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Southold student honors memory of Gerry Hayden with movie night


In January, the Mraz family gathered in their Southold home to watch an episode of “Top Chef.” That week’s show held special meaning: It was dedicated to the late chef Gerry Hayden, Mike and Mary Mraz’s longtime friend and business partner. 

One of the challenges in the Bravo series that week, in which Mr. Hayden’s friend celebrity chef Tom Colicchio is lead judge, was for contestants to create a dish in honor of the show’s 10th anniversary. One chef, Amar Santana, whipped up a dish he had learned from his onetime mentor, Mr. Hayden: a butter-poached lobster, sautéed bok choy, tapioca coconut curry and tempura onion rings.

Mr. Hayden, who died in September from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, had owned North Fork Table & Inn in Southold since December 2005 with his wife, Claudia Fleming, and the Mraz couple. He was head chef at the restaurant and a three-time James Beard Award nominee.

After watching the “Top Chef” episode, Isaiah Mraz, a sixth-grader at Southold Elementary School, said he became emotional about the loss of his friend and decided to visit the school social worker the following day.

“Mrs. O’Reilly said, ‘Let’s find out a way to represent Gerry, not just be sad and mourn over him. We should find a way to show how important he was,’ ” the 12-year-old recalled. “So we came up with the idea of watching a movie. One of Gerry’s favorite movies was ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ so we decided on that.”

Isaiah emailed the idea to Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, who suggested the film be screened in the school’s outdoor amphitheater. A movie night fundraiser is planned for June 10.

Ellen O’Neill, principal at Southold Elementary School, said participants will pay to watch the movie, which will begin around sunset. Proceeds will be donated in Mr. Hayden’s name to Ride for Life. Tickets and the cost of admission is not yet available.

The outdoor amphitheater where the movie night will be held next month. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)
The outdoor amphitheater where the movie night will be held next month. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)

Created in 1997, Ride For Life is a volunteer charity dedicated to serving the ALS community by creating public awareness, raising money for research and supporting patients and families through patient services, according to its website.

Each May, the organization hosts a 12-day, 100-plus mile wheelchair ride across Long Island and into Manhattan led by Chris Pendergast, a 1966 graduate of Bishop McGann-Mercy High School who has been battling ALS for more than 20 years.

Mr. Pendergast stopped at the Southold School District in 2013 and 2014 and Mr. Hayden joined him on the ride both times, Ms. O’Neill said.

This year, Mr. Pendergast will return to Southold Elementary School the morning of June 10 — not as part of the ride, but to dedicate two apple trees recently planted in the school’s garden: one in honor of Mr. Hayden and the other for KK Haspel, a Southold farmer who died in October 2014.

“We were thinking fruit trees because Gerry likes pears,” Ms. O’Neill said, adding that the trees were planted a few weeks ago. “But [the trees are] apple. It has to be what’s going to grow best here.”

Ms. O’Neill said Ride For Life reached out to her about their desire to donate the trees around the same time Isaiah thought of the idea for a movie fundraiser.

Isaiah, who meets with his mother, Ms. O’Neill and Ms. Fleming periodically to help coordinate both events, said he thinks Mr. Hayden would consider the day “awesome.” His mother agreed.

“He would be humbled because he doesn’t like the attention,” Ms. Mraz said. “But he does love Isaiah.”

Photo Caption: Southold Elementary School student Isaiah Mraz, 12, thought of the idea to honor Gerry Hayden with a movie night next month. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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