By Nancy Remkus
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”
-Winnie the Pooh
“I knew right away that she was the one for me. It was love in an instant and it grew and grew. She’s not only my wife; she’s my best friend,” Joe said with a smile.
I know that distinctive voice so well, resonating for decades over the WLNG airways. I grew up hearing him — Joe Ricker — as part of the very soundtrack of Sag Harbor. And next to him, his wife Esther, holds his hand as they tell the story of their lives.
“We met on the Air Force Base when I was stationed in Misawa, Japan. Esther had taken a year leave from her teaching position in Plainview, New York and was a visiting first grade teacher in Misawa. I needed a date to a dinner dance, so I called and asked if she would go with me. She said yes, and 55 years later we’re still together.”
Joe was the son of a military man and grew up in Biddeford, Maine. The then Esther Rodriguez, was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Her father was from Cuba, and her mother from Mexico. Joe spent six years in the Navy, and after leaving he missed the military so much that he decided to join the Air Force. He began as an MP but decided to take the test and became a radio announcer. For many years following, Joe was part of the Air National Guard.
Joe and Esther moved around a bit before they settled in Sag Harbor. “I worked in a big radio station for a CBS affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia. I saw an ad in a trade magazine for a radio station in Riverhead, WRIV, and was offered a job there. Then WLNG was about to open, and they offered me the job as news director. I became the first announcer there the day they opened their doors.” Esther continued her teaching career. Returning to the Plainview School district where she felt very much at home; she was later offered a teaching position in Southampton. “I taught second grade for three years there until a kindergarten position became available. The boss must have heard me in his sleep when he offered me the kindergarten job. I loved kindergarten and was able to teach there for 27 years.”
It must have been in the stars that the two of them found each other so far from home and created a life together here in Sag Harbor. In 1968, Joe and Esther were able to buy their first home on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor from Harold McMahon for the price of $15,000. “That’s what it would cost today to rent a place,” mused Joe. And they have lived there, and raised their two children, Joe and Dina.
Joe and Esther have been a very important Sag Harbor duo for many, many years. Joe has been a member of the American Legion, the VFW, one of the original volunteers at the food pantry, and a lector in Saint Andrew Church. He has also raised over $80,000 for charity walking from Sag Harbor to Montauk for pledges. “People would come out of their houses to greet me and cheer me on. It was really heartwarming,” he said.
Esther has been an ordained deacon and an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor as well as a long-standing member of the choir there. She has sung in the Choral Society of the Hamptons for more than 15 years, and is a member of the Sag Harbor LVIS and the Legion Auxiliary. Both Joe and Esther have been proud and honored to serve their community.
Sag Harbor has been filled with good friends and good times for the Ricker family. “We have really enjoyed the Community Band concerts on Tuesday nights,” they recalled at the very same moment. They have wonderful memories of Julie Andrews and Pete Seeger singing benefit concerts at the Old Whalers Church. “You used to be able to walk to Main Street on a summer evening after six and the place would be virtually shut down,” Joe remembers. A particularly memorable moment was when Joe received a phone call from the late John Steinbeck. “He called and said, ‘this is John. I’m very concerned about the Goldwater/Johnson election.’ We did a WLNG interview together, nonpartisan of course. But he was so down to earth.”
While the world often seems to surprise us with its shifts and fluctuations, the Rickers have found a way to hold onto their love of Sag Harbor and their love for each other. Esther remarks, “we’re like the railroad; the tracks are separate, but what holds them together are the ties. We’re both separate but we are tied together. Each tie represents a day, a month, an episode, a memory. For all the disagreements that come up for one reason or another, we have always been able to get through them and solve them somehow.” And Joe adds, “no one is in charge; we are both equal. We’re best friends.”
Recently Joe and Esther have decided to put their home on the market and, pending the sale, move to Florida. “We realize how important it is to be close to our family. We want to be near our son and our daughter-in-law and their children. We’d like to have a home with a pool so we can get outside and exercise.” When asked how this decision is sitting with them, Esther remarks, “I have to have a certain amount of Mayan in my blood. I never, ever look at anything with a negative attitude. It came from my mother who was always, always, always, positive and believed better things are ahead.” Joe added, “I’m a sentimentalist. I love the area. I love the people. We have so many good friends here. I have deep feelings for the people in Sag Harbor, which makes it hard to leave. But I can adapt because of my military background.”
As their daughter Dina has come home to help them with this transition, they begin to pack up their memories and prepare to move to the warmth of the sun and the welcome of their family. “No, it’s never easy to say goodbye,” Esther explains, “but we’ve been blessed. I’ve done away with the word lucky; I say blessed.”
And so Joe and Esther Ricker, we wish you all the best for your journey ahead. We have all been blessed that you’ve called Sag Harbor-HOME!