Year in Review 2012: 5 Dynamic Faces of the North Fork

We're good at profiling people, too.

A 90-year-old woman who still loves going to work every day at the local hospital. A former teacher who reinvented himself as the owner of one of the most important private boat towing companies in the area. A dynamic painter who settled in Jamesport.

North Fork Patch got into the lives of some pretty cool local people in 2012. Here are five.

Lifelong Greenport resident Thomas Watkins is a fixture at the Greenport Fire Department and Rescue Squad, but many do not realize he was not only the North Fork's first black fire chief but one of the very few black chiefs on Long Island. Watkins, 61, joined the Greenport Fire Department in December 1983.

, March 15

Cutchogue resident Toni DeMeo is 90. But age has not stopped this active woman from going to work every week. Since 1995, DeMeo has served as the chairwoman of volunteer services at Eastern Long Island Hospital — which nowadays relies on 300 volunteers companywide. DeMeo is essentially the human resource manager for volunteers, who work in every department of the hospital — clerical, the gift shop, emergency, etc. She works about four and a half hours a day on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and sometimes Mondays — but never more than four days a week. DeMeo was honored by New York State Sen. Ken LaValle as the senate's "Woman of Distinction" after this article was published on Patch.

In mid-July, the phones at Sea Tow International in Southold were ringing off the hook as an FBI dive team worked to raise a boat that had capsized in Oyster Bay on July 4 in a tragedy that killed three children. Workers from Sea Tow had responded to the scene the night of the accident, helping rescue workers from other agencies as they always do in the face of boating accidents across Long Island and around the world.

And at helm of this world-class towing company is Capt. Joseph Frohnhoefer, a lifelong North Fork resident and lover of all things boating and water sports. Armed with only one boat — a 24-foot Privateer — he founded Sea Tow in 1983 after the Coast Guard stopped responding to non-emergency calls due to budget cuts and the business of sea towing became a private enterprise. Nearly 30 years later, Sea Tow is an international operation with 200,000 members, 52 employees in Southold and around 3,000 employees around the world.

4. Vibrant Paintings From Charles Wildbank Hang at Starbucks, July 20

For years, artist and Long Island native Charles Wildbank practiced the craft of photorealism in his paintings, a technique he studied in the early 1970s at Pratt University. He became famous for his giant sparkling painting of the Cartier diamond and life-like portraits of artists like Luciano Pavarotti. But Wildbank, a 63-year-old now residing in Jamesport, where he also has an art gallery, said that he reached a threshold with straight realism and began to dive into more of an inner world, expressing himself on the canvas with emotional portraits of children, moving seascapes and florals.

Sunny Park has owned Gifts Unlimited, located next to the Hess gas station on Route 25 for seven years, stocking everything from chocolates and candies, cookie trays and stuffed animals, iPhone covers and designer handbags to a selection of handcrafted jewelry she has become known for by locals and tourists. She learned the art of handcrafted jewelry in her native Seoul, Korea, before meeting her husband, Sidney, in New York City 30 years ago, then setting up her first business in Riverhead. Sweets Unlimited was open for 20 years in the Walmart shopping plaza in Riverhead and focused more on chocolates, nuts and candies.

At the Mattituck location, Sunny changed the name of the business to Gifts Unlimited, transitioning from a focus on sweets to jewelry. She has friends who comb local beaches all year to find pieces of beach glass for Sunny to make into necklaces, bracelets and rings, and Sunny herself is always on the lookout for beach glass locally and when she travels.


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