HISTORICAL CORNER

East Islip Historical Society

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Each week, reporter and history-lover Mariana Dominguez visits a historical location on the South Shore. This week she met with Ray Lembo, the chairman/curator of the East Islip Historical Society. 

This week, I was delighted to meet with Ray Lembo, the chairman and curator of the East Islip Historical Society. Lembo, who moved with his family to East Islip from Brooklyn when he was 5, has been involved with the society almost since its inception in 1992. I learned that the East Islip Historical Society was founded by Pat Smith, the same man who founded the Ronkonkoma Historical Society.

“He put an ad in the paper for like-minded historical people,” Lembo noted of the organization’s founder.

At first, the organization met at Smith’s house, but then moved to the Joyce Fitzpatrick Senior Center on Irish Lane, right up until the onset of COVID.

“From the beginning, we were a different organization than a lot of historical societies,” Lembo said. “A lot of historical societies are very formal… It’s more like a history social club.”

Lembo said that the relaxed nature of the club is what helped them attract 30 to 50 people at every meeting. The organization meets on the first Wednesday of every month and consistently features guest speakers who lecture to members.

However, like so many local organizations, the pandemic was not kind to the historical society.

“COVID killed us,” Lembo said. “We couldn’t do our two biggest fundraisers [last year] and we were dying on the vine, but we just got a grant from Tom Cilmi for this year.”

The two biggest fundraisers for the organization are their holiday calendar sale and their Father’s Day breakfast. They have been able to sell their calendars this year, but the Father’s Day breakfast was canceled.

Since its inception, the East Islip Historical Society has worked to save many local historical icons. One of the most prominent places they saved was the lean-to at the Great River Long Island Rail Road station.

“They used to be everywhere,” Lembo said. “Now, this is the only one that is still performing its original function. One in Bellmore is used as a storage shed and there’s another one somewhere else that’s not used at all.”

Lembo said one of the society’s members had heard the lean-to was going to be demolished and contacted the railroad, who agreed to move it to the south side of the tracks. The lean-to is currently there but is not parallel with the tracks; instead, it is perpendicular to the tracks.

Another project the historical society worked on was repurposing Brookwood Hall with the Islip Arts Council. The society redid the old breakfast room in the building and converted it into a history exhibition room.

The highlight of my meeting with Lembo was a tour of the society’s rooms and displays in the basement of the East Islip Library. Lembo noted that the society probably stores about 80 percent of their artifacts at the library. It was amazing to look at the photos of the East Islip of yesteryear and the hundreds of items the society has amassed.

More information about the East Islip Historical Society can be found on the organization’s website, eastislip.org.

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