Star Island Corporation challenged to 'reinvent itself'
Fire-code violations only part of wider problem, according to study
Star Island, as seen from Appledore Island, showing some of its more than 35 buildings. (Jim Cerny photo)
Isles' relative location map, islands enlarged. Adapted from Mapquest.
SongThese precious Isles are anchored fast, Storm-swept by many a northeast gale That rends the bolt rope from the sail, And breaks in twain the groaning mast!
O love, my heart is like the sea,
Surging with every gale that blows,
Longing for winds that bring the rose,
The happy summer-time and thee.
(Excerpted from poem by Oscar Laighton, who died at age 99. His family sold Star Island to its present owner. He was the younger brother of Celia Thaxter.)
The Isles of Shoals sit a half dozen miles or so off the coast of Rye. Among the nine, Star Island is the most recognizable, set off by the white 19th-century Oceanic Hotel that seemingly symbolizes the simple life many long to recapture.
The simple life is not so simple anymore.
What may seem like a sea change is expected to occur next spring when this island centerpiece opens to visitors and attendees at various conferences who head there to refresh themselves.
Last May's delayed opening prompted a re-thinking of how the Star Island Corporation has been operating its educational and religious programs and facilities since 1916. The analysis went far beyond the failure to meet fire-safety regulations that resulted in the delay in opening until the third week of July and a revenue loss of more than $1 million.
"Our island community is at a turning-point in its history," stated the first draft of a 53-page study-committee report
received this fall by the board of directors and already accepted in principle (the final report and "a formal response" are expected soon, according to acting Executive Director Joe Watts).
The Corporation was challenged to reinvent itself while maintaining its values. Recommendations by the Island Opened Late Committee included:
- Stop being "penny-wise and pound-foolish." Assess the needs and provide adequate resources.
- Live our values.
- Be engaged with the broader community, including local authorities, civil and political institutions and business: "We cannot ignore the mainland."
Relentless winds whip structures on Star as shown in this photo of conference room, reminiscent of Wyeth's "Wind from the Sea" (Jim Cerny photo)
"Adequate resources" are believed to include more aggressive fund-raising and a raise in rates and room charges.
Members of the committee were Jordan Young (chair), Martha Copithorne, Nick Dembsey, Doug Hatfield, Jack Lightfoot, Russ Peterson and Kristi Vazifdar.
The committee's findings referred to "a pattern of incidents extending over many years, any one of which could have led the island to open late." Cited were waste-water treatment, generators, the water-supply system and the kitchen. Lack of adequate record keeping, according to the report, had led managers to believe certain regulatory issues had been dealt with.
The report stated that "no single cause, single act, or single failure to take an action" resulted in the late opening. This finding seemed to support the board's response to the resignation of Executive Director Amy Lockwood in early June when a statement was issued calling her departure "regretful" and praising her "significant leadership and ingenuity." A search committee is expected to recommend a replacement, with the title of Chief Executive Officer and a new job description, as early as January. Suggestions by the Island Opening Late Committee were integrated into the job description.
Values were described in the report as relating to "stewardship of our island and facilities, best employment practices, good public citizenship with regard to government and regulation, and our impact on our environment." The report said the values came from "our historically roots as Unitarians, Universalists and Congregationalists." Specifically the committee expressed concern about seemingly sensible decisions that "were not defensible if looked at in terms of our larger values" as well as concern about the hiring of Pelicans (seasonal employees), only 60% of whom in recent years have participated previously in conferences.
Maintenance is ongoing. This shows work being done on back side of Oceanic Hotel in 2004. (Jim Cerny photo)
The report lays out the chronology of events from 2001 to 2007 having to do with fire-code violations, including the steps agreed on to deal with them and the breakdown in follow-up.
Finally the committee called for the elimination of "The Island Mind", explaining:
"Star Island culture suffers from a strong case of 'Island Mind', the mind-set that comes from being on an island, isolated from the conventions and authority of the mainland. This attitude of 'island mind' is common to many islands. It has been a part of the Star Island culture since long before our conferences started. Witness not only the history of the Island community during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, but (perhaps more important) our embrace of those stories as descriptive in some sense of who we are. We identify with those nonconformists. Our time on Star Island is a time when we can think of ourselves as rebels and nonconformists. Fred McGill used to refer to 'All the world and the Isles of Shoals.' Before the late 20th century, to be on an island meant to be isolated and self-contained. Our island, any island, no longer provides that kind of isolation."
Now the balancing act becomes: How to be part of the community while maintaining the tranquility that preserves what Uncle Oscar described as "The happy summer-time and thee."
More information on Star Island — its activities, its corporation and its vision — at www.starisland.org.
Copyright © Rye Reflections 2007. All rights reserved.