Seaford's patriots honored with awards


Almost 13 years have passed, but the memory of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, remains in local residents’ hearts.

That was how Seaford native Joseph Zubel described the 2014 Patriot Award Dinner. The Woodbury Country club hosted the 13th annual event on June 30. The award is a scholarship granted to five graduating seniors to commemorate the five Seaford alumni who lost their lives on Sept. 11 — Timmy and Tommy Haskell, John W. Perry, Rob Sliwak and Michael Wittenstein.

Zubel, 28, received the award in 2004, and has presented it at every ceremony since. The 9/11 Seaford High School Memorial Committee, established in 2002, chooses the recipients based on their patriotism and the extent to which they embody the traits of those who were lost. The application process includes viewing a video that explains the award and its history, filling out a questionnaire and, for the finalists, being interviewed by the families of the alumni the award honors.

“The interview process was a little hectic,” said honoree Adam Doniger, 18, of Seaford. “But it was real nice to get to know each family.”

The other recipients shared stories similar to Doniger’s. “You really had to express what you wanted to say in a limited amount of words,” said Katherine Butler, 18, of Seaford. “You had little time to leave a lasting impact.”

The recipients this year included Seaford High School seniors Doniger, Butler, Nicole Cupo, Mackenzie Meyer and Sean McAleese. All said they were humbled to receive the award.

“[The committee] chose people they think exemplified the ones who died,” said Doniger. “To be viewed like that is just amazing.”

In addition to the graduates, a few community members are presented with honorary Patriot Awards. This year’s winners were Patricia Gelling, Cliff Miller and James J. O’Donnell Sr.

Gelling is the assistant principal of the Manor and Harbor schools. Miller, who graduated from Seaford High School in 1973, is an artist whose works are displayed throughout Seaford’s schools. O’Donnell is a volunteer in several Seaford organizations, including the 9/11 Memorial Committee, and is a past president of the Seaford Lions Club.

“The first award was given out in 2002. with no dinner,” said the Seaford School District’s director of athletics, Tom Condon, who organized this year’s dinner. “In 2003 there was a small dinner that steadily [grew] over the years. Now most community organizations are represented.”