Around the Island

Love in a cold climate: The secret to finding true love? Shop local

I would not wish any companion in the world but you.

— Miranda to Ferdinand in “The Tempest,” by William Shakespeare

There’s something special about finding true love on an island. Here are the stories of four Island couples whose love was kindled on Shelter Island. Some required more kindling than others, but all have stood the test of time.

Pat and Steve Lenox,together for 52 years

In 1968 the Chequit had a great bar on the ground floor, and when Pat and Steve Lenox met there a band called Jacob’s Ladder was playing. Before that night, Pat had already decided she was moving to Boston to try big city life, but in three months she was back.

“She couldn’t live without me,” said Steve, and there must be some truth in that because they were married a few months after, and are still inseparable five decades later.

Asked what was (so far) their best moment as a couple, Steve said, “First child, second child, third child. I told Patty, I wanted to have three children, and she kept saying two’s plenty, two’s plenty. She walked in one day and said, “You got your damn wish.”

In 1998 they built a diner-style restaurant called Pat and Steve’s that quickly became a center of Island life. “Doing the restaurant, that was a big thing in our lives,” Pat said. “It was something that I always wanted to do, and I was lucky enough that Steve agreed to it.”

Today it’s still going strong, called The Islander, and owned by Ashley Knight and Chris Chobor.

Pat and Steve are in Florida right now, fishing and getting outside, and on a recent drive Pat saw a billboard offering quickie divorces. “Holy cow, a divorce for $350?” she said.

They have a way of agreeing on most things, so they won’t be taking advantage of Florida’s bargain prices on divorce.

“We’ll be back next month,” said Steve.

”He’s always there,” Pat said. “My best friend.”

Mary Fran Gleason and Tom Bliss, together for 20 years

Mary Fran and Tom met in high school on Shelter Island in the 1970s. “We met on the basketball court, I was playing basketball and she stole my sunglasses,” Tom said. 

But then there was that thing at the tree. Tom had been seeing other people, and Mary Fran asked him to meet her under one of the Island’s oldest trees to talk it out. 

“I never showed up,” Tom said. “Shortly after that I left the Island and headed for California and I never did get those sunglasses back.”   

Thirty years passed. Mary Fran and Tom married other people, lived far away, and established careers, but something was missing. 

At the Shelter Island School’s all-class reunion in 2000, they found each other again. Initially, Mary Fran thought she’d skip it. “I never liked anyone in my class, and then my sister said, ‘Tommy Bliss is here and is asking about you.’”

Tom confirms that he wondered aloud if his old flame might be there. “When we met at the reunion, we knew there was still something going on.”

In the reunion’s golf tournament, they played in different foursomes and when Mary Fran told him she shot a 46, he said, “I knew I had to bring up my game.” 

The end of the reunion left them both shaken; married to other people, regretting what could have been. “When I got home I wrote him an email,” Mary Fran said.

It took a few years to sort it all out but by 2002 they were married, this time to each other.

One thing that’s remained unchanged in the 50 years since they met in high school, is Tom’s unique way of showing affection. “I like to pinch her ear,” he said.  “Yeah, we tease each other incessantly,” Mary Fran said. “He’s a pest. I hit his arm, like a little kid would hit his mean brother. We’re very compatible that way.”

The matter of who is the better golfer remains contested.

Marie Eiffel and Jason Penney, together for 12 years.

Marie Eiffel’s life on Shelter Island started after a 2002 automobile accident that very nearly killed her. In 2005, living in an unheated garage in Sag Harbor, she opened a consignment store in the Center, and one day Jason Penney, a New York-based photographer with a wife and two kids walked in and bought a lamp.

Marie found out later that a mutual friend advised Jason to visit the shop, “and see if you can buy something because that poor girl has no money.” When he bought the lamp, she told him it was her favorite piece, “It was!” she said. “And because I thought he was cute I added, “I want to see how it looks in your place.’”

Whenever Jason visited the Island, he stopped by Marie’s store, and one day he asked her where she was living. She confessed she was living in the unheated garage, and was totally broke. “He said, ‘But it’s so cold,’ and I thought, this guy has a heart.”

He offered her a room in his under-construction home while he was away for three months, and Marie later found a heated apartment on the Island.

During the 2008 recession, Jason lost most of his photography clients, separated from his wife, sold his apartment and was looking for a place to live. “When I said, you can stay with me … we started kissing. He moved in to my apartment and that’s how we started our relationship.”

He brought along the lamp.

Marie Eiffel has expanded her businesses since then, with Jason at her side.

“Everyone says it’s impossible to meet someone on this Island. I always say maybe you want a job with me. It’s a great place to meet people.”

Shelby Willumsen and Michael Mundy, together for 10 years (unless you count elementary school).

Mike and Shelby were childhood sweethearts, although Michael swears he was still playing the field at the Shelter Island elementary school. “I was always looking around,” he said.

When it got too weird in middle school to be dating someone who was more like a sibling than a sweetheart, their relationship became a friendship, and they dated people they didn’t know so well.

In 2010, Michael enlisted in the Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan. Shelby was at college in North Carolina, and missing Michael, she wrote him a letter. They started corresponding, and every three or four weeks, when Michael could get to a computer or phone he’d call her.

In 2012, when he arrived at Newark Airport at the end of his deployment, his siblings were holding a welcome home poster large enough to hide Shelby, who popped out from behind it.

“I was in complete shock,” Michael said. “I had no idea that anyone knew we were talking to each other.”

“I think his mom got excited when I said I wanted to come along to surprise him.” Shelby said. “They knew something was up.”

After being apart during his second deployment to Okinawa, they were finally able to live together, and married in October of 2018.

A year later, they experienced what they both say is their best moment as a couple, the birth of their son, Maverick.

“It was hard. A lot of sleepless nights, of Michael seeing me the most emotional I’ve ever been in my entire life,” Shelby said. “Needing him to be there to tell me it’s all right, we’re doing this together. It’s definitely opened up our communication even more.”

While Michael and Shelby were telling their story, Shelby had given Maverick some cherry tomatoes to play with, and the toddler was happily making a marinara sauce as she described the support of their large Shelter Island-based families. “I love Michael’s family. I love his sisters. They’re my sisters now. ”

“Starting a family,” Michael said, “puts a whole other level on it.”