May 13, 2013
May 12, 2013
May 15, 2013
May 13, 2013
March 7, 2013
February 26, 2013
May 1, 2013
April 26, 2013
Island profile: Ellen Gove, serving the community where everything fell into place
Ellen Gove’s home on Shelter Island is full of life in summer, when her daughter and grandkids take over. It’s also full of fond memories at this time of year but she’s no sentimental slouch killing time in the afterglow. Life is still wonderful, with many friends, a passion for bicycling, travel and lots of good works.
She’s a member of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church Session who helped find an interim pastor when Bill Grimbol retired in 2011 and who expects she’ll be asked to help find his permanent replacement.
She was a major player in the rebirth at Camp Quinipet of Pastor Bill’s ecumenical Youth Group. She volunteers at Eastern Long Island Hospital’s Quannacut Rehabilitation Unit assisting the counselors and staff.
She drives Island seniors to and from their chores and appointments as a volunteer for the town’s senior services program. She’s on the board of the Communities That Care program and teaches a five-week course for parents called “Guiding Good Choices.”
All that still leaves time for bicycling and time to travel, which sometimes combines both interests. In October, she toured the heel of Italy’s boot with a cycling group and is proud of herself for handling that hilly terrain with aplomb. She’s cycled from Boston to New York to raise funds for AIDS research and across Cape Cod for the American Lung Association. Back home, “I ride all over Shelter Island,” she said.
She also loves her Zumba class at the Dering Harbor Inn gym. “I’m the oldest person in the class. I don’t care. I just move,” Ellen said.
“I try to have a good balance in my life,” she said during a recent chat in the spacious living room of the Silver Beach house she and her husband Fred bought 26 years ago, after having discovered Shelter Island on a boating trip.
Fred was a corporate pilot who flew jets for the Sultan of Brunei, Grumman Aerospace, Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust and Prudential, among others. Flying was in his blood: His father was the chief pilot for TWA and the owner of a twin-engine Cessna that he and later Fred used for family trips. Fred’s mother learned to fly at age 56.
A Garden City kid, he was a young flight instructor and charter pilot working out of Republic Airport in Farmingdale when he and Ellen Cooper met at a club in Farmingdale.
Born in 1946, Ellen grew up in Massapequa with three brothers and a sister. Her father was an electrician for a neon sign company. Her mother worked part-time in a local department store. “We grew up very average,” Ellen said. “We didn’t travel. One of our biggest trips ever was going to Maine. Traveling was not in the budget with all those kids.”
After graduating from Massapequa High, she attended a business school and then landed an administrative job at a company on the 74th floor of the Empire State Building. She remembers getting stuck in the elevator once. “It was 10 minutes but it felt like a half hour,” she said.
Living at home with her parents, who by then had moved to Ronkonkoma, she would go dancing and partying — in the days when those terms meant nothing more — with girlfriends on Saturday nights at PJ’s in Farmingdale, “a place with surfboards hanging from the ceiling.” Fred approached her one night in 1965, asking how a date could be arranged. Ellen said he could come to the city and take her out for lunch.
“It went well,” Ellen said, and by another date or two she had learned that he liked to party hard and have fun. “I thought, ‘Wow, he was crazy and I was not that way. But there definitely was a spark.”
When they got engaged, Fred’s father told him it was time to step up his flying career and pitched in for his advanced certificates and ratings from the FAA. They were married in 1967.
Fred was instructing and flying charters out of Islip. They rented homes in Ronkonkoma and later Sayville, where they had their first of two daughters, Susan, a social worker now in Connecticut, married with two kids. Fred and Ellen soon bought a home in Patchogue. Ellen continued to work but no longer full-time. Their daughter Jennifer was born in 1974. Drawn to Spanish language and culture, she lives in Costa Rica and works as a property manager.
“Fred grew up in an aviation family,” Ellen said. “All they talked about was aviation. Fred’s father really felt I should get in the loop so I took lessons at Islip with a friend of Fred’s as my instructor. I was just about to fly my long solo cross-country when I found out I was pregnant. I never did finish.”
Ellen was more than a good sport about it. She did all the navigating and flying when a friend of Fred’s landed him a plum chore: flying a brand-new Cessna from Wichita to the East Coast for delivery to its buyer.
“I enjoyed it but I ended up not liking flying,” Ellen said. “It wasn’t comfortable for me. I’d do it because I wanted to see places” with Fred and her family. She never got her ticket but she always felt confident that she’d be able to handle the plan if Fred ever had a problem.
One day Fred got a call from the U.S. Tobacco Company in response to the resumes he was sending out offering him a job flying the company turboprop out of Bridgeport.
They bought a house in Trumbull, Connecticut and later moved to Monroe, where they would live for 25 years, Ellen working for the local school district as an administrative assistant while Fred moved up in seniority and prestige as a corporate flyer. His dream was to fly a Grumman G-II, then the biggest, fastest top of the line business jet, Ellen recalled.
He would do better, ending his career as the captain of a G-4. There’s a photo among many snapshots on the stairwell wall that shows Fred standing with a solid smile at the bottom of the jet’s stairway in Hawaii. Ellen had flown out the airlines to join him there for a 10-day stay. They knew it was the last flight of Fred’s career because he would not be able to renew his expiring FAA medical certificate: After two good years with no sign of trouble, a melanoma that had been removed from his back had shown up in his lung.
He told her the worse thing for him wasn’t the cancer but having to give up flying. But as he endured chemotherapy and drug trials that he hoped would help him, “He dealt with it. He said he’d had a good run. He was fulfilled and had no regrets,” said Ellen.
“And we were glad we were able to close that chapter together.”
By then, they were Shelter Island regulars, with Fred sometimes commuting from the Island to Westchester County Airport, where he was last based. Fred wasn’t a churchgoer but Ellen was. Pastor Bill helped Fred deal with his ordeal and as Fred’s illness took its toll “the congregation embraced us,” Ellen said. That’s why “I just feel like I have a calling for myself to give back.”
Their goal had been to retire on Shelter Island, which they’d discovered after a boating friend had suggested it as a destination and they motored over from Connecticut. “I want to complete that goal,” Ellen said. After Fred died in 2006, she retired from the school district and moved here full-time. By then, she and Fred had sold their house in Connecticut and built a cottage at their son-in-law and daughter Susan’s place that Ellen still keeps.
She has an “awesome set of friends, including Artie and Laura Nelson, and she still has the boat that she and Fred took here for their first visit. Now her three grandkids love to swim, fish, crab and come aboard when they visit every summer, taking over the house with their parents while she moves to the boat at Coecles Harbor Marina, where she counts proprietor John Needham as another close friend.
Full-time life on the Island “cemented what I thought it would be,” Ellen said. It’s “a place of safety, a place of compassion and of welcoming.” Everything, she added, “just fell into place. This is where I should be.”