By Nancy Remkus
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.”
Born and raised in Sag Harbor I grew up beside some of the most amazing people; the fisherman, the factory workers, the carpenters and the shopkeepers. The Sag Harbor we all remember: a working town, a factory town, a living-breathing piece of Americana.
One of the shops, that I can close my eyes and find myself in, is Saga-Lund clothing store. Its owner, Mrs. Doris Gronlund, the quintessential “Mrs. Santa Claus”, was always cheerful and smiling. Back at a time when Sag Harbor had four working factories, a store that met their clothing needs was essential. The shop, located on Washington Street, was once Basile’s, owned and operated by Antone Basile and later his son, Russell. It was home to blue jeans, work boots, gloves, flannel shirts and an occasional leisure suit. Doris, having studied merchandizing and textiles at NYU, bought the business from the Basiles and began her career as a Sag Harbor shopkeeper in 1973. “They were such honest business people. I was building on something so good, how could I fail?” Saga-Lund moved to Bay Street in 1977.
Doris went out of her way to help each and every costumer – even sending some home with merchandise for family members to try on before they purchased it, and other times sending customers home with merchandize and asking them to come by to pay for it next time they’re in town. “You have to love and care about people when you’re in business. It was such a blessing having a way of life that helped me to take care of my family.”
Doris was born in Brooklyn some 92 years ago; her mom and dad were originally from Norway: explaining why she is still fluent in Norwegian. As a young child, Doris’ home was filled with music and song. She lost her father at a very young age, and after graduating from Bayridge High School with 571 other women, Doris went to work to help her mother financially. She took classes at night at NYU and became a successful resident buyer in the merchandizing world.
Doris married, moved to Huntington and had two lovely daughters, Linda and Elsa (and since, two grandsons Derek and Hayden). In 1963 her husband Gunnar was offered a job as an engineer in Sag Harbor Industries, and the family moved to Sag Harbor. “I’m just so happy we did”, remarked Doris.
As a shopkeeper Doris joined Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce becoming both Vice President and President of the organization. She also became involved with the League of Woman Voters and has been an elder in her church. One of the things that Doris enjoys most is “fulfilling the needs of others.” She continues to be involved in many local organizations, and her very busy calendar is a true testament to her active life style and commitment to her community.
Doris continues to live a rewarding and wonderful life, “I’ve done everything I can think of,” she mused, “with the exception of going to New Zealand.” “I’ve traveled to 13 different countries and visited all 42 of my cousins in Norway.” A sports car enthusiast and member of the “Sports Car Club of America”, Doris, Gunnar, and Linda restored 28 different classic cars including a 1937 BMW convertible and a 1963 Jaguar convertible roadster. Her daughter, Linda taught her to be a ‘flagger’ at the Bridgehampton Racetrack and shared her parents’ passion for cars. Doris learned to snow ski at age 52, definitely a life long learner.
Since arriving in Sag Harbor in 1963, Doris Gronlund has become part of the collective heart and soul of the village. “This is a small town with a big heart,” she exclaimed. “When people see a need, they step right in to help. We have the best fire department, police department, ambulance crew, teachers, and food pantry. We have to honor these people that take care of us.”
When asked the secret to her good health and longevity, Doris attributes much of it to her family genetics: her mother was a dietician, and served her family only healthy foods; her level of activity as a youngster, always playing outdoors, and her deep faith in God. “This body, the flesh and bones, will one day disappear, but the spirit never dies; it always remains.”
“I have really lived a life; we’re all so lucky to be alive! I feel that I’ve been really blessed. I have been able to live through many challenges.” After surviving two serious bouts of cancer and losing her older daughter, Linda, on United flight 93 on September 11th, Doris continues to look to the future. She enjoys spending time with her daughter Elsa, and living life to the fullest. Doris exudes a remarkable and tangible air of joy and hopefulness that warms you up like a cappuccino on a cold day. Through this adversity, her faith has remained strong. Her resolve to live fully is inspiration to all, and her love for the people of her hometown, Sag Harbor, and the world at large is strong.
Her advice to us all: “please tell the people you love, that you love them, every day. There’s no such thing as too many hugs or too much love.”
We are all so blessed that Doris Gronlund calls Sag Harbor HOME!