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Keeping West Islip's History Alive

The West Islip Historical Society plays vital role in preserving history

The West Islip Historical Society may have only been founded three years ago but in some ways it has been in the making since 1959 when its current president, Carolyn Agenjo, moved here with her husband to raise their family.

"I always liked history, and I was lucky enough to know the Town Historian, Carl Starache. He was a family friend from Amityville," she said.

That connection sparked an interest that would come full circle when she and other West Islip residents formed the society. It also doesn't hurt that she has been working in the town's public library since the 1970's. Agenjo is a wealth of information, rattling off old town history like she was telling you the names of her children. The Weeks, the Munceys, the Higbies, the Arnolds, the Thompsons and others are just a few that roll off the top of her head as she paints the picture of the community she has called home for 50 years.

The West Islip Historical Society was founded in October 2007 when the West Islip Public Library held an exhibit of the town's memorabilia. Books, newspapers, old maps, scrapbooks and other items from the G. L. Weeks Library of Long Island History (formerly known as the George L. Weeks Memorial Library) and the West Islip Museum, both of which are located in the Community Center on Higbie Lane, were displayed as visitors were encouraged to share their stories and memories of growing up in and or living in the community.

Many people became interested in preserving the history of West Islip from that exhibit, and thus the historical society was founded.

Along with Agenjo, the founding members are Nell Brosnan, Konny Lang, Terry Alleg, Katie Hafele, John Oleksiuk, John Paserb and Gail Gyarmathy. Tom Spain, Donna Gerek, Joy Grimes and Joy Mangiaracina joined the original members soon there after. The current officers are: President, Carolyn Agenjo; Vice-President Gail Gyarmathy; Secretary Joy Mangiaracina and Treasurer Joy Grimes.

One of the projects very close to Agenjo's heart is the Weeks-Muncey Cemetery on Boulevard Avenue. "About eight years ago when I was working in the library, a teenage boy by the name of Dan Andrews came in often and we would discuss local history. He spent a lot of his time photographing old historic things around town and stumbled upon this old, deserted cemetery. He called [then Town of Islip Councilman] Brian Ferrugiari's office to get it cleaned up," she said.

Since then, Agenjo has held Memorial Day services there for the last three years; she had a fence donated and is working with the town's new historian to have a sign put up. "Town Supervisor Phil Nolan has been very supportive. He sees a new sense of urgency to record and research our local history. He appointed Rob Finnegan as the new town historian after years of Islip being without one," she said.

The society is planning to publish a book of pictures and stories from residents and they are creating programs to draw attention to their efforts. They are always looking for donations of any kind, from old photos, stories or any other memorabilia that can help paint an accurate picture of West Islip's history. They are always looking for new members, so anyone who is interested in learning more about them is encouraged to attend their next meeting on Thursday, June 24 at the La Grange Inn from 7 pm-9 pm, which will include a tour of the newly renovated historic building.

For more information on the West Islip Historical Society, visit www.westisliphistoricalsociety.org.

(This is the first in a series about the history of West Islip. The subject of next week's story: The Weeks and Muncey Families.)

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