Ron Stein is sharply intelligent and deeply passionate. He loves film, music, tennis, hiking, and getting his hands straight into the dirt. He is also a Long Island pioneer who dedicates incredible resources to causes that resonate with him. These have included strong advocacy for those impacted by fraud, pioneering Smart Growth land use philosophy on Long Island and, most recently, a tremendous effort to advance the legacies of John and Alice Coltrane. Above all, Ron is a devoted husband, a great friend, and a proud father of two young men. While his sons are each very much their own individuals, they do seem to have that same spark in their eyes…
More Than a Career
Ron is a Certified Financial Planner who was among the first proponents of the socially and environmentally responsible investing movement. Since 1987, he has been a member of the Social Investment Forum trade association. Throughout the early and middle ‘90s, he was a frequent lecturer and workshop leader on Personal Finance, Social and Environmentally Responsible Investing, and various environmental topics. He served on many panels, and spoke at several Long Island and New York radio and television events.
To this day, Ron continues to weave principals of sound financial planning together with enabling people to align their investments with their values. His business, Good Harvest Financial Group, is now 25 years old. When the US economy finally fully hit the wall in 2008, Ron devoted tremendous energy to helping people understand what was happening and where they could find help. He founded an organization specifically dedicated to helping victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He then went on to launch the Network for Investor Action and Protection, an investors’ advocacy not-for-profit group of over 1200 members nationwide. Their purpose is to advance protections for investors as well as victims of fraud. We weren’t entirely surprised the morning we awoke to hear Ron’s voice on NPR, talking about his understanding of needed regulatory reform. He shared some of these views directly with Congress in 2012.
Man with a Vision
We first met Ron in the late 90’s when he was launching a very different organization: Vision Huntington. He had some experience as an environmentalist who had primarily gotten involved with national organizations like the Sierra Club. Locally, he had spoken out against the Shoreham nuclear plant and had also helped bring some good models to light when the region was figuring out how to preserve its Pine Barrens. Ron came to our attention when he joined Long Island’s first and still only community leadership organization, Leadership Huntington.
You see, Ron’s attention had now been turned right to his own back yard. Frustrated by land development that seemed to occur without concern for the environment or the community, he had recently joined with a local architect to convene a variety of stakeholders to introduce a then-revolutionary concept called "Smart Growth." The emphasis was on broad stakeholder participation, new approaches to housing, open space preservation, traffic and pedestrian safety, and the creation of walkable, attractive communities.
Ever willing to go straight to whomever he feels will help advance a cause, Ron surveyed community members extensively. This included getting roughly 900 of them to fill out a 5-page quantitative and qualitative survey at the local Fall Festival. He also organized local leaders to visit model communities, and brought in top-of-their field speakers from across the nation to talk about cutting-edge land use practices. He worked with the Town to establish a Smart Growth Steering Committee that brought together local government department heads and other representatives of diverse interests who may never have otherwise connected. Together with a growing coalition of public, private, and not-for-profit interests, he championed Long Island’s first true community planning process. Reflecting his dogged determination to sharply raise the bar, he became known around Huntington Town Hall as “The Man Who Wouldn’t Take ‘Yes’ For an Answer.”
It…together with supportive, complimentary and sometimes tempering efforts alongside him…worked. A matrix of ambitions some called a “Tablet of Intimidation” and others just called “pipe dreams” was largely realized within five years. Fundamental change was happening. Of course, it must be emphasized that none of this occurred without tremendous teamwork. While perspectives differed, Ron was far from alone in yearning for a better way to build. The organization was deeply blessed with smart, conscientious, pragmatic, hard-working people, many of whom continue to directly serve its mission to this day. The broad coalition of program partners and supporters of the organization constitute a great wave of positive momentum. Still, the more experienced we have become, the more we realize how Ron’s skills at facilitation and communication at the very beginning of this movement made an extraordinary difference. He made sure people knew what was going on, why things were proceeding the way they were and, even more importantly, that everyone around the table was heard and understood. He did this always with humor, humility, and genuine interest.
The fruits of Ron’s labor soon took on a life of their own. While the Town of Huntington readily embraced the general principles of Smart Growth it also, at first, demurred somewhat from challenging its own status quo. The Town of Brookhaven, on the other hand, declared that it was ready for significant change. Vision Huntington quickly grew to become Vision Long Island, which you can find sharing excellent information on Facebook, here and on YouTube, here.
It’s bittersweet to watch a beloved child grow into adulthood. While things didn’t always go exactly as Ron envisioned, we have always been impressed with the grace with which he allowed the organization to assert its independence and come into its own. Over the last 20 years, Vision Long Island has grown to play a tremendous role in community-based planning, in influencing policy decisions, and in facilitating active cooperation across interests and perspectives.
In addition to specific project work, the organization brings an extraordinary number and diversity of stakeholders together for the highly informative annual Smart Growth Summit. It meaningfully celebrates people, projects and policies that are making a positive impact through the annual Smart Growth Awards. All in all, in a world where one can sometimes wonder if different perspectives can ever really reach across the table, have productive dialogue and actually work together, those involved with Vision Long Island have established that the answer is “Yes.” Our communities are better for it. We are grateful.
A Jazz Man…
Ron knows a lot about economics and finance. He cares very deeply about the environment. He loves Long Island’s communities. Beyond what we’ve mentioned, he has been active with numerous non-profit organizations and environmental initiatives. This includes a great passion for the arts and for history…especially Jazz.
When Ron learned that the home in which John Coltrane wrote his masterpiece, “A Love Supreme” was in Dix Hills and due for demolition, he quickly got on board to help however he could. He is now President of the Board of an organization called The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. Together with the Coltrane family, local historians and diverse artistic devotees they have saved the house where this legend raised a family and spent his final years. Now, they are working to restore and adaptively reuse it.
Art, Culture and Education
The vision for the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills includes the creation of a museum and cultural center that reflects the life, the music, and the spiritual and humanitarian legacies of both John and Alice Coltrane. The historic restoration of the home will include a selection of original furnishings and instruments, an extensive digital archive with listening stations, a meditation garden dedicated to Alice Coltrane, and archival materials donated by Coltrane scholars and collectors.
The importance of both John and Alice Coltrane have a lot to do with incredible music. Through, above and beyond that was a tremendous desire to use their talents and influence as a force for good. As such, a big component of this project involves education. Pilot programs have already begun offsite and will continue at the Home when it opens to the public. As stated on the website www.thecoltranehome.org , they are focused on outreach to the community that will:
A Journey Integral to the Mission
One thing we have long appreciated about Ron is how the things he is involved with tend to have a journey that’s as meaningful as the ultimate goal. This starts with the people he joins forces with whom tend, by and large, to be extraordinary lights. Together, they provide a depth of experience that seems to pervade every step of the journey. While the house is not yet opened, it’s safe to say an awful lot has already occurred to advance the Coltranes’ legacies.
Our first encounter with the organization was an intimate gathering of jazz greats at the Greenwich Village restaurant of Yasuhiro Fujioka (“Fuji”) who is, among many things, one of the world’s most important collectors of Coltrane memorabilia. The event also included involved jazz greats, community leaders, aficionados, and others. Speakers included Cornel West and Carlos Santana, who is the honorary chairman of the The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills’ Board, as well as Ron and John Fulgoni, the Town of Huntington resident who first realized what the house was and how important it was to save. John and Alice’s son, Board Chairman, Ravi Coltrane played with his quartet. Elvis Costello donated a guitar that he signed on site. The power of the music was matched by the passion of voices who had been touched by the musician and who recognized the potential great music has to lift the human spirit. You can Check out images from that powerful day here. On the organization website, you can find a really beautiful video made that day by many of the incredible artists and supporters in attendance.
Soon after, the first annual Coltrane Day was held at Heckscher Park in Huntington. This event represents an extraordinary fusion of professional and enthusiast, master and student, style and substance. There are workshops, artist booths and great food. A broad variety of musical genres and other art forms have been included, ranging from gospel to funk to electronica and, of course, a whole lot of jazz. You can check out images from the first Coltrane Day here and from the 2016 event here. Learn about the upcoming 2017 Coltrane Day, to be held of July 22nd, here.
The most recent event we attended was a sold out special showing of the critically acclaimed documentary, “Chasing Trane”. It was held at Huntington’s cinematic gemstone, The Cinema Arts Centre. The moving documentary about John Coltrane was followed by a Q&A with the film’s director John Scheinfeld and with renowned bassist Reggie Workman, who was part of the John Coltrane quartet in the early 1960s. There was a lot to appreciate.
John and Alice Coltrane’s lives are inspirational stories that continue to have deep relevance, not just for musicians, but for humanity as a whole. We are grateful to Ron and to everyone else endeavoring to advance their important legacies. We can’t wait for next month to get to experience Coltrane Day again, and look forward to seeing the home become a cultural center of its own.
To learn more about how to support this mission, please check out this page on their website:
Thanks, Ron, for all you do and for all you bring us to appreciate. We are grateful.
She is patient, tenacious, optimistic and polite. Things are nicer that way. Plus, it works.
“May I ask you a question?
Anyone who knows Joy Squires has heard these words often, either in the middle of a large group or off to one corner. Most who know her well have at one point or another smiled from a distance, noting the posture as a powerful stakeholder bows a head in response to this opening, Sometimes you can see them shuffling just enough to invoke images of a school child whose conscience has been called upon by a respected teacher. Several times, I have wished Norman Rockwell was there to paint the scene.
Sometimes it’s her question that makes you think. Sometimes it’s the answer she evokes. Sometimes, even from an out-of-earshot distance, you can learn a good bit about a person or an issue simply by observing the body language of a response.
She’s not much more than five feet tall, if that. She has an impressive sense of color that she will tell you she learned as a tool to maintain the attention of school children. No matter how striking or soothing her palette of the day, though, it’s the sparkling blue eyes that really catch one’s attention.
Joy is rarely harsh, even in the most frustrating of situations. She is always polite; a great living example of how one gets more flies with honey than flypaper…flies and all sorts of other things. We recently spent an evening with her discussing endeavors and accomplishments. Four hours later, we’d hardly scratched the surface.
“I’m an optimist,” says Joy, “I don’t have the time or energy to be angry with people who don’t do things. The people I work with -- We do the best we can to make a difference. I think we do make a difference.”
The Huntington Environmental Open Space and Park Fund Advisory Committee (EOSPA)
“Land is worth it,” says Joy, “For your children and for your grandchildren. It makes Huntington a good place to be.”
For over two decades now, Joy has dedicated her life to ensuring that there is quality stewardship of the Town of Huntington’s remaining natural habitat, and its active parklands. She does this as a dedicated volunteer who gives everything she can to serve her cause. The work is done with a keen eye for also serving important community needs within each hamlet. Our discussion started with the EOSPA Committee that Joy has led since it was formed in 1998. Its original mandate was to develop criteria for the “acquisition of ownership, rights in interests in land for active- and passive-parkland and recreational use, and preservation of open space.” These criteria were then overwhelmingly approved by voters, along with $15M to get started, as the Town of Huntington Open Space Bond Act.
The Town Board then charged the EOSPA Committee with advising the Board and making recommendations regarding the use of Open Space Bond Act funds for park and open space acquisition and improvement. Voters were very happy with the results. They subsequently replenished the fund with $30M in 2003 and another $15M in 2008, during the climax of the economic crisis that fueled the Great Recession. At that time, voters also elected to expand the scope of potential projects to include “neighborhood enhancements” and green energy efficiency improvements.
The EOSPA Committee, whose members are appointed by the Town Board, meets monthly. Committee members also make time to personally walk all properties under consideration. To date, the Town Board has been able to acquire more than thirty properties recommended by the EOSPA committee. In addition, there have been some seventy park, neighborhood and green energy improvement projects.
The first EOSPA acquisition was Manor Farm in Greenlawn. Some of these purchases are easier than others. Coral Park, on Broadway in Greenlawn over by the Rainbow Chimes Daycare took over 15 years to acquire. A most recent triumph, the Wawapec preserve in Cold Spring Harbor that was purchased and will be managed in partnership with the North Shore Land Alliance, took ten years.
It's quite a bit of work, done with diligence and great care. Said Joy, "Shortly, we expect to release a public summary of the work that has been done.”
For an example of what Joy means, you can see the summary of accomplishments from 2008:
Sometime after our dinner with Joy, we spent a little bit of time with EOSPA member, Ed Gathman, a local Attorney who has provided deeply appreciated legal services to that committee for some time.
He smiles when he thinks of her, “The meetings can be long, and once or twice a year I have decided that it’s too much. I don’t go. Joy never does this.” He goes on to relay an anecdote about the time a few years ago when a deer leapt in front of Joy’s car, causing it to flip three times, “This woman was at least 75 years old. She checked out of the hospital late that afternoon and then came to the EOSPA meeting. From that moment on, the standards were clear: Unless you are physically bound to your bed, you are expected to make that meeting.”
The Huntington Conservation Board
Joy also heads up the Huntington Conservation Board, which meets twice a month and is essentially involved in guiding the environmental stewardship of the Town. It, too, is comprised of volunteer members appointed by the Town Board. Their duties include review, comment and recommendation to the Town Board, Planning Board, Board of Trustees, and Zoning Board of Appeals with respect to applications for land use changes that have the potential to impact Huntington’s Open Space preservation program. The Conservation Board has a similar review function under Town Marine Conservation Law.
In addition, the Conservation Board is a conduit for scientific research and proposed rules, regulatory actions and other current information that has the potential to affect environmental conservation policy decisions by the Town Board. The Conservation Board also recruits and coordinates Huntington’s Park Stewardship Program.
We spent a long time talking about Huntington’s 125 active and passive parks, and the care that goes into them. “We are responsible for all lands on the Town Open Space Index,” says Joy, “We take our duties very seriously."
New York State Association of Conservation Commissions
Joy’s local endeavors feed directly into her state-wide influence. Joy is the head of the New York State Association of Conservation Commissions. NYSACC is an independent, not-for-profit education organization that was established in 1971 by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. It provides leadership in developing vital environmental programs for cities, towns, and villages throughout New York State. This work brings together millions of people—government officials, environmentalists, students, and citizens— who are committed to preserving, protecting, and enhancing the built and natural environments in New York communities.
Among services, the organization provides step-by-step instructions on how to form a local conservation board. Awards are granted to admirable programs. There is also generally a yearly conference that provides opportunities for people to come together and learn from each other.
The thing that excites Joy the most about NYSACC is the newsletter they produce and their website: http://www.nysaccny.org/ She hopes everyone will take a look as there are great articles about efforts to nurture monarch butterflies, important information about dry cleaning chemicals, and more. You can also access presentations from past conferences.
Challenges Moving Forward
The main thing that EOSPA needs now is funding for Park Improvements. These properties are highly utilized by the community, whether by sports teams, families, nature enthusiasts or others. Keeping them well maintained is important. This costs money.
“The 2% Tax Cap is a real burden. It’s a shame because it hinders this and other good work without solving any of the real problems impacting our budgets.” says Joy, “I hope we overcome this.”
Some other towns who fund their preservation programs are also struggling to achieve new bond referendums. Others utilize different funding systems.
One model Joy points to is how preservation is funded on Long Island’s East End. The Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund (CPF) serves Easthampton, Riverhead, Southold, Southampton and Shelter Island. It is fueled by a 2% real estate transfer tax that is managed by the five towns. The money raised in each Town stays in that Town. It is used exclusively to protect open space, farmland and historic structures, and is seen as a key tool for restoring the Peconic Estuary, and for protecting water quality in the Peconic Bay and other bodies. It is also helping preserve community character and traditional ways of life. A twenty year extension of the CPF will be on East End ballots this November.
We move from these challenges to others. Joy has a lot of experience with a lot of people. She knows very well how difficult it can seem to get anything done.
“It gets so frustrating, Joy,” one of our dinner companions laments, “How can you STAND all of this?”
A twinkle lights her eye. With a serious look, she repeats her mantra, “Patience. Persistence.”
She elaborates, “It pays to be patient. Just because something is not available now, maybe 10 years down the road it will be. Maybe whatever it is will become something better than you’d ever thought.”
Sometimes it’s not a property that comes becomes available, but a project, or a new technology that finally gets implemented. She starts talking about NYSACC again…”We always need more young people to get involved. We really do now, but we always have. Some of these efforts have been quite rewarding.”
There was once an 18 year old boy who came to a NYSACC conference. Joy got him to join. The boy, Peter Rizzo, is now 30 years old. He’s become an Environmental Planner who now also produces the NYSACC newsletter and website.
Then there was Steve Noble. Joy smiles, “I glommed onto him when he was a 16 year old High School student in Kingston.”
While he was still a student, she got him to join the Conservation Commission. He came to all of the conferences, and then went to the College of Forestry at Binghamton.
“He’s 36 and still an ardent supporter." Her eyes glitter, "He’s also now the Mayor of Kingston.”
She has seen them grow. Sometimes she has seen them fall in love and create families. Every one of their triumphs and contributions is something she takes deep satisfaction in.
“We do need more volunteers, though.” Joy says, “We’re not having a conference this year, because we simply don’t have the manpower. However, we are doing something very interesting with the Department of Environmental Conservation…maybe that will lead to something.”
This Land is YOUR Land. This Land is OUR Land. Get Involved!
A collaborator at heart, Joy gets excited when she talks about partnerships. The one with the Land Alliance and others to attain Wawapec Preserve is special. Others are also deeply meaningful. For many years, Laurie Farber has lived at Manor Farm. There, she runs Starflower Experiences, an organization that teaches children and others to better understand, appreciate, and live in greater harmony with the Earth. Another partnership involves Natural Resources Consultant Larry Foglia, who is one of the founders of the LI Community Agriculture Network. He works with others to offer a bi-annual conference at Gateway Park Community Garden in Huntington Station.
Then there’s the project with Julie Sullivan at Carpenter Farm. This Greenlawn property was purchased in 2013. It was once a working farm. Now it’s a passive and educational park that has become a model for invasive species removal.
Joy strongly advocates that people need to be aware of the resources they enjoy in the Town of Huntington. She also wants them to know: “Everyone can ask for something. You are welcome to submit a proposal. You might even get funding and the opportunity to see it through”.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to get a project approved in an existing park, than to found a new one. Land acquisition is not easy. There are strict guidelines and much careful review. Among other criteria, the property needs to meet a specific Town need for active recreation or environmental preservation. You also need a property owner who’s willing to give up the land.
Given that Huntington’s parks are so well-used, Joy is constantly seeking volunteers for the park stewardship program. Park Stewards assist the Town by monitoring the use and condition of Town parkland.
“If you love a place, this is a good way to make sure you visit it from time to time. Our Park Stewards are very important. Everything you need to volunteer is online. You can also request forms from the Town.”
She Points to a Few Key Resources:
Huntington Park Trail Guides: http://www.huntingtonny.gov/Trails-Guide
Park Steward Information: https://huntingtonny.gov/content/13749/13847/16804/16868/16924/default.aspx
Huntington Park Assessment Form: https://huntingtonny.formstack.com/forms/parkassessmentform
The Bottom Line
As the conversation winds down, we know we are stiff and we see her shifting in her chair. Still, it is surprising to see just how late it’s become. It feels like we’ve only gotten started.
A guest remarks, “You are amazing! How can we help?”
“I don’t need any accolades,” Joy replies, “I am happy for the support.”
She offers a brief list for anyone who wants to join her.
We love to be informed. Thank you, Joy. We appreciate you.
Editor's Note -- A correction was make to this piece on October 28th. A public summary of work was initially associated with the Conservation Board. It and the linked example are, in fact, projects of the EOSPA committee.