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Gold Boots Foundation, set to host first fundraising event, honors memory of Seth Tramontana

In the bars and restaurants of Greenport Village, there was no mistaking Seth Tramontana. Dressed in his unique style — a vintage, eclectic look that few others could dare pull off — Seth always stood out in a crowd.

And there were the signature gold boots.

It didn’t matter the occasion, or whether they would be comfortable during a long workday, Seth would wear his gold, high-heeled boots with any outfit. He wore them so much, pieces of duct tape kept them together.

“He didn’t care if someone looked at his outfit one day and thought, ‘What is he wearing?’ said Samantha Payne-Markel, Seth’s girlfriend.

Greg Ling, a North Fork chef, recalled the day Seth ordered the boots on his phone when they worked together at the former Industry Standard restaurant in Greenport Village. There was no talking him out of it.

“If he was going to do something funny, he was going to do it,” Mr. Ling said.

Jonathan Cepelak became close friends with Seth and the two also worked together at Industry Standard. Mr. Cepelak recalled how Seth would complain how his feet hurt after a long night at work. Sure, he could have worn comfortable sneakers like everyone else, but that wasn’t Seth’s style. 

“He was as gold as those boots,” Mr. Cepelak said.

That unique style, his larger-than-life persona and charisma are what those close to Seth remember about the 27-year-old who died in August. Seth’s tragic death — one of six fatal overdoses over one week — dealt a deep blow to the restaurant industry around Greenport Village where he spent so much time after moving to the North Fork shortly after high school. In the immediate aftermath, shock and grief consumed those who knew and loved him, but they also felt an overwhelming sense of support from the community.

As some time passed, his friends began to discuss an idea first pitched by Mr. Ling to form a foundation in Seth’s memory.

“It got to a point where like, all right we’re going to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start doing something positive to honor him,” Ms. Payne-Markel said.

As they discussed a name for the foundation, using Seth’s name seemed a bit too formal. They thought back to those gold boots that were so much a part of his style, they were prominently displayed at his funeral.

And so, the Gold Boots Foundation was born.

The inspiration for the foundation’s name came from the gold boots Seth frequently wore. (Courtesy photo)

The group began to get to work in earnest around January with a goal of setting up a kick-off event before the busy summer season arrives, since so many of Seth’s friends work in the restaurant business. On Friday, the foundation will host the Gold Boots Foundation Scholarship Fundraiser at The Lin in Greenport. Proceeds from the event, which quickly sold out, will go toward a scholarship fund for students at Greenport High School.

Ms. Payne-Markel said $9,000 had already been raised as of late last week, even before all the donated raffle items are auctioned off Friday. She had set a goal of raising $10,000 and then upped it to $15,000 after the overwhelming support. (Donations can still be sent through the event’s website)

The scholarship will likely be split between two students. The application process has not yet started, but Ms. Payne-Markel said the hope is the winning students will have a focus on arts and music, following one of Seth’s passions. His father even owned a music store in Atlanta where Seth grew up.

While he worked as a waiter and bartender, Seth hoped to eventually start a career in music.

“What Seth loved most was music,” Ms. Payne-Markel said.

No matter what type of music might be playing, whether it be ’70s or ’80s, Seth could sing along to every word. He never missed a chance to perform karaoke at Lucharitos. 

“He was very eclectic in his music choices,” Ms. Payne-Markel said.

He had an impact on Greenport where every store owner knew Seth.

Jonathan Cepelak

While Friday’s event will feature plenty of dancing, music and fun, the organizers also set aside time for those who knew him to share memories of Seth. His loss hit everyone so hard, it was difficult to find words at Seth’s wake and funeral, Ms. Payne-Markel said. This will allow everyone a chance to “have that moment to help grieve,” she said. Some of Seth’s family members are expected to attend, including his brother Jarod, who has contributed to the foundation. 

They’ll cap the night with karaoke, just as Seth would have loved.

The foundation’s organizers said businesses all throughout the village have donated to the event, starting with The Lin providing the space, which accommodates about 100 people. Fortino’s Tavern and Lucharitos are donating food. Mr. Ling will prepare two dishes as well, a chicken and biscuit and fish and biscuit, tying into Seth’s Southern roots.

“It’s been a crazy outpouring of support, which has been awesome,” said Mr. Cepelak, the general manager of PORT Waterfront Bar & Grill. “I really had no doubt it would get a lot of support. He had an impact on Greenport where every store owner knew Seth. It was really cool.”

Looking ahead, the founders of the Gold Boots Foundation hope to expand with more events and services to benefit the North Fork. One idea, for a more family-friendly event, is a putt-putt tournament.

“We want to do the most we can for the community that loved him so much,” Ms. Payne-Markel said.

On a personal note, she hopes to raise funds for mental health and bereavement services. 

Looking back to last summer, Mr. Cepelak said the multiple tragedies that unfolded so quickly was a “big eye-opener for a lot of people.”

“A lot of people were scared, to be honest, but it brought people together,” he said. “My group of friends is tighter than it’s ever been. Really, the restaurant industry itself in Greenport is a really tight-knit community and we all kind of support each other.”

Ms. Payne-Markel said she and Seth were together on and off for three years, “but there was no doubt to me that he was my person.

“He showed me what it was to feel truly loved unconditionally for who the person I am,” she said. “I will cherish him and miss him until I leave this earth.”