Two key staffers of the John Jermain Memorial Library will be retiring before the year is out.
They are Sag Harbor native Diane Schiavoni, a lifelong community volunteer and bookkeeper for local organizations, individuals and businesses, who has served as the library’s bookkeeper for 35 years; and Eric Cohen, a Sag Harbor resident since the 1980s who served on the local School Board, helped found the Sag Harbor Cultural District and has been the library’s technology and media coordinator for more than 16 years.
“There’s just no way to understate the contributions they’ve made to the library and by extension to the community,” commented Catherine Creedon, the library director. “I just can’t say enough about how great they are. They are part of the heart and soul of this organization. I can’t begin to imagine how my life is going to change without them at the library.”
The library has placed ads in the Sag Harbor Express for their replacements. Descriptions of each job can be found under the “employment” page on the library’s website.
Diane Schiavoni: Loving the Library and Bookkeeping
“Leaving this job is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I just loved it there,” Ms. Schiavoni said this week of her decision to retire from her job keeping the books at the library, which she began in October 1984.
“Thirty-five years and I never bounced a check,” she quipped.
“It has been a unique situation,” she added. “I go in when I want. I leave when I want. It just worked for me. I walk to work from home,” a charming 1892 Victorian cottage on Oakland Street where she lives her husband Gabe, who retired from his own plumbing business 20 years ago.
“It was a challenge,” while the library building was being expanded and renovated between 2011 and 2016, she added. “It was very tough. I did two budgets, the operating budget and the building project. And it was a challenge. It was intense … but it worked out beautifully and you couldn’t have a better person to work with than Cathy Creedon.”
The library “is a wonderful place to work. Everyone there feels they’re the most important person in the library. But I’m done. I can’t do it anymore,” she said, even though she looks and feels far younger than her 80 years.
Born Diane Pintavalle, Ms. Schiavoni’s mother worked at the Bulova Watch Case factory and her father was a trackman for the Long Island Rail Road. She grew up knowing Gabe, whose mother she knew as Aunt Millie. She began dating him in her junior year at Pierson High School, from which she graduated in 1957. They were married two years later and have two grown children, David and Deborah, and four grandchildren.
Even in school, “I loved bookkeeping,” she said, tapped by the teacher on “Bank Day” in seventh grade to play the banker and serving as class treasurer from seventh through 12th grade. After graduation, she handled the books for several private clients, as well as for Pulver Gas — which paid her two checks per week, one for bookkeeping and the other for the babysitter she had to hire to do the job; Pat Malloy’s Long Wharf restaurant and its successor, George Studley’s, to whom Mr. Malloy said, “You have to take Diane,” she remembered, when he sold the business.
She has also handled the books during her time volunteering for Friends of the John Jermain Library; the Columbiettes, the women’s association affiliated locally with St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church; and the Sag Harbor Historical Society.
She also raised funds for the lantern lights on Main Street and the restoration of the water trough and the iron fence at the Civil War monument between Main and Madison streets.
One reason for her retirement, she said, is the attention she will be focusing on handling the books and bills for her, Gabe’s, and her children’s real estate project at 31 Long Island Avenue, where they plan to build a three-story retail and office building. KeySpan took a lease on the property in order to facilitate a groundwater reclamation project on its adjacent “gas ball” parcel, tearing down an aging commercial building where Ms. Schiavoni ran a video store for about a decade. The project is proceeding through local review boards under the name VACS LLC, the letters standing for Valerie, Andrea, Candace and Stephanie, her grandchildren.
Diane’s not a big traveler, Gabe noted. “It is a big deal when Diane goes over the Shinnecock Canal,” he said. She’ll stay busy with her regular domino games, her church, her continuing volunteer work, her knitting, and the VACS LLC project.
Eric Cohen: From Commune to Computers
Dan’s Papers publisher Dan Rattiner’s decision to buy a big IBM computer for his business is what shifted the path that led Mr. Cohen, now 70, to eventually become the coordinator of technology and media at the library.
Born in The Bronx and raised in Levittown, he studied theater arts at Hofstra and was a social worker in Manhattan before leaving the city for life with his wife Bobbie at a commune in East Quogue in the 1970s.
Mr. Rattiner was a friend of the commune, which ran a farm stand and a restaurant called Naoussa and survived for seven years before financial struggles and interpersonal friction broke it up. Dan lent the Cohens one of his delivery vans so they would have reliable transportation to the hospital when she went into labor for the first time in 1975. When the commune failed in 1979, he gave Mr. Cohen a loan and a job that would evolve into the position of general manager of Dan’s Papers.
He knew nothing about the publishing business, but, as he said last week, “Once you start a family, your focus changes. You do what you have to do.”
In 1980, Mr. Rattiner bought a computer for his company, its first. It was “a big monstrosity with eight-inch floppy discs,” Mr. Cohen recalled, and it had to be custom programmed. As Mr. Rattiner’s liaison to the company setting it up, Mr. Cohen remembered, he had to learn how to manage it. “I was immediately enthralled by the computer,” he said. “That started a major era of my life.”
While working at Dan’s, the Cohens — by then with two of their three children — moved to Sag Harbor, first renting a house on Grant Street. They later rented on Union Street, before buying property in Mount Misery and, in 1988, building the house in which they still live.
Ms. Cohen went on to become a secretary for the Sag Harbor School District, retiring recently after 35 years on the job. Her husband would serve on the School Board for four years, working as the board’s liaison to the school system’s technology department.
As his company evolved, Mr. Rattiner let Mr. Cohen go when neither could quite define what it was he did, Mr. Cohen joked. But Mr. Rattiner found him a job working as PR manager for his friend Nick Monte at Gurney’s Inn in Montauk. To Mr. Cohen’s delight, the company’s time-share division manager had recently purchased an IBM PC, which he’d let sit in unopened boxes for months. Mr. Cohen set it up and used it to produce the division’s newsletters. “The best part of my job” as marketing director of Gurney’s time-share division “was learning about that computer,” he recalled.
When the time-share business turned sour in the mid-1980s, Mr. Cohen went to work for Carl Froebel’s National Investor Data Services company in Southampton as marketing director, becoming friends with Jay Bailey, one of the programmers there who developed software “emulators” that allowed the company’s servers to communicate with its clients’ systems.
When the company failed to keep up with the tidal wave toward desktop computing and started making layoffs in 1989, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Bailey set up their own company, Flying Point Software, with Carl Froebel’s permission to sell the software emulator far and wide. Eventually, Mr. Bailey moved on, leaving Mr. Cohen with no programmer to update the software. He renamed the company Flying Point Sales, providing services to all the new and growing numbers of owners of desktop personal computers in the area. One of his clients was the Sag Harbor School District.
“It was a tense time,” he recalled, “because I was increasingly nervous about money. Running your own business is just stressful. You never know what your income’s going to be.”
With relief, he took a job working as Southampton area manager for Tom Murphy’s Imperial Software in Southampton, which he had recommended to run the Sag Harbor School District’s technology systems. When the company moved to Holbrook, and later Great River, he became a Long Island commuter and eventually a vice president of the company.
“It was a really good job,” Mr. Cohen said, but in late 2000 , Mr. Murphy sold the company to a New Jersey firm that, it turned out, had little interest in marketing in the Southampton area. In 2002, just before Christmas, he was laid off.
“That same week, the library placed an ad in the Sag Harbor Express for a computer guy,” he recalled. He interviewed for it, figuring “it would tide me over until I landed the job I should have,” making six figures.
“I earned a quarter of what I had before, but it was money and it was a job,” Mr. Cohen said. “And then I discovered I loved public service, I loved libraries. It took like a minute of being at this job to realize that I had found my real niche. Librarians are just beautiful people. They’re dedicated to public service and it was so different from the commercial world, where everybody was just focused on making money and keeping the customer happy. We do that, too, but for different reasons. I thought this is great. And plus, I wasn’t commuting an hour to work.”
“After about two weeks of working in the library,” he remembered, “I came home and Bobbie said to me, ‘You know, I like this you much better than the other you.’ Those were her exact words. ‘Why don’t you think about staying in this job? We’ll manage.’ And I was pretty happy to do it.”
One of the job’s high points was designing the library’s Wi-Fi and computer infrastructure from scratch when it moved back into its expanded and renovated facilities in 2016. In 2009, when he was “beginning to get a little tired of tech,” he said, he expanded his responsibilities to include working with Save Sag Harbor to develop plans to coordinate the use of public spaces, a job that evolved into management of the Sag Harbor Cultural District.
Why retire now? “I’ve been working since I was 12. Enough is enough,” said Mr. Cohen, an avid cyclist who is looking forward to a bike trip through Europe in the spring.