It was a lucky day for Shelter Island when Jim and Margaret Colligan discovered Shelter Island. They lived to the west on Long Island and their children went to school in New England, making the Orient Point Ferry the transportation of choice. On one particular run, they decided to drop over from Greenport and have a look.
Recently retired from a teaching career in Carle Place and a parallel military career, and thinking of buying land on the North Fork, Jim and his wife, Margaret, had been looking in Orient and East Marion. But “one day we just came over to the Island, were driving around and we saw a sign on a tree, ‘one acre opposite the water.’ We called the number, ended up buying [the lot], and built the house in ‘06.” They moved in full-time in 2007.
And in the four short years since then, he’s become involved with the Mashomack Preserve, working in the Visitor Center and serving on the board of trustees, as well as helping Bill Zitek with his blue bird project; the Catholic Church on Mondays, overseeing the collection and deposit of funds; coaching basketball at the school three hours a night, five or six days a week; developing his photography hobby, for which he keeps his camera — which his wife refers to as his “new mistress” — always with him; the Silver Beach Association, of which he is currently board president, where he has helped convert a 6-acre association property into a wildlife sanctuary; and the American Legion, recently developing a program there for school kids on Veteran’s Day.
But to begin at the beginning …
Jim Colligan grew up on Long Island, went to Westbury High School and on to Niagara University, getting his bachelor’s degree in 1969 in science in physical education. Having been enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) through college, he was commissioned a second lieutenant soon after graduation and went on active duty at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. From there, he went to Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne for a year and then, “In my second year of active duty, from July of ‘70 to July of ‘71, I was in South Vietnam, the detachment commander of a medical battalion.”
The medical assignment, he said, was “sort of a natural evolution. While I was at university, I ran the infirmary for two and a half years, beginning the second half of my sophomore year. Four of us ran the place; there was a nurse on during the day and then we ran the place for the next 16 hours, and all weekend. We also drove the ambulance. And I worked in a pharmacy during high school for two years.”
His orders for Vietnam came through early, forcing the postponement of his wedding, so it didn’t happen until three weeks after his return home in 1971. “I got the job” at the school in Carle Place “the Friday before the wedding,” he remembered, and taught health education there, becoming director of athletics after eight years. Eventually he became director of health, physical education and recreation, family and consumer sciences and athletics. He taught two classes a day and coached varsity basketball, taking his team to the state finals in 1999 and 2005. During the 35 years that he stayed at Carle Place, he remained active in the Reserves.
His unit was activated in 1991 for Desert Storm, the operation to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But he wasn’t sent there. As a lieutenant colonel, he spent the time teaching at the General Staff College in Fort Totten in Queens. “I went back to Fort Sam Houston for three months, came home later in ‘91 and rose to the rank of colonel in ‘92. I was up for brigadier general in ‘92 but took a buyout, which was a good thing because I don’t think I would’ve made it.”
In 2006, he retired from Carle Place. Margaret, who was a year behind him in college, has been as involved and active as Jim, who said, “She’s always been that sort of person.” She taught for many years as well, first as a substitute teacher at Carle Place when their three children were young. She went on to teach elsewhere, with specialties in English, the yearbook and SAT review courses. Once on Shelter Island, she obtained her broker’s license and works now with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s. She also teaches two college courses on line.
Jim’s younger brother, Michael, now lives here with his wife, Lynne, and their two girls, and Jim’s love affair with the Island continues to grow.
“This Island is such a special place,” he said. “The Joe Theinert event? The way this Island came together, dozens of people, hundreds of people coming together to celebrate a life and comfort a family — it was an amazing thing to see. I’m so proud to be a member of that kind of community. I’ve never been more proud than I was during that particular time. It brought a tear to the eye. I went over with colleagues to pick up the body at Westhampton Airport and that ride coming back to the Island in the drizzle, seeing thousands of people lining the streets … I was very proud of the East End.” He went on, “I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the Island and its people.”
And so Shelter Island goes on getting richer — one family at a time.