Many Shelter Islanders remember Deborah Ziegler, who served for 12 years as administrative assistant at the Presbyterian Church, a job that required her to manage the whirlwind of counseling and social services that then-Pastor Bill Grimbol gave to anyone on the Island who needed help.
An artist also known for her paintings and photographs, shown in Town Hall and at galleries around the region, she moved away almost two years ago. She still has close friends here and visits a couple of times a year but some Islanders who don’t know her well might wonder whatever happened to that efficient lady who ran the church office.
The short answer is she’s living near Oneonta, New York with partner Joe Stillman, a well-known and award-winning filmmaker. She’s executive producer for his latest project, a documentary called “A Life of Principle, The Ramsey Clark Story.”
Her day job’s title is marketing director at Woodside Hall, an adult home in Cooperstown.
She lives only a short drive from Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, a community for children and adults with Down Syndrome, where her youngest son, Daniel, 18, has been living for eight years; her older son, David, 21, is in college in Boulder, Colorado.
How did all this happen? Thank Match.com, the dating website on which she met the virtual Joe Stillman in 2011. She met the real man in May 2012 and not too much later gave her notice. “I was working at the church August 15 and woke up here the next day,” she said in a phone interview from upstate in the midst of a community fair, where she sells her artwork.
“When I first met Joseph, I asked him if he knew where Pathfinder Village in Edmeston was,” she wrote. “He said, ‘Of course I do. Edmeston is 40 minutes away and I did a film on Pathfinder Village.’
“What are the odds! I get to see Daniel on a regular basis and feel blessed that Joseph loves and cares for my children as his own. We live a peaceful life in the country surrounded by mountains.”
Joe Stillman met Ramsey Clark, the U.S. attorney general under Lyndon Johnson from 1967 to 1969, “nine years ago when he did an anti-war film,” Deborah explained, “and through Joe, I got to know Ramsey and learn about this extraordinary man and his important contributions to history.
“For the past 55 years, he has been the conscience of our country, saying the things that everyone knew were true but did not want to hear. He is one of the last iconic figures of his generation whose whole life has been dedicated to the causes of peace and human rights.”
Serving as executive producer of Joe’s film “has given me a greater appreciation for all the work it takes to create a feature documentary.” She added that “raising money for the costs of interviewing people like Noam Chomsky, Congressman John Lewis, President Jimmy Carter, Frank Serpico, Queen Noor of Jordan, Victor Navasky and 34 other prominent individuals is not easy … Martin Sheen has agreed to narrate the film.” (To learn more about the film, Joe Stillman and the Texan Mr. Clark, who is now 86, just Google the film’s title in quotes to find its website and Facebook page.)
Deborah is a native Long Islander who grew up in the 1950s in New Hyde Park, the youngest of five kids. After high school she went to work as a secretary at a title insurance company in Mineola. She nagged her boss for a chance to become a sales rep, all of whom were men. When he gave in, she came back with more sales than anyone else. She still had to plead to be allowed to go along on the company’s annual sales crew fishing trip. Is it a surprise she landed one of the biggest blues among all the reps?
She was introduced to Shelter Island in 1979 through her husband, another Long Islander, Dennis Raffelock, from whom she has been separated since 2006.
“I fell in love with the Island the moment I stepped off the ferry. I have so many fond memories of Shelter Island. It is a place with heart … It wasn’t until Daniel’s birth that I truly realized the special community that I was living in … Members of the congregation at the Presbyterian Church, Pastor Bill and the community embraced and supported us throughout our lives, for which I will be forever grateful.”
She extended special thanks to friend Linda DiOrio, “who has gone above and beyond. She told me early on that she would continue to be in Daniel’s life long after his move” upstate. “Her commitment to visiting and keeping in touch with him has never wavered.”
“My memories of times with my dear friends, Dell Kukacka, Marika Kaasik, Marion Kaasik, Suzanne Mendelssohn and so many others are so special to me,” Deborah wrote. She fondly remembers “the beach, lunch on the patio at the Chequit, Pepi and Lydia at Stars, the Sugar Plum Fair at the Presbyterian Church, Easter egg hunts at St. Gabe’s, the high school plays, evenings at SALT, sledding on Goat Hill, the Perlman Music Program concerts, fireworks at Crescent Beach. The list is endless. Those are people and memories that I will always cherish.”
The adult home where she works has 16 residents and is an historic landmark in Cooperstown. “A large part of my job is event planning, which I love,” she said. “I’ve had people from the surrounding communities do presentations on owls, eagles, coyotes, the history of Woodside Hall along with performances by jazz and a cappella groups.
“My passion is photographing organic and environmental objects in nature. I continue to show and sell my photographs and paintings in local galleries, street fairs and online through my website, deborahziegler.com. Although I miss my friends and the uniqueness and beauty of Shelter Island, I believe we always have a chance to ‘reinvent’ ourselves.”
It seems she’s really fitting in up there. “Someone told me that I was officially a ‘townie’ now,” she said, “because I had gotten my fishing license and caught my first fish on a camping trip in the Adirondacks!”