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Everybody’s Port: How Stephanie Found The Wizard & Her Own Oz

Can another little girl from Kansas find her way to the great Oz without the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man? Well, if you agree that the Emerald City is really a euphemism for New York City and the Wizard of Oz is similarly a euphemism for the mayor of New York, then I can tell you that it is true.

Of course, the other little girl from Kansas is not Dorothy. Her name is Stephanie. And, instead of a Yellow Brick Road, Stephanie’s was cement and asphalt. That road eventually took her to Port Washington – not the Emerald City – but much more nurturing.

Dorothy’s last name is unknown to me, but Stephanie’s last name is not. It’s Hall. She was only four years old when her family moved to Port. Since then, Stephanie said, “My life has had many twists and turns.” She is not kidding.

At 14, she met the legendary opera star, Beverly Sills (“Bubbles” as she was affectionately known) after a performance at the Met. Right then and there, she decided to be a singer, “Not just a singer, but a coloratura soprano at the Metropolitan Opera,” Stephanie remembers, smiling. Neither happened. She is a mezzo (alto) and she does sing publicly, but not at the Met.

That Stephanie is into singing is not surprising. Her mother, Judy Feuss — to whom she remains close — is an accomplished musician who teaches voice, organ, and is the organist at the local Congregational Church.

At Schreiber, Stephanie was active in the school’s dramatic and musical productions and, after graduating in ‘78, she headed for college. There, Stephanie met the tall, dark and handsome John Battista. He was a fellow thespian. “I was sitting on a wall outside of the theater eating a liverwurst sandwich and he asked me out,” said Stephanie. Goodbye liverwurst sandwich; hello John Battista. “That was the beginning of a partnership and love that continues to this day,” she said. (Incidentally, like Dorothy, Stephanie wore bright red shoes – but only at her college graduation.)

When John retired at a relatively young age, the two decided John would care for their son, Lucas Battista, while Stephanie was busy with a day job. “I can tell you that our family works only because of John. He is the world’s very best father and partner to me,” Stephanie was quick to say. And Lucas, now a very bright 10-year-old, has been able to spend more of his waking hours with his father than most children. In this case, thanks to John’s intellect and ability to parent well, Lucas is off to a good start in life.

Stephanie, in turn, focuses a major part of her brainpower and passion on her day – and sometimes her night – job with a company needing no superlatives from me. “I’m very proud to work in the Strategy and New Business Development Department of the Estée Lauder Companies,” she says emphatically. Contrast that with flipping burgers at a Shore Road fast food place, which Stephanie did as a student.

Fortunately, she also finds time to sing and be heard. Stephanie is a member of Musica Viva, the eminent Manhattan-based professional chorus of 30 singers with orchestra. With the group, Stephanie has traveled to Europe for concerts, recorded CDs and sings twice on Sundays at All Souls Church in Manhattan.

An inveterate, but discerning, volunteer, Stephanie gives her time to disparate activities from Bette Midler’s nonprofit New York Restoration Project to the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society. The former is dedicated to transforming open space in underserved communities to create a greener, more sustainable New York City. The latter needs no explanation.

Stephanie, a trustee of the Historical Society, is ecstatic over the success of the Society’s recent Country Fair, which was four months in the planning. “It was fabulous,” she said, “a record turnout. The pie-eating contest, especially, was a winner.”

In a moment of retrospection, Stephanie said, “I have a hard time sitting still, so I always pursue with vigor and relish anything and everything that interests me.” No wonder she has a full life.

The moral of the story: Oz is in ourselves. No need to find the Emerald City.

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