Greenport activist earns Helen Wright Prince award

Merle Levine

Merle Levine has spent a lifetime volunteering.

The Greenport resident has served as president of Community Action Southold Town, participated in the town’s Anti-Bias Task Force since its inception, founded Women in Conversation — a group that encouraged women to meet monthly and share their ideas, concerns and steps to success — and worked with an organization designed to create affordable workforce housing.

“Whatever cause there was, Merle would fight for it and speak up for others,” said Ms. Levine’s friend Marjorie Day.

Her longtime dedication to Southold Town and the surrounding communities has now earned Ms. Levine the Helen Wright Prince award from the Anti-Bias Task Force.

The award, named last year after its first recipient, is designed to recognize people who “inspire and encourage” the younger generation and have made important contributions to the Southold community, said task force co-president Leroy Heyliger.

Ms. Levine, 92, will be honored Thursday, Oct. 6, at the Southold Town Recreation Center in Peconic. Her daughter, Debbie, is making the trip from Wisconsin to see her mother receive the award, Ms. Day said.

Mr. Heyliger said the task force initially decided to hold the event in October to coordinate it with World Teachers Day on Oct. 5 and National Anti-Bullying Month.

“We want to honor [Ms. Levine] for her work,” Mr. Heyliger said. “We wanted to make it so every year we could honor this type of person in our community who was striving to follow in the footsteps of Helen Prince.”

Ms. Levine played a large role in the effort to maintain residential zoning on Chapel Lane in Greenport, which local government was interested in switching to commercial zoning a few years back, Ms. Day said.

“When they were having difficulty on Chapel Lane, Merle got the people in government to come listen to the residents talk about their concerns,” Ms. Day said. “Eventually [the residents] didn’t have to move out … so it’s been doing OK.”

Ms. Levine, also participated in numerous activities through North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue, of which she is a member, and Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport.

Ms. Day said her friend also wrote letters to newspapers, including The New York Times and The Suffolk Times, expressing her political and ethical opinions.

In 2005, Ms. Levine was named The Suffolk Times’ Civic Person of the Year for helping CAST navigate the challenges that came with moving to a new building and keeping programs intact with little funding.

“She was always out at some great cause like American Association of University of Women or the League of Women Voters,” Ms. Day said. “Or local issues which needed speakers to influence the movers and the shakers.”

Ms. Prince, for whom the award is named, died in 2013 at age 101 and received the award posthumously last year. She was a teacher at the former Cutchogue migrant labor camp and Southold Elementary School and volunteered with multiple organizations.

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Courtesy photo credit: Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force