Home: Never Wanting to Leave Sag Harbor

Diane and Gabe Schiavoni. Nancy Remkus photo.

“Home is the nicest word there is.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

I often wonder why it is that I’m forever teeter-tottering between wanting to travel the world and never wanting to leave home? My husband, man of few words, reminds me that it is because our ‘home’, Sag Harbor, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. One minute I’m at the top-ready to fly off to foreign lands; while the next minute, I don’t want to budge from under my electric throw blanket. However, after speaking with the Schiavonis, I realize I’m not the only one that feels that way.

“After I retired, I bought a brand new Lincoln Continental and put it in the garage,” mused Gabe Schiavoni. “I thought we’d go to Florida. That car sat there for 12 years. We never want to go anywhere.” His wife, Diane, agreed, “I don’t want to travel anymore. I’ve done all I want to do. After 10 days away, I always miss home. We just love it here. We don’t want to leave.”

Many of us know that on a good day marriage can be a challenge. Some of my interview questions come from an unsettled place of inner wonder. What makes your marriage so successful, I asked. Gabe was quick to answer, “We’ve been married 60 wonderful years! Some years more wonderful than others.”

Diane added, “You have to work together. We have our coffee together every morning and do a word puzzle together; that helps keep our brains sharp. We work in the yard together; we run errands together, and at night we sit and have a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers together and talk about our day.”

This sounds like the simple and beautiful life that many of us seem to be letting go of. Why does all of life’s hustle and bustle, ambition and drive- steer us away from the simple joy of being together?

“We’re big Jeopardy fans as well. We enjoy walking our dog Muffy to town.” Muffy, the ‘cockapoo’, rounds out this family of two children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “We love our family,” professed Diane. “They are our legacy.” She speaks of each of them with utter pride as she checks her cell phone for messages from her granddaughters in college.

Gabe and Diane have both lived in the village of Sag Harbor all of their lives. Gabe first lived in a house on Jermain Avenue and then moved into an apartment above Schiavoni’s IGA when he was about six years old. “My father taught us how to swim under the bridge. Your grandfather, Joseph Remkus, would watch us swim from his fish shack to make sure we didn’t drown. My mother could watch us swim from the third-floor window of the IGA. That was our playground. Back then none of those buildings were there. I’d buy squid for a nickel from your grandfather, and we’d go fishing from the bridge. I loved to fish for bottle fish using a Band-Aid for bait if we didn’t have a nickel.”

Diane is the daughter of Sam and Rita Pintavalle and grew up on Hampton Street. “It was a great place to grow up. We’d roller skate all over town. I still have my skate key! We’d ride bikes to Haven’s Beach with a peanut butter sandwich and spend the day there. There was a pavilion with three rows of tables where we’d sit and eat our sandwiches. We’d pump water from the ‘pitcher pump’ and enjoy eating lunch together with my friends. There were no lifeguards at the beach then. Nobody worried about us.”

Gabe’s grandparents had traveled to Sag Harbor in 1904 from Italy to get away from the first World War. “My grandfather ran a pool hall on Main Street; I think it was where Schmitz’s liquor store is. My father and his brother Vincent ran the IGA where Lee’s Jewelry Store was.” Diane’s great grandfather travelled to Sag Harbor from Italy as well, and her great grandmother was from Ireland.

One of Diane’s first jobs was at the Ideal Soda Fountain on Main Street and as fate would have it, Gabe liked cherry sodas. Gabe joined the Navy at age 18 and worked as a pipe fitter on a ship.

“Gabe and I always knew each other,” remarked Diane. “Our families were close. We dated throughout his Navy career and got married in 1959.” They bought a house on Bayview Avenue for $7,000, which included three extra lots, and they lived there for many years until they bought their current home on Oakland Avenue. “This is my dream house,” professed Diane-a restored Victorian filled with light and life and adorned with many original paintings of Sag Harbor.

It would be challenging to find two people more devoted to their hometown than Diane and Gabe Schiavoni. They have dedicated their lives to our village. Diane was a Girl Scout leader, president and treasurer of the Ladies Village Improvement Society for 25 years as well as the treasurer and president of the Sag Harbor Historical Society. She has been a member and treasurer of the Friends of the John Jermain Memorial Library for 30 years, a Columbiette for 30 years, a volunteer at Bay Street Theater for over 20 years and a member of the Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review for eight years. Diane has typed for the legally blind and was a Hospice volunteer. She started the first Red Hat Society in Sag Harbor.

“I am most proud of the lantern project which I did with Mr. King from WLNG and Ted Conklin from The American Hotel,” she said. “We raised money for the restoration of the monument and historic trough at the Civil War memorial in the village.” She also raised all of the money for the lanterns in town, “over $100,000!”

Gabe has also been very dedicated to his hometown. He ran the Babe Ruth baseball team, continues to be a member of the Lion’s Club for over 50 years, and has been a member of the Sag Harbor Fire Department for almost 50 years. He is also a member of the Fireman’s Benevolent Association and the Fire Police. One of Gabe’s loves was cooking for the fire department. “It was a great joy. I cooked there almost 20 years,” he said. And I believe most all of our fire department would profess to his talent in the kitchen and the many wonderful meals he prepared. “Now he cooks for the two of us,” confessed Diane, “breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Gabe continued to work at the business his father created, Schiavoni’s Plumbing and Heating, all of his life until his retirement. Diane recently retired from bookkeeping at the John Jermain Memorial Library after 35 years. “I love the people there,” Diane commented. “It was the nicest place to work. I cry when I visit; I miss them all so much.”

Now they enjoy spending their days together, walking about the village, visiting their family and continuing their involvement with many of the Sag Harbor volunteer organizations. “This is our home. We never want to leave.”

We are all so grateful for the tireless dedication Diane and Gabe Schiavoni have shown for our village and that they have, and will always, call Sag Harbor, Home.