. More is Needed. Opportunities Abound.

Just imagine: Hopping on a bicycle and safely riding to the beach. Imagine not having to drive somewhere to bicycle safely. Imagine being able to get where you need to go without having to get in your car.

It’s possible. For many, often in the most dangerous places of all, it’s a necessity.

There was rich technical data offered by Elissa Kyle of Vision Long Island and Robert Nalewajk of GPI. There were resources available, and models to learn from.

Folks had much to report, including Daniel Flanzig of Flanzig & Flanzig LLC, Rosemary Mascali of US Green Building Council and Carter Strickland of the Trust for Public Land. It was noted that many walking audits have occurred. People from all walks of life came to testify how important safe streets are to them and what they’re prepared to do about it.

Over the last 20 years, about 40 projects have been undertaken. Legislation has been passed and funding has been dedicated, including at the State and Federal levels. There were over 150 stakeholders present at this Complete Streets Summit, including 18 elected leaders. Thoughts on how best to do things continue to evolve, as more and more models are springing up that are local and inspiring.

This is progress, but it is not enough.

Still, it is refreshingly cross-political, multi-perspective and thoughtful.

Dan Burden with Vision Assistant Director Tawaun Whitty

The Return of Johnny Appleseed

This year, we even got a visit from the Johnny Appleseed of Walkability himself, Dan Burden. Dan was one of Vision’s first inspirations and seemed honestly excited about the progress we’ve made in the 20 years since he last worked here seriously. He was impressed by the quality of those gathered. This is good, because making things better requires a great cross-section of stakeholders as isolated successes only go so far when the challenges are systemic and mounting.

We need this. People overwhelmingly want this. Let’s do it already.

Dan is over 80 years old, now, not that you’d know it to look at him. His presentations are based on lots of data, cutting edge engineering, and interesting models. Some of what he explains is counter intuitive in the best of ways. It’s very technical and deeply researched. At core, though, it’s simple.

Dan’s message is grounded in human values. As he was quoted in Newsday, “If we built what we value — we care about kids, we care about ourselves and our elders — then we will start making the right decisions.”

We reflected on those values, and considered the data. We then applied that information to real-world examples and thought about how we might make those places healthier.

In the end, folks stood together and brought it all home.

It was a hopeful day. I am grateful.

Thanks.

Here is the Presser from the Vision Long Island Complete Streets Summit

The run-up in LI Business News

Coverage in Newsday

At core, it’s simple. Dan’s message is grounded in human values. As he was quoted in Newsday, “If we built what we value — we care about kids, we care about ourselves and our  elders — then we will start making the right decisions.”

 

Let’s do this.

Memorial Day Meaning and Events on Long Island

WWII Veteran Gus Scutari leads children in honoring fallen soldiers at the 2015 Syosset Memorial Day Parade

Every Memorial Day, Gus Scutari would invite veterans, Long Island dignitaries and the children up. Learn about the 2022 Syosset parade here in the Syosset Patch.

Here is a guide to resources for honoring Memorial Day 2022 on Long Island.

The last Monday in May, this three-day weekend at the dawn of summer, is set aside to honor the tremendous sacrifice made by soldiers who gave all. It is a time to pause and acknowledge how veterans offer their very souls to our Nation, and to give solemn consideration to the responsibility we have as citizens to ensure they are treated well and that we give it our best to create a nation somehow worthy of such sacrifice.

While the specific focus is those lost to war, it is also important to recognize those left behind. For many, this is a very personal affair. Please do not say “Happy Memorial Day” as many are honoring lost loved ones and reckoning with memories, knowledge and feelings that are incredibly difficult. It is better to offer gratitude for service, and to offer a listening ear and an open heart.

I have been told by several veterans that this does not mean the day should be entirely without joy. The barbecues and the lighter sides of the parades are important moments of community and, yes, even celebrations of life and nation. May we do so with a mind to surround service families in love, light, and gratitude for the blessings they seek to offer so much to preserve.

Veterans in Syosset assemble for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade while a local child prepares to hand out flags to onlookers.
Veterans in Syosset assemble for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade while a local child prepares to hand out flags to onlookers.

Various Guides to Memorial Day and Where They’ll Lead You

Here’s a Guide to Memorial Day Parades from News12 Long Island including Island Park, Airshow Cruises in Freeport, Hempstead, a Riverhead Painting Festival, Bay Shore, Elwood, Farmingdale, Freeport, Little Neck, Long Beach, Malverne, Massapequa Park, Mastic, a Parade and Open House at Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, Merrick, Northport, Painview-Old Bethpage, Sayville, St. James, Smithtown, Southold, and West Islip

This one of parades and events from the LI Press includes the Bethpage Air Show, Hempstead (the oldest parade on LI), The Largest Parade of the Five Towns in Cedarhurst, an Air Show Cruise in Freeport, Little-Neck Douglastown (one of the largest in the nation), Massapequa, Wantagh, Port Washington, the Parade and Open House at Raynham Hall, Levittown, an event of music, food, and fun at Harbes Family Farm in Mattituck, Babylon, Southold, and Lindenhurst.

From Greater Long Island we learn about parades in Bay Shore, Babylon, Patchogue, Stony Brook, Fire Island, Huntington, Rockville Centre, Center Moriches, Farmingdale, and Ronkonkoma.

Festive marchers with red white and blue balloons at the 2018 Syosset Memorial Day Parade
Festive marchers with red white and blue balloons at the 2018 Syosset Memorial Day Parade

A Bit of History and More Current Stories on Honoring the Day

Here is the encyclopedic definition of Memorial Day from Britannica.

You can learn more on the History website.

Here is a meaningful piece in the LI Advance offered by Dave Rogers in 2021. He was a tremendous asset to veterans, the arts, and local business in Patchogue for many years. Thanks to social media, he continues to serve veterans everywhere from his new home.

Here is a piece on a call for a county-wide moment of silence by Long Island leaders featured on Texas Public Radio.

This story from News12 LI is about Ron Errickson Jr, who be spending this weekend cleaning up Tinton Falls, a cemetary in New Jersey of African American soldiers who weren’t permitted to be buried with white ones.

Here, the National Park Service looks back over 150 years of Memorial Day traditions springing up across the nation. It also offers links to specific major memorial sites in its care, including The Korean War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, National Mall and Memorial Parks, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, World War II Memorial.

In another piece from History, did you know that one of the earliest Memorial Day events in the USA was held by freed slaves?

This feature in Almanac offers some more history including why the Poppy is important, the poem “On Flanders Field,” and a bit about the flag and distinguishing holidays honoring those who serve in the military. There are also recipes and the Memorial Day calendar for the next several years.

Finally, here is my own piece honoring Costantino “Gus” Scutari. Gus was a World War II Veteran who long served as a champion for good citizenship and thoughtful Americanism, and who dedicated his later life to the Syosset Memorial Day Parade. He passed at the age of 99 in April of 2020. He is now a namesake of Underhill Blvd, where he long held the ceremonies following the parade, and the Syosset VFW, where he would invite everyone for hot dogs and refreshments after.

It is fitting to hear that in honor of his memory and an enduring spirit that is likely leading it anyway, there will be no Grand Marshal of this parade.

Learn about the Syosset parade on Syosset Patch.

Veterans in Syosset assemble for the 2018 Memorial Day Parade
Veterans in Syosset commence the 2018 Memorial Day Parade

When the Waters Rose, LI Communities Soared Above: A Friend of Freeport Remembers Sandy

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While Superstorm Sandy was awesome in its power to wreak havoc, especially on our South Shore, it was the incredible power of our communities that most deeply impressed us.

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Nikola Tesla: The Man, The Myth, The Legacy

We are grateful the rain held off as we traipsed about the site of Nikola Tesla’s last and only surviving laboratory, “Wardenclyffe.” There, board member Neil Baggett talked about the great scientist and his time on Long Island, and plans to advance his legacy. While nothing can replace an in-person tour – we highly recommend taking one if you can! — here is a bit of what we learned:

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