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Clark family and South Ferry honored for tradition of dedicated service

The Shelter Island Chamber of Commerce had a treat in store for the guests at Friday’s sold-out Business of the Year dinner at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club. Instead of the obligatory speeches that typically accompany an award’s presentation and acceptance, the Clark family responded to the honor accorded to them and their South Ferry company by presenting a slide show tracing the history of the ferry’s operation on the Island, going back to roots in the 1700s.

In brief remarks of introduction, Bill Clark spoke of the challenges they had faced as a family and a business this past year. The Clarks lost a “beloved giant,” Nick Morehead, son-in-law of the ferry company’s CEO Cliff Clark, in May. Mr. Morehead, who was the Chief Operating Officer of the ferry company, had sent a memo to the ferry staff last spring while undergoing treatment for cancer, as he had for years. “I’m sorry I’m currently not able to be in the office as much,” but said he would respond to requests: “If I can’t get it done myself, I’ll find someone who can.” Their feelings for this “very special man” are not going to go away, Bill Clark said.

The company also faced challenges from the COVID pandemic, which required careful protocols, affected crews and impacted the schedule the ferry strives to maintain seven days a week.

The slide show presented by Bill Clark III offered a journey back to the days when the ferry was a rowboat piloted by Jonathan Havens in the 1700s. Samuel Clark bought property from the Havens family in 1832, and with the marriage of David Clark to Adelaide Havens in 1845, the Clarks moved into the role they would play for years to come. 

The slide show offered views of simple ferries pulling barges with horses and carriages aboard, with Model Ts coming later. Mr. Clark credited ancestors with upgrading the ferry equipment over the years, as when Clifford Youngs Clark introduced engines and the first Southside ferry in 1923. “We re-use the names,” Mr. Clark said, adding that several boats had been named Southside and Sunrise over the years. A favorite name was the Southern Cross. A boat with that name was changed to honor Lt. Joseph J. Theinert, an Islander and former ferry employee who died while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. A new Southern Cross went into service in 2020.

The presentation was part history lesson, part family scrapbook, as members of the Clark family rose from their seats to point out relatives in the sepia photographs on the screen.

Cliff Clark followed the slide show by paying credit to his wife Tish and all the women and men who, whether family or not, share the same dedication to providing service. One nephew, he noted, could not attend the dinner because it was his shift to drive the ferry that night.