Our Honorees have made significant contributions, both personally and professionally in St. James. They are trendsetters, leaders, and mentors. They are humanitarians and innovators. They have risen to the top of their professions and have chosen to give back to our community.
Jennifer Paley Ambro THE NORTH SHORE NEWS GROUP
Jennifer was born in Kings Park in 1960. Soon after, her family moved to a new home in Smithtown, a dream for her parents who had moved out to Long Island from New York City. She attended school at Smithtown Elementary, New York Avenue Junior High and Smithtown High School West. After graduating from the University of Vermont she lived in Manhattan for several years. There, she worked for Creative Alliance Advertising, Harper’s BAZAAR Magazine and Paramount Pictures. In 1988, she returned to Smithtown to work with her father, Bernard Paley, who was nearing retirement at The North Shore News Group. This group of weekly newspapers includes The Smithtown News and five other community newspapers. It was there she met her husband, David Ambro, to whom she has been married to for 31 years. Together they raised two children, Brady and Sophie, both of whom now live in New York City but spent much of their early years playing in the newsroom.
Growing up in the Town of Smithtown instilled a strong sense of community in Jennifer. She spent summer days bicycling with her sister around town. Among their favorite stops was the farm stand on Edgewood Avenue for fruit (now Whisper Vineyards), the St. James General Store for rock candy, and DeLeyer Farms to see the horses. She also recalls with great fondness pumpkin picking at Wicks Farm and shopping with her mom for special occasions at Betty Botz.
It is that strong sense of community that Jennifer has tried to foster through her work at the newspaper. The Smithtown News and its sister papers have taken strong editorial positions on many local issues that they feel are vital to the community. This has included advocating for sewer upgrades, restoring a deteriorating Deepwells, saving the St. James Firehouse, and providing zoning and development oversight in the local villages and hamlets. In addition, The Smithtown News strives to provide an outlet for local organizations to promote their many worthwhile community events and initiatives that make living in town so rewarding. Jennifer has served on many nonprofit boards over the past 30 plus years, including the St. James Chamber of Commerce, the Smithtown Township Arts Council, the New York Press Association, the Smithtown Historical Society and the Smithtown Chamber of Commerce. It was at a meeting of the St. James Chamber at the Excaliber Diner that Joe Smith and Joe Knipfing "enlisted her" as chairperson for the first St. James Day.
Jennifer is deeply committed to preserving our town’s history. At the same time, she works to make sure its future growth is in a direction with the same sense of small-town community she has always valued.
Joseph Buzzetta COMPETITION MOTORS
As a young man managing his father’s Centerport restaurant, the Bella Vista, Joe heard many stories from the local SCCA racers who frequently dined there. With his interest peaked, he started racing hot rods. He took a break from racing to serve in the United States Army for three years during the late 1950’s and was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany with his wonderful new bride, Valerie. He later started racing in Europe during 1958, driving a Porsche 356 Carrera at Solitude and Monza a year later.
Mr. Buzzetta would return to Long Island and his father’s restaurant after leaving the service, but in 1962 he seized the opportunity to start his career in the car business. It all began with a small service operation in 1962 with his then partner, Oscar Rubio, on Smithtown Blvd., in Nesconset. Next, through his racing connections, they acquired a Porsche franchise. He continued racing over the next few years, but in 1969, after finishing third in the Sebring 12 Hours, he made the difficult decision to forego racing and build his retail automotive business on Long Island. The Buzzetta’s first home was on Astor Avenue in St. James, but by now the happy couple and their three young children were ready to move to a larger home in Nissequogue.
As the years passed, and the area grew in population, the business, which would become known as “Competition Imports,” also grew. They acquired property on Middle Country Rd. in St. James and opened a BMW franchise, then added Mercedes-Benz. Porsche wanted the franchise to move to western Suffolk, and Joe and his partners decided to focus their time and money on their operations in Smithtown, so they relinquished that franchise. Over the next few years, they were able to acquire Nissan (formerly known as Datsun), and American Motors. The American Motors franchise lasted only a few years, but the space was easily taken over by Nissan, the highest volume franchise at the time.
More years passed, and Joe and his partner went their separate ways with Mr. Rubio opening the Smithtown Nissan Dealership just west of Competition Imports. In 1989, Competition Imports was one of the first dealerships to acquire Infiniti, which is now managed by Joe’s eldest son Joseph. A few years later, Competition Toyota of Middle Island was founded, and middle son James took the reins. In 1993, Mr. Buzzetta acquired another property, and started an independent Mercedes-Benz dealership, currently managed by his daughter, Nancy. In the mid 2000’s, they would make a bid, and be selected, to operate a Mercedes-Benz franchise in Huntington. Thus, by the mid 90’s, all family members were full in, running the stores and building the business. They added a Subaru franchise in 2010, and sold Competition Toyota of Middle Island. As all of his children were involved in the business, Mr. Buzzetta took on more of a “vision” role in the business, and less of a day to day role. The company has grown to 7 locations with 500 employees.
They continue to invest greatly in Long Island’s economy. Joe has always led the group with integrity, and still comes to work at his office in Mercedes-Benz of Smithtown almost daily. His philosophy, echoed by his children, is to succeed by the development of long term relationships with both their own teams and clients.
Joe and the Competition Automotive Group are very proud of the community in which they live and do business, and are focused on reinvesting in the community. Currently a resident of Head of the Harbor, he could not have chosen a more wonderful hamlet than St. James to live, raise a family, and grow a business. He is proud to support many community organizations including Celebrate St. James-Past-Present-Future, St. Charles Hospital, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, The LI2Day Breast Cancer Walk, Smithtown Children’s Foundation, Paws of War, and many others.
John Prufeta MEDICAL EXCELLENCE INTERNATIONAL
John is Founder, CEO and Chairman of Medical Excellence International, LLC, Chairman & CEO of Medical Excellence International LTD., and Chairman & CEO of Medical Excellence International, LLC (Shanghai). The company is the world's most exclusive club for affluent international health care consumers. MEI is a partnership formed with C.V. Starr & Co. (Maurice Greenberg), Ervington Capital, LLC (Roman Abramovich) and Mr. Prufeta, and operates in the U.S.A., Russia, China, Hong Kong, and the U.K.
Concurrently, Prufeta is Founder and Chairman of Agilence Health Advisors, LLC, a global healthcare business performance acceleration and venture development firm. Prufeta is the former president and CEO of Medix Resources, a publicly-held company (NYSE:MXR) providing technologies that enables the secure communication of clinical, financial and administrative data between physicians and insurers, PBMs, hospitals and reference laboratories.
Prufeta was recruited by the Board of Directors to lead this distressed organization in dire need of talent, capital, product and customers. Mr. Prufeta was Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive of OnPoint Partners, Inc., a national healthcare services firm. Mr. Prufeta held the position of Managing General Partner of The Creative Group (TCG), the New York City-based holding company for three healthcare development companies. Prufeta co-founded The Creative Group in 1989.
In 1987, Prufeta was named general manager of D.J. Hertz & Associates’ healthcare practice. He began his career in the healthcare industry as a research associate at D.J.Hertz & Associates in 1984.
From 1998-2009, Mr. Prufeta was a member of the Board of Trustees of New York Hospital of Queens, Silvercrest facility, where he served as Chair of the Finance, Audit and Compliance Committees and as a member of the Executive Committee; he served as a founding member of the board of advisors of the National Managed Health Care Congress. He was also a Senior Advisor to the President at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and Health System, the academic hospital for Columbia and Cornell. In 2011, Prufeta was invited to become an Advisor to the Skolkovo Innovation City, a new technology city being created by the Russian Federal government. He was responsible for developing a master design for providing health care services to 48,000 citizens that will work and live in the new city.
Prufeta serves as a founding Director of Veteran’s Moving Forward, a 501(c)(3) charity focusing on providing innovative canine therapy treatment for disabled United States veterans. Prufeta served as Eagle Scout Coordinator for Troop 71 Theodore Roosevelt chapter of Boy Scouts of America. He is a Patron of the Asia Society in New York. Additionally, he was an Adjunct Professor, Consortium on Managed Health Care at Fordham University School of Business. Mr. Prufeta co-developed the core curriculum for the graduate-level course of study. He is also a founding Committee Member of “America’s Huey”, a not for profit organization dedicated to educating Americans about the achievements and sacrifices made by US Armed Forces. The committee purchased a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, which was then donated to the Smithsonian Institution and appears as the central artifact in the “America at War” exhibit in Washington, DC. Prufeta is a graduate of Harvard Business School, class of 1999. He holds a degree in Management from St. John’s University. Three years ago, John and his wife, Olga, purchased the Old Mill Farm, the former Judge "Black Jack" Stanislaw home. Since then, he has become an enthusiastic member of the "Celebrate St. James" team, working to re-establish the community as a nationally-recognized cornerstone cultural center on Long Island.
Robert Prufeta SOLOMON PAGE
Robert Prufeta is a Senior Vice President within the Healthcare and Life Science Division at Solomon Page. This Retained Executive Search Division of Solomon Page is consistently ranked as one of the Top 5 by Modern Healthcare and Crain’s NY. The Division specializes in the recruitment of senior level and C-Level talent in operations, finance, technology and sales and account management. Solomon Page has three healthcare offices including California, Pennsylvania and our Corporate Headquarters located in New York City where Robert has been seated for the past 13 years.
Robert has played an active part in the Retained Executive Search business for well over 20 years with the entirety spent establishing himself as a trusted source in the national healthcare market. Throughout his career, Robert has completed hundreds of searches for valued clients in managed care, hospitals, physician networks, group insurance, employee benefits, consulting, service organizations and vendors of all associated types. In addition, the majority of Robert’s work has been in the expansion, growth and specialization of Government Programs, Medicaid and Medicare, on a national basis. As a Senior Member of the Solomon Page Team, Robert plays a major role in all aspects of the search process starting with best in class research; the ensuring of crisp recruitment of hard to attract, passive candidates; skills and capabilities matching and the identification, closing and onboarding of lead candidates. Robert is very passionate about recruiting top-tier candidates to his clients but equally enjoys helping his clients face the challenges created within the constantly changing healthcare landscape.
Robert first joined Solomon Page Healthcare in 2005 as a Vice President. Robert started his Executive Search career in 1995, as a Research Associate with Creative Management Strategies in NY. Robert was promoted to Director of Research where he was responsible for all research, data and information critical to search success by the recruitment team. In 1998 Robert took on additional recruitment responsibilities managing recruitment and process on high profile assignments for the President. In fall of 2000 Robert became a Managing Partner at OnPoint Partners, a Boutique executive search firm in Garden City NY where he remained until 2005. Robert earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queens College, City University of New York, with a Major in Political Science. Robert also competed the HR Generalist Program with the Society for Human Resource Management, is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and an active member in the Healthcare Financial Management Association, NY Chapter. Robert has lived in Nissequogue, NY with his wife and two sons since 2006. His volunteer experience with the fledgling Celebrate St. James, both on and off stage, has changed his life. As a now known thespian and Stanford White and Harry Houdini impersonator in the St. James “off Broadway” production of “99 Minutes from Broadway,” he is considering changing his career and becoming an actor, however his insightful wife, Christine, hopes to thwart that ambition.
Edward R. Wehrheim TOWN OF SMITHTOWN SUPERVISOR
In his first year in office as the town of Smithtown Supervisor, Edward R. Wehrheim has made downtown revitalization a shovel-ready reality. He has developed a feasible timeline to ensure the implementation of modern wastewater management, which is both essential to the survival of our local business districts and our environment. Supervisor Wehrheim has taken a hands-on role in securing new business with a focus on cleaning up vacant and blighted properties. His objective is to fast track affordable millennial and empty-nester living, renovating parks, beaches and infrastructure, support attractive jobs for a talented young workforce and a long term path to a sustainable Smithtown.
The Town of Smithtown now has an abundance of public information and transparency of government with the touch of a smartphone. The new mobile app provides real time information to residents, including everything from recycling details to traffic alerts. The recently formed Grant Committee, has helped to secure millions in Town funding and also provides grant writing services to local non-profit groups. Most importantly, Supervisor Wehrheim has devoted office hours on a daily basis to speaking with civic groups, chambers, businesses and his fellow neighbors… His first question is always, how can we help? His open door policy has made this continuous dialogue with the people of Smithtown, a government that truly belongs to its residents.
Supervisor Ed Wehrheim was born and raised in the Smithtown Hamlet of Kings Park. The decorated Vietnam Veteran, honorably served two tours in Vietnam, in the US Navy, where he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal. After serving his Country, Wehrheim devoted his entire career to the Town of Smithtown, working his way up the ladder starting off as a laborer, through the ranks to Director of Parks, Buildings & Grounds, where he remained until being appointed to Town Council.
With an intimate knowledge of every department, municipal law/code and town zoning etc, Supervisor Wehrheim has eclipsed all others by comparison. He is revered for restoring several historical properties, which include Caleb Smith House, Franklin Arthur Property and the Mills Pond House. Wehrheim also supervised the reconstruction of the Town Marina Facility, utilizing the marina fees to pay for the improvements. He Secured the Smith Haven Mall redevelopment project, which generates an estimated $1.1 million additional tax per year. He ended a 14 year deadlock on the N.Y.S. Armory Development, creating Neighborhood Park and village green by Town of Smithtown and transferred the armory building site to the Library District to construct a new branch.