RYE â€” The staff and “Pelicans” at Star Island have raised the term “making the best of a bad situation” to an art form.
The nonprofit conference center was dealt a heavy blow when it was forced to remain closed instead of opening for the season after failing a fire-safety inspection. Now hoping to open in early August, the center is facing a revenue loss of $1.15 million and an outlay of $330,000 for the mandated electrical work.
While disappointed at the delay, staff members are using the time to get projects done that had been delayed because of a lack of time.
Executive Director Amy Lockwood said the decision to stay active has been a good one.
“We’re all about the silver lining here,” said Stephanie Katz, a “Pelican” and the island naturalist. This is Katz’s third year returning to Star, and she clearly has deep feelings about being there. “Pelican” is an affectionate term used to describe about 100 young people who work on the island.
Each regular job on the island, including docking boats and handling freight; cooking and serving food; maintaining the grounds, buildings, power plant and waste-water treatment facility; and providing all hospitality services is performed by a Pelican.
The Pelicans, invariably upbeat, are the soul of Star Island. The term was started by a worker in the 1920s who bought a sailboat and named it the Pelican.
Katz said the conference center closure has presented some unique opportunities for first-year Pelicans, who usually don’t get their pick of jobs.
“We have nicknames for the jobs here,” she said. “We call them dishies, kitchies, truckies. Since some of the Pelicans can’t do their job without conferees, they are learning some valuable new skills.”
Some Pelicans repaired roofs while others built beds during the enforced stand-down. They were gardening, painting and even working at the waste-water treatment plant. The island staffers generate their own power, handle waste and have a reverse-osmosis water purifier for drinking water. They are completely self-contained.
Since they have spare time, Pelicans are holding classes, learning from each other’s areas of expertise. They learn to sail, they play music and take philosophy classes.
Lorenzo Reef said they are calling themselves residents of Gosport Town and have developed a real sense of community.
“I’m teaching the philosophy class,” he said. “I’m talking about autonomy and free will. We have baking, handyman, knitting classes.”
Star Island is a rambling property that combines the old with the new. Recently, boardwalks have been added to connect buildings. As part of fire-safety measures, 50-foot “trenches” are kept between the old buildings and the brush from the wild parts of the island.
“Making those is really hard work,” said Katz. “But, we’re so invested in keeping this island safe, we are OK with the work.”
It’s not all work, though. Katz said they celebrate all holidays while on the island, like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Halloween.
“Only the Fourth of July gets celebrated on the right day,” said Katz. “We celebrated all day long; it was great. We built a boat, made paper airplanes and played ‘capture the flag.’ We also play softball, tennis â€” and there’s lots of board games.”
Star Island is now open to day visitors, but not to overnight guests because the bulk of the work is being done at the former Oceanic Hotel. Sitting in one of the long line of wooden rockers on the big front porch, a visitor took in the spectacular views and peaceful location and cited a desire to sit there forever.
It’s easy to see why Star Island has remained popular ever since the 1600s, when it was a thriving fishing settlement. It’s simply an easy, serene place to be â€” and soon, it will be back to business as usual.