“My parents raised me to give back to the community, to be active in the community. If something isn’t being handled right, you need to stand up and speak for yourself,” said Rebecca Mundy, 47, mother of five, member of the deep-rooted Kilb and Beckwith clans, philanthropy coordinator at the Mashomack Preserve and president of the Shelter Island School Board from 2008 to 2011.
“We all have our responsibility,” she said. “This is the United States of America. We’re supposed to be part of the process.”
That’s why she always has told friends she just might run for Town Board or town supervisor one day, when life settles down. She is well-seasoned for either job, having guided the School Board through decisions that kept her up nights, including finding a new superintendent and meeting the state’s 2-percent cap on tax increases the first year it was imposed.
She left after a three-year term because a family member was undergoing medical treatment and her son Zach, a Marine like his father before him, was headed to Afghanistan.
“I knew I could not be sitting there at a public meeting,” trying to stay focused “on all the details and have the thought that he was abroad. I had to be with my family, my kids in agony … I had to be a mom.”
Mentioning Zack’s return last summer brings tears to her eyes. “He came home,” she explained simply — the point being that others did not, including the sons of her friends Chrys Kestler and Joann Lyles.
As School Board president, Rebecca weighed her words carefully. As the daughter of a former town supervisor, councilman and highway superintendent who loves tracking returns on election nights, she’s a natural politician. And yet she speaks from the heart and manages to hit nails on the head every time.
“I live very simply,” she said. “I’m not a fancy person. But when it comes to family, it is the greatest thing. Michael and I as a couple are so blessed, so lucky; we are so rich, our kids are amazing.”
There are five, even though Rebecca vowed after graduating from Bentley College with a degree in marketing in 1987 that she didn’t want any. “I had baby sat kids forever when I was young,” she said, “and I thought, ‘How do people sleep at night?’”
In addition to Michael Zacharia, 20, still in the Corps, there’s Melissa, 25, a full-time staffer at Sylvester Manor, who was born in North Carolina when Rebecca and Mike lived near Camp Lejuene; Sara, 21, an aspiring actress pounding the pavement in Manhattan; Megan, 19, a nursing student at Southern Connecticut State University; and Nathan, a tall 11th-grader who plays on the basketball team, which his Dad coaches and which — to the family’s delight — beat the Bridgehampton Killer Bees last Friday night for the first time since 1969, when Mike’s brother Jerry was on the team.
Although she speaks with reverence of her parents and all her aunts, uncles, in-laws and grandparents, Rebecca holds up her late maternal grandmother, Mabel Beckwith, as a hero whose shoes she strives to fill.
“She taught us all that you don’t have to have money, cars, fancy houses or things, as long as you have family … She had five kids and raised them on her own” after she and her husband separated. “She’s why I have five children and I think nothing of it, why I have 53 people, every cousin, aunt and uncle and in-law in my house on Christmas Eve, why there are 200 and 300 people when I have a party. She was the kind of person kids always bringing people home … they all showed up at her house and she fed everybody.”
Rebecca was born in Brooklyn, back when her Bronx-born dad worked as a mechanic for Pan Am and before he moved the family to the Island, where both he and his wife, Diane, had roots.
She has been a high school cheerleader, short-order cook at Carol’s luncheonette, front desk person at the Pridwin, waitress at Nettie’s Kitchen and raspberry picker for her father. She has two siblings on the Island, twins Sharon Gibbs and Karen Kilb, and a sister, Theresa, who works in New York.
She told her story sitting at the kitchen table in the two-story shingled house at the end of a dirt road next to O’s market. Her dad was the general contractor and she can still see her grandfather, Alfred Kilb Sr., straddling the wooden beam now hidden beneath the kitchen floor, directing all hands as they set the joists.
She was a college freshman when Mike, still in high school, asked her on a date. He promised “to show her the sights of Shelter Island” and stood her up, prompting her father to ask, “Who is this guy?”
Mike pulled up in his pick-up at Nettie’s Kitchen soon after, apologized, and drove her to Wades Beach, where they talked for hours. “I kept waiting for a move,” she said, but there wasn’t “even a peck on the cheek.” They met again for the weekly barbecue at the Pridwin and this time there was “a kiss out by the dock under the moonlight and the rest is history.”
After Mike’s years in the Marine Corps, they came back to the Island just to make money and plan their next move. He went to work for South Ferry, where he is a captain and co-foreman at the shop. She gob a part-time job at Mashomack as a secretary, later as a clerk in Town Hall, and later as an assistant to the supervisor. Along the way, she also ran a day care center out of her home.
They saved up the money to buy their 3.6-acre lot and build their house by staying far longer than Rebecca expected — more than eight years — with Mike’s parents, Shirley and Jerry. The kids slept in one room. When their own place was finished in 2002, Melissa got her own quarters downstairs and the others shared two rooms upstairs. At first they hated it, huddling back together in one room like refugees.
They got over it but, as they grew up, they made a tradition of spending the night before all big holidays back together in one room.
At the end of a long chat, thinking back, Rebecca said, “When I was a kid, as everybody says even to this day, I thought I was going to get off this rock and I was never coming back. But you do come back because you find out this is a beautiful place, it’s a special place.”