By Nancy Remkus
“Lead the life that will make you kindly and friendly to everyone about you, and you will be surprised what a happy life you will lead.”
-Charles M. Schwab-
I’m sure you’ve seen him — Joe Markowski — pushing a stroller about town every day of the week, every week of the year, for five years with his great granddaughter Skye, and now another rotation with his year-old great grandson William. Joe and William looping the village and always stopping at the bench in front of the Five and Dime, “That’s our watering hole,” mused Joe. “William drinks his bottle, and I drink my water.” Perhaps the most striking thing about these walks is how the love that Joe has for his family shines right through to his smile. I don’t think just anyone would have the energy to care for their great grandchildren eight hours a day, but Joe does. “I teach them all kinds of things on these walks; I teach them about nature, the village, how to read letters on signs, how to count steps. All of my grandchildren know Sag Harbor really well.”
Joe does get some help in the babysitting department from his wife, Jane, to whom he has been married to for 52 years. Together they have two children, Joe and Jill; four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
While visiting Joe’s house, I notice the backdoor seems to swing open wide to greet friends, neighbors and family members. They gather in the family room to visit and take time to talk and listen to each other. “There’s always someone stopping by for a visit,” says Joe with a smile. The gardens are beautiful, and there are whales all around. Even Joe’s shorts are sporting whales.
Joe Markowski’s grandfather came to Sag Harbor in the 1800’s from Poland and had a dairy farm on Harrison Street — “Markowski Dairy.” Joe reminisced about childhood days spent on the farm. “I loved it there; there were chickens and cows. I used to collect the eggs, and my grandfather used to try to teach me how to milk cows. It was a special place.” His father Joseph Markowski was born in Sag Harbor and worked in Ralston Grocery Store and later in Agawam factory as a toolmaker.
Joe grew up in Sag Harbor and went to school at Pierson and Saint Andrew’s. My sister, Carol as a young child remembered attending elementary school in Saint Andrew’s in the old wooden building on Union Street. She can still picture Joe, just six years her senior, a young boy himself, walking through the classrooms with a hammer. The nuns would have him fixing this and that, launching his extensive career as a facilities manager.
Joe has a long history of working for many of the important Sag Harbor establishments, “I was facilities manager for the Sag Harbor School System from 1990 until my retirement in 2005. I also returned two years ago for a short time when they needed someone to fill in for the position. I was also a custodian/facilities manager for Saint Andrew Church, The Whaling Museum, The Old Whalers Church, Sag Harbor Savings Bank (now Apple Bank), Temple Adas Israel, Murray Hill Firehouse and more.”
While Joe worked in the Sag Harbor School District, he was friends with many of the students there. “I love kids, I’ve always enjoyed working with kids. Ray Milazzo and I set up a little workshop for them where they could fix their bikes and whatever else might need fixing.” Joe spent time with students during his lunch hour talking and listening to them-many of those kids I’m sure were the ones that had no one to sit with in the lunchroom. Joe remembers my nephew Chris, who is now a meteorologist at NBC Boston; together they set up an entire online weather station helping to predict the weather for school events. Joe welcomed them all. When the cafeteria had left-over pizza Joe would cut them into little slices, call them ‘mini pizzas’ and deliver them to students throughout the school.
One of Joe’s many hobbies is collecting historical memorabilia and artifacts pertaining to Sag Harbor. His extensive collection includes almost 800 postcards of Sag Harbor’s past. “I was in Philly once, and I saw a sign that read: ‘Old Pictures’, so I went inside and found my first postcard of the old Sag Harbor Railroad Station. Every state I’m in, I look for postcards.” Joe’s extensive collection also includes books, photographs, articles and old maps. “I help out any organization that calls on me to do research on a historic house or building.” There are few people in Sag Harbor who know its history as well as Joe. He exhibits his artifacts in local shows and intends to donate this valuable collection to the John Jermain Library.
Joe has been active in his community in many ways. He was a volunteer fireman for 20 years and held the positions of warden and captain. He is very active in Saint Andrew Roman Catholic Church as an extraordinary minister and was a member of the parish council and an usher. “Saint Andrew’s has always felt like my second home,” said Joe. He once was on the board of directors for the Youth Center and was part of the original board that helped guide new homeowners on the restoration of their historic homes. This board later became the Architectural Review Board.
“I just enjoy people,” Joe said. “I’ll meet people, total strangers, and ask them where they’re from and how they found Sag Harbor. I find people very interesting. I like listening to their stories. Once I met a man who said, ‘sit down I want to talk to you’, so I sat down. He said, ‘we’ve been to Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton looking for a town to live in. Sag Harbor is going to be it because you’re the only one who has sat down to talk with me.”
Joe’s heart is in Sag Harbor, “I love this town. I love the people, the homes, the architecture. I have so many good memories of the folks I have worked for and worked with. I have nice neighbors and live in a great neighborhood to raise kids.” And with this huge, kind and loving heart, Joe is the quintessential Sag Harbor citizen: a caretaker of its youth, its history, its buildings, its visitors.
Just imagine if every face you met on Main Street sported that smile, if every person just looked up for a minute or two and wanted to hear your story. What a wonderful world it would be. So Joe, we are grateful that you help to make Sag Harbor a kind and friendly place to call HOME.