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Merle Levine, 95, remembered as advocate who helped form CAST

10/07/2019 5:59 AM |

Last month, Southold Town lost a community trailblazer, social activist and lifelong volunteer: Merle Levine.

Ms. Levine, 95, died Thursday, Sept. 12, at Peconic Landing.

She was born in Philadelphia, Pa., in November 1923 to Selma Lichtenstein and Dalton Plockie, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, according to an obituary from the family.

She is survived by five children, Deborah, Jeffrey, David, Steven and Robert; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

The Greenport resident served as president of Community Action Southold Town and was instrumental in the formation of the group in 1965 with Ben Burns of Greenport.

“CAST started primarily from a group of women who were interested in supporting migrant workers,” Mr. Burns said. “She was a lovely person, always involved.”

She worked tirelessly to support women, minorities and impoverished people, said her son Jeffrey. Her advocacy coincided with her participation in Southold’s Anti-Bias Task Force, he said.

In 2016, the task force presented Ms. Levine with the Helen Wright Prince Community Award, acknowledging her ongoing efforts in activism.

“[Her] impact is immeasurable,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email Tuesday. “She was a crusader of dignity and improved quality of life for all. She was determined to make a difference and was a willing partner to all who would join her in her mission.”

Ms. Levine was also an educator. She served as head of the social studies department at Wheatley High School in Nassau County, her daughter, Deborah Laurel, said. Starting at age 50, she also served as principal of Northport High School for 10 years. Mr. Levine said he believed his mother was the only woman at the time to take on that administrative role.

He said she  was a “community-minded, socially minded activist” from his earliest memory. When he was in high school, he recalled, her desk was crowded with papers on racial injustice and letters to local politicians.

“She was writing letters to the editor. She wrote letters to The New York Times nearly every day,” he said. “She was just an endless crusader for justice and equality.”

Ms. Levine also served as president of North Fork Reform Synagogue in Cutchogue and was involved with Congregation Tifereth Israel in Greenport, Ms. Laurel said.

Around age 70, Ms. Levine retired to East Marion, near Dam Pond, with her husband, Seymour, who died in 2010.  Even after retiring, she remained active in the community, said Marjorie Day of Greenport.

Ms. Day and Ms. Levine grew close when the Levines moved to Peconic Landing about 10 years ago. When Ms. Day brought African American poetry readings to the retirement community, Ms. Levine offered her books from notable poets like Maya Angelou.

“She was a wonderful, considerate lady,” Ms. Day said. “I do wish I had gotten to know her more.”

In 2005, Ms. Levine was named The Suffolk Times’ Civic Person of the Year for helping CAST transition to a new location and keep programs intact with minimal funding.

“She was always diplomatic and never believed change would happen simply with confrontation. However, that diplomacy shouldn’t obscure how determined she was and how strong she stood,” Mr. Russell said.

A memorial to honor Ms. Levine will be held Sunday, Oct. 20, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Peconic Landing Community Center.

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