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Old friends from 1927 reunited on the Island

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Bob Edwards, now living in Houston, paid a visit to his friend, Jean Brechter, at her home here last month. The two were summer kids together for many years.

Once toddlers together, old friends Bob Edwards and Jean (née Schultheis) Brechter united at Ms. Brechter’s home here for a visit last month.

Mr. Edwards, now living in Houston, said he was told the first visit the two ever made to Shelter Island was in their mothers’ wombs in 1927.

What Ms. Brechter and Mr. Edwards remember vividly is wonderfully idle days at Louis’ Beach, long before anyone called it Crescent Beach. They also have fond memories of time spent with their families at the Shelter Island Yacht Club. Ms. Brechter describes herself as the club’s oldest member, and still shows off the Richetson-Russell Memorial Trophy she received in 1961.

Mr. Edwards said he has one as well, but with all the moving he’s done in his life, he’s not sure where it is.

The Island was quieter back then, Mr. Edwards recalled and Ms. Brechter agreed, before the town had been discovered by the flood of tourists who arrive on Memorial Day weekend and leave for their winter homes on Labor Day weekend.

The Island overpopulated with deer is also something new, Mr. Edwards said. When he was a child, the only place he could remember seeing deer was at Mashomack Preserve.

Another observation Ms. Brechter made is how much more expensive many special events on the Island have become, out of reach for a lot of old time Islanders, she said.

Ms. Brechter’s family, the Schultheises, lived in Flushing where her father was a doctor, but every summer and on many weekends and vacations, the family landed on Shelter Island where their ties ran deep.

Mr. Edwards said his family spent 35 summers here.

The two old friends’ lives took both away from the Island for many years, although there were occasional visits. In 2017, Mr. Edwards returned for the burial of Nancy Louise Purtell, his wife of 66 years, who had requested to be laid to rest here. She was the girl next door when the Edwards family rented a house in the Village of Dering Harbor. He noticed she was cute, asked her for a date, and the two quickly became inseparable.

Ms. Brechter had started her college career at Cornell University in medicine and was in a pre-nursing course when she found the field wasn’t for her. She switched to a major in English.

After graduating, she married her husband, Robert Brechter, a man she had known in Garden City and later met again at Cornell. They were married for 44 years until his passing in 1993.

Following her husband’s career in machine tool distribution, she moved to Cincinnati where he was sent for training and then to New Haven, Conn., where she became a stay-at-home mom, engaging in her passion for gardening. More changes in her husband’s assignments took the family to Scarsdale and then New Jersey, but there were still summer trips to Shelter Island.

With her children grown, she embarked on a career in real estate, selling properties in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. She started her own company, Foxfire, but after her husband’s death, opted to abandon the overhead of running her own office and worked here for Griffing and Collins, Allan Schneider and Melina Wein.

Someone introduced her to East End Hospice, where she became a board member and spent 18 years fundraising.

She’s been living on the Island full-time now for the past 20 years, while Bob Edwards’ life became more rooted in Houston, where he had settled with his family.

Mr. Edwards’ career working with refineries had him traveling the world. He and his wife spent time in England and in several states here, before they settled in Houston.

Ms. Brechter visited him there in recent years and he returned the favor, coming back to the Island this summer. Because his children and grandchildren live in Houston and Atlanta, he’s not about to move back to the island he loved as a child and young man. He acknowledged at 92 that travel is becoming more difficult, so he’s not sure if he’ll get back here.

At the same time, he continues to tell friends he can’t imagine a more heavenly place to grow up than Shelter Island when he was a child.

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