Members of Keri Stromski's family at the playground dedication Thursday at Iron Pier Beach, including her father Alan Wicklund, left, her son Quinn, husband Robert and daughters, Morgan and Madison (back row).

Throughout her battle with breast cancer, Keri Lynn Stromski would always make it a point to go to Iron Pier Beach with her family on New Year’s Day, grab rocks and put inspirational sayings on them, her husband Robert Stromski told RiverheadLOCAL last year.

Stromski undeniably had strong ties to the beach, a place for book swaps and get-togethers for her children, Madison, Morgan and Quinn. 

Now her name is immortalized at the Northville beach, where town officials yesterday dedicated the Keri Lynn Stromski Children’s Playground during an emotional ceremony attended by more than 100 people.

The beloved Aquebogue Elementary School kindergarten teacher was remembered by family, friends and colleagues, who shared stories about the impacts she had on their lives and the community.

Stromski died at age 48 on April 6, 2021 of metastatic breast cancer. She had been diagnosed with Stage IV disease in December 2016 and became a vocal advocate for funding research into treatment of metastatic breast cancers. She shared her experience in a blog “Faith Over Fear”, and posted almost daily on social media about treatments, clinical trials and living with the disease. 

Her husband choked up as he spoke to the gathering about how much Iron Pier Beach meant to him, and how it will now always be part of the connection between him and his late wife. As he grew emotional, his daughters joined him at the podium to lend their support.

Former Councilwoman Catherine Kent, a colleague of Stromski’s when they both worked at Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, remembered Stromski for her commitment to her students.

“Keri never stopped being a cheerleader. She loved our school district and our town. God help you if you ever criticized either one of them in front of her,” Kent said. “She didn’t grow up in Riverhead, but she was a true Blue Wave through and through.”

Kent said she was glad Stromski’s memory will forever be honored by the playground at Iron Pier Beach. “Nothing could be more appropriate than a place for children and families to have fun by her favorite beach,” she said.

“For me, tonight brings to mind the words of Maya Angelou, the first female inaugural poet of our nation, who said: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Kent said. “Watching Keri live a life of joy made us feel good.”

Stromski was a teacher in the Riverhead Central School District for more than 20 years and was the Riverhead News-Review’s 2013 “Educator of the Year.” Virginia Healy, a trustee of the Riverhead Board of Education, spoke of Stromski’s advocacy for the district to receive its fair share of state funding and speaking out against out-of-control testing. Stromski was also a champion of the special education community and English language learners, Healy said.

“Keri was a great kindergarten teacher who loved her students, and each day created a magical and delightful space for them to learn and play,” Healy said. “We received numerous testimonies about the impact Keri had on the children and the support and care she showed to parents. Keri embodied the powerful role of a public school teacher, inspiring children, building community, welcoming the newcomer, helping families in need of nurturing relationships and advocating for the marginalized.”

Aquebogue Elementary Principal Bryan Miltenberg said he asked staff and teachers to complete the phrase: “Because of Keri…” and shared the results during his remarks. 

“Because of Keri I learned how to advocate for my students. Because of Keri I’m able to see through the thorns to the roses even in difficult situations. Because of Keri I remember to dance. Because of Keri I learned how to use my voice to advocate for the children. Because of Keri I had a friend on my first day of teaching. Because of Keri I hug my children a little more each day. Because of Keri my transfer to Aquebogue became a celebration of growth,” Miltenberg read.

Melanie McEvoy, the president of the North Fork Breast Health Coalition, said she owes a lot to Stromski for her advocacy for stage four breast cancer research. The coalition started a fund in Stromski’s name after she died last year; the money raised goes towards metastatic breast cancer research and direct financial assistance to patients.

After the remarks, the ribbon was cut and a sign was unveiled officially naming the new playground. Under Stromski’s name on the sign are four words: Live. Learn. Love. Laugh. 

More than two dozen children excitedly rushed to the new play set. Closer to the water are two marble benches dedicated to Stromski’s memory. 

“An educator, advocate and community leader whose dedication, love and kindness shall forever impact our community,” the engraving on one of the bench’s reads.

“This dedication ceremony is important to us as a community in many, many ways,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in her remarks. “I think it embodies what it means to life in our small town. Keri’s family, friends, work colleagues, students, parents of students, were all impacted by her light, a bright shining light that she carried with her throughout her entire life. And although Keri is no longer with us here today, this playground — Keri’s playground — here at Iron Pier overlooking the beautiful Long Island Sound, affords us all a place to visit and remember Keri.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Alek Lewis

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]