Teen Leads Fight to Save Helen Keller House

Ian Toy has been walking past the crumbling Southold home on his way to the beach for much of his young life.

"It really is a beautiful home," said the 13-year-old of the boarded up Bavarian Tudor-style structure built in the 1920's.

From the building's sagging roof and the gaping hole in its back, it's clear the young architecture buff is focused not on the home's decaying present but rather on its storied past.

"My mom told me Helen Keller once lived there," said the eighth grader. 

Local historians say the deaf and blind woman, once described as the "first lady of courage," spent the summer of 1936 in the Southold home with her long time teacher, Ann Sullivan. It was their last summer together. Sullivan died in the fall of that same year.

The home remained in private hands until the 1960's when Suffolk County took ownership. It has been under the Suffolk's watch, said county legislator Edward Romaine, that the home fell to "wreck and ruin."

It is scheduled for demolition this summer.

That's where young Mr. Toy came in.

Last month, after learning of Keller's connection to the home, Toy sheepishly asked his mother if he could try to save the home.

"He said, mom, I've been thinking about it for a couple of weeks; but, I didn't know what you would think," remembered mom Claire Kennedy.

"I was all over it," said Kennedy,"I said, 'Ian- go for it!'"

Toy responded by setting up a "Save the Helen Keller House" Facebook page that now has over 1200 friends. He also drew up an on line petition, now signed by more than seven hundred people.  And Toy began e-mailing anyone connected to Keller or the home, even soliciting a response of support from Keller's great niece.

Tuesday, Toy took his effort a step farther.  He addressed the Suffolk County legislature, urging lawmakers to stop the demolition and restore the home.

"How do we want to be remembered? asked Toy of the legislators. "I want to be remembered as someone who took care of my community and contributed to preserving our past."

"From the mouths of babes, so to speak, comes the wisdom we should have been listening to all along," said Romaine afterward. "Save your history."

Romaine is now working to find upwards of four hundred thousand dollars in county funds to rebuild the home. In addition, the town of Southold may add the Keller home to its landmark preservation list, according to Toy.

"I would like it to be a museum for the deaf and blind," said the teen, as he stared out at the ruins he believes is the finest house on his street.

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