Around the Island

Father’s Day memories: Islanders remember the men who helped form them

One hundred years ago, a woman in Spokane, Washington named Sonora Smart Dodd decided to honor her father, a man who raised her and five siblings after their mother died in childbirth. With Dodd in the lead, Father’s Day spread across the country, and the rest of the U.S. joined her in a celebration of paternity, held ever since on the third Sunday in June.

In observance of Father’s Day, and the tool-wielding, ball-throwing, booboo-kissing men who make it happen, quite a few Shelter Islanders were ready to talk about what their fathers did for them.

Town Councilman Albert Dickson’s father Anton died when Albert was only 15, but he got a lifetime’s worth of fathering in those few years.

“My father was a carpenter, and a painter, so I learned trades from him. I grew up in a house where we did things,” Mr. Dickson said. “I didn’t realize we were poor. My dad was always giving things away.”

Jim Hayward, 87, moved to the Island to fish and farm in the 1950s and established his restaurant, Commander Cody’s, in 1984. His father, Anderson Hayward, is the man he admires most.

“Every morning when I wake up, I ask God, ‘Please, I’d like to be half the man my daddy was.’ A hell of a man. He lived in Charleston and he moved to Ridgefield, South Carolina and worked on the railroad, a track man. A strong man. He was like John Henry.”

Most of the Island’s Reiter family is big and strong, so it makes sense that Anthony Reiter is a fire chief like his father Robert before him. Anthony said, “We enjoy working with each other. Whether it’s on shift at the town Recycling Center, on our own projects, and at our family restaurant. It’s especially great when my children are there with me and their grandpa, just the way I did with my Poppie Bob.”

Cathy Kenny’s father died about five years ago at 91, and in the last years of his life, although taking care of him took most of her time, she learned from him. “I think I had a more open mind and sympathy for people who had to deal with mental illness, because of my father,” Cathy said. “He had a breakdown when I was in 4th grade, and then he got medication. I think it must have been very hard for him. A very bright man, very smart, and a voracious reader.”

Hap Bowditch’s father Harry “Hap” Bowditch had been gone for 10 years when his son spoke of him in 2017, as vividly as if his father was present. Part of one of the Island’s oldest families, Harry “Hap” was a fisherman, served as superintendent of the Highway Department, and owned an automotive repair shop. “My father was thrifty. He had the first nickel he ever earned, and I wear it,” Hap said. “He used to clam with tongs. I still have them. He never ate an egg. A very interesting man. He was a god to me.”

Another hero on the Island is Bryan Gallagher, one of the coaches responsible for the renaissance of a competitive running program at the Shelter Island School. From the perspective of his daughter Lindsey, a rising sophomore who runs cross country at Washington University in St. Louis, he’s one of the all-time greats,

“My dad is simply just incredible; involved with everything I do,” Lindsey said. “Even things that he knows little about he takes the time to understand so he can relate and support me with it. One of my favorite mantras of his is, “Bang it out.’ He’s taught me a lot about avoiding procrastination.”

The descendants of Robert and Barbara Clark, known as Buck and Buzz, are abundant on Shelter Island, and Keith Clark is one of their seven children. Buck came to Shelter Island in 1923 to live and work on the property that later became the Mashomack Preserve, and when Keith and his siblings lived in the Manor House at Mashomack, they were known as the “Bass Crick Brats.”

“My dad was great at organizing, and everything was a fun event,” Keith remembered. “We were fish mongers. We’d catch a couple of bushel baskets of flounder and go into town and bang on doors and sell everybody fish.”

Buck Clark wasn’t the only Island dad who knew how to turn work into play. Elizabeth Galle grew up on Shelter Island, the daughter of Bill Ryan, a long-time LILCO electrician who supplemented his income by taking jobs nights and weekends to support 10 children.

Bill was a big man, six feet-four, and often worked on houses with basements that consisted of narrow, dirt crawlspaces. Elizabeth remembers being about 10 when he asked if she’d like to come along.

“We went to church, had pancakes at the firehouse, and then we’d go to work,” she said. “He would feed the wire to us, and he’d use the flashlight, and we’d pull it to the next location where the flashlight was. It was so sweet. It was kind of gross, you might find a mouse, but you’d get to go to church and have pancakes.”

Bill Ryan passed away in 1984 at the age of 54. “He had a short life, but he had a big impact,” Elizabeth said.

An electrical fire damaged Elizabeth’s Shelter Island home in 2016, and when she and her husband went looking for a new one, her husband opened the electrical panel to assess the wiring.

“In my father’s handwriting, was ‘Bill Ryan’ and his telephone number,” Elizabeth said. “We bought the house. It was a time in our lives when we had so much upheaval. It was like a sign from Dad — ‘You’re going to be fine.’”