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Honor thy fathers: A wheel ties families and Taylor’s Island together

LOUISE O’REGAN CLARK PHOTO A wheel purchased at a yard sale by Keith Clark (left), Richard Surozenski (second from right) and Steve Lenox (right). Alfred Kilb Jr. (second from left) will help hang it in the Smith-Taylor Cabin after its restoration.
LOUISE O’REGAN CLARK PHOTO A wheel purchased at a yard sale by Keith Clark (left), Richard Surozenski (second from right) and Steve Lenox (right). Alfred Kilb Jr. (second from left) will help hang it in the Smith-Taylor Cabin after its restoration.

It’s a labor of love for three Island men, remembering their fathers’ heritage of hard work, sense of community and spirit, by taking on those responsibilities themselves.

The three men — Keith Clark, Richard Surozenski and Steve Lenox — are recreating something that was lost, an old chandelier in the shape of an old ship’s wheel and will give it to the Smith-Taylor Cabin at Taylor’s Island. The gift will continue the ongoing restoration of the cabin, but will also memorialize their fathers who inspired and guided them to adulthood.

“They were water men,” Mr. Lenox said, meaning they all had unbreakable ties to the waters around Shelter Island that sustained them and their families.

The restoration of the Smith-Taylor Cabin at Taylor’s Island has been the pro bono work for many volunteers who helped save it from the wrecker’s ball back in the 1970s. Among them were three men named Robert “Bucky” Clark, Stanley Surozenski and Stanley Lenox.

These men spent much of their lives boating, fishing and clamming, and all had connections, in various ways, to Taylor’s Island. That’s why their three sons wanted to purchase a special wheel chandelier, a symbol of the unique nature of the place, refurbish it, place it in the cabin and dedicate it to their dads.

Bucky Clark raised his family in a house close to Taylor’s Island, which is known as a “tombolo,” or a peninsula that becomes an island at high tide. Keith remembers being paid $2.50 to mow the lawn surrounding the cabin when he was a kid. Another memory — calling his dad to pull vehicles out of the muck when the tide wasn’t low enough.

Keith’s dad also helped build the concrete wall on the Taylor’s Island property, and family helped with funeral plans when S. Gregory Taylor, who gave his name to the island, died in 1948.

In his will, Mr. Taylor had provided that the island would go to his nephew, Stephen Stephano, and then to the Town of Shelter Island for “the use and enjoyment of the general public.”

But it went largely unused until the 1970s when town government entertained the idea of demolishing the cabin. That sparked a contingent of volunteers, led by P.A.T. Hunt, to mobilize to save the irreplaceable structure.

It started with organizing a Town Board meeting on the island so elected officials could get a first hand look at the cabin.

“We’ve got endless ties to it,” Mr. Clark said about Taylor’s Island, explaining why he wanted to be on the Taylor’s Island Preservation and Management Committee along with Mr. Surozenski and Mr. Lenox.

“I think we owed Mr. Taylor something and we tried to fulfill his wishes and keep it decent,” Mr. Surozenski said.

“It’s a landmark,” he added, about the unique place to which he has devoted so much time and labor. “But so many people on Shelter Island have never been out there.”

“It’s one of Shelter Island’s prettiest places,” Mr. Clark said.

The idea of contributing even more, and remembering their father’s came at the annual Taylor’s Island Clambake last month. Many people were reminiscing with some remembering the old ship’s wheel and its lights that hung as a chandelier in the cabin, and wondering where it had gone.

Mr. Clark thinks it was taken from the cabin at the time the town planned to demolish the building, but doesn’t know where it was stored. They’d love to have the original back — “no questions asked,” they all echoed. A sundial that once sat on the lawn is also missing and, again, the men would like to have it back.

Immediately after the clambake, they set about finding a replacement wheel. A report came through grapevine that there was one in Greenport, that might suit the situation. But before they could get to see it, another was spotted at Jerry Gibbs’ recent yard sale.

The men chipped in, and for $500 bought themselves the wheel they intend to restore. They’ll likely hang a small plaque on the wall by the fireplace dedicating it to their fathers.

“If you’re going to have a chandelier, that would be the right one,” Mr. Clark said. “It’s worn so it definitely was a working wheel.”

Mr. Lenox speculated that the original wheel that lit up many nights at the cabin might have come from an oyster boat.

The men have a tiny photo of the original and its lights that will guide them as they work to recreate what once was.

Former town Supervisor Alfred Kilb Jr. will assist in hanging the remodeled chandelier, ensuring that the ropes from which the original hung are in good order or, if needed, replaced by new ones, Mr. Surozenski said.

“We’re like kids with a new toy,” Mr. Surozenski added.