Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association honors its founder with 2023 Citizen of the Year award

The Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association awarded its annual Citizen of the Year award to two of its original members during an event at Veterans Memorial Park last week.

Mary Eisenstein, founder of the civic organization, and her husband, Mel Morris, were honored for their steadfast dedication to the community through their engagement with the group.

Ms. Eisenstein formed the civic association in 2015 and ran for Southold Town Board in 2017.

“She just stepped right up and stepped right out there, and that experience is what really reinforced her vision for the importance of community engagement and inspired many of us,” Southold Town Board member Anne Smith said. Ms. Smith was on a committee that helped organize Monday night’s event.

The success and growth of Mattituck-Laurel Civic Association led Ms. Eisenstein to develop similar coalitions throughout Southold Town, and every hamlet now has its own civic group. But her work within the community didn’t stop there. She served as a member of the Southold Planning Board for four years after being selected by the Town Board in 2018. She also help ignite interest in the “dark sky” movement, a campaign to reduce light pollution, which led to the formation of the North Fork Dark Sky Coalition.

Professionally, Ms. Eisenstein is the founder and president of Melmar Enterprises, a communications consulting firm.

Ms. Eisenstein’s enthusiasm for the causes she believes in was on full display at Monday night’s gathering. She bounced around the room, thanking many of the residents and civic leaders in attendance including Ann Murray, Mary Ellen Tomaszewski, John Carter and Maggie Merrill. Town Supervisor Al Krupski, Town Board member Greg Doroski and Zoning Board of Appeals chairperson Leslie Kanes Weisman were also on hand.

“We don’t do things alone,” Ms. Eisenstein said. “We take the strength and the goodness and the richness and the talents and the gifts of others, and when we all come together for a greater good, there is nothing more powerful.”

Mr. Morris is a graduate of Stony Brook University, where he received his Bachelors of Science in Biology. He served as president of the university’s alumni association for seven years. He also has a Masters of Science degree in Marine Science from CW Post and a Masters Doctorate in Education from the University of Florida. He is a fellow at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

He has taught science at the junior, secondary and university levels, spanning a 40-year career in education. He also spent two years at Southampton College and later became an Educational Programs Administrator at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Mr. Morris launched the popular Open Space Stewardship Program at Brookhaven National Lab, which takes students in grades K-12 outdoors to perform “environmental research on undeveloped land owned by a public or private agency,” according to the lab. He also started the Day in the Life of a River program, where students with interests in science, art, history or English spend a day as citizen scientists collecting data on the state of local waters. The program was started more than a decade ago at Carmans River in Brookhaven.

“An educator, educational leader and a mentor, he’s a scientist no matter what he’s doing and many of our students continue to strive to become scientists like he is,” Ms. Smith said. “An incredible inspiration, not only for what you do in the community but for your love of each other and your family.”

Mr. Krupski handed the couple an official town proclamation, recognizing all they’ve done for the community.

“This is a thank you to Mary and Mel, you’ve been such a big part of the community and all of your efforts that you’ve made in the past how many years, have really been impactful.”

Angela Noncarrow was at the event representing New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). She presented the couple with an acknowledgement from Mr. Palumbo.

“I just wanted to thank Mel and Mary for all the things that you’ve done for the community,” she said. “We just wish there were more citizens around like you that are willing to step up and be ready to make a difference in our community.”

Charles Gueli, current president of the civic association, said it made him “really happy” to be the one to present the couple with the annual Citizen of the Year honor.

Kate Wiltsie, Ms. Eisenstein’s daughter, traveled from Connecticut to support the couple.

“My mom and Mel have been remarkable role models for me and I’m very proud of them,” Ms. Wiltsie said. “It’s wonderful to see them honored by their own community.”

Mr. Morris’ daughters were also in attendance.

“We’re very proud of all the work that they do and the commitment they have to the community,” Linda Lagnese said.

Mr. Morris thanked the association for the honor and explained that he’s been in a wheelchair due to an autoimmune disease but has been making progress with medication and physical therapy and expects to be back on his feet “within a few months.”

“An award like this is really meaningful because it’s not something you try for. You don’t win a race or score so many points” Mr. Morris said. “It comes from your peers so that’s really a special kind of an award.”

Ms. Eisenstein emphasized that they’ve been able to make a difference thanks to the commitment of the community.

“It’s not just the people who are taking [leadership] positions,” she said. “It’s the people who are willing to come here and be at the meetings.”

Ms. Smith ended her speech with a promise to the couple on behalf of the entire community.

“Mary, you’re a leader, a friend and you have a beautiful family, and we’d like to thank both of you for planting the seeds of community,” Ms. Smith said. “And we promise to continue to nurture those seeds and make sure we stay connected and engaged.”