When Chrystyna Kestler initially conceived of creating a ranch where active service members, veterans and Gold Star families could find respite and rehabilitation for a week at no cost, she picked land she and her husband owned in Magdalena, New Mexico.
The choice of where to build was an easy one, considering the stunning beauty of the southwestern landscape.
That was two years ago when Ms. Kestler — whose son, First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 — and her husband, Dr. Frank Kestler, wanted to channel their grief into helping others.
Fast forward two years and the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund continues to push forward, raising money for the ranch and scholarships given annually to Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Mattituck students.
But what was a loose vision based on emotion and beauty, turns out to be the right site based on soil samples and geophysical engineering as well as a water supply that can be tapped on the property.
“This is my field of dreams,” Ms. Kestler said about the “Strongpoint Theinert Ranch” that will spring up on the 900 acres the couple donated for the project. They aptly named the ranch Strongpoint because it represents a fighting position so necessary to military success, just as their determination to bring the project to fruition remains unassailable.
What started as a family project — the Kestlers and Joey’s brothers, James and William Theinert — now has a board of community members who bring various strengths to the effort.
“It has been a banner year for us in so many ways,” Ms. Kestler said.
Melissa Mundy has contributed her organizational and public relations talents. Mike Mundy, once a coach to Joey Theinert during his high school years, Nan Shipley, Margaret Doyle, Melissa Finney, Vincent Seddio, Susan Binder and Councilman Ed Brown all are involved in the ongoing project.
“There has been a lot of positive energy,” Ms. Kestler said
She admits there were days after she and Dr. Kestler first contributed the land and announced the project that she wondered to herself, “What was I thinking?” But there was never any second guessing about the value of final goal.
Still, the scope of the work — fund raising, organizing, and all the technical aspects of creating the ranch — are daunting. But supported by that board of talented and dedicated neighbors and having professionally drawn plans in hand for the ranch’s development make the project feel possible, Ms. Kestler said.
Ms. Mundy, a professional fundraiser, acknowledges that the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch is hardly following a typical pathway to success. Usually, such efforts begin with an initial announcement of a goal and then quiet fund raising to move the project halfway to its fund needs. That’s when organizers go public in a major push to bring in the balance of the needed money to assure a project will be completed.
For the Kestlers, the major push has been ongoing since they first opted to donate the land in 2012 and they have continued to make steady progress ever since.
“We’re doing things a la carte,” Ms. Mundy said.
At the same time as the Theinert Memorial Fund continues with the ranch project, it also provides funding for scholarships. Plans call for adding Greenport to the list of school districts whose students will be able to apply for that grants. The scholarships have totalled about $10,000 each year in 2012 and 2013 and about $15,000 this year, according to Ms. Mundy. The fund also raises money to help other veterans groups, she said.
“Joe was so passionate about taking care of his men,” Ms. Kestler said. Now it falls to the Theinert Memorial Fund to carry on that job of taking care of troops and their families, she said. “There are so many veterans who need this,” she said about the ranch.
“That’s our inspiration,” Ms. Mundy said.
What is still not understood by some is why so men and women are willing to volunteer to serve their country, Ms. Kestler said. Joey expressed it well in a book his family found after his death: “There is nothing glorious about war, but I will go to it to keep the people I love away from it.”
An upcoming fundraiser will bring money to the Theinert Memorial Fund, and give voice to the stories of other veterans.
Dubbed “The Telling Project,” it was organized to create understanding of the military by sharing the experiences of veterans and their families.
“We give veterans and military family members the opportunity to speak, and their communities the opportunity to listen,” according to The Telling Project website.
The event will be staged at the Bay Street Theatre on October 4. Information on tickets will be made available shortly through the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund website at josephjtheinertmemorialfund.org.