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Shelter Islander Esther Hunt joins the Century Club

When Esther Hunt rounded the century mark on May 13, her family members came from near and far to celebrate her as a cherished matriarch in a place where she was also a beloved member of the Island community.

Asked if she had thoughts on what she had learned in her lifetime, she said ”We should all be grateful for all we have, and that we’re able to be with each other. And try to be nice to people.”

A graduate of Vassar, she showed a spunky independence and love of adventure when she and two friends drove across the country following her graduation, from New Jersey to California and back, in a convertible she’d borrowed from her brother.

She and Bridgford Hunt were married on her birthday, in 1950. The Island was a perfect fit for Bridgford, who loved boats and boating and owned and maintained the wooden catboat, Selina II, for more than 40 years.

He captained her in OpSails in New York Harbor and Boston in 1976, 1986, 1992 and 2000. Their son, his namesake, Bridg, is general manager of the North Ferry, carrying on the family’s deep connection to this place and the boats that make life on the Island possible.

After renting for years in the Heights, Esther and Bridgford built a house in 1971, on property her grandfather had bought in Dering Harbor in 1913.

In an interview with the Reporter’s feature writer, Charity Robey, she recalled how she loved spending summers at her grandfather’s place in Shelter Island — she couldn’t wait to get here.

“I loved the smell of the creek at low tide,” she remembered. “I didn’t like it for the perfume, I liked it because I knew I’d arrived.”

For many years, she and Bridgford were active in the Village of Dering Harbor as well as the Shelter Island Yacht Club, where the family planned to gather for her 100th birthday.

After Bridgford’s death in 2012, she ensured the preservation of about 30 acres of nearby woods, undeveloped land that had been in her family for decades. In 2015, she made possible the Mildred Flower Hird Preserve, now owned by the town, which can never be built on.

“I named it for my mother,” Esther said. “Not that she was a great naturalist and she certainly wasn’t a hiker. But she did care about nature.”

The Dering Harbor home that Esther and Bridgford built, and that she still lives in, has been the site of two family births — Bridg and his wife P.A.T.’s children, Selina and Martin.

Esther served for a time in the 1980s as Mayor of Dering Harbor, and has been an active supporter of the Shelter Island Historical Society and Public Library over the decades.

Her community of close friends from the Senior Center celebrated her 99th birthday last year with a giant cake and a lively gathering at Camp Quinipet. When told how valuable she is to the community, Ms. Hunt was quick to reply that she wants a few more years.

Esther Hunt celebrated her 99th birthday at Camp Quinipet last year as cook Reggie Johnson baked her a cake to share with friends from the Senior Center. Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli (center) joins in the merriment of the day. (Credit: Julie Lane)

Presenting the cake, cook Reggie Johnson serenaded Ms. Hunt with his own happy birthday song. Supervisor Gerry Siller stopped in to wish her a happy birthday, as did Councilman Jim Colligan.

The well-known, popular Island musicians Heather Reylek, Sherry Stelljes Penny and John Kerr, and Wendy Clark were on hand to provide music, inviting the seniors to sing along to classic songs — “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Heart of My Heart,” “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” and many more.

In celebration of Esther’s 100th birthday, the chorus of joyful songs, and warm birthday wishes, continues.