Ditch ties, work hard, have fun
Bayport resident Bob Draffin’s dad, Edward Draffin, was the Suffolk County director of probation and from there, he spread his help around. “As a public servant it exposes you to issues in the community,” Draffin said of his dad. “He was president of the Suffolk County Police Association and numerous boards and was at a meeting almost every night while my mother, Mary, ran the household.”
Seventeen years ago, when the 59.9-acre Bayport Aerodrome off Third Avenue was in danger of being developed, Draffin began following his dad’s course. He sat in living rooms with others and formed the Bayport Civic Association, of which he is still president. The aerodrome was preserved.
His activism in that issue and others led to his Rotary involvement. He was installed as Rotary’s new president on Monday.
“That was my first big championed cause and we succeeded,” Draffin said of the aerodrome fight. It is owned by the Town of Islip and is the only remaining grass runway on Long Island, one of the few in the country. It is also home to the Bayport Aerodrome Society, a living museum that includes 20 hangars with vintage planes, as well as pilots and aviation professionals who are happy to talk about them.
“We also had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008 and received FAA funding,” Draffin said.
Bayport Civic Association vice president Joe Libertelli moved into Bayport 21 years ago. “He made me feel very welcome,” Libertelli remembered of his initial meeting with Draffin. “He was brought up in Bayport and has a genuine love for not only our area, but he wants to do what’s right for the communities surrounding it like Sayville, and he’s the cheerleader for our local businesses and the residents.
“He’s made it clear the civic isn’t about him but what’s right for the community, not a special interest.”
But on to Rotary. “I was first asked to be a guest speaker when they were honoring community service people in 2016,” Draffin said. “I dedicated my talk to its importance.” Draffin noted he was sworn in as a member on St. Patrick’s Day. (Nothing but enthusiastic, he wore a tux and carried a shillelagh when he marched in Bayport-Blue Point Chamber’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade as grand marshal.)
“I also know Rotarians as friends,” he said.
Brendan McCurdy, a classmate who was two years ahead of Draffin at Hamilton College and Rotary president-elect, is one of them.
“I’ve known Bob since 1977,” McCurdy said. “We were in the same dormitory and I noticed this guy was getting the Suffolk County News every week,” he said. “I’m from Oakdale, I went over to him, and the rest is history.”
Any funny anecdotes? Mum’s the word, but McCurdy did add this: “He was always up for adventure.”
Draffin pointed to Rotary’s impact locally; last month members pitched in to clean the memorial stones of war veterans at St. Ann’s Cemetery and donned waders and plastic gloves as Creek Defenders as an example. “We did it at the Mill Pond recently, getting in the muck and pulling up garbage,” he said. “We’ll be officially adopting Bayport Beach as stewards.”
On a macro level, “As an organization globally of 1.2 million members, we championed eradicating polio,” he said.
Draffin is retiring as employee relations director in Suffolk County’s Sheriff’s Office after a 37-year career; his wife Janet, an administrator in Suffolk County social services, will be stepping aside also. Parents of college-age sons, they both will be official retirees on July 13.
Leis, shorts, and flip-flops was the luau theme for the installation dinner at Land’s End, a celebration to the Great South Bay and to yanking off ties on Monday. Palm trees donated by Bayport Flower Houses were raffled off.
The core group works hard, he said, and Draffin wants to get more members involved, especially younger ones, to keep that community spirit going.
Almost on cue during his interview at Land’s End, the Fire Island Empress ferry, with middle school students on board, hooted their exuberance as the vessel passed by. Maybe a bit short on years, but still, “That’s what we could use,” Draffin said.
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