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Profile: Jim Colligan, life lived in fast forward

COURTESY PHOTO | Jim Colligan at home in Silver Beach in a rare moment of repose.

COURTESY PHOTO |
Jim Colligan at home in Silver Beach in a rare moment of repose.

When Jim Colligan and his wife Margaret moved into their newly built home in the heart of Silver Beach in July 2007, a casual observer might have seen a couple ready to relax and enjoy some quality time after decades of military service, teaching school and raising three successful children.

But that’s not how Jim and Margaret Colligan do things.

Jim can’t help being involved in the health, safety and quality of life on Shelter Island. That’s the whole Island, from the smallest bug scallop to the most gigantic leatherback turtle and including every man, woman and child. Jim has the care and protection of Shelter Island in his sights.

Jim has served on the Board of Trustees of Mashomack since 2009, where he is an active volunteer, working in the Environmental Education Program and promoting cleaner local waters with his work in the shellfish nursery. He helped coach the first-ever county champion 2014 boys basketball team, and has been active in establishing the Shelter Island Athletic Hall of Fame.

He is a vocal member of the Deer and Tick Committee and president of the Silver Beach Association where he has represented his community’s interests in a series of recent public meetings concerning the future of helicopter noise.

Margaret is a volunteer in the 2Rs4Fun program at the Shelter Island Library and volunteers on the Policy Board at the Peconic Teacher Center. Jim said, “It works for us. It makes for a good time and a solid, better relationship and brings a lot of self-satisfaction … People do volunteer work for a lot of reasons and one of them is because it makes you feel good.”

Jim’s life before moving to Shelter Island included a successful military career, rising to colonel in the army reserves, and a long and satisfying career as a teacher and coach. After graduating from Niagara University in 1969, he went straight to Vietnam during the bitter end of the war.

There, he was the recipient of a Bronze Star for his service. “By the time I got there, the war was different,” Jim said. “In my eyes and in the eyes of most Vietnam veterans, we slid downhill. It was a result of the will of the people back home.”

Jim described how in Vietnam, the complete lack of sanitation resulted in “rats the size of cats” that came indoors during monsoon season, providing some unexpected hilarity in an otherwise dismal situation. He watched as his bunkmate, asleep under mosquito netting, woke to find that a rat had fallen through some acoustical tiles on the ceiling, and landed on the bed netting right over his face.

Jim said, “He was a big guy, 6 foot 4, a captain, and he screamed. He got all tangled up in the bed netting and fell on the floor and it was just hysterical— the rat was in there with him tangled up in the bed netting, both of them rolling on the floor.”

Certain things you just don’t forget. In Vietnam, there were two things, the smell of the countryside and “the sound of helicopters.”

Jim readily admits that when it comes to volunteer service on Shelter Island, “Mashomack is my first love.

A lot of people think Mashomack is a place where you can go and hike or go to a special event at the Manor House. To me it is much more than that.”

His skillful nature photography has documented many wonders of Mashomack, bringing images to those of us who don’t usually step too far off the trails. He photographed the kits (young foxes) as they came out of dens on the old tennis courts behind the Manor House as the population recovered from the mange outbreak of four years ago; the recently-fledged bald eagles; and even photographed a necropsy performed to determine cause-of-death on a 450 pound leatherback turtle that was found in the waters off Mashomack.

During his 35-year career as a high school teacher, coach and athletic administrator, Jim had coached a successful boys basketball program in Carle Place, twice taking a team to the state semifinals.

Last season, as a volunteer assistant to Head Coach Mike Mundy, Jim got another taste of coaching success. “There is nothing that gives me more joy than the ride we took with the boys basketball team,” he said. “We went further than any other basketball team in the history of the school … the first team to win a county championship, and we went further than that.

“One of the thrills was looking up at the crowd and seeing all of the younger kids — Walter Richard’s CYO team — and see the kids looking out on the court and planting the seed in their minds that they can do this too … raising the bar academically, athletically and every other way. You limit yourself when you don’t have that vision of success. We are trying to teach kids about that vision.”

Jim is chairman of the committee establishing a Shelter Island Athletic Hall of Fame. Already they have inducted 20 individuals and eight teams, with the next induction coming in May of 2015.

Just reelected to a second term as president of the Silver Beach Association, Jim has served since 2110. “I consider it to be a privilege to serve the people of Silver Beach, to earn their trust, which I’m still trying to do,” he said.

He pointed out that not everyone is thrilled about measures to address deer and tick problems, including proposals to use 4-posters or to cull the herd with sharpshooters as other East End towns have done.

“Whether you support the 4-poster or not, I’m in favor of anything that reduces ticks,” he said. “You mention sharpshooter and you would think we were bringing in militia from the Soviet Union chasing the deer with semi-automatic weapons. Culling the herd is the only effective way to dramatically lower the incidence of tick-borne diseases. Utilizing sharpshooters should only be looked at as a last resort — let’s support and encourage our local hunters in this endeavor.”

The 40 percent increase in helicopter traffic and the resulting spike in noise complaints from Shelter Island residents this summer has presented Jim with a new and compelling reason to speak out for the health and safety of those who live (and who would like to sleep) on Shelter Island.

Jim sees water quality, the deer and tick issue and helicopter noise as regional problems. “I’m in favor of working with other communities. There is greater power in numbers. We can influence a lot more politicians. We know who is running in November.”

Jim has accomplished a lot in the first seven of his “retirement” years, and said he’s also learned a lot.

“The longer I live here, the more I get a sense of the people who live here. There are different opinions, but these are not monumental problems if we all put our energies together. I don’t know what kind of leader I am, but I do try to lead by example. I try to never go into something halfway. The only benefit is if you go out and put your mind to it, willing to sweat and believe in the cause.”

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