“I don’t want another mother to be in my position,” Chrys Kestler said, recalling her horror on hearing the news on June 4, 2010, that her 24-year-old son, 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert had been killed in action in Afghanistan.
Ms. Kestler and her family have turned their grief into positive action. She’s about to lead a six-day retreat in June for other Gold Star Mothers at the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch in New Mexico on land Ms. Kestler and her husband, Dr. Frank Kestler, contributed in an effort to heal those touched by war.
Original plans called for construction of a multi-million dollar ranch and that’s still in the works. But while fund raising continues, the family realized it could launch smaller retreats and has done so three times, with son Jimbo Theinert taking 27 veterans and active troops to stay at the family house.
“We still dream of building a completely handicap-accessible facility with space to host even more guests at each retreat, and we have been saving all the donations you have made through the years to help us do that,” the family said in a Reporter advertisement last week.
At the same time, the family is seeking corporate sponsors.
“I had to be an example for my family and the community,” Ms. Kestler said in an interview at the Reporter’s office, From the day the family learned of Lt. Theinert’s death, it was the Shelter Island community that “gave us a safety net,” she said.
There were so many large and small gestures from Islanders — a woman in her 80s who brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off for children attending the reception at the American Legion Post following the funeral. Local business owners provided flowers. And, of course, it seemed the entire Island turned out to honor their fallen hero.
Ms. Kestler said she did what she knew her son would have wanted — launching the effort to give back to other veterans and their families.
“We don’t want anyone forgotten,” Ms. Kestler said. “We’re all women with a shared experience,” she said, a note of sadness in her voice as she talked about the upcoming Gold Star Mothers’ Retreat.
Those who accompany her on the retreat will be engaging in some soul-restoring activities such as yoga, aroma therapy and hiking.
They will be planting a time capsule on the site where the bunkhouse ranch will eventually rise, and walking along a 2,800 square foot outdoor stone labyrinth created by troops who have been guests in the past.
On July 6 at the South Ferry East landing a party starts at 5 p.m. on the lawn where cocktails and canapés will be served. A ferry cruise aboard the M/V Lt. Joe Theinert will feature dinner and dancing from 7 to 9 p.m. Visit JJTMF.org to register, or contact [email protected], or call (631) 835-6503.
On September 18, tStrongpoint Theinert Ranch in Riverhead will host an annual golf tournament.