A historic first
Jared Bergen, the first recipient of the Peter Fox Cohalan History Scholarship provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Photo provided by Jo-Art Studios

A historic first

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
5/5/2016


SAYVILLE—A Sayville High School student was recently announced as the winner of a newly created award for his accomplishments and interest in American history. Jared Bergen was named the winner of the first annual Honorable Peter Fox Cohalan Scholarship in American History for Islip Town High School Seniors.

The scholarship – given by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation – will be awarded annually to an Islip Town graduate pursuing an undergraduate degree with a concentrated study in American history and/or American government. The award total is $10,000 per year for four years, amounting to $40,000.

Bergen – the valedictorian of Sayville’s 2016 graduating class – wrote the winning essay, titled “Levittown: The Legacy of Long Island’s Original Suburb.” He has maintained a lifelong interest in history and is seeking to pursue a career in international relations. He is planning on attending the College of William and Mary in the fall. 

“I was super elated and excited when I found out I won,” said Bergen. “I’m very thankful for this opportunity. It’s definitely going to help sustain my college education for the next four years. I also want to thank my guidance counselor and history teachers who encouraged me to submit the application.”

As president of the high school History Club, Bergen and his team competed in the National History Quiz Bowl and attended the national competition. Both he and fellow classmate Emily Sneddon placed in the New York State National History Day Website design category and represented New York State in the National History Day Competition in Washington, D.C., winning first place in 2015. 

“I’ve always loved history,” said Bergen, who also plans to minor in American Studies in college. “It’s been a subject that I’ve put the most into and had the most interest.

“History isn’t just about memorizing facts,” added Bergen. “It’s a way to better understand where society comes from and how we can grow from it and develop a better understanding of our community.”

Sayville High School Principal Ron Hoffer said he is proud of Bergen’s achievement. “He possesses brilliance, kindness, dedication to helping assist others and a passion for history,” he said, adding that he is confident of Bergen’s continued success in the future.

The scholarship is named after the Honorable Peter Fox Cohalan. Cohalan has a rich family history grounded in service to the surrounding community. His family roots, which can be traced back to the American Revolution, include five generations in public life with four generations holding distinguished positions on New York State high courts. A former Islip Town Supervisor (1971-1979) and Suffolk County Executive (1979-1986), Cohalan recently retired from the New York State Supreme Court, where he served for more than 25 years. He has been actively involved in historic preservation for four decades and currently serves as the Suffolk County Historian. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

Cohalan said that he was particularly happy to hear that the first winner of this award hails from Sayville, given his family’s deep ties to the community. He noted the importance of such awards that offer incentives and recognition to members of future generations interested in history.

“We should all be aware of where we came from,” said Cohalan. “I think it’s very important people spread their love of history in society, especially local history. Suffolk County and Islip Town have a plethora of incredible local history, and it’s so important that we get the message out through these awards.”

Cohalan also noted how proud he was to have the award named after him and be in a position to promote the legacy of Gardiner – who died in 2004 at the age of 93.

“[Gardiner] was a wonderful man who knew his history very well, and his family played a major role in American and New York State history,” he said. “This is a great way to carry on his legacy, and I’m honored that the board chose my name for the award.”

Joseph R. Attonito, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, said that the foundation is “delighted” to offer such an opportunity to Islip Town students and offered more details about its aim to bolster the status and reach of local historical societies.

“It is the hope of the foundation that the rich history and heritage of Long Island will be studied, researched, and interpreted with fresh and innovative perspectives,” said Attonito. “As this is a four-year gift, the awardees will be responsible for a yearly service project to a Suffolk County-based historical society. These projects will aim to advance the stewardship of local historical organizations, thus enabling them to become more vital to their respective communities.”

“Jared’s passion for history is reflected in not only his academic achievements; he also embraces local history in his commitment to serving the community,” noted Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Gardiner Foundation.

Details about eligibility, the submission process, and annual renewal requirements will be provided yearly to all Islip Town School District superintendents, high school principals, history, humanities, and social studies department chairs as well as guidance counselors.

Established in 1987, the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation primarily supports the study of New York State history, with an emphasis on Suffolk County. Its mission is inspired by Gardiner’s lifelong passion for New York history. Until his death in 2004, he was the 16th Lord of the Manor of Gardiner’s Island, N.Y. Since 1639, the Gardiner family and their descendants have owned Gardiner’s Island by way of a royal grant from King Charles I of England. The Gardiner family has also had strong ties to Islip Town since the 18th century.