One of the laments many Sag Harbor locals share is that a new generation of residents is unaware of the rich heritage the tiny village harbors. Many of the movers and shakers from the whaling industry have been popularized, but many of the most important and popular residents who gave the village its Wild West mystique have tragically been allowed to pass on, forgotten.
Suffice it to say, this port town came alive at night. Visitors from around the world, many fresh off the boat and flush with cash, told ribald tales that can still be heard in the midnight wind.
It was that way again on March 11 when the true locals came out to say goodbye to one of their own.
Earlier, an antique fire engine had carried the coffin of Terry Remkus. A flag stretched across the tree tops of Brick Kiln Road from side to side as firemen in their dress uniforms, 100 strong, came to a standstill for the Last Call before proceeding to St. Andrew Cemetery to honor their fallen brother.
When the beers flow, like on this night, the real stories of the fabled men of yore, whose strength of character and sense of daring defined the town, reverberate. Terry Remkus’s name is mentioned in those revered terms. He will not be easily forgotten.
Born to Margaret (Margie) and Louis Remkus, both of whom predeceased him, Terry, who spent his entire life in Sag Harbor, survived a debilitating bout with cerebral palsy as a youngster that nearly left him crippled. “But he always wanted to play baseball,” recalled his older brother, Lou. What followed was years of surgery and rehab at St. Charles and painful leg braces, but Terry fulfilled his dream. He eventually became the catcher on the Pierson High varsity, catching All-County standouts like Jim Laspesa and helping Pierson make it deep into the playoffs in 1967 and ’68, two teams considered among the best in the history of the school.
Terry Remkus may well be the most seminal player in the history of the Sag Harbor men’s softball league, which he helped start and popularize. He was the Nolan Ryan of Sag Harbor, his pinpoint fastball a dangerous weapon in a game literally dictated by the mandate “slow pitch,” so much so that fans from other towns came to see it for themselves.
He was among those who literally mounted lights on poles, raising them and setting them manually so games could be played at night. The league’s popularity was such that some summers there were three games every night, the latest one stretching into the wee hours.
For three decades, primarily with the fabled Pino’s Casketeers, Remkus took the ball, crumbling knee and all, and hurled with magnificent force, on occasion two games in a single day.
Terry married Sue McArdle and the pair had two children, Amy and Kelly. Though Terry and Sue subsequently separated, they stayed close, often enjoying holidays with the kids.
He was a working man to be sure. He is remembered as an expert house painter who once worked on restoring the ceiling of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. He is better remembered as the long-time bartender of the Corner Bar, his robust laugh obscuring a tender smile and a huge heart.
Terry, who died on March 7 of pancreatic cancer, was in the fire department for 28 years. He loved to sail, and he was a huge sports fan, particularly of the Yankees and Jets.
You didn’t need to be off a swanky yacht or a member of the glitterati to get Terry’s attention: Those who gravitated to the bar down on their luck were more likely to get a kind smile and a helping hand.
That was his way: laughs and hard work. He was proud to be the dad of the beautiful daughters he nurtured, and found love and happiness anew with his longtime love, Teddi Zaluski. He doted over his grandson, Cole Esposito, who also survives.
He was strong, and he was tough. A swaggering man’s man, Terry was a raconteur, a rascal, a Whaler, and a true local, the likes of which have vanished from this bar town far too quickly. He won’t be replaced because he can’t be replaced; the mold is broken.
There in lies the tragedy of modern day Sag Harbor. So many relative newcomers who think they know what is best for the harbor will never know the best Sag Harbor had to offer.
The procession of cars to the cemetery caused a traffic jam; an impromptu cheer of “Whale Ho” at the end of the services was celebratory and defiant. As many as could fit packed the firehouse afterward.
Services were held at Yardley & Pino Funeral Home on March 11. Memorial donations may be made to the Sag Harbor Fire Department.