Deck the Hall
Orphan Tree

Courtesy of IAC

Deck the Hall


EAST ISLIP—On Tuesday, Dec. 5, families, friends and dozens of local community groups and service organizations gathered together for the fourth annual Deck the Halls celebration at Brookwood Hall. The Islip Arts Council and the Brookwood Hall Restoration Committee, an organization dedicated to restoring the historic South Shore to its former glory, sponsored the event. 

Attendees purchased a $25 tree to decorate in various designated spots throughout the property. The customized trees helped to raise money for the ongoing Brookwood Hall Restoration Project.

Gary Teich and his son, Matthew, from Lee’s Auto Body & Glass on Main Street, were two of the participants. Teich and the Career Development Program at East Islip High School are currently working together on VETVAN, a transportation service for veterans that Teich hopes to have up and running by Memorial Day.

Other participants included the East Islip Chamber of Commerce and the Bay Shore Lions Club. The Islip High School choir also sang a number of Christmas songs, before turning it over to Mike Cipriano from Fired Up DJ Entertainment.

Islip Town Councilman Steve Flotteron will be taking on his new role as Suffolk County legislator in January, but still hopes to keep this event running every year. Flotteron started the program four years ago as a way to restore Brookwood Hall without using any taxpayer money. He says donations have come in from all over the county. One of the biggest contributors is Anthony Quintal from Brightwaters Farms in Bay Shore. Hundreds of volunteers also gathered last spring to restore the landscape surrounding the landmark’s grounds to a close approximation of its original design.

Brookwood Hall, a Georgian revival house, was built as a residence in 1903. It later served as part of the Orphan Asylum of Brooklyn from 1942-1965. “It’s a good way to relax for the afternoon,” Flotteron said about last Tuesday’s event. “And with all the kids running around, it’s nice to bring everything back to the orphanage years.”

Frank Szemko, a local historian who recently passed away, was a resident of the orphanage in his youth and later served as chairman of the board of the East Islip Historical Society. Flotteron described Szemko as a “gentle giant,” who always got choked up while walking around his former home. “[Szemko] left the orphanage 60 years ago,” Flotteron said, “but he always lived five houses away,” noting that he chose to remain in the area.

The annual Orphan Tree Lighting was also held inside Brookwood Hall on Thursday, Dec. 7. It was there that the newly renamed Frank E. Szemko Historical Exhibition Room was unveiled.

“The Orphan Tree Lighting is, for me, the start of the Christmas season,” said Lynda Moran, executive director of the Islip Arts Council. “Between the lighting of the tree, reenacting those Christmases past, caroling by St. Mary’s Choir, and the East Islip High School chamber orchestra performance in the ballroom, the spirit is instilled in anyone who attended. It was bittersweet without Frank here, but we knew his spirit was here.”