By Nancy Remkus
“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”
– Oprah Winfrey-
Melanie Buttonow was a friend of my mother’s. When mom could no longer drive, Melanie would pick her up, and they would go to town for a Creamsicle. They’d sit on the bench outside of the ‘five and ten’ and eat their ice cream and watch the people go by. Or Melanie would drive mom to Haven’s Beach, and they would watch the waves and the seagulls, and in spring they visited Oakland Cemetery to see the azaleas in bloom. The moments were simple, and the gift was time, and that simple gift of time was worth millions.
At a time when it seems like there are fewer pumpkins on the stoops and fewer wreathes and twinkling lights as the seasons change, I wonder what has happened to that spirit of celebration. But Melanie seems to celebrate all of life. On Memorial Day and the Fourth of July Melanie is donned in red, white and blue from head to toe, there are costumes for Halloween and earrings for every holiday! It seems to me that she breathes in and celebrates all of life.
Melanie is a kind soul who shares her gifts with so many in our community. Born in Southampton Hospital, Melanie has lived in Sag Harbor all of her life. Daughter to Charles W. Staudinger and Dorothy Brown, Melanie remembers a time in Sag Harbor when no one locked their homes, and keys were left in the car; a time when blocks of ice were delivered to homes weekly for the iceboxes, and when she went sledding down High Street and Pierson Hill. The Sag Harbor Cinema was also one of Melanie’s favorite stops. “What a thrill it was to get a quarter from our father and go to the movies on a Saturday afternoon. My brother Randy and I would go and see ‘Davy Crockett’, ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ and ‘Frankenstein’. Melanie also reminisced about the baby parades that were held on Main Street. “Parents would make costumes for their babies and prizes were given. My mom would make costumes for my brother and me, and she would often win. I also remember Race’s Drugstore on Main Street and their egg creams and chocolate ice cream sodas, and there was Ben Fisher’s Candy Store where candy was one cent. For a dime, you could get enough candy to get sick on.” Another one of Melanie’s favorite past times as a child was fishing at Long Beach on warm summer nights with her father and her brother, “We’d catch up to seventy blowfish.”
Married to her husband, James Buttonow, a local award-winning decoy carver, for forty-seven years, Melanie and Jim have raised two daughters, Marlena and Tara. They also have two granddaughters and two great grandsons. Aside from raising her children, Melanie has been very active in her community. She has been a Columbiette for many years and a long-standing member of the American Legion Auxiliary. As a member of the Auxiliary Melanie is in charge of ‘Americanism’. Each month she goes to the library and researches a topic having to do with America. “The amazing research librarian Susan Mullin has been a great help.” Melanie writes about the information she has found and reports to the group each month. “I’m so surprised at myself and all that I’ve learned. I never really liked history, but now I take the information I gather and try to make a cohesive story out of it. The more I do it, the more I like it. I’ve learned so much!”
Music has always been an important part of Melanie’s life. She began singing in grammar school, which she attended in the old Saint Andrews building on Union Street. Melanie has sung for a time with the Choral Society of the Hamptons and all of her life with the Saint Andrew’s choir. “I loved the music of the 60’s. My faith and music got me through my teens!” In 1959 when Melanie completed grammar school she received a trophy from the Knights of Columbus, for ‘student of the year’ and was awarded a four-year scholarship to the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary, here in Sag Harbor. “That’s probably the only trophy I’ve ever won.” After Melanie graduated from the Sacred Heart Academy she attended SUNY New Paltz and Southampton College.
Working as a custodian in the John Jermain Library for thirty-two years Melanie recounted, “I loved the library atmosphere. I could see all of the new books and DVD’s that came in. The people were wonderful, and many interesting programs were offered there.” Melanie retired from that position in 2016.
Notebook in hand, Melanie came prepared for our interview with pages of notes she had written while reflecting on her life. “When I wrote this all down I began to realize I had a pretty interesting life. Sometimes we focus on the bad things in life that have happened to us, but if we take time to consider all of the good things, you see life is good after all.” We laughed and thought that reflecting and sitting down to write about our lives might be a great exercise for all of us!
Helping others has been a great part of Melanie’s life. “It has been so rewarding. It makes me feel very useful. A lot of people think that love is the most important thing in the world. I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s possible to love everyone. I think the most important thing in the world is compassion. If we had compassion, we wouldn’t do things to hurt each other. Helping others allows us to get outside of ourselves.”
When asked what Melanie loves about Sag Harbor she stated, “For one thing, I’m a country girl, and Sag Harbor is not the city. It is a safe place to live with gorgeous views. I love being surrounded by nature. I was born here, and I want to die here, but I realize that our lives can change in an instant.”
Because Melanie has been so active in her community, she is someone who is known and loved by many. Her kindness and enthusiasm for life are contagious. Appreciating the beauty around her and enjoying earth’s simple pleasures has created a full and joyful life. And so Melanie Buttonow, we are so grateful for your dedication to Sag Harbor and for the beauty you have brought into the hearts of others. We are blessed that you call Sag Harbor, HOME.