Joe Gergela, 66, known as a passionate advocate for Long Island farmers
Joe Gergela, whose name has become synonymous with the Long Island Farm Bureau during his 26 years as executive director, died March 25, 2022 at his home in Boynton Beach, Florida. He was 66 years old.
Gergela was a strong advocate for Long Island farmers and the preservation of agriculture on Long Island.
“The Farm Bureau has been his life for many, many years,” his wife Donna said in an interview Tuesday.
And in many ways, Gergela was the Farm Bureau.
“The Long Island Farm Bureau and the farmers of Long Island have lost a friend and a mentor and we will all miss Joe, who played such a big role in our lives,” said Rob Carpenter, Gergela’s successor as LI director. Farm Bureau.
“Joe has faced many challenges head-on for farmers – land use rights, zoning issues, agricultural uses, regulations, right to farm issues, farmland preservation and many other things, too many to list,” Carpenter said. . “Farmers today still benefit from the legacy Joe created and the laws Joe helped enact.”
His friends and associates recalled his effectiveness as a defender.
“For so many years he was the face of Long Island agriculture and a strong advocate for the farming community,” former state senator Ken LaValle said. “His advocacy has led to the passage of laws and programs to conserve farmland and help the farming community thrive,” he said.
“Joe Gergela was the voice of the farmer and the agricultural industry from Riverhead to Albany to Washington DC,” said Assemblyman Fred Thiele. “He worked tirelessly to protect farmland as a resource, agriculture as an industry and, above all, the farming families and traditions that make the East End special,” he said. -he declares. “He was often the voice of consensus to get things done, as he did as a stakeholder to help pass the Community Preservation Fund and the Central Pine Barrens Act,” Thiele said.
Riverhead Councilman Frank Beyrodt, a turf farmer and former president of the LI Farm Bureau, said Gergela “stands for the preservation of agriculture on Long Island. Period.” Beyrodt said he spent a lot of time with Gergela and the two “formed a great relationship.” Gergela had a knack for bringing people together to make sure farming continued on Long Island.
“He came at the right time for the farming community,” Beyrodt said. “He was a force to be reckoned with, that’s for sure.”
“Joe was one of the last of the greats,” said Southold supervisor Scott Russell. “He was always direct, always honest. You knew where you were with him – and in my job, that’s refreshing,” he said. “He had a deep commitment. He made sure agriculture was always top of mind in our minds.
Gergela understood farmers had to adapt to survive, said Bill Talmage, a scion of a multi-generational farming family from Baiting Hollow.
Gergela was the son of a potato farmer from Jamesport. After the death of her grandfather, Gergela left university after two years to work on the family farm.
“Life was good until 1982,” Gergela recalls just before his retirement in 2014. Then a freak snowstorm in April followed by torrential rains and falling potato prices brought his family to the brink of financial ruin.
“At the end of the day, we lost a quarter of a million dollars,” Gergela said in 2014.
He spoke of his shock one evening that fall when he went out to close the barn doors.
“I found my father with a rope over the barn beam,” Gergela recalls in a thick voice. He had arrived in time to prevent his father from carrying out his intention, but it was a red flag.
Gergela later told her father that he had to sell the farm and find another job. Diabetic since the age of 7, he knew he would not be able to support the farm in the long term. “I said to him, ‘The reality is that I won’t be able to do the work that you did and for me it’s probably a good idea to do something else.’ So we farmed the following years to get out of debt and we were able to sell the farm,” Gergela said.
Talmage said he knew Gergela while still cultivating. They were both members of Long Island Young Farmers and Ranchers, he said. “You had to be under 30.” Talmage was already a board member of the LI Farm Bureau, and Gergela would eventually become executive director.
“I remember when they had to sell the farm. I was transitioning from potatoes to greenhouses,” Talmage recalls. “I said to my grandfather, ‘A five-pound bag of ice cubes costs more than a five-pound bag of potatoes. It won’t come back this time.
“Joe has helped a lot of people. He had a good life. That’s really all we can hope for – to have a good life and help people,” Talmage said.
“We will never forget all of his contributions to helping ours become a viable industry,” Kareem Massoud, president of the Long Island Wine Council of Paumanock Vineyards told Aquebogue. “He was a tireless defender.”
Massoud, a former LI Farm Bureau board member, and other colleagues spoke of Gergela’s upbeat and positive personality. “He was always fun to be around. He made you laugh,” Massoud said. “Joe was always in a good mood, even when he faced incredible hardships himself. He was an inspiration.
Beyrodt said Gergela made him laugh a lot. “He was great fun.”
Mitchell Pally, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute and close personal friend of Gergela, recalled meeting him when Gergela enrolled in a political science course that Pally taught at Stony Brook University, where Gergela has completed her baccalaureate.
“We became close friends,” Pally said. “We played a lot of golf together. Our wives have become good friends. It was a beautiful relationship,” he recalls. “We miss him sorely.”
While his “main focus” was agricultural issues, Pally said, “he worked on things that helped Long Island as a whole.”
Among other things, Gergela served on the board of the Peconic Bay Medical Center.
Andrew Mitchell, president and CEO of the Peconic Bay Medical Center Foundation and former president and CEO of the medical center, remembered Gergela as “a dedicated member of the PBMC Board of Directors, whose passion for local agriculture and unique interest in politics have combined to create a powerful and extremely constructive force for our community.
Joseph Michael Gergela III was born at Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport on November 22, 1955, the son of Joseph Jr. and Grace Elizabeth “Betty” (Hills.)
He married Donna Bieselin on February 5, 1977 at St. John’s Church in Center Moriches. They had two children and lived in Manorville before moving to Boyton Beach, Florida after Gergela retired from the LI Farm Bureau in 2014.
Gergela enjoyed playing golf and, above all, enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, his wife said.
Besides his wife of 45 years, he is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Mittenthal (Joshua) of Boca Raton, Florida, and his son Jonathan (Samantha) of Baltimore, as well as his grandsons, Grayson and Cayden Mittenthal. He is also survived by his siblings, Cynthia Kissner, Douglas and John. He was predeceased by his sister Joanne Smith in 2011.
The family is planning a celebration of life this summer.
Memorial donations can be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
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