05/28/19 2:00pm

COURTESY PHOTO U.S. Army First Lt. Joseph Theinert

While Monday’s Memorial Day observances on Shelter Island were as stirring and meaningful as ever, there were some familiar faces missing from past years. The Gold Star family of Lt. Joseph Theinert was spending the weekend conducting a leadership retreat for veterans and Shelter Island students at their foundation’s Strongpoint Ranch in New Mexico. (more…)

06/05/15 2:00pm
CARA LORIZ PHOTO June 9, 2010: Nick Kestler is embraced by Police Chief James Read as he and stepbrothers Billy and Jimbo Theinert return to the motorcade after removing a yellow ribbon from the school marquee. After days of waiting, their brother Joe was finally home.

CARA LORIZ PHOTO
June 9, 2010: Nick Kestler is embraced by Police Chief James Read as he and stepbrothers Billy and Jimbo Theinert return to the motorcade after removing a yellow ribbon from the school marquee. After days of waiting, their brother Joe was finally home.

At the Lions Club’s Citizen of the Year dinner last month, honoree Jack Monaghan recalled a conversation he’d had with a young friend who had recently graduated from college. They were talking about what makes the Island such a special place. The younger man said simply, “Joey Theinert’s funeral.” (more…)

08/06/13 5:00pm

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Captain Jon Westervelt of South Ferry, at the controls during one of 30 round trips he makes in a nine hour shift.

When asked what a typical day working on the South Ferry entails, Captain Jon Westervelt summed it up in just a few words: “We go back and forth. That’s what we do.”

After 35 years on the job, it’s an easy summation for Captain Westervelt, but if you enquire further, you’ll discover his job is so much more than that.

Tuesday morning, with the sun shining but the air crisp, the Reporter went along for the ride at South Ferry. All was calm out on the water, so the approximately five-minute trip from Shelter Island to North Haven was “just another day” for the captain.

He skillfully maneuvered the ferryboat across his pilot-in-training, Liam Schulz, performed routine safety checks and closely observed his mentor. “Once a month, we service the boat, change the oil, and make sure everything — the radars, radios, devices, and man overboard rescue equipment — is all working properly,” the captain was saying.

Down below, two young deck hands loaded cars, trucks and people onto the boat, carefully balancing the vessel. Captain Westervelt is one of three instructor captains who teach newly licensed operators how to safely drive the boats.

What exactly does it take to drive one of these things? “Some instruction. But mostly common sense,” the captain said, with Mr. Schulz nodding in agreement. “It’s nerve-wracking, definitely, but also a rewarding experience.”

It’s drummed into trainees that timing is crucial, especially while docking adjusting constantly on the fly to wind, tides, and speed.

There’s a mandate of 60 hours of driving newly licensed operators must complete before they are able to go it alone, but Captain Westervelt said that everyone he’s trained has had “much more experience” on the boats than the required minimum.

The ferryboat he was driving Tuesday morning was commissioned in 1997 and was South Ferry’s first “big” boat. “The day it arrived, we put it right to work,” the captain recalled. “It was a game changer,” he added, referring to immediately helping alleviate an increase in ferry traffic.

Formerly known as the M/V Southern Cross, it was recommissioned by the company in 2010 to honor the memory and sacrifice made by 1st Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, a Shelter Island native killed on active duty in Afghanistan. Joey worked summers at the South Ferry as a deck hand from 2007 to 2009.

The Lt. Joseph Theinert can hold up to 18 vehicles, compared to the smaller boats that transport about 10. It’s one of three big boats the company operates, in addition to a fourth smaller boat. On busy days, or on days like last week when traffic was higher than usual due to road closures on Route 39 on the South Fork, all four boats are put out, transporting hundreds of people across the narrow channel.

The traffic, though, isn’t close to being the hardest part of the job. “It’s the elements,” explained Captain Westervelt. He takes a stoic approach. “Each winter seems to be getting a little bit longer, but it comes with the job.”

With so many years on the job, the man does have stories. One that he won’t ever forget is an emergency evacuation during Hurricane Sandy. Sandy’s record tides flooded roadways and the water between the ramp and boat deck was too much for an ambulance to navigate. So when an elderly woman had to be taken to Southampton Hospital, a Good Samaritan with a pickup truck, along with Island first responders and Captain Westervelt braved the storm to help safely transport the patient. It was at the height of the hurricane’s fury, but despite winds up to 90 mph and rising water, there was no question what had to be done.

“Getting everyone across safely was the only option,” Captain Westervelt said. “These challenges test your knowledge of the water.” But that day howling winds and record high tides weren’t the biggest dangers. It was all the debris — some of it massive — floating and surging in the wicked swells.

His stoicism is a method he uses approaching the future. “Sandy wasn’t the first hurricane, and it won’t be the last,” he said, not forgetting to add that he couldn’t have brought the woman safely across without the combined efforts of police and fire department personnel, EMTs, and his coworkers.

The Clark family’s connection to the South Ferry Company dates back to 1714. “This is a family-run business,” said President Cliff Clark. His nephew, Bill Clark, is the family historian, having researched everything from family lineage to the details of every boat ever used by the company.

Mr. Clark explained that in the 18th century, the method of crossing was a sailboat. In 1832 Samuel G. Clark introduced the first barge ferry and in the early 1900s Clifford Youngs Clark incorporated the company and brought in motorboat and “double-enders,” similar to today’s boats.

A native of New Jersey but graduate of Shelter Island High School, Captain. Westervelt started working for South Ferry after graduation, when Cliff Clark’s father was still the boss. “So I feel like I’m a part of the family here,” he said,

The captain recalled coming to Shelter Island on a whim, courtesy of his father. A family friend had a house here on the Island and suggested to his father, then a tugboat captain in New York City, that he “should come out here and drive the ferries,” he said. “It’s kind of funny where people end up.”

And so each day, Captain Westervelt and his crew set out to do more than go back and forth, but to safely get people to where they need to be. In one nine-hour shift, they make around 30 round trips. With 15-18 cars on a boat, and the tendency to fill them to capacity especially during the summer, they are always kept busy.

As Captain Westervelt joked, “You do the math.”

09/02/12 1:28pm

As nearly 150 people readied themselves to ride across Shelter Island Sunday morning, veteran Matt Rohde reminded the crowd who they were honoring.

“We’re here today because Joey’s not,” Mr. Rohde said. “Just remember Joe. That’s all we ask.”

Cyclists and veterans rode in the first “Spur Ride,” a fundraiser to help support the Lt. Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund.

First Lt. Theinert was killed in June 2010 by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifice. He was 24 years old.

The fundraising event Sunday included local cyclists and veterans from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who rode with the Wounded Warriors project, which helps injured service members transition into civilian life.

Guest speakers like Supervisor Jim Dougherty and U.S. Olympic sailor and Shelter Island native Amanda Clark attended the event and thanked the veterans in the crowd for their service.

“I had an opportunity to represent us,” Ms. Clark said to the Wounded Warriors. “But it’s nothing like the way you guys represent us.”

Riders took one of two routes on the ride, a 12-mile loop or the 25-mile journey. Along the way, volunteers offered water bottles, energy bars and bananas to the cyclists and veterans.

“I’m glad to see people pay attention to these fellas,” said James Pete Jepson, a Vietnam veteran and motorcycle rider with the Patriot Guard who helped escort the Wounded Warriors during the ride. “God bless them.”

Army Sgt. Angel Vazquez and Sgt. William Santos, who both served in Iraq, said they were happy to see the large turnout for the event.

“It’s been really great,” Sgt. Vazquez said at the rest station halfway through the ride. “I’m happy but really tired.”

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTOS | Many of the riders at the first Shelter Island Spur Ride wore t-shirts like this one honoring veteran Lt. Joseph J. Theinert, who died in Afghanistan in June 2010.

The bike ride began just after 8 a.m. at the American Legion Hall.

Jaclyn Yamada straps on her helmet just before the Shelter Island Spur Ride fundraiser began.

Riders salute the flag during as the Star Spangled Banner is sung at the Shelter Island Spur Ride.

Olympian and Shelter Island resident Amanda Clark was a guest at the event, and thanked the veterans for their service.

Bike riders kick off the Shelter Island Spur Ride Sunday morning.

Two Wounded Warriors speed into a rest station during the 25-mile-long ride.

A volunteer helps fill up a rider’s water bottle Sunday Morning.

Army Sgt. Angel Vazquez (left) and Sgt. William Santos, both veterans from Iraq, rode in Sunday’s ride. “It’s been really great,” Mr. Vazquez said.

Supporters kept in mind who the event was honoring.

A member of the Hampton Bays American Legion rides with the Patriot Guard to escort the Wounded Warriors on the ride.

06/04/12 7:00am

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | From left, Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert's brother, Jimbo, and parents Chrystyna and Frank Kestler at a memorial benefit Sunday at Billy's by the Bay in Greenport.

The East End community came together Sunday in Greenport for the second annual memorial benefit honoring Army 1st Lt. Joseph Theinert.

Lt. Theinert’s mother, Chrystyna Kestler, said her family is grateful for the community’s support.

“We’ve been supported every step of the way,” Ms. Kestler said. “The community has never let us fall down.”

The memorial benefit was held at Billy’s by the Bay in Greenport where visitors listened to music and poetry. In addition, local businesses donated a variety of items for raffles and volunteers sold food and beverages.

Proceeds from the event will go to the Southold-Mattituck-Greenport Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps known as NJROTC.

Pick up Thursday’s paper to read more about this story.

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