Jack Monaghan is a man who can’t say no.
That’s why he’s involved in so many volunteer efforts and why the Lions Club has named him its Citizen of the Year, an award he’ll receive at a dinner in his honor at the Pridwin Hotel on Thursday, May 21.
But he did say no in his first brush with Shelter Island when he came here from his home in Forest Hills for a friend’s 60th birthday party in 1998. Having sold a cabin he’d owned in New Jersey, Mr. Monaghan rebuffed his friend’s suggestion that he consider buying a house on the Island.
“Leave me alone,” was his initial response, only to put down a deposit two days later on a Dering Harbor Inn condo, deciding that would be a lovely place to live.
“Once you’re here, you get absolutely captured,” Mr. Monaghan explained why he fell so hard, so fast, for the Island.
Not long after putting down roots, he began his involvement with the people of his new home. A former high school and college English and speech teacher, he found himself enmeshed in volunteer work, mostly with students.
Congratulated on the Lions award, he said part of him was embarrassed to receive it. “There are so many people on this Island who do so much,” Mr. Monaghan said about the selection. “I should have been suspicious” because the Lions hadn’t invited him to be on the Selection Committee, a role he had assumed many times over the years.
“Jack Monaghan personifies the Lions’ motto — ‘We Serve,’” said Selection Committee Chairman Dr. Frank Adipietro. “He supports each and every effort on the Island.”
Mr. Monaghan became a mentor to Island students, many of whom have become friends.
When Dr. Frank Kestler and his wife Chrystyna decided to honor Mr. Monaghan by naming a bench outside Dr. Kestler’s dental office in his honor, they had no trouble assembling a large group of friends and students to celebrate the occasion. But all they told him was that he was invited to have lunch with Dr. Kestler. The honoree said he was fooled until the last moment, wondering why so many people he knew were gathered at Dr. Kestler’s office.
It’s not just a celebratory monument to his good works. Mr. Monaghan can often be found relaxing on his bench.
How he got involved with Island students is because Faculty Association President Brian Becker roped him into participating in a mentoring program, he said, and then he was corralled by former School Superintendent Kenneth Lanier to become a substitute teacher.
That led to two longer term assignments, as he twice had to take over classes for history teachers — one who died in a drowning accident and the other who succumbed to pancreatic cancer. “I really became part of the school,” Mr. Monaghan said.
His involvement as mentor and substitute led to working with John and Anu Kaasik on the annual school play. He has also coached football and basketball, most recently assisting Jay Card with the varsity basketball team. He remains a devout fan of high school athletics.
“I never miss a volleyball game,” he said. “Cindy would kill me if I did,” he added, referring to Coach Cindy Belt.
While he hasn’t served on the Shelter Island Educational Foundation Board, he has assisted with various programs the organization has sponsored. He’s been a substitute mentor with Mary Dwyer’s 2Rs4Fun writing program at the Shelter Island Library and a regular Sunday volunteer at Mashomack Preserve.
He’s also been on the Helping Committee at Our Lady of the Isle Church.
Off Island, Mr. Monaghan sings with choruses on both forks — Masterworks on the North Fork and the Choral Society of the Hamptons on the South Fork.
“Life without music is empty,” Mr. Monaghan said.
How has he made time for all this?
“I never married. I never made the same mistake once,” he said, no doubt repeating a line he has used throughout his life. His siblings died young, but he is close to cousins who will be joining him the week after the Lions dinner on a trip to his ancestral home outside Dublin, Ireland. It’s a country where he spent about 40 percent of his time between the years 1989 and 2004 while he was working as a consultant to major corporations.
His work involved training executives to make compelling presentations at company meetings and to clients. ITT was his largest client, he said.
And while he describes himself as non- political, he has also worked for politicians, assisting them in honing their messages to voters. He assisted Democrat Terry Sanford, a former North Carolina governor, when Mr. Sanford ran a winning campaign for the United States Senate. He also worked for Republican Congressman Tom Railsback and Independent presidential candidate John Anderson.
Mr. Monaghan’s first job after graduating from St. Francis College in Brooklyn was writing for NBC. He started as a college intern and was offered a full-time job writing news, special events and sports, primarily for radio, he said. Much as he enjoyed it, something was missing that he discovered through teaching and the connection he made with students in a classroom.
He earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and came close to completing a doctoral degree at New York University.
Several years later, NYU bestowed an honorary doctorate on Mr. Monaghan.
“It’s a great life,” said the man who celebrates his 80th birthday in June. “I never really planned anything. It just happened. I have no regrets. I’m a happy man. I always have been.”