Farmingdale Mayor Ralph Ekstrand (second from right) with members of his village staff celebrating New Year's 2020.
For more than 40 years, Ralph Ekstrand ’78P has served the Village of Farmingdale, NY, a community he has grown to love.
In 2012, he was elected mayor of the Long Island hamlet, a position he holds to this day. Since 1980, he and fellow St. John’s alumnus Vincent Conte ’79P have run Moby Drugs, a full-service retail pharmacy that also provides pharmaceutical services to agencies and nursing facilities.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Mayor Ekstrand has seen his two roles line up perfectly, as he strives to protect the health and welfare of his community on a daily basis. “Getting people to social distance and wear masks was a challenge,” he recalled. Life became much easier as the public began to educate themselves. “When they first heard about it, people thought it was like the flu,” Mayor Ekstrand noted.
He stayed in constant contact with his constituents, sharing critical information and providing tips for prevention. The village purchased more than 5,000 masks and distributed them on the Village Green on successive weekends in the early days of the pandemic.
Finding it nearly impossible to stock the pharmacy with masks, hand sanitizer, thermometers, and alcohol, Mayor Ekstrand noted that with a dearth of available supplies, educating the public was imperative. “Now we have nine out of 10 people wearing masks. Everyone has made adjustments.” Thankfully, cases of COVID-19 have fallen drastically in Farmingdale, reflecting the statewide trend.
A native of Tottenville, Staten Island, Mayor Ekstrand attended the Queens, NY, campus of St. John’s and lived off campus rather than commute from home. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Pharmacy, which at that time was a five-year program, and joined the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity.
“Those were great times,” he said. “I had a phenomenal experience and was able to work my way through St. John’s at co-op pharmacies throughout New York City.”
Mayor Ekstrand named the late Henry Eisen, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Pharmacy, as a mentor. He recalled Dr. Eisen as an excellent instructor who was instrumental in his development as a pharmacist.
Upon graduation, he was hired full-time at the co-op pharmacy, where he stayed for two years before he and Mr. Conte purchased Moby Drugs. Mayor Ekstrand enjoyed working in Farmingdale so much that he decided to settle there; he eventually married and raised three children. In 2008, Mayor Ekstrand and Mr. Conte sold the pharmacy. They still serve as supervising pharmacists, which he noted gives the community a sense of continuity and trust.
Mayor Ekstrand immerses himself in community life, serving as President and Board member of the Farmingdale Breakfast Rotary Club and the Farmingdale Chamber of Commerce. Among his many other involvements, he is former Chairman of the Board and current Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Farmingdale United Methodist Church.
The ideal and importance of public service was passed on to Mayor Ekstrand by his parents, who were very active in the Tottenville community. He is also an Eagle Scout, which imprinted upon him the value of community involvement.
In 2008, when a position became available on the Village of Farmingdale Board of Trustees, community members encouraged Mayor Ekstrand to run, and he won a seat. Four years later, his predecessor retired, and again, community leaders supported his candidacy. He has won two terms as mayor and is running for a third. The election will be held this September.
Mayor Ekstrand relies on advice and counsel from his village staff and peers within state trade organizations, but he knows the buck stops with him. “I listen to their advice and make the best decisions I can, although they may not be the most popular. I always ask, ‘Will it benefit everyone?’ and ‘Is it fair to everyone?’”
Public service has been a cornerstone of Mayor Ekstrand’s life—and he would not have it any other way. “I put up with the criticism, and I treasure the compliments,” he observed. “They keep me going. I try to do the right thing, knowing full well you can’t satisfy everyone. I have to know in my heart it’s the best decision.”