Could everyone write one simple essay about something that once happened in Saltaire…that they saw or were a part of…and put it on one big website? Somebody should collect a lot of stories before we all forget. Otherwise it is like a line in “On The Beach” : The history of the war that now would never be written.” -(JO'H)

Monday, February 2, 2015

Mystery Solved: The First Lady of Saltaire Ocean Rescue...


Jan 31, 2014
The investigation has come to a close. The jury is in.

After extensive interviews with Village of Saltaire (VOS) elders, a review of the Suffolk County Civil Servant archives in the sub-basement of the
county administration building, several Freedom of Information requests
(FOIAs) filed with both NOAA and the Coast Guard, and a careful review
by the VOS Historian in conjunction with the Saltaire Lifeguard (SOR) Record Keeper – SOR is proud to announce that the first lady of SOR is:

LESLIE PRESTON

Leslie resides on East Bay Prom in Saltaire and also lives in San Francisco during some other part of the year. She will next return to her beloved Fire Island in August.

Although Leslie was the first woman to take and successfully pass the famed “Dooley” test, the path in the sand to the top of the Broadway Lifeguard stand was first walked by Karen Maier. Karen, sister to SOR alumni John “Herc” Maier, worked and trained for a summer in the late 70’s on the ocean to let the boys of Broadway know that the women were on their way and they better tighten up their game. In 1982 Leslie came to Broadway under the leadership of Chuck Jones. Leslie successfully passed the Suffolk County Civil Servant Ocean Lifeguard Exam in 1983. She then worked on the ocean in Saltaire in ’83, ’84, ’85 and 1986. During her years with the crew she worked with John Hill, David Kaufman, Pat McKibbin, George Fontanals, Steve Latham, Chuck Jones, Jon Maier, Dan Mindich, Ken Savelson, Tom Sconzo and Michael McGowan.  In 1987 Leslie returned to the Saltaire bay front to run the camp program for 2 summers before retiring her whistle in 1988.

Once Karen knocked on the door of SOR, and after Leslie stormed through it, the steady flow of the Legendary Ladies of SOR Lore would not and has not ceased. Quick on the heels of Leslie came Kathy (Koeniges) DeSimone who worked from 85- 88. Kathy never drifted far from Broadway and she has been spotted several times at the starting line (as a swimmer) for the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim (3 times to be exact). In 1988 Erica Hastings, sister to SOR chief John Hill, conquered the “Dooley” test and took her place atop the tower at Broadway, and since then, 37 years since Karen gave the first warning whistle, unlike the beaches that surround Saltaire, ladies of SOR have (wo)manned the chair at Broadway and East Beach.

The Women of SOR Lore:
(*Also completed the Maggie Fischer Cross Bay Swim)

Leslie Preston
Kathy Koeniges *
Erica Hastings
Jeanine Poucel
Heather Jones *
Jennifer Jameson
Elizabeth Kelly
Nicole Young*
Courtney Jones
Katie Cunningham*
Annie Cunningham*
Catherine Jameson
Meredith English*
Julia English*
Stephanie Palmeri*
Meghan Larocca
Rachel Szakmary
Suzanne Mills
Tanya Pfaffe
Michelle Posillico*
Jacquie Cohen*
Catherine Darcy*


During the lengthy investigation to unearth the historical facts behind the
Legendary Ladies of SOR several interviews were conducted. On 3 separate occasions Chief Lifeguard Rich Wilde gave us a recap of the significance of the ladies of SOR and their impact on lifeguarding, Fire Island, Saltaire, water vigilance and aquatic endeavors.

 38: Thank you for sitting down with us. Can you give us a little idea of how
 you ended up in this position and your history with SOR.

RW: I started with SOR in ’89 and was hired by Chuck.  Joe Campisi (’88– 94) was already working with SOR and he brought me out. I have been with the crew ever since.

38: That’s been a few years. Do you and Joe still sit together?

RW: Joe hasn’t worked in a while.

38: Do you know where he is?

RW: I saw a shot of him charging Mavericks – on a boogie Board – in a
Surfers Journal.

38: Why the green chair when all the other beaches have white.

RW: (light chuckle) That’s a good story. An unnamed SOR lady was new to the island. After passing the test she thought she would join the crew in Ocean Beach to celebrate and then walk home. Not knowing the island too well she was told to go to the ocean and keep her “left foot wet” and make a right when you hit Broadway. The next day, after spending the night in the Robert Moses parking lot she told us that all that all the lifeguard chairs looked the same and she didn’t know when to turn right. That’s the last time that happened.

38: Red Suits. Most other beaches are blue?

RW: The Ladies of SOR have a strong opinion about color.

38: I guess you couldn’t win that fight. Any high points that really stand out for you?

RW: Most of the beaches around us don’t have a cadre of full time women. Any day the women are on the stand is a high point. Beyond that, well it is great to see the legacies continue.  Erica came on John Hill's heels, then there are the Joneses, The Cunninghams, The Englishes . Every women on the list has a great story.

Nicole Came in 2nd place in The Cross Bay the year the Fischers took it
over. Suzanne Mills left OB to come work with Saltaire. Tanya Pfaffe, Senior Man Tyson's sister – worked for the State for over 20 years before she came to work for us. (She says she was getting in shape to work with us).  Stephaine Palmeri (my nemesis) let's put it this way - I am tired of looking at her feet during the Cross Bay. Rachel Szakmary worked with both her brothers. My wife, Elizabeth, passed her test at age 30 and was never a competitive swimmer. Meghann Larocca was born on Pomander Walk and now runs the bay. Michelle Posillico came back to work the stand after a near fatal boat accident. The list goes on and on. There is no doubt that Maggie would be on this list too. She trained on the ocean and was going to take test.

38: Who is coming next?

 RW: The Darcy family started 2 years ago. Catherine works on the ocean now, her brother Andrew is following close behind, and a few other siblings behind that. I knew her dad when he worked in Ocean Beach as a lifeguard. The Darcys are related to the Ludlows through the way that everyone of us is somehow related in Saltaire.

38: The legacies continue I guess?

RW: They sure so. I still have nightmares about being beaten by Catherine’s aunt (Liz Darcy) in the ’95 Cross Bay. I almost lost my seat on the Broadway stand because of that.

38: Do tell?

 RW: I was in front of Liz the whole race and we were closing in on the
 finish line. She was up sweep from me and rode the incoming tide to the
 finish line and touched me out.

38: Ouch.

RW: Yep. I blamed it on kayaker/ navigator error. If the SOR alumni and
senior crew knew that I didn’t play the sweep right and blemished the crew's name…..it wouldn’t have been good. Of all things – The SWEEP. We live and die by the sweep.  I will never get that one back. It hurts every day.

38: Give us one name? Legendary woman of SOR.

RW: That’s a tough one. There is no easier answer. Heather was the first
woman to do 10 years on the stand. That is pretty special. If she played
professional sports she would be in the Hall of Fame. The road was paved by Karen, Leslie, Kathy and Erica. I can’t do it – they are all legendary in the world of SOR.

38: Alright – how about the guys?

RW: Mike Asher, 62 years old this year and still on the stand. He has been
working the beach since he was 16.   Tyson Pfaffe, 20 years on the stand
this summer.  Pepperoni, the first senior guard to do 10 years. We have had some epic senior men – Matt Siben , The Patterson brothers, Adam “The Bull”. The list is long. Those are just the senior guys while I've been here. Upon reflection though they are all following in some big prints in the sand – The Cunninghams, Standards, Savelsons, Sconzos, McGowans, Kampas, Ludlow/Vaultiers, Herc, Pat....  You aren’t making this easy.  We need a thorough accounting of the SOR history to include all the great folks. Coming up in these recent years we  have the Valentes and a whole new exciting generation of SOR guards.

38: Let’s finish up then.  Who broke you in? Best moment with the crew? First memory of SOR? Fondest memory on FI?

RW: Pat McKibbin broke me. Unbelievable waterman.

38: Best moment with the crew?
RW: Any rescue with the crew is a great moment.  When we went to a lifeguard tournament and beat the Smiths Point National Championship Yoke team; Seeing SOR Red across the starting line at the Cross Bay swim; Every day I get to walk onto the beach and jump in the water.

38: First memory?
RW: That's easy - walking on to the back deck at the Hill house with Erica when I was 16 and meeting the “older” guards of SOR for the first time.

38:  Fondest memory?
RW: Meeting Elizabeth. No doubt.

38: Lets end on that.

RW: I’ll blow the whistle and call it a day.

1 comment:

Maura Balaban said...

Love this little bit of ocean lore! thanks for posting!