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Island profile: Years on the corporate ladder lead to an Island life
“I’m too young to take up golf,” Don Bindler tells a friend whenever he asks when Don’s going to start hitting the course. At 74, he still prefers tennis.
Back when he and some partners built the Shelter Island Racquet Club off Menantic Road in 1976, he played every day, sometimes multiple matches. A member of the Fordham varsity team and a player for the Army when he was based at Fort Dix, he went on to become president of the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, where he applied his business sense to turning around the failing club restaurant. That experience came in handy when he and a partner started a deli-restaurant in Carle Place.
He’s not playing tennis quite as much these days. Aside from his current work as a real estate agent in Melina Wein’s brokerage, his highest priority is seeking out the Island’s birds and shooting strikingly sharp and brilliantly composed images of them. Many of his pictures have appeared in the Reporter. Anyone can see them onflikr.com, searching by Don’s name or by “Pheasantwood,” the name on the sign that hangs outside his Silver Beach home.
“From this property alone, I’ve seen 100 species,” Don said during an interview in the screened-in porch behind the house, overlooking a large pool and a perfectly tended border garden overseen by his wife of more than 50 years, Cora.
He also takes a good swim every day in season, even though he was the one who thought his son Don Jr. (now a real estate hedge fund manager living in New York) and Cora were crazy to want the pool back in 1985. It would be “too much aggravation,” he said back then.
The Bindlers have been around Shelter Island a long time, part-time since the mid-1960s and full-time since the early 1990s, when he exercised a golden parachute from the Allen Group, Walter Kissinger’s Fortune 500 company, as it was about to be acquired by a corporate raider.
Since then, he put in 13 years of service on the Shelter Island School Board, after having been elected as a “budget candidate,” he said.
He headed a Town Board Police Committee about a decade ago under Supervisor Art Williams and, in a report to the board, compared salaries, duties and benefits with other regional departments. He was later recruited by a citizens group to run for the Town Board, again as a candidate who emphasized fiscal responsibility. “I didn’t win but I think I helped focus the conversation,” he said.
He also has served on the boards of the 10K Foundation and the Gift of Life foundation; Cora continues to serve as an officer of the Shelter Island Association.
During the same period, Don, who loves good food and wine as does Cora, opened the deli-restaurant and catering service in Carle Place, which and his partner sold after a few years because absentee ownership, Don said, “didn’t work.”
He’s also headed the sales staffs for WBAZ, the Press Newsgroup in Southampton and then Shelter Island Reporter. He joined Melina Wein’s brokerage several years ago after earning his real estate license.
“I should have done it a long time ago, instead of going to the Press,” said Don, where he went to work in 1993 with an option to buy.
That didn’t happen only because a family member at the last moment decided to take over the business.
They built their house, originally a one-store cape that has been expanded up and out, when he was only 26 and worried about the financing of his first home in Flushing. He was born there in 1939, the son of a Wall Street broker who never finished grammar school yet became a member of the New York Stock Exchange.
A friend of Don’s father on the Street, Lincoln Mack, was a member of the Island’s McGayhey family and introduced the Bindlers to Shelter Island, where they often visited as houseguests.
Growing up, Don demonstrated a passion for photography as well as an entrepreneurial spirit. In seventh and eight grade, he got permission from his principal to take photos of the weekly pageant each class put on and to sell prints to the parents.
Don went on to Regis, a private Jesuit high school in Manhattan, then Fordham, where he was captain of the squash team and played varsity tennis. His “pseudo-major,” as he put it, was broadcasting, and he worked for the college radio station, WFUV, putting on a regular interview program about campus issues.
But it dawned on him that the only good jobs in broadcasting were at the top of a very big pyramid with a vast base at the bottom, where the pay was terrible, “working as a disc jockey in Kalamazoo making $30 a week. I lost the passion for it when the reality hit me,” Don said.
A member of the Army Reserved Officers Training Corps, he was called up for a two-year stint when he graduated from Fordham in 1961. Before heading off to Fort Dix, where he would spend his time at a desk job in the morning and playing for the Army tennis team in the afternoon, he married Cora, whom he’d met in college. They lived off the base in an apartment their first two years together.
Right out of the Army, he had a job as an account executive lined up at the Wall Street firm where his brother Eugene was working. Don was there three years before he became sales manager at Purcell, Graham & Co., where he became a partner in the late 1960s.
Meanwhile, they planted their Shelter Island roots. Cora had spent summers in Maine as a kid, which was too far away for weekend jaunts, so Don had taken her to the Island for a visit in the mid-1960s. “Can we buy a place here?” she asked after a lunch on the beach.
In the late 1960s, he was offered a job in investor relations running the small New York office of the DiGiorgio Corporation, a California fruit-growing conglomerate. When he was offered a vice presidency a few years later on the West Coast, he decided “that wasn’t the company we wanted to move across the country for.” He chose instead to start his own investor relations firm.
But in 1976, at the grand opening cocktail party on Shelter Island for the racquet club he and his partners had launched, a corporate head hunter told Don he’d be perfect for a job running investor relations at Walter Kissinger’s Allen Group in Melville.
The advent of digital photography, and the access to so many habitats all around the Island, inspired Don to get back to his old hobby. And digital cameras made it easy and inexpensive to take hundreds of shots in order to catch the perfect moment.
“Almost every day, before I go to the office,” he said, “I head out to certain woods or spots I’ve picked out.” The result is a vivid record of the birds of Shelter Island.
“It’s almost migration time,” Don added as he bid farewell and looked at the sky. “The birding’s going to be great.”