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Strongpoint Theinert South Ferry cruise to raise funds for veterans’ retreat

“Amazing” is the word most used by Islanders who have visited Strongpoint Theinert Ranch through the years. Most are veterans who have served in wars including Vietnam, Beirut, Iraq and Afghanistan.

When Marine Corps veteran Zack Mundy returned from the first of three visits to the Magdalena, N.M. ranch, he said his wife told him it had done him wonders after his military service in Afghanistan.

He said he had left the Island a young high school graduate and returned a man who had seen the darker side of life in Afghanistan. “I don’t feel any different, but I know my family and my friends notice a difference in me,” he told the Reporter at the time.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, admitting he was on the fence about whether or not to go, but in three visits there, he describes it now as “really a magical place.”

Jimbo Theinert, far left, with participants in a recent veterans’ retreat at the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch in New Mexico. (Courtesy photo)

What makes it special, Shelter Island Police Officer Sean Clark said, is that you share experiences with other veterans, but you also can be alone with your thoughts. The veteran Marine Corps officer made two visits to the ranch — one in 2017 and again in 2019.

The first was to be with other veterans while the second on Memorial Day weekend in 2019 included some Shelter Island students who had heard from their teacher, “Jimbo” Theinert about the death of his brother, 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert, killed in Afghanistan.

In Lt. Theinert’s memory, his mother, Chrys Kestler and stepfather Dr. Frank Kestler had donated the land on which the ranch was built. They turned their grief into service to returning veterans.

The 2019 Memorial Day weekend trip is something the students will never forget, Officer Clark said. He’s still in touch with a number of the students who took that trip to the ranch with him and hopes the experience will encourage them to “pay it forward” to others. He noted that one element that makes ranch retreats so effective is it’s an area without cellphone service. There are few distractions to keep those who visit the ranch from dealing with other veterans and with their own thoughts, he said.

(Courtesy photo)

Councilman Jim Colligan told his Town Board colleagues recently the visits are unique in their ability to build trust, healing and bonding among veterans. Because it is remote, “surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains near Magdalena, the perfect place to host a retreat for veterans who have experienced too many difficult moments in combat and need to face their individual traumas.” Veterans leave the ranch feeling better about themselves and able to return home to continue their healing, Mr. Colligan said.

All of this takes money, and early fundraising was able to support building the barracks quarters that were finished in 2022. But there is still work to be done and that means more money is needed.

The aim is to build a 30-foot by 40-foot deck on the west side of the barracks. This will provide accessible outdoor space to allow groups to complete even more therapeutic activities, according to Mr. Theinert. It will be a place to view beautiful desert sunsets and observe wildlife at the newly installed “wildlife drinker,” he said.

Joey Theinert. (Courtesy photo)

Volunteers are ready to start the project at the beginning of 2024. Toward that effort, the annual sunset ferry cruise aboard the 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert boat at South Ferry needs to raise $29,500.

Shelter Island part-time grants writer, Jennifer Mesiano-Higham, who is married to a Marine Corps veteran, has volunteered to help write an application for the 2023 Veterans Marathon Grant, according to Mr. Colligan. Several residents have written testimonials about the ranch and what the grant would mean. “The program can only continue if we continue to receive donations, grants and monies through fundraising events,” Mr. Colligan said.

To register for the cruise that leaves the South Ferry dock by 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 16, visit the website at strongpointtheinert.org. The cruise includes music, food, and beverages. The ticket price is $100.

If you’re unable to join the cruise this year, but want to support the ranch, contributions can be made at the same website.