“When life itself has become a prayer, we are connected to that source of love and life.” – Brian Hardin
Steps away from Saint Andrew Roman Catholic Church in Sag Harbor stands whaling Captain Jeremiah Hedges’ house dating back to the 1840’s. It is this historic house that Kathryn Evans Gerecke has called home since 1926. Her family purchased it and moved in when Evans was only two months old, and she still lives there today along with her memories and the things she loves.
Many believe in the power of prayer, and Evans is among them. She attends Saint Andrew Church daily and remains after Mass each day to say the rosary with a dedicated group of the faithful. “No sincere prayer is ever lost,” she says with conviction. “I believe a lot of people benefit from our prayers. It gives me a sense of having done something positive: we’ve turned our hearts to God. Our prayers may not benefit the specific need we are praying for, but that may not be what is best. Only God knows that-we don’t.”
Throughout her life, Evans has been a part of St. Andrew Church: as a lector, Eucharistic minister and a long time member of the finance committee. “I help wherever I am needed. The church is like my second home. It is part of my life-right now it is the biggest part of my life.”
Growing up across the street from the church had many advantages, “I attended Saint Andrew’s School, and there seemed to always be someone to play with. My father put a hoop up on a tree in our backyard, and the kids would come over from the school to play basketball. During the hurricane of 1938, the school had to close. Many of the kids couldn’t make it home so they came over to my house. Mrs. Korsak from Madison Market sent up food for them. I heard the rumble when the steeple from the Old Whalers church fell. I remember going out after the hurricane and seeing all of the trees down. Some streets you couldn’t go down at all. There were no lights.”
Evans remembers the freedom of childhood in Sag Harbor. “When I was young everything was free. We were free to do what we wanted. All of the things that people say you can’t do or things that may be too dangerous; we did. We roller skated down the sidewalks and played hide and seek in the cemetery. We spent all day at ‘Tides Beach’ and played a lot at the park.”
As the face of Sag Harbor continues to change, Evans recalls earlier times on Main Street. “I remember when cars used to park in the middle of Main Street, and there were streetlights and traffic lights in the middle as well. Schiavoni’s Market used to be half Schiavoni’s and half Santacroce’s Ice Cream Store. The Candy Kitchen used to be where the Paradise was, which is now LuLus. Main Street has changed a lot. You just have to accept it. I’m glad we still have Schiavoni’s Market, the ‘5 and 10’, and the Wharf Shop.”
Evan’s father was employed at Fahy’s factory. “During the Depression, I remember the day that my father came home from work and said that the factory had closed. I was about seven years old. That factory was the one source of work in town. My father got a job with President Roosevelt’s WPA (Works Progress Administration). I think 1934 was one of the snowiest winters, and he had to work in the cold outside in Montauk helping to build the roads.”
Evans remembers the impact World War II had on Sag Harbor. “When I was about 15 or 16, four of us were asked to go to the top of the Municipal Building on Main Street every Saturday to watch for planes that may be coming to bomb us. We loved every minute of it because we felt we were helping. During the war, you couldn’t get a car or buy anything new-everything went to the war effort. Butter and sugar were rationed. Ration stamps became more important than money. Everyone did what they had to do-that’s just the way life was. It didn’t phase us — we felt good about helping in any way we could. I remember on VJ day we all walked from town all the way to McNally’s (formerly Lenny’s Steakhouse/The Salty Dog/The Waterside) Restaurant in Noyac to celebrate, and then we walked all the way back to town.”
Reflecting on one of her first jobs, Evans recalls, “I used to work the switchboard for the New York Telephone Company which was originally on the corner of Union and Madison Streets. That house is gone now. People would call and say, ‘Hey Evans, give me so and so.’ We were the authority in town. We blew the fire whistle. When there was a fire, the whole board lit up. We had to tell all of the firemen where to go.”
Attending nursing school at Mary Immaculate in Jamaica, Queens, Evans became a registered nurse, and after that she received a Bachelor’s Degree in nursing from St. John’s University. She was a Cadet Nurse during World War II and worked in Queens and King’s County hospitals, then in Suffolk County as a public health nurse and later as head nurse of Pediatrics in Southampton Hospital for 23 years.
Evans retired from nursing in 1987 when things began to become computerized. “I missed the people. You get a tremendous closeness in nursing. I still like reading medical books about different diseases. Nowadays it’s hard to order anything without a computer and an email address. Computers may disconnect us from our past, and that isn’t good.”
Recently having renewed her driver’s license, Evans is now able to drive until she is 101. When asked to what she attributes her long and wonderful life, she replied, “God mostly, and I’m just lucky. I’ve taken reasonably good care of myself, and I like good foods. I don’t care for sugar or sweet things.”
Evans is a charter member the Columbiettes (a Catholic charitable organization) as well as a member of the American Legion Auxiliary. She enjoys gardening and listening to Yankee Games on her portable radio. “I can use my imagination when I listen to the games on the radio, and I can move around and do what I need to do in the house. TV keeps you captive.”
Comfortable in her cozy home, Evans continues to enjoy life to the fullest. She talked about the importance of the “Home’ column in the Express, “I remember parts of my life by reading your columns. The older you get the more you remember about the way past. That’s why it is good to sit and talk about it. I used to be very quiet, but for the past year or so, I can’t stop talking.”
What a gift it is for me to sit and listen-to all of these amazing stories-stories from the salt of the earth-stories from the hearts and souls of those who have helped to build and shape the Sag Harbor we all love. These are the folks that knew my grandparents and my parents, the folks that have lived through all of the changes and still love their hometown.
“In the past, it used to be easier getting around town and harder to get outside of town-but then again we didn’t want to get anyplace-we were very happy to be in Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor is a pretty unique place. People came from all over the world to settle here. For a small town, we’ve had greater diversity than most places. You live in a place a long time, and it’s hard to leave. I’ve met a lot of friends here. The church across the street means so much to me. It’s nice to visit other places, but I’d never want to live anywhere else.”
For all of her prayers, her dedication and her commitment to her hometown, we are grateful that Kathryn Evans Gerecke calls Sag Harbor — HOME.