April 23, 2003
Dennis Schmidt and Joe Yaiullo Named Distinguished Alumni
Southampton Produce Store Owner and Riverhead Aquarium Curator Honored
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Dennis Schmidt, owner of Schmidt's Gourmet Market in Southampton, and Joe Yaiullo, curator of Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, were named Distinguished Alumni by Southampton College of Long Island University. The two will be honored at a special ceremony before Southampton College's Commencement on Sunday, May 18. Prior to transferring to Southampton College in 1977, Dennis Schmidt completed two tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy. His college education was funded through the G.I. Bill and a Presidential Scholarship. During his time at Southampton, where he majored in business, he also headed the College's program for veterans and worked part time for the Coast Guard Reserves, based at Shinnecock Station in Hamptons Bays, NY. Participating in hundreds of successful rescues, the unit named him "Man of the Year" in 1981. Within one year of graduation from the College in 1979, he opened his first produce store and rapidly expanded his business to include several branches located throughout the Hamptons. In 1990, he decided to consolidate his efforts into one superstore that not only offered produce, but also sold fully prepared gourmet meals, fresh flowers and practically anything else you might find in a large supermarket. Schmidt's is a one-stop cornucopia for busy Hamptons residents. Over the years, it has grown to employ 55 people. He credits his success to his years at Southampton College. The close-knit atmosphere, the small study groups and the personalized attention that he received from his professors fostered his love for business and his entrepreneurial spirit. His studies taught him to see the big picture and to predict the trends that would help him to become the enterprising and independent proprietor he is today. For all the community has given to him, Mr. Schmidt is a firm believer in giving back. Each week, his market provides food for the Bridgehampton Community Food Pantry. He also donates his time and resources to area civic groups and churches. Dennis Schmidt lives in Bridgehampton, NY, with his wife, Jennifer. They have three sons, all of whom work for the family business.
It all started with a dream and rough sketches on loose-leaf paper. Joe Yaiullo, a 1985 graduate of Southampton College's marine science program, began to shape his plan for a world-class aquarium on Long Island's East End. In 2000, after toiling for three long years, his vision became a reality with the opening of Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, NY. Not only did he play a critical role in the development of the state-of-the-art facility, he became its curator as well.
Mr. Yaiullo, who designed the aquarium's 20,000-gallon Live Coral Tank (the largest closed reef system in the Americas and the fourth largest in the world), developed his sense of underwater aesthetics by working his way up to senior aquarist at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn. He quickly realized that the exhibits with the most fingerprints and faceprints on the glass were the ones that really sparked the public's interest. After eight years in Brooklyn, he moved back to the East End and began working for The Riverhead Foundation, whose headquarters were based on the site of a former lumberyard. It was at this time, that Mr. Yaiullo and a backer, Jim Bissett, decided to pursue the dream of building an aquarium on the site. Learning more about politics than either of them ever cared to know, they maneuvered through the local government planning boards to gain approval for the building of the $20 million facility. The rest is history.
After three years of successful operation, Atlantis is a top employer of Southampton College students and graduates. Seven of the nine senior employees at the aquarium are Southampton alumni, and scores of undergraduates intern there each year. In 2001, Mr. Yaiullo was honored as the College's Cooperative Education Employer of the Year. He resides in Aquebogue, NY, with his wife, Anne, and their three sons.