Philanthropy inspires East Marion man to donate money for bicycles

TIM GANNON PHOTO | U.S. Marine Captain James Byler of Huntington received a special hand-cranked bicycle from the Southold American Legion Auxillary in December. He’s shown with auxiliary co-presidents Florence Wagner (third from left) and Dot Charnews, with husband Fred. Cyndi Ventura (left) represented the Blue Star Mothers, who provided similar bicycles for wounded vets.

When the Southold American Legion Ladies Auxiliary decided last year to raise $3,500 to buy a hand-cranked bicycle for a Marine captain from Huntington who lost his legs in Afghanistan, they knew it was an ambitious task.

What they didn’t know, during the months last year that they spent holding poppy sales, yard sales and raffles to raise money for the bicycle, was that their good work would inspire philanthropy at a more grand scale than they could have imagined.

The Ladies Auxiliary gave Capt. James Byler his bicycle at a ceremony in December. The next week, when a part-time East Marion resident came out to check on his house, he read about the donation in the newspaper. He immediately called Dot Charnews, the co-president of the Ladies Auxiliary, and offered to donate the cost of a second bicycle. After they got to talking for a bit, Ms. Charnews said this week, he decided instead to give her group enough money to buy two or three bicycles.

“He wants to remain anonymous,” Ms. Charnews said of their benefactor. “He just said that he was amazed that a small post would do something like this. Most of the ladies in the auxiliary are older women. A handful of people are younger. He said, ‘for all your hard work, I’m going to make it easier for you.’ Two days later, I had a check.

“We were floored. Since that time, we’ve had other people send checks to go toward that fund,” she added. “They’re surprised that a little post out in Southold is able to do so much.”

The Southold ladies teamed up with Cynthia Ventura, a Holtsville resident and president of the Long Island chapter of Blue Star Mothers, a group of parents of soldiers who are serving overseas.

Ms. Ventura helped put the Southold volunteers in touch with Capt. Byler’s family, and she will be helping them to select the recipients of future donations as well.

Capt. Byler, who stepped on a roadside bomb while leading his platoon in northern Helmond Province, was overcome with emotion when he received his bicycle last December. It had been hand-detailed with an seat embroidered with the insignia of his battalion and hand-lettered paint to honor his service in the Marines.

“His mother said he rides it all the time in the park,” Ms. Charnews said.

Ms. Ventura is expected to let the Legion know who else could benefit from the bicycles later this week.

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