Town Honors Nine Extraordinary Women at Annual Pathfinder Awards

Supervisor Kate Murray and members of the Hempstead Town Board honored nine women who live or work in the Town of Hempstead for their outstanding contributions to the community at the town’s annual Pathfinder Awards ceremony, which celebrates the victories and profound contributions of women in a variety of endeavors.

“As the first woman to be elected Supervisor in Hempstead’s 371-year history, I take unique pride in this event,” noted Supervisor Murray. “Each year we receive an incredible compilation of nominations of truly deserving women. I am proud to be Supervisor of a Town with so many accomplished and inspiring ladies.”

Garden City resident and business entrepreneur Liza Huber delivered the event’s keynote speech. Liza, a working mother and award-winning author, developed her passion for homemade, healthy baby food for her children into an extremely successful company that has gained national recognition. Sage Spoonfuls is a system that gives parents all the tools they need to create fresh, healthy and delicious food for their babies and children. The product is sold in multiple national chains. Her business has been featured on Good Morning America, Good Day LA, The Daily News, Parenting Magazine and more.

One of the annual award categories is Town of Hempstead Employee. This year, that award has been renamed the Hon. Angie Cullin Town of Hempstead Employee Award. This is in honor of one of the town’s trailblazers, Councilwoman Angie Cullin, who retired from government service this year, after serving for more than 25 years. Angie was Hempstead Town’s first Councilwoman and first female Receiver of Taxes.

“Angie paved the way for many of my colleagues on town board, including myself,” said Supervisor Murray. “It is only appropriate that her name be forever linked with this ceremony.”

The winners of this prestigious award are as follows:

Arts & Entertainment: Everyone is familiar with the show “American Idol” and the musical stars who are born on the show. Ebonique Milton of Roosevelt is such a star, having won a singing contest in 2012 at Disney World in Florida which gave her a dream ticket to audition for American Idol. Ebonique has yet to audition for the show because of her career and family commitments, however, she is indeed Hempstead Town’s musical star. As the Director of Music and the Musical Coordinator of Bethel AME Church in Freeport, Ebonique shares her love of music with five choirs including, Youth Choir, Male Chorus, Outreach Chorus, Senior Choir and Praise Team Ensemble. During the summer, Ebonique turns up the heat on the Nautical Mile in Freeport at its Summer Concert Series and electrifies the stage by singing a variety of music including Gospel, Motown and R&B. She’s also a familiar face at Hempstead Town Hall lending her soulful voice to many ceremonies throughout the year. Ebonique is a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner at South Nassau Communities Hospital where she provides the utmost care to patients with heart conditions and sings their praise for speedy recovery. She is also a mother to 3 beautiful children, a set of twins age 11 and a 7 year old.

BusinessCinderella is proof that a new pair of shoes can change your life, and Dr. Mary Carlson of East Meadow is bringing that fairytale to life for local residents every day. As a podiatrist, Dr. Carlson knows how the wrong pair or no pair of shoes can negatively impact a person’s life and that there are many who cannot afford the right pair of shoes. In 2010, Dr. Carlson began a non-profit organization known as Shoes for All. What started as a small shoe drive, has become a phenomenon which has provided needed footwear to nearly 30,000 men, women and children. She works with numerous schools, hospitals, volunteer organizations and corporations to collect the shoes. She distributes the shoes through Harvest for the World, the Veterans Stand Down in Hempstead, The Junior League Step Up Program for battered women, Long Island Volunteers Prom Shoes, local soup kitchens, church pantries and more. Whether it is someone who needs work boots to be able to get a job or a person who needs a pair of dress shoes so they can go to church, Dr. Carlson’s organization answers the call.

Community Affairs: Though Dr. Lisa Conte does plenty of work as the Director of Curriculum for Valley Stream School District 24, it’s what she does beyond the classroom that really sets her apart in our community. Dr. Conte has forged strong relationships with local businesses, senior citizen organizations and serves on a number of community boards. She volunteers her time at the Bristal Assisted Living community, specifically in “Friends of Bridge,” a group that focuses on preventing substance abuse. Last year, the organization recognized the efforts of Dr. Conte by presenting her with the “Friends of Bridge” Builder Award. But that’s not all. She also received a “Women of Distinction Award” from the New York State Assembly, and the “Service Above Self Award” from Lynbrook-East Rockaway Rotary. Back in school, Dr. Conte is responsible for ensuring that all students in grades K-6 are receiving the proper education, while also bringing the district in line with the relatively new Common Core Standards. In other words, Dr. Conte is making a direct impact on the lives of future generations.

Education: Since becoming principal of East Rockaway’s St. Raymond’s School in 1986, Sister Ruthanne Gypalo has embraced the dynamic nature of the education field, re-imagining programs and re-developing curriculum based on the needs and desires of the community. Whenever there is a change in the education system, Sister Ruthanne is always one step ahead. She spearheaded the expansion of the school’s kindergarten program from half-day to extended day to a full day program. What’s more, her efforts led to a full-day Pre-K program. Recognizing a need to assist working parents while also enriching children beyond the regular school hours, Sister Ruthanne instituted before and after school programs. To help expand the horizons of her students and embrace our nation’s diversity, she led the creation of the “Language Other than English” program.

Health Services: For the past 10 years pediatric nurse Sharon Eriksen of Merrick has brought relief efforts to thousands of people in the impoverished countries of Jamaica and Haiti. When the historic earthquake of 2010 devastated Haiti, she worked tirelessly in a makeshift hospital, nursing and comforting the countless victims. Fifteen times, since that horrific disaster befell the Carribbean nation, Sharon has returned to Haiti to treat a myriad of human conditions including starvation, malnutrition, skin infections and burns. Recently, Sharon helped treat over 2,000 patients in a six-day visit to the commune of Carrefour. Here at home Sharon is a model health care provider and a mentor to many of her colleagues. She has been a wonderful asset at South Nassau Communities Hospital and a dedicated volunteer in many community services, including RotaCare, a free medical clinic in Uniondale. A recipient of the prestigious President’s Volunteer Service Award and hailed as a “Nurse Hero” by Long Island Business Magazine, Sharon’s own words best articulate her remarkable career, “I will never be able to give others what they have given to me.”

High School Senior: Ashley Rottkamp of Levittown, at just 17 years old, is the epitome of a Renaissance-woman. Class president, Homecoming Queen, President of the National Honor Society, AP Scholar and volunteer with special needs children are just a few of the titles she holds. A brilliant scholar, Ashley has a 4.0 average, is a board member for the National Honor Society, the Foreign Language Honor Society and is a member of Mathletes and the Tri-M Music Honor Society. She is also an AP Scholar with distinction. A committed volunteer, Ashley is the co-founder and President of Glamour Gals, which brings students to nursing homes to give the seniors makeovers; she was Camp ANCHOR Volunteer of the Year for her compassion working with special needs children at the Town of Hempstead camp; she is a Levittown Fire Department cadet and raises money for Dollars for Scholars and volunteers in the community through Key Club. In addition she is a peer leader, working with younger students to teach them about the dangers of bullying and how to make good decisions. Through Athletes Helping Athletes, Ashley teaches younger athletes about good sportsmanship and the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. An athlete and a musician, Ashley is on varsity kickline and plays the flute in both the varsity marching and symphonic band, where she serves as band captain.. 

Humanitarian: Marguerite Keller is Co-Director of the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre, a not-for-profit agency which serves the local Latino population.The organization provides social programs for senior citizens, an after-school child care program and a wide range of resettlement services for immigrants including housing and employment counseling services. Marguerite received a Bachelor’s Degree in History and attained her Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Molloy College. Subsequently, Ms. Keller earned her certification in Housing Counseling. For over 25 years, she has worked tirelessly for the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre, providing members of the Latino community who are faced with discrimination, eviction, involved with landlord/tenant disputes and homelessness to resolve their housing issues through counseling services. In addition, Marguerite supervises the agency’s bi-lingual, bi-cultural counseling staff, manages case records and files, and administers grants and fundraising activities. Marguerite also helps implement a myriad of community services benefitting the Latino community including the Hispanic Brotherhood’s Annual Scholarship Dinner, Christmas Toy Drive, Hispanic Heritage Month Luncheon and Thanksgiving Food Drive.

Volunteer: As the mother of four children and grandmother to another four, you would think Debbie Coates would have her hands full just through her family obligations alone. In fact, that’s only one facet of her life –she spends the rest of it volunteering in dozens of community groups and state organizations, doing everything in her power to make East Meadow a better place to live, work and raise a family. Debbie has been a member of the East Meadow Kiwanis for 10 years, co-chairing the group’s two biggest fundraisers. For more than three decades, Debbie has served in the East Meadow District PTA. She also serves on the Nassau County BOCES Board, the Nassau-Suffolk School Board Association’s Executive Committee, and on Reform Educational Financing Inequities Today, three organizations dedicated to improving education and advocating for Long Island’s fair share of school aid. She is also an active member of The Community Association of Stewart Avenue, Nassau County Jail Advisory Committee and the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce.

Hon. Angie Cullin Town of Hempstead Employee Award: Michele Hanson of Bellmore has always put the needs of others before her own. She pours heart and soul into every challenge that confronts her as an Administrative Supervisor with the Town Clerk’s Office. Dedicated and decisive she has earned the respect of co-workers, who value her leadership and friendship. Michele is the role model for a people-friendly office, always quick with a smile and a helping hand. Many a constituent has benefitted from Michele’s engaging personality as she explains the resources available through town government. The people who know Michele best, are the ones who admire her most, because they are keenly aware of difficult life issues that she has endured without any interruption in her outstanding town performance. When Michele and husband Drew were devastated by Superstorm Sandy’s damage to their beautiful home and property, she never brought a hint of her family’s struggle to the office.  Staying calm and collected in the face of a daunting life challenge, Michele remained a picture of consistency on the job.

“As I read our honorees biographies, I marveled at stories that demonstrated strength, intelligence, compassion and so many impressive qualities and characteristics,” said Murray. “Several of the ladies whom we are honoring have battled adversity, risen to their individual challenges, fought, persevered and prevailed.”