Featured Story

Shelter Island Reporter Profile: Patricia (Trish) Anzalone, a lifetime of rescues

When Patricia (Trish) Anzalone moved to Shelter Island in 2014, she brought with her the strength to stand up and do what must be done. Not just the strength to waitress at The Islander, though surely standing up and doing matters there as well.

Not long after Trish moved to Shelter Island, she noticed a plane preparing to take off from Klenawicus Airfield, the grassy runway behind her house that sees pretty light usage. It was the first take-off of the season, so she got out her phone to take a picture.

Her fiancé Rich Surozenski saw it too, and Trish remembers him saying, “It’s not going to clear the trees,” right before the plane nose-dived. She’s not sure when or how she called 911 because she took off through brush and high grass on a beeline to the crash, joined by her neighbor, Amanda Gutiw.

The lone passenger was unconscious as fuel poured out of the plane. “Rich had just had hernia surgery,” Trish remembered, “so Amanda and I carried the man off.” Then Officer Anthony Rando of the Shelter Island Police Department arrived.

They had rescued Michael Russo, who had a broken ankle, chest contusions, and a lot of gratitude, thanking them for their heroics, Trish said, “with a good amount of money and a party … a super-nice guy.”

She grew up on Long Island, with an older brother who now teaches in Sayville. Her mother taught for 30 years at Eastern Suffolk BOCES, and her father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Italy, served in the Army, and worked as a janitor at the post office. The family moved to Holtsville when she was 9, and Trish graduated from Sachem High School in a class of 1,290 seniors.

When she was 15, her father died of cancer, triggering debilitating bouts of anxiety that she struggled with for years. “My anxiety was that I would be alone when I died. I didn’t leave my house once for three months.” 

She got help, and discovered that her condition could be treated. “I’m a happy person. If I’m sad for more than a day or two, that’s not me,” she said. “But it took me a few years to process what happened with my father.” 

In 1992, she began working at Eastern Suffolk BOCES with severely challenged special-education students. For the first two years, she worked with a 13-year old named Anna, blind and severely autistic, who would head-butt and bite. “It was challenging, but I was able to manage her. We had a rapport.”  

Trish worked with Anna on her level, developing basic motor skills, although, she noted, “I think in some respects she was above normal intelligence.”

In her 15 years at BOCES, Trish continued to work with autistic children. She found the work extremely satisfying. “Can you imagine being inside your body and not able to communicate what you need?” Trish said. “We found ways for these kids to communicate.”

She recalled Richard, who could roller skate like a professional, but struggled to speak, Melissa who couldn’t talk, but could sing. Craig who had an amazing memory. “It was very rewarding when you could figure out what a child was trying to communicate.” Trish said. “Sometimes you could look in their eyes and see what they needed.”

In 2007 she moved to Tampa, Fla. to teach at the Florida Autism Center of Excellence, but moved back to Long Island after a couple of years when her mother’s health started to deteriorate due to a stroke and lung disease.

For three years she worked at the VIP Vocational Independence Program at New York Institute of Technology for college-age special needs students. The students in this program were able to live largely independently because the program ran an apartment complex where the students lived during the school year. Trish’s responsibilities included conducting after-school visits to student’s apartments to make sure they were living safely, and driving them to work. 

“It was a wonderful program but it got shut down,” Trish said. “If there is no place for people to get help, how do we expect them to be functional people in our society, if we don’t take care of them?”

In 2008, Trish found a 90-pound recently-pregnant dog roaming near her home in Holtsville, and when she opened the door of her car, the friendly canine jumped right in. She took the dog to a local shelter, but they advised her that Liberty (the name Trish gave her) would be euthanized in a week if nobody claimed her. “So she stayed with me,” she said. “She’s my life. She just turned 15, but she assured me she will live at least until 19.”

Trish was 19 when, on her brother’s recommendation, she took a job at Camp Quinipet and worked for two summers. “I hadn’t heard of Shelter Island before my brother worked at Quinipet,” she said. She dated a local guy, Rich Surozenski, got to know his parents, but was not ready to move to the Island. At first she tried to stay in touch, but eventually Rich met someone else and started a family. Years later, his marriage over, Rich found Trish on Facebook.

“Two months later I moved out here”,” she said. “We’ve been engaged now for seven years.”

Since moving to Shelter Island, Trish has dug into Island life and her family. Monday is her day off, and her ritual begins with a breakfast sandwich from the pharmacy, followed by a visit with her mother-in-law-to-be, Sharon Surozenski. Together, they watch an episode of “The Waltons” and have lunch.

She’s not so sure about some of the changes to places she used to go. “It’s not really the Shelter Island I knew in the ‘90s when you’d go to the Chequit to have a nice dinner but you could also watch a game. Now it’s too froofy.”

In the future, she’d like to help out here on the Island, possibly working with animal rescue or working for the Town with seniors. “I’m a helping person. It makes you feel good, and it makes the people you help feel good.”

Lightning Round — Trish Anzalone

What do you always have with you?

My mom’s wedding ring.

Favorite place on Shelter Island?

Nostrand Parkway. A tunnel of trees, all the way down to Bootleggers.

Favorite place not on Shelter Island?

I hate leaving Shelter Island.

When was the last time you were elated?

Every morning I’m happy I woke up, and happy I have my dog.

What exasperates you?

Customers who snap their fingers to get my attention.

Favorite movie or book?

‘The Shack,’ by William Young.

Favorite food?

Broccoli. They tell me at work that I’m going to walk down the aisle holding a head of broccoli. 

Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?

Friedrich Nietzsche.