Written by Patricia Servidio Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00
The Mill Neck Family Organizations, who operate a facility at 501 South Broadway in Hicksville to assist deaf adults in communicating, hosted its 50th annual Apple Festival at Mill Neck School for the Deaf on Saturday, Oct. 8 and Sunday, Oct. 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Throughout the two unseasonably warm fall days, vendors from all over Long Island, including Karl Ehmer meats and cheese, offered jellies, jams, honeys, baked goods to patrons in attendance. Hundreds of supporters were already at the festival at 10:45 a.m. and ranged from infants in strollers to elderly in wheelchairs, and everybody else in between.
Noted guests were present, such as Doug Geed from News 12 LI and Miss Long Island 2012, Jessica Pinckney. Pinckney loaned a hand for volunteers in the Country Store tent, which served fine dried sausages, loaves of freshly baked breads and cookies and the seasonal favorite: apple cake. The apple cake, according to Pinckney and her fellow volunteer, was all but gone in about 20 minutes.
In addition to the apple cake, a booth selling apple pie, apple crumb pie, coconut custard pie and pumpkin pie was on site; pies much larger than your average supermarket variety boasted thick fillings, crumbly crust and an aftertaste reminiscent of your grandmother’s favorite autumn recipe.
Crunchy, spicy pickles from The Pickle People were located directly at the entrance of the fair, with aromas of garlic and brine greeting attendants at the gate. A small table with many volunteers was also selling apple cider by the pint and quart. Thick and golden goodness mixed with scents of spice and sweet apple tickling nostrils of those who partook in imbibing (a non-alcoholic beverage, of course).
Long Island farmers were present with fresh produce, with seasonal delights as corn, potatoes, carrots, beets and assorted squash. Apple of the Year was the Honeygold, a crisp and juicy fruit with a thin flesh and wonderful crunch.
Bags of apples were $6, but the Honeygold was $10 a bag, and came with a commemorative reusable tote to show Long Islanders, who came out in droves, that they, too, were participating in “going green.”
“Broccoli Rob” appeared with his puppet vegetable pals in the Town of Oyster Bay stage area. A 50/50 raffle booth was set up, offering chances for $10 a ticket. Last year’s 50/50 brought the big winner approximately $10,000. The 2009 raffle winner brought home almost $15,000.
Mill Neck Family of Organizations director, Dr. Mark Prowatzke, was on the scene, and sold tickets for food, beverages and apples. One particularly busy booth served seasonal Pumpkin Spice iced coffee.
Dr. Prowatzke graciously offered a few minutes of his time to explain a few details about the Mill Neck School. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this fall, it has been continuously running since 1951 to serve the deaf. Certified programs are being run; new programs are developed constantly at the school. Mill Neck School for the Deaf services clients from newborn to high school.
A preschool integrated program is also available for young children, which includes a group of classmates who are able to hear. This aids in the development of lip reading and interacting with those who are not deaf. There are special education programs for 3 and 4 year olds with special needs or communication challenges that will run until the child enters kindergarten. Hundreds of volunteers were present, staffing every booth so that patrons would not have the inconvenience of waiting on very long lines. T-shirts and caps were available for purchase; volunteers wore the identical shirts and caps with great pride. Earlier in the week on Saturday, Oct.1, a breakfast was organized for these very special people, who took the time from their own lives to assist in bettering the lives of others. ecognized for service of 20, 30 and even 40 years.
As Dr. Prowatzke noted, this marks the 20th anniversary of his service to the school. His 4-year-old granddaughter eagerly quipped, “Pa is the boss of the Apple Festival!” Her exuberance was apparent in her grandfather’s eyes as he proudly spoke of her, and it was further ignited as he spoke glowing words about all of those who serve as counselors, staff and volunteers for the school.
The history of the Mill Neck School is of particular interest. Robert Leftwich Dodge and his wife, the heiress Lillian Sefton Dodge were owners of the estate. Mill Neck Manor, or Sefton Manor as it was known at that time, is a majestic Tudor revival mansion that boasts over 34 family rooms, 16 bathrooms, many guest and service rooms. Built in 1923 by the architectures Clinton & Russel, Wells, Holton & George, the mansion cost approximately $2 million to build. The doorway alone, with its unique hardware, is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old. Each window alone cost over $10,000. Craftsmen from as far away as Italy and Germany helped to build the manse; the first floor alone took two years to build.
In 1949, a group of Lutheran pastors, known as The Lutheran Friends of the Deaf, had the realization that a school for the deaf should be located on Long Island; the only other school at that time was located in Detroit. Because of uncertainty as to where they would house such a facility on Long Island, these pastors “stepped out in faith”, as Dr. Prowatzke mentioned, and the property presented itself quite quickly. The transaction went smoothly between the Lutheran pastors and the family who owned the estate, which had a price tag of $216,000. Because they did not have enough funding to purchase the school, the pastors had to have others cosign on their loans. The 86-acre property has been immaculately maintained since the purchase, and in 1951, the doors were opened for classes to begin. The pastors’ dream was realized, and the birth of a school to assist those who live in silence amazingly occurred.
United Apple of the Hudson Valley donated the apples in a cooperative effort. Any apples that are not purchased by 5 p.m. on Sunday are delivered back to the co-operative, and these apples are recycled into various beverages and baked goods.
All of the Long Island produce came from local LI farmers and some of it was donated from the East End Farmer’s bureau. Produce that was not purchased by 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9 was donated to Long Island Harvest, as leftovers are never wasted at the school. To know that fresh produce will be donated to those in need and not thrown away is the ultimate charity, as Mill Neck proves that paying it forward is still alive and well on Long Island.
All in all, the Mill Neck Family of Organizations – along with its humbly fearless leader Dr. Mark Prowatzke – is an organization that does not just consider students and their families, but the community as well. It was a day incredibly well spent by many accounts.