Ever pass by a landmark and wonder how it got there?
The 800 kids who play in the Baymen Soccer Field on Cherry Avenue in West
Sayville every Saturday can thank Chris Bodkin of West Sayville, a former Islip Town councilman and deputy supervisor. There’s also the boulder and plaque honoring World War II nurse Florence Evans in back of Crickets, as well as World War II vet Carl Johnson at the intersection of Johnson and Lakeland avenues, which he initiated. He also located the Sayville Food Pantry to
the Gillette House.
It takes persistence and a sincerity of heart to fight for your community.
Bodkin continuously stayed on projects that honored past residents, softened
the landscape, and made kids and people happy. He was honored at a recent Rotary Club of Sayville meeting, where the stories kept coming.
Not just from him, but from others who recalled projects he completed.
“I used to hear the name Bodkin and would shake with fear,” quipped Sayville
Rotary president Brendan McCurdy. “His dad was my dentist.”
Fran Bodkin was well known in the community, not only as a dentist, but as
an avid jogger who ran three miles a day well into his 70s. (He was also a Rotarian.) Fran and Betty raised their family on Handsome Avenue.
Bodkin, 73, was engaging, self-effacing and humorous as he gave a short version of his life. He worked for Moran Tug Boat Company and was a Fire Island Ferry captain, then opted for a career change to politician, starting as an Islip Town councilman covering Oakdale to Blue Point.
That began the compilation of community additions that just made you say “aah,” when you drove past or walked through Sayville.
“The Sayville area has a large population of Armed Forces veterans and people tend to forget who served,” he said of his affection for veterans. “Florence Evans was the only woman combat fatality who died on the last day of World
War II. Carl Johnson died on the first day of that war in Pearl Harbor. They knew each other.”
Those pretty poplar trees that bloom in the spring on Montauk Highway by the
Stop & Shop shopping center were his initiative with Pam Greene for the tree
planting program. “We planted 800 trees up and down Foster and Handsome avenues and have planted thousands by now from Blue Point to Oakdale,” he added.
The Baymen Soccer Field on Cherry Avenue in West Sayville was what he
considered his biggest accomplishment.
“It was Federal Communications Commission property at the time,” he said.
The government wanted to bid out the property for apartments. Bodkin circumvented that plan and credited then-Islip Town supervisor Frank Jones for helping establish the soccer fields.
“I’d go into his office with my schemes and regularly got thrown out,” Bodkin said to laughter. “But I went back a couple of times with this idea and the third time, he said, ‘Okay, but you won’t get approval from the U.S. government.’ I called then-Sen. Al D’Amato and he assigned a person to work with me. We worked together for two years.”
The National Parks Service owns it now and Islip Town maintains it for
recreational use, he said, adding, “When you drive past Cherry Avenue, there’s 800 kids playing soccer every Saturday.”
His headquarters were based in the Ockers House in Oakdale; sometimes he’d find people looking for help already waiting on the front veranda.
He found a home for the Sayville Food Pantry at the Gillette House and credits
contractor John Cox, who, with a lot of volunteers, broke down a ramshackle
building in the back and created the new addition where nonperishable food can be stocked that’s temperature controlled.
Also, for more than 30 years you’d see Bodkin, then friend Bill Venegas,
planting zinnias on a lone strip on Candee Avenue (Karl Auwaerter of Bayport Flower Houses supplied seasonal blooms), coaxing the seedlings to a riotous, beautiful array. Bodkin, Venegas and Auwaerter were honored last year;
that patch of land is now called Chris Bodkin’s Garden.
“You pulled a lot of strings for the America Legion,” said Pam Raymond.
“Look at it today.”
“Don’t forget, you enabled the installation of Capt. Merrill Mason Island honoring him,” called out Don Hester of the small island off Sayville.
Mike Dawidziak brought up the Touro Law Center near the John P. Cohalan State Court Complex that moved from Huntington to Central Islip; Bodkin
helped facilitate that one.
“He left off a high point,” added Dawidziak. “Back in 2005, Islip Town passed term limits but a supervisor wanted to remove them. Chris opposed the supervisor. It was an act of courage; no one wanted to work with him after that and his party wouldn’t nominate him for re-election, he had to run a primary. No one thought he would prevail. But he did and he won.”