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Theinert Memorial fund launches retreats for vets

BEVERLEA WALZ From left, Mary and Jimbo Theinert, Chrystyna and Frank Kestler at a Strongpoint Theinert Ranch informational gathering on June 8 at Kyle’s restaurant.
From left, Mary and Jimbo Theinert, Chrystyna and Frank Kestler at a Strongpoint Theinert Ranch informational gathering on June 8 at Kyle’s restaurant.

The only way to reach a goal is to start, Jimbo Theinert said.

And that’s what he and his family have done to help veterans and their families.

Mr. Theinert is well-known to Islanders as a popular teacher at Shelter Island School and someone involved in community activities. Mr. Theinert is also known as the brother of First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, known as Joey, who was killed in action in Afghanistan six years ago.

The family was embraced by the Shelter Island community, infusing them with the strength to turn their pain into something positive in Joey’s memory that would benefit other veterans, Mr. Theinert said on a visit to the Reporter’s office last week.

The Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund was formed to provide a retreat for veterans and their families, all-expenses paid vacations at a site Joey’s and Mr. Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler, and her husband, Dr. Frank Kestler, own in Magdalena, New Mexico, called the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch.

The plan is still evolving, with the process of raising money and gaining necessary approvals churning slowly and the family was eager to see something concrete beginning quicker. That’s why Mr. Theinert and Dr. Kestler organized a February retreat at the ranch for a group of veterans to put in place plans for a similar retreat in August.

Mr. Theinert described organizing the initial gathering — again, with all expenses covered by the foundation — as “nerve-wracking.” The founders were unsure those invited to participate would embrace the effort with the enthusiasm he and Dr. Kestler felt.

What they hoped was that the veterans would build the same camaraderie on a retreat that they had known during their time in the service, laying the groundwork for connections to build a support system for each other.

Dr. Kestler, who operates dental practices on Shelter Island and in Mattituck, and is an Afganistan veteran himself, helped settle Mr. Theinert’s nerves about whether the intent would be realized.

He, Dr. Kestler and seven veterans spent five days together, hiking, building a labyrinth and a fire pit but, most importantly, making connections.

“It was nourishing to the point that it was palpable,” Mr. Theinert said.

The seven vets, ranging in age from 24 to 59, were carefully chosen for this first retreat, Mr. Theinert said. He or members of his family knew all seven.

Zack Mundy was the first Islander to be deployed after Joey’s death. The Theinert and Mundy families had close ties so it was natural to include Mr. Mundy, Mr. Theinert said. Steve Bartomioli works for

“Hope for the Warriors,” an organization providing a wide range of services to veterans. He and Mr. Theinert knew each other through previous activities for veterans and their families.

Another vet had served with Joey in Afghanistan and still another was a clinically trained social worker, an important human resource for such gatherings, Mr. Theinert said. Service members often return with physical and emotional disabilities and having a trained therapist able to assist if anyone needed support in any way was vital, he said.

While the men shared bunkhouse facilities, they were far more comfortable than what one might imagine, Mr. Theinert said.

Everybody cooperated, whether it was cooking meals, cleaning, leading activities or volunteering to fix fences on the property, Mr. Theinert said.

Eventually, a larger facility will provide room for families to accompany the veterans. The retreats will continue with the goal of doing four a year.

The Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund has set a $300,000 goal to purchase and install a modular home bunkhouse on the ranch property and about $35,000 has already been collected.

Helping support the retreats, on July 7 South Ferry is making available its M/V Lt. Joe Theinert boat for the evening to take party goers on a three-hour cruise. Tickets are $100 and include a grilling station, raw bar, specialty cocktails, live music and a “We Remember Joey” shirt. Call Melissa at 835-6503 or send her an email at [email protected] to book your passage.