Honorees at North Fork Audubon's holiday party Dec. 3.
Honorees at North Fork Audubon’s holiday party Dec. 3.

The North Fork Audubon Society honored Robin Simmen and Dr. William Zitek for their commitment to wildlife, particularly the avian kind, at their holiday party Dec. 3 at Case’s Place in New Suffolk.

Dr. William Zitek, who ran the North Fork Animal Hospital for more than three decades, is moving down south with his wife, Mariel, leaving behind a legacy of a career spent caring for both domestic pets and wild animals, while Robin Simmen, a Community Horticultural Specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, helped North Fork Audubon build a native rain garden at their headquarters at the Red House at Inlet Pond County Park in Greenport.

In the Echinacea
At North Fork Audubon’s native garden this summer.

“The front of the Red House was kind of barren,” said North Fork Audubon President Debbie O’Kane in her introduction to Ms. Simmen. “She took on the project wholeheartedly, became our project manager, designed the garden, procured plants, rolled up her sleeves and dug away.”

Ms. Simmen also coordinated a team of 30 volunteers who helped put together the garden.

“We’re so thankful we have a garden we can now use as a demonstration garden. We can bring school kids to come and learn about understanding the importance of recycling rain and planting native plants,” said Ms. O’Kane.

Ms. Simmen thanked the volunteers who worked side by side to put the garden in.

“They had a big empty dead lawn, and North Fork Audubon was forward-thinking enough to immediately get it, to turn it into something people come to see when they come to the Red House,” said Ms. Simmen. “It has been a dream come true to see this piece of land become something abundant.”

Ms. Simmen said all of the plants in the garden are “genotypically true and bred here on Long Island,” except for one agastache that she found out later was native to the northern midwest. 

“It’s coming out,” she said.

Cornell Cooperative Extension provided a grant for the project, and the Long Island Native Plant Initiative provided 100 plants. Island Perennials and Jim Glover also provided plants. Mr. Glover provided her favorite, a fragrant Clethra alnifolia or coastal sweetpepperbush, which they placed at the entrance to the Red House in honor of North Fork Audubon past president Maureen Cullinane, who died last year.

“It’s a special tribute to her and she’s an incredibly important part of Red House history,” said Ms. Simmen. “It will be fragrant and beautiful.”

Dr. Zitek “has been responsible for taking care of so many of our pets and injured wildlife out here,” said Ms. O’Kane, who said that from gluing sea turtle carapaces back together to splinting birds’ wings, Dr. Zitek has done a great deal to help wild animals. He is also a member of the Bluebird Society, and has helped put bluebird houses throughout Mashomack Preserve on Shelter Island, where nearly 700 bluebirds have fledged since the program began.

Robin Simmen and Dr. William Zitek at North Fork Audubon's holiday party.
Robin Simmen and Dr. William Zitek at North Fork Audubon’s holiday party.

“Mariel and I were very lucky to come out to Southold just 50 years ago,” said Dr. Zitek, who said that he’s been helped tremendously over the years by community members who share his commitment to wildlife.

“If I had an injured osprey, I found a freezer full of fish at the front door of the animal hospital,” he said.

Dr. Zitek said that he had just served as a judge at the Shelter Island School’s science fair, where he was impressed with the students’ engagement and the quality of their projects.

“It’s amazing what young people can think up,” he said. “An awful lot of them made up their own scientific projects and worked on them, and the teachers were inspiring.”

Dr. Zitek said the challenges facing the environment today are huge, and he’s glad to know North Fork Audubon has so many volunteers devoted to providing programs for the community, and for young people, to learn more about the natural world.

“You need to have a little bit of wonder in your mind,” he said.

“You folks have certainly done a tremendous amount for the North Fork,” he added of the Audubon Society. “We need to keep putting our best efforts to see that some of these things don’t disappear. We’ve been very lucky people to live out here.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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