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Board of Education Chair Named 'Woman of the Year'

The Riverhead Board of Education chair is also hoping to embark upon a run for town supervisor.

Courtesy East End Women's Network.
Courtesy East End Women's Network.
It's a big year for Riverhead Board of Education Chair Ann Cotton-DeGrasse.

DeGrasse will be honored on Monday, May 20, at Giorgio's in Baiting Hollow after being chosen the East End Women's Network Woman of the Year.

Since being founded in 1981, the EEWN honors a local East End woman who has "exhibited solid leadership responsibilities, commitment to her goals, and achievements in her professional life as well as personal character and service to her community and her colleagues," according to the group.

“Each year we look to honor a woman who has demonstrated tremendous leadership skills and who serves as an inspiration to other women in our community," said EEWN Vice President Jennifer Maertz. "It was clear to our selection committee that Ann is most deserving of this honor.”

Maertz added, “Whether she is providing support for local breast cancer patients or inspiring local school children, Ann Cotten-DeGrasse continuously demonstrates great leadership and an unwavering dedication to the people of the East End of Long Island."

DeGrasse worked for 30 years as a teacher in the Riverhead School District and served for five years as president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association. Twelve years after her retirement she was elected to the Riverhead Board of Education where she currently serves as the board president.

DeGrasse has also remained dedicated to another mission: After finding two lumps and experiencing the terror of two breast cancer scares, DeGrasse and her husband Antonio launched the North Fork Breast Health Coalition in 1998, where she served as president from 2005 to 2012. During that time, the Coalition raised over $500,000 for direct financial assistance to breast cancer patients on the North Fork. The Coalition has expanded its services to offer support groups, massage therapy, reflexology, and yoga.

DeGrasse said Janine Nebons, general manager at Tanger in Riverhead, has been invaluable at supporting the organization and in helping to organize a yearly fundraising event.

"We don't look at cancer as just a disease that pronounces a sentence. We look at having cancer as a way of improving your quality of life, and offer things you can do to help," DeGrasse said. 

This year, DeGrasse said she is considering a run for Riverhead Town Supervisor. She screened recently with the Riverhead Town Democratic Committee. "I think it's time," DeGrasse said. "We need a woman to clean up the mess."

Of being chosen as Woman of the Year, DeGrasse said, "It means a whole lot. I know many women this award has been bestowed upon in previous years. They're all great examples of professional women who have excelled in a particular field. I never thought of myself as a 'Woman of the Year.' I was laboring under the assumption that you had to make a living at what you were being nominated for -- I have these two jobs and I don't get paid a dime," she laughed.

Her work with the North Fork Breast Health Coalition has been meaningful, DeGrasses said. "Some of the letters we receive really tug at your heart," she said.

Pearl Philindas, who nominated DeGrasse, said,  “Ann has proven herself to be a dynamic and forceful leader. Her whirlwind energy, focused leadership abilities, and advocacy for both the fight against breast cancer and the betterment of Riverhead’s school system, make her most deserving of the honor of woman of the year.”

The Woman of the Year event starts with networking at 5:30 p.m., with a dinner and award presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tickets cost $60 for EEWN members, $85 at the door;  $75 for non‐members, $85 at the door.  

Speakers will include Nancy Carney, Riverhead Superintendent of Schools and Janine Nebons, General Manager at Tanger Outlets. All are welcome. 
For more information and to make reservations click here or email woy@eewn.org.                                       

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