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29th Oyster Festival Excitement Begins

Charlie Dane, the little girl with the big voice, kicked off the Oyster Festival 2012 press conference with her full-throated rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. She will be one of the many performers that keep the festival alive with music. The kickoff took place on Aug. 17, at the flagpole area of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park, with the waterfront as its background.

This is the 29th Oyster Festival, announced Len Rothberg of EGC Group, the event production sponsorship chair. He said, “Next year will be the big “three-oh.” Verizon representative Patrick Lespinasse announced that besides being the title sponsor this year, they will be the title sponsor of Oyster Festival 30. Mr. Lespinasse said the Oyster Festival is proof that when government, business, the civics and private citizens all work together it is awesome.

“They — Verizon —  are great to work for,” said Mr. Rothberg, as well as making his job of finding sponsors easier next year.

Sports For All

This year youth sports are the newest addition to the festival. The fun starts on Sunday, Sept. 23 at East Woods School where the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick (NFL PP&K) will host a regional event. The winners, ages 6 to 15, from that contest and other regional winners will play at the Oyster Festival on Sunday, Oct. 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Don Whearty, NYS chairman of the NFL youth program, said it was created to get youth involved in the NFL experience: the 50-year old program with winners shown on TV at playoff games. “To get to that level you have to start here. The sectionals will take place at the Oyster Festival,” he said. The winners of all team championships will go on to play in the National Finals at an NFL playoff game in January. He said, “It’s going to be a great experience.”

James Werner said, “The Oyster Festival committee was looking for an opportunity to include the field as part of the Oyster Festival, as the field is the centerpiece of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park.” After the official competition, they will open up the Punt, Pass & Kick event to the general public, allowing everyone to participate, he added.

Adam Cohen of Just One Wheel will give another sport a showcase moment at the Oyster Festival kickoff.  He teaches people of all ages the sport of unicycling. His sons Ike, 4, and Ziggie, 5, are unicyclists and demonstrated their skills at the presentation. Ziggie learned at the age of 2; Ike started at 3, said their proud dad.

Adam said “We do the opposite of what the circus does. We show you the seemingly impossible is possible to do, with training. It takes from one to three hours to learn. Most people have that desire to try it, and it is something fun, safe and you can do it.”

Mr. Cohen said he has taught autistic children how to ride a unicycle. He demonstrated with his sons that you can play basketball on a unicycle and while jumping rope too. His focus is to supply entertainment but more importantly, “to instill in your mind that the impossible is possible.”

Largest Family Festival

Len Rothberg set out what will be here at the largest family festival in the northeast. “We will have music, a great oyster eating and shucking contest, you may see a few bloodcurdling rascals (the Pirates of the Coast will be at the festival again), 140 craft vendors in three large tents, and there will be new Oyster Festival merchandise including Oyster Festival prints of Oyster Bay and the sea.”

Jim Werner, co-chair of the Tall Ships portion of the festival along with Jennifer Sappell, said the waterfront area is scheduled to see the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles jump from 13,500 feet onto the Roosevelt School memorial field. “They thought TR Park’s turf field had too many tall light poles to avoid.” He added that the Screaming Eagles descent will be visible from all areas of the festival.

Mr. Werner said they had 15,000 visitors to the tall ship area in 2011. This year the tall ship Peacemaker will be there. She is currently in Montreal and will be heading down to Oyster Bay and after that to Mobile, Alabama for the winter.

The John Jay Harvey fireboat will be here and the committee is currently negotiating to see if they can get the Amistad to come to the Oyster Festival.

Joe Orlich, Coast Guard Flotilla past commander, said the Bollard, a Coast Guard cutter, is coming for the Oyster Festival weekend. There will be a Jayhawk from Woods Hole coming for a search and rescue demonstration by the Western Waterfront Pier on Sunday at a time to be announced. There will be a 25-foot Defender craft, an inflatable on land, on West End Drive.  The Coast Guard Auxiliary will have a booth there giving out boating safety information.

Car Raffle Tickets

Oyster Bay Town Clerk Steven Labriola represented Supervisor John Venditto in his role of buying the first car raffle ticket. He borrowed a $20 bill from NYS Senator Carl Marcellino with a fast transfer of the money from the Senator to the Town Clerk to Oyster Bay Rotary co-President Judith Wasilchuk. This year, said Judith, the winner has a choice of a three-month lease on an Audi or $15,000 in cash. Only 3,000 tickets will be sold.

Mr. Labriola said over 200,000 people come to the Oyster Festival, which is run smoothly. “Our hats go off to the Rotary and all the volunteers who make sure this is a family festival.” The town clerk’s office is also a participant in the festival organization as the necessary permits go through his office. The town appreciates the festival as a way to showcase the town and the park and the Oyster Bay waterfront area, he said.

Mr. Labriola recalled that 27 years ago he worked with the late Tom Reardon and said, “Sometimes they were not sure it would happen,” but now his daughter-in-law Kristen Reardon is continuing their family tradition.  

Ms. Wasilchuk said the Oyster Festival is the main fundraiser for many local groups. A large poster gave a list of where the proceeds from the festival go locally. The list includes most of the not-for-profits in town including: the Lions Club, the Italian-American Citizens Club and the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Soccer Club. The Oyster Bay Charitable Trust channels the Rotary profits into worthy causes including scholarships and programs such as the Rotary third-grade dictionary project; and donations to help people in the Catskills after the devastation of Hurricane Irene as well as other worthy projects.

NYS Senator Carl Marcellino encouraged everyone to come to the Oyster Festival, recalling how the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce decided not to run it and how Rotary, as a not-for-profit service organization, took it over and re-directed it saying, “We encourage you to bring your families to enjoy the food, arts and crafts, antiques and most of all you can enjoy the oysters and clams sold by the nonprofit groups to raise funds.

“The Oyster Festival funds do an awful lot of good things in this community. The money stays in the community.” He said the LIRR will be offering ticket promotions. The senator arranges for a lighted sign to be placed at the crossroads of Route 106 and 107 in Jericho, at festival time, telling people that they can take buses from the LIRR station in Syosset to the festival.

Shari Cope-Dembowski, Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce administrative assistant, was at the meeting gathering information for their website, visitoysterbay.com. She and Mark Fox of Canterbury Ales are the chamber’s festival co-chairs. She said there is still time for vendors to become involved in the festival if they contact them before the end of August. For information or to volunteer, please call 628-1625.

The chamber is in charge of the portion of the festival that takes place along Audrey Avenue in the hamlet — which leads into the carnival in Firemen’s Field and the entrance to the waterfront TR park on Larabee Avenue.   

For more information on the festival check the website theoysterfestival.org, and be sure to save the dates, Oct. 13 and 14 to attend this year’s Oyster Festival.