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2013 0320 danowski hed

Horseradish party: the end of an era

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With a good deal of reluctance I have decided to personally end my participation in the annual horseradish party. This has never really been my party, but that of its founders, Art Penny and Don Smith.

The party began in Art Penny’s kitchen at a time when he and Don covered the court systems as local reporters and at the time I was a young prosecutor at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Don and Art covered the jury verdicts on criminal cases. Neither Art nor Don were adverse to meeting with young prosecutors at local restaurant establishments such as Mike Esposito’s as hours passed — and sometimes days — while juries deliberated.
Art raised a few horseradish roots in his garden and thought it would be a good idea to have a few of the boys over for a cocktail as he ground a few roots in anticipation of the Easter holidays. Although he always claims we did an excellent job of cleaning up, I am not sure his wife, Regina, would always agree.

Nick Negosh and Davey Clayton were a few of the early participants who later were joined by the likes of Pete Meyer and others. Eventually, the small party grew and it was somehow decided that we would make an annual event of it and have the party moved to another house location. Although I, as well as others, thought we did an excellent job of cleaning up the inside and outside of our homes, not everyone concurred. My wife claims she found broken glass in the dog’s pen, but I can’t imagine that to be true. Others who hosted the party were Neil Rogers, Don Byrnes and a local priest who will remain nameless, although he now resides out in Southold.

We were always careful to observe the significance of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We opted to grind the roots on Wednesday. It was always easier to move outside to do the grinding because of the tearful reaction to the combination of vinegar and root. However, when faced with inclement weather, we had no choice but to move inside.

A welcome solution was provided by Dick O’Dea and his wife June at the Northwind Farm complex. There if inclement weather prevailed, we could move into a barn structure albeit the crowd expanded to a point that Rob Bugdin, Jr. of American Tent Company provided an additional tent.

Over the last few years, Mr. Bob Entenmann has been kind enough to allow us to use his barn to accommodate the growing numbers of friends. We never had invitations to the party, but we always needed to provide some form of communication as to the party’s location. I sent directions to friends, clients and people I met in my practice and always told people to bring any friends they wished.

Howie Young, our local land surveyor, along with people in his office picked up the tab for the soda, beer and other beverages. Bob Bugdin and his wife, Dottie, Paul Christofferson, June O’Dea’s brother, George McDowell, Doug Adams and too many others to name, helped get us get started in the process. Certain individuals went beyond the call of duty in supplying food and working at the event. Vin Sasso with his wonderful bread from Stonewalls and his Italian heroes and sausages. Rick and Sally Nemschick and Doug Sowinski with oysters and clams and many others who prepared food and brought a bottle along helped us to sustain the event over the years.

Some workers stand out as fixtures at the event, these include Bobby Rogers, Barbara Blass, Bruce Edwards and some who are no longer with us, such as big Ed Collins, Tat Zambriski and Leona Yoursik.

I always appreciated the court officers, the farmers, those we met when I was much younger and those that recently attended the party for the first time. Getting back to its early roots, we never intended such a large event, but we sort have been a victim of our own success.

Last year when I looked around and talked with a few folks, they thought this was a public event and they had been coming for a few years and knew none of the early participants. In of itself, that is not the problem, but there comes a time when there are more people than we can try to accommodate.

There have been so many great times and so many wonderful people, that it is hard to say “no” this year, but I think the time has come. We had turned over most of the work to the younger generation, John Taggart, Doug Adams and others. I expect that after this year, different families will buy a couple of bushels of horseradish and start out once again with small pockets of parties, hopefully carrying on a tradition. I also expect that perhaps other farmers and charitable organizations might consider making it a fundraising event.

One thing I always insisted on was not charging any monies to anyone, although I did, per suggestions from friends, put a jar out last year to help my wife’s animal rescue organization, RSVP (Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets), since Susie works extremely hard with her friends to try and help out needy animals who may be abused or suffering from neglect.

I will miss the fact that during Easter I would hand deliver small jars of horseradish around to certain folks, either relatives or friends.

Bigger is not always better. In the early days, we didn’t have to consider issues such as liability insurance. I thank my friends at Neefus-Stype for providing same. I think I will try to have my computer-literate friends prepare a disk of all the photographs that were taken over the years. I know we have a great number of stories, some fortunate and some not-so-fortunate emanating from the parties over the years. I also appreciated the press coverage, albeit some folks who were supposed to be working were not happy to find their pictures in the papers or on TV.

The best that can be said is it is nice to slow down once in a while and gather together out here in the country to appreciate what the farmers do and enjoy the products they produce. I do think, a strawberry daiquiris’ party or a sauerkraut-making party might be in the offing in the near future. I thank my secretaries over the years, Pam, Christine, Gail, Liz and now Mindy for helping. I also thank Phillip Schmitt & Sons for producing the wonderful horseradish roots.

I have been getting calls and comments already about when the party is going to be, and I am afraid the message won’t get out that we are not having the party this year. Therefore, I have opted to prepare this message and hope it gets out to everyone. This was not an easy call.

See photos and videos from 2012 and 2011 parties.