After 15 years running the Heights Property Owners Corporation, Julie Ben-Susan will be retiring this summer.
At 66, she’s choosing to move aside to spend more time with husband Paul, friends, gardening and pursuing other interests, including her involvement with the Clinic for Rehabilitation for Wildlife in Sanibel, Florida.
The couple will continue to spend summers on Shelter Island and winters at their home in Fort Myers, Florida. But gone will be the telephone lifeline between her Florida home and Shelter Island office where she would typically spend hours fielding calls and dealing with HPOC management issues, often for eight or more hours a day.
“Shelter Island will always be in my blood,” she said, noting she was a “summer kid” here and loves the Island, the people and the challenges that her job has involved. “There’s a spirit here,” she said, comparing it to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the American Indian culture embraces earth, wind and sky in very much the same way Shelter Islanders do.
Ms. Ben-Susan joined the HPOC Board in 1998 and when Bernie Jacobson retired as general manager in January 2000, she took over his responsibilities while a search got underway for a replacement.
“I threw my hat in the ring,” having decided that the temporary post was one she would like to retain. In July 2001, the general manager’s job was hers — but not just of HPOC. She was also general manager of the organization’s North Ferry for three years before the demands of handling both necessitated hiring a separate general manager for the ferry company.
This summer, she will be on the job with her replacement, Stella Lagudis of East Marion, a woman she worked with during her 30 years in various roles with J.P. Morgan — now J.P. Morgan Chase. Ms. Ben-Susan started in the banking division of the company and progressed to jobs in securities management and global custody.
“If you have basic skills, you can do anything,” she said. What was similar between her work at J.P. Morgan and HPOC was the need to balance the interests of individuals and groups and keep a lot of balls in the air.
“I love the job, all of the diversity,” she said. She’s grateful to those who have worked with her in the Heights, the HPOC office and the ferry crew along with the accountants, lawyers, contractors and others who have helped her perform her job.
“They all make it look easy and it’s not,” she said.
When Ms. Ben-Susan first took over, while she had the management skills, she had a lot to learn about complex issues involving operation of the Heights water and sewer systems, how to deal with regulators, road construction, management of the beach club and tennis courts and other technical issues. Contractors like Steve Clarke and the late George Costello of Greenport were very supportive in helping her learn the ropes, she said.
Ms. Lagudis will be starting her job at the end of June and Ms. Ben-Susan will initially be training her and then taking a backseat as her successor takes over the role.
“This is a job where you make a thousand decisions every day,” Ms. Ben-Susan said. “Stella’s a very quick study and she’ll get the basics of the job fast.”
At the same time, “I’ll be available forever” if Ms. Lagudis has questions, she said.