Who’s relieved the Fourth of July is over? The Southampton Fresh Air Home, that’s who. Their lead up to their 35th Annual American Picnic with Fireworks by Grucci was a real nail biter. The weather report — lightning and thunderstorms beginning at 7 — never changed. Somehow, the storm never happened.
“What a relief,” Board President Nicola S. Grant sighed afterwards. “We were having conniptions all day. Pull it? Delay it? Have it? Don’t have it? After going two years without, we really didn’t want to disappoint.” Executive Director Tom Naro miraculously found a tent to hedge their bet.
And so, once again, three generations of Hamptons families flocked to the sprawling Meadow Lane lawn of Danielle and David Ganek. The Ganeks inherited the event from the McEntee’s, who, when they sold the estate. asked for one more Fresh Air Home July 4. That’s all it took for the Ganek’s to keep it going and make the charity their own. Today, Danielle Ganek is a Board Vice President.
The cause is easy to embrace. The Fresh Air Home brings physically disabled kids to sail, golf and swim in their camp, not far from Mayor Bloomberg’s manse. 75% get financial aid. “Often, we find the more affluent families that can afford more services at home, don’t send their kids to camp,” Board President Nicky Grant told me. “They miss out on the socialization we offer. The camp is truly magical. We teach them life skills, including how to cook, which colleges they can go to and how to apply. Our kids hate to age out. Now, we have year round programs and call ourselves a center.”
But, the charity events stand on their own. This kid centric picnic is a Hamptons tradition. “I’ve been going there for 20 years with my children,” Nicky said. “They’re now 29 and 31. I still drag them along!” There are games, stilt walkers, magicians, music and dancing.
And this year Nicky instituted a silent disco. “I loathe background music,” she sang to this choir. “With loud thumping music in the background, people can’t talk So we gave kids wireless headphones. They hear the music. We don’t. They can even pick different channels and all dance to something different. They loved it. Now they want silent discos at their birthday parties.” Which, their neighbors won’t mind!
We love getting valet parking to stand under their fireworks and the all you can eat “American” buffet. Barbecue pulled pork, chicken, hot dogs, coleslaw, watermelon salad … and this year, blackened fish tacos with corn and bean salad. Like Macy’s, who put salsa dancers in their program, in some circles, the definition of what is “American” seems to be broadening.
Fireworks were once threatened by endangered Piper-Plover nests. Or was it the other way around?! Thus is the struggle between man and the nature he dispossesses. Enter the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center of The Hamptons. For birds who fly into windows or animals hit by cars, they are the only full-service professional wildlife hospital (on an ecosystem of public land) on the East End.
Their 14th Annual GET WILD Benefit honored Bridget Fleming and Karen Johnston, DVM, at an estate listed for sale at 31.5 million. Or at least according to its Nestseeker broker turned TV reality personality, James Giugliano, featured on Season Two of Selling the Hamptons. Event Chairs were Ingrid Edelman, Jane Gill, and Jonathan McCann. Virginia Frati, a Federal and State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator is Founder and Executive Director.
“There’s no where else to go if you find an injured animal,” Ellen Scarborough told me. “You can call them night and day. I grew up in a town in Glen Ellen, Illinois, where we had a wonderful wild life center, so I naturally gravitated to this one.” She and husband, WNBC Anchor Chuck Scarborough are such strong supporters, he wasn’t just emceeing the event, I caught him organizing as well.
“It’s time to do this,” he decided after an hour and dispatched Ellen and me to find the principals who would be speaking. Then he silenced the room. “If you like a place like this (i.e. the Hamptons), he told them, “you have to care about the wildlife. We’re not alone here. We’re all connected. Last Saturday, the Center got 135 calls about injured and orphaned animals. The goal is to nurse them back to health and release them back in the wild.”
Volunteers, like animal activist Missy Hargraves, roamed the party grounds with owls and other animals on gloved hands. What was that cute furry thing? It lives underground, I was told. Whoops. Perhaps an adversary in the constant battle for my lawn and shore? Geese think it’s their toilet. Voles consider it their underground buffet. Muskrats splash around the reeds. Frogs croak all night.
Take the gull Chuck Scarborough saved on the beach. When his dog chased it, the bird took off with a clam in its mouth … and nose dived. The clam had clamped the beak shut. It was drowning. Chuck waded in to retrieve it. “And it was not summer,” he laughed. “It was late fall and I was fully clothed. I picked up the nearly unconscious seagull and wrapped him in a towel.” It took two other people to help Chuck free the beak. The gull remained prone. But Scarborough drew the line at mouth to beak. “I got him on his feet,” Chuck said, “at which point, he grabbed one of my fingers with a death grip. Now, I had a seagull attached to me.” The seagull, and Chuck’s finger, were saved. The latter, took longer to heal.
Scarborough’s fowl didn’t need the Evelyn Alexander, but Gregg Sullivan’s did. Living on the Peconic Bay, he “adopted” the two swans who hung around, feeding and talking to them as pets. “My neighbors called me the swan whisperer,” he said. “I was the only one they let get close.” Impressive. Swans are mean and strong! And unafraid.
They weren’t biting this hand that fed, Gregg recalled. “I named the male Arrogance, because, in the beginning, every time I went to feed him he’d go off to the beach and wave his big wings. He got over that. Arrogance had a mate. I called her Vanity, because every time I’d go to feed her she would look in the water to see her reflection, twice, then take the food from my hand.” Just a Hamptons bird wanting to look good for dinner?
Alas, Vanity was run over by a car. Arrogance was inconsolable. “I never saw an animal so lost and emotional from the loss of a mate,” Gregg told me. “He was wandering all over the property and into the streets. He would jerk his head around looking for her and make piercing noises as though he were sobbing. I called the Wildlife Rescue. Arrogance let me put him in a towel and hold him in the car to get there.”
Gregg visited Arrogance for a year. And guess what? That was not Arrogance’ swan song. The Wildlife Center brought him to their Bachelor Swan Retreat. He found a second wife, brought her back to Gregg’s and started a family.
Saving fowls in towels! It’s a beautiful thing.
Photographs by Rob Rich/SocietyAllure.com.