A March 1970 quick trip to Montauk turned into a lifetime love affair with the hamlet for Tom and Marilyn Bogdan. On June 3, the East Hampton Rotary Club honored Tom Bogdan by naming him Person of the Year during their annual dinner held at the Montauk Lake Club.
“He’s an icon for Montauk,” said Conrad Constanza, a Rotary member who was on the committee that named Bogdan.
In 1970, the Bogdans had a beautiful apartment on Central Park West. He worked at a top advertising agency, while she designed fabrics. She suggested they drive out to this place called Montauk. “Next to my wife, it is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. I truly, truly love Montauk,” he said over a cup of tea on the porch of the house the couple own in the old Jackson Estate subdivision.
When the Bogdans arrived in Montauk in their convertible Volkswagen Beetle, they found themselves in the middle of the Montauk Friends of Erin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. “What a rocking town,” Bogdan remembers thinking.
“We went to Gosman’s Dock, walking around, loving it,” he said. “We bumped into a nice gentleman.” John Gosman spent the next two-and-a-half hours conversing with the couple. “He had just built a store and he wanted to rent it. Right on the spot, I said, ‘I will take it.’ John said, ‘I didn’t tell you the rent.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what the rent is.’ He said, ‘What are you going sell? ‘I said, ‘I don’t know.’ God bless him. He gave us a one-year trial.”
There was no looking back or indecision for the couple. “We got rid of our apartment. In a week, we had quit our jobs, and I took a 90 percent pay cut. How can you miss on Gosman’s Dock?”
It took a couple of years, but finally the couple began making money, selling gifts and decorative items. They expanded, taking over another store at Gosman’s, then another. Marilyn focused on high-end women’s clothing. They also opened a men’s clothing store, a toy store, a children’s clothing store. Each storefront was unique.
They began expanding outside of Montauk. When they looked at a store on Newtown Lane in East Hampton Village, Tom sold Marilyn on the idea by pointing out that it would be the only woman’s clothing store in East Hampton Village.
Although the couple said they worked long hours, they were blessed by having hard-working employees, mostly locals.
Tom Bogdan had a strong desire to give back to the community. He became a member of the Montauk School Board. But, that wasn’t enough. In 1990, he and his wife founded the Montauk Adventure program for Long Island families with children afflicted with cancer. The entire family would come out to Montauk for a weekend. “The whole program was based on cooperation from the town,” he said. “Everything was donated. We didn’t have any money. We got hotels involved, restaurants, charter boats, airplanes.”
It was all done anonymously. Just Montaukers pitching in, helping families to feel a weekend of joy, and escape, Bogdan said. The Montauk Manor, for example, would donate 20 rooms to Montauk Adventure. This is no small thing, Bogdan pointed out, coming, as it almost always does, the weekend after Labor Day, when business is still brisk. He gave a long list of businesses and individuals who are involved with the program, such as Gurney’s, the Lake Club, and John’s Pancake House. Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Café throws a barbecue for the families on the last day of the event.
Eventually, the Bogdans began divesting themselves of their stores, though Marilyn held onto her women’s clothing store, which she finally sold in recent years.
In 2006, Bogdan was approached to lead the fund-raising drive for the new church for St. Therese of Lisieux. “It was a 16-week campaign, and the goal was to raise $3 million,” he said. How would that happen in a small town like Montauk, Bogdan wondered? They ended up raising $5 million.
In recent years, the Bogdans have been involved in Montauk United, an apolitical organization dedicated to giving the people of Montauk a united voice. “All these disparate voices. We would be a lot stronger if we could unite those voices,” Bogdan said. He pointed to the recent decision by PSEG to back off from buying a parcel of land on Flamingo Road as the kind of result the people of Montauk can see when they are united.
The next big challenge may well be the airport. If East Hampton Town were to greatly curtail or shut down East Hampton Airport, Bogdan believes the traffic would be forced east, to the much smaller, privately owned Montauk Airport.
Looking Into the future, Bogdan believes that, while the idea of incorporation of Montauk may have come and gone, that the hamlet, along with the other four hamlets that comprise East Hampton, should have direct representation on the town board.
Bogdan was looking forward to the dinner in his honor, knowing that his wife would be by his side. Marilyn Bogdan had a freak accident in Manhattan recently, which resulted in a broken pelvis, among other injuries. She has been convalescing in a rehabilitation center the city, since, but is on the mend, her husband of 50 years said.