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Updated: 1/14/2010 - 4:18 AM



PEOPLE OF THE YEAR 2009
Community Development Agency director Chris Kempner is named News-Review Person of the Year.
  0 comments below

RANDEE DADDONA FILE PHOTO

Chris Kempner
Call her the $13 million woman.

And if everything goes right this year, the Riverhead News-Review Person of the Year for 2009 could soon be the $100 million-plus woman.

Those numbers reflect the amount of grant money Riverhead Town Community Development Agency director Chris Kempner has had a hand in bringing to the town, and the amount she's still hoping to get.

Ms. Kempner has held her position as CDA director only since January 2008, when she replaced longtime director Andrea Lohneiss, who left to take a job with the state. Ms. Kempner learned quickly.

In the past year, she has helped secure grants of $5.45 million for the restoration of the Calverton rail spur; $3.1 million for a bike and pedestrian path and road resurfacing project stretching from Calverton to Laurel; $2.4 million to assist in the development of Atlantis Marine

World's proposed hotel adjacent to the downtown aquarium; $2 million in county money to help make rents affordable in the Summerwind apartment project in downtown Riverhead; and $200,000 million for other downtown projects, such as the restaurant and duplex apartment complex under way at the corner of Main Street and Peconic Avenue.

She's also applying for two federal grants of more than $55 million each, one to set up a demonstration project on the use of Mag-Lev (magnetic levitation) trains in Calverton and the other to createparking garages and a shuttle system in downtown Riverhead. "What I like about her is that she includes all kinds of stakeholders in downtown in the decision-making process," said Nancy Swett of Jamesport, editor and publisher of the "I Love Riverhead" Web site.

"Her downtown roundtable, which she held last year, was very helpful in getting people to work together. And all the grant money is great, too."

"As a result of her obtaining these grants, some really important changes will be occurring downtown," said former Supervisor Phil Cardinale. Naming her Person of the Year, he said, "is an excellent choice."

Mr. Cardinale said that when Ms. Lohneiss left, "it was sudden, and we scrambled to find the right replacement and almost moved in the direction of making the position a political, non-civil-service appointment, which I think would have been the wrong thing to do."

As it turned out, Ms. Kempner, who had been working as an assistant to Ms. Lohneiss, is an attorney and had been a community development director for five years in Hawaii. "She really has the kind of energy and creativity, coupled with sophistication and diligence in preparing these grant applications so that they get a second look," Mr. Cardinale

said. In addition to obtaining grant money, Ms. Kempner has been instrumental in preparing studies, including the downtown bulk study, which will determine how to lay out five-story apartment buildings downtown without making the street look like a canyon, and the downtown historic district study, Mr. Cardinale said. Ms. Kempner is also an

elected trustee in the Village of Greenport, where she lives.

TIM GANNON

tgannon@timesreview.com

EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR: LAURA GRABLE

“She's just one of those people who genuinely cares about the human soul.”

That is how faculty member Theresa Curry describes longtime Riverhead Spanish teacher and teacher-mentor Laura Grable.

Is there no greater attribute?

Ms. Grable, who teaches ninth- and 10th-graders at the high school, is described not only as a “magician” with children, but someone who helps students, parents and teachers alike.

“I was a substitute teacher and she welcomed me into her arms when I basically knew nobody,” said Ms. Curry, a math teacher of 18 years. “She's just one of those people who would extend the olive branch to you and help you in any way.

“And she's one of those teachers students always go back to visit, even after they graduate, to say hello. Because you never forget her.”

For guiding young people in learning a new language and culture while improving their overall school experience, and for making the teachers around her better, Laura Grable is the News-Review's choice for Educator of the Year.  

“She touches everyone, everyone,” said teacher's assistant Dorothy Dillon, who has worked for 30 years in the middle school. “She's there for everyone no matter what the reason may be. And there's always kids who come back and remember her, for her kindness.”

Ms. Grable, a Cuban immigrant and Wading River resident who began teaching in Riverhead in 1989, is not only a dedicated teacher and mentor, but a devoted mother and grandmother, according to her husband, Dan.

Mr. Grable said his wife of 36 years “is a zillion wonderful things.”

“Actually, right now she's cooking dinner for the people who took care of her mother in the nursing home, and her mother died a year ago,” he said. “So that's the kind of person she is. She's very dedicated to people.”

Aside from her work in the schools, she volunteers in her church and immigrant communities, he added.

“She's also a very humble person who probably has no clue about the impact she has made over the years,” added teacher's union president Barbara Barosa. “She really has the belief that everyone is a good person and that they really mean well and she can find all those good things to build on.”

Ms. Grable has a somewhat unique challenge in the classroom, in having to teach many students a completely new topic, Ms. Barosa noted.

“But she's funny and engaging and the kids feel safe with her,” she said. “She allows them the ability to make mistakes in her class and answer questions without fear that someone was going to make fun. She'll have them speaking Spanish when they never thought they could. They absolutely love her.”

MICHAEL WHITE

mwhite@timesreview.com

CIVIC PERSON OF THE YEAR: TOM GAHAN

Tom Gahan of Riverhead isn't a rock star in the literal sense. But to many, the master promoter is top-of-the-charts, having organized two highly attended local concerts last year to raise thousands of dollars for the Maureen's Haven winter homeless shelter.

Mr. Gahan also led the charge to put together free health care screenings open to anyone on the East End at Mattituck Presbyterian Church, the next of which will be held Feb. 13. And he spearheaded last year's petition to the state to have a handicapped-accessible crosswalk installed this spring on Main Road in Mattituck.

For consistently making his altruistic mark across the North Fork, the News-Review names Mr. Gahan 2009's Civic Person of the Year.

“If he sees a need, he will find out how to fill that need,” said Caren Heacock, pastoral care assistant at Mattituck Presbyterian and a fellow volunteer at Maureen's Haven. “Tom just seems to make things happen.”

Mr. Gahan, 54, is a native of Dix Hills but has lived in Riverhead for over two decades. He is an active member of Mattituck Presbyterian Church and has a “strong belief in God,” said his wife, Darla.

“He believes that to help others is something that is expected of us,” she said. “And he likes to feed people. He makes it fun for people to volunteer. It's amazing the way he can put things together. I wouldn't even know where to start.”

Vince DeMasi, also of Riverhead, said Mr. Gahan seemed to have gotten “everyone in town” to attend the “Rockin' for the Homeless” fundraiser last January at Riverhead's Polish Hall.

“He put together a great bill and sold the place out,” said Mr. DeMasi, the guitarist for U2 tribute band U2 Nation and local cover band The Mulligans.

Mr. DeMasi also played in U2 Nation for “Shamrockin' for the Homeless,” another successful Gahan-led fundraiser held last March at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall.

“He seems to really have found something with Maureen's Haven and organizing ‘Rockin' for the Homeless.' He's got a new spring in his step.”

Mr. Gahan has already been heavily plugging “Rockin' for the Homeless II,” slated to take place again at Polish Hall on Jan. 30. Alongside his continuing fundraising efforts, Ms. Gahan said her husband — a freelance writer by day — is writing a book about a boy and his mother moving from New York City to an eastern seaside town.

“It's really been on his mind the last few years,” she said. “Since he had a heart attack four years ago, he's been working part-time. He set a limit on the amount he writes per day. So he's been taking the chance to do some other things.”

Ms. Gahan said those good things will continue, mainly because her husband has always lived according to one of his favorite quotes from Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

ERIN SCHULTZ

eschultz@timesreview.com

PEOPLE OF THE YEAR CONTINUED HERE



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