The Riverhead community lost one of its biggest cheerleaders today.
Nancy Gassert, longtime school board member and former board president died today at the Kanas Center for Hospice Care in Quiogue. She was 74.
Gassert was a fixture at Blue Waves football and basketball games and many other events.
She served 12 years on the board of education, including several as its president, serving from 1996 to 2008. Gassert was president of the Middle School PTO and in 1991 formed the district’s PTO council.
“She took such an incredible interest in everything. She cared so deeply for the employees the programs, the athletics the academics — for every aspect of our school district,” said Mary-Ellen Harkin, who also served 12 years on the school board, most of them with Gassert.
Gassert struggled with complications of Lyme disease, but she would never allow it to keep her down, Harkin recalled.
“She would show up for games and every event she possibly could, no matter how she was feeling,” Harkin said. “It was astounding.”
Harkin said Gassert “absolutely lived” the district, 24/7.
“She was so dedicated. It was like the district was her third child, her baby,” Harkin said.
Riverhead Town Justice Lori Hulse served with Gassert on the board of education and knew her for almost 20 years.
“She was always a very thoughtful, measured person,” Hulse said. “She always listened to others and considered everyone’s input,” she said. “We became friends” during their time together on the school board. “She was a dedicated, generous and kind person.”
Noting Gassert’s enthusiasm for Riverhead schools, she said, “Nancy was blue and white thorough and through.”
Angela DeVito, another former board member who served with Gassert, remembered her as dedicated and fair. She had to navigate through some difficult times during her tenure as board president.
“It was always about trying to do the right thing for the kids,” DeVito said. “She supported them 200%. Even with her debilitating neurological problems because of Lyme’s disease,
she was everywhere.”
School board member Laurie Downs, a former PTO Council president and longtime board watchdog, recalled being “on opposite sides of the podium” and would “bump heads” sometimes.
“However as time went on, we got to speak about our differences. It turned out Nancy and I were on the same page on a lot of things just coming from different directions,” Downs said.
“Nancy would do anything for anybody, especially if it came to the school district. She could come off hard-nosed sometimes, but she had a heart of gold. If anyone bled Blue it was Nancy,” Downs said. “She’s going to be greatly missed amongst the Riverhead School District community and the football community,” she said.
“Nancy personally influenced a generation of young people,” recalls longtime friend Wally Binger of Aquebogue. “Karen, her daughter, a Riverhead teacher as well as my daughters, one of which is also teaching here. They were always welcome in her home during their teenage years,” he said. “Brian Simonsen — “Smiles” — was a member of her tribe. Those kids , now adults, have all done well in life,” Binger said.
“We loved her as a close friend as far back as I remember.”
Gassert lived in Riverhead for over 45 years and owned a Riverhead-based cleaning business. She and her husband Howard have two grown children, both Riverhead High School graduates and two granddaughters.
She was a former president of Riverhead Townscape and served on the Town of Riverhead’s Recreation Advisory and Conservation Advisory Committees. She was named Civic Person of the Year by the Riverhead News-Review in 1990.
The family will receive visitors on Monday, Aug. 19 from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. Burial will be private. See obituary.
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