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Island profile: Julia Labrozzi, preserving memories and history

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Julia Labrozzi at the Shelter Island School, with students from past years on display behind her.

Julia Labrozzi at the Shelter Island School, with students from past years on display behind her.

Julia Labrozzi, who has just started her senior year at the Shelter Island School, is eager to tell me something important about her early school days.

Once upon a time the wide white-striped street crossing in front of the school led to a tiny store, known as Carol’s Luncheonette that was every schoolchild’s delight. Stocked with lollipops and gum, with a refrigerator full of Yoo-hoo chocolate drink and shelves full of knickknacks, magazines, newspapers and toys, it was an after school hangout that figures prominently in the memories of many local people.

Julia is one of the last Island children to remember the store, which was called John’s by the time she was old enough to go there and was eventually replaced by a real estate office. The urge to preserve memories of the recent past as well as the history of the Island that has been home to her family for generations is strong in Julia.

“I have deep connections here,” Julia said. Her mother, Eleanor, was a Piccozzi and her grandmother, Williette Piccozzi, still lives here as does her uncle, Angelo Piccozzi and aunts, Willette, Prudence and Joann. Her father, Matthew Labrozzi, also comes from an Island family with deep roots, and her brother, Nicholas, is now in the 9th grade at the school.

While working as an intern at the Shelter Island Historical Society in 2015, Julia was involved with a project called “Living History,” an initiative to document Island history by archiving interviews with residents. She began by working with audio-taped interviews the Historical Society had made, but by 2016, the project shifted to making audio and video recorded interviews with middle school and high school students, to be followed up at regular five-year intervals, documenting the ways their lives are shaped by growing up on Shelter Island.

Julia conducted the first round of interviews, recruiting Emily Hyatt, who is now in her freshman year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, seniors Will Garrison, Sophia Strauss and Sydney Clark, and junior Taylor McNemar to participate. She asked each student questions such as, “Once you graduate, will you go away?”

Although Julia knows the students she interviewed, she said she was excited with their responses. “Four out of five described the Shelter Island community as a family,” she said.

She said a grant from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation (SIEF) paid for much of the equipment and software needed to record and edit the interviews. Julia noted this is not the first time SIEF support has made good things happen for her. “They have helped me so much through my whole life,” she said.

In addition to Nanette Breiner-Lawrenson and Belle Lareau from the Historical Society, Julia said her collaborators on the Living History project, Tim Purtell and Martin Levenstein, taught her how to conduct interviews and work with video and audio files to edit them into coherent six-minute versions that Tim and Martin are now completing.

“She wasn’t waiting for us to tell her what to do,” Tim said. “She made it all happen.”

The six-minute introduction to the Living History project will be screened for the Shelter Island Historical Society Board on October 10, for the SIEF Board later in October and later this year for students at the school.

Julia’s lineup of school activities is extensive and sustained: eight years as a member of the Drama club, five years a member of the science club and jazz band (perhaps you heard her trumpet at Bucks games and Memorial Day parades), four years in select choir and two years in the DECA club and National Honor Society. She’s now President of the National Honor Society, helping organize and execute service events that benefit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.

“I like feeling that I am helping someone in need,” she said.

She’s also active in school sports, especially varsity softball, a game she’s played for years, coached by Ian Kanarvogel. “I got my first home run at Wyandanch two years ago, with 2 RBIs,” she said. “I’ve been trying to do that for so long.”

And in a defiant act of independence, Julia has declared she is no longer a Giants fan like her father. “I’m actually a Redskins fan, and my Dad is going to kill me,” she said.

In a life of mostly good days, Julia remembered a bad one, the day she failed her driving test. In retrospect she wondered if it was such a good idea to travel with her dad an hour and a half each way to the DMV in Centereach to avoid waiting months for an appointment in Riverhead. “I’m an impatient person,” she explained.

Feeling confident, she got into the car with the examiner, flashed her smile, and said, “Hello! How are you?” The examiner replied, “Drive.”

In minutes Julia was back at the DMV with a slip of paper informing her she had flunked due to “Failure to follow directions,” although she was unclear what directions she failed to follow. At the time, she was the only one in her class who didn’t get a license on the first try.

On the sad drive home, Julia had just about stopped crying when she and her dad reached the Chevrolet dealership in Riverhead and he handed her a set of car keys. Confident that she would get her license that day, he had bought her a car. Instead of driving it home, Julia had to settle for a test drive, sobbing at the thought of letting him down when he had believed in her.

She got her license the next time she tried, passing in four minutes. “I rocked that parallel park,” she said.

Julia called the 2015 school trip to Spain the best travel experience she’s ever had. For a week, she and her roommate Olivia lived near the ocean in Cadiz, in the home of their host mother who didn’t speak English. Julia said to overcome the language barrier, “We did a lot of pointing.”

“Being a senior is extremely bittersweet,” she said. “I don’t want to leave, but at the same time want to start the next part of my life.”

Since Julia has not decided what she wants to study in college, she plans to go to Suffolk County Community College, live at home and save money, and then transfer to a four-year college once she decides what to major in.

Even though she’s seen a little bit of the world, she’s convinced no place compares to home. “You could never say ‘This place is just like Shelter Island,’” she said. “There is no place like this.”