By James Bertsch
Special to GreaterSayville.com

We remember.

The Greater Sayville community will again honor the veterans who helped build our great community on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 9 a.m. at St. Ann’s Cemetery in Sayville.

In preparation for Veterans Day next month, we are restoring the gravestones of veterans whose resting places are St. Ann’s and Union Cemeteries. We also plan to restore the gravestones of some American Revolution veterans interred at St. John Episcopal Church in Oakdale.

Our quest is to restore the final resting place of each veteran buried in our community. Why? Because we love and respect our veterans and our community. Caring about our community has always defined us.

We are honored to see the return of the American Legion Smith-Wever Post #651, the Greater Sayville Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Sayville Civic Association, the Lt. Michael Murphy Division U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, the Sayville Fire Department, the Sayville Historical Society, the Sayville KiwanisClub and the Sayville Rotary.

We are especially pleased to also be joined this fall by the Community Ambulance Company of Sayville, the Sayville High School History Club, the Sayville Village Improvement Society (SVIS) and the West Sayville Fire Department. If you’re a member of one of these organizations, contact the organization head to get involved. Please contact me at jjjbertsch@hotmail.com if you’re unaffiliated but would like to participate.

This effort is made possible by the work of John and CarolAnn St. Lawrence. This great, steady and prodigious couple have created a huge archive of biographies, photos and obituaries to keep alive the memories of the sacrifices of local U.S. veterans. They have spent thousands of hours pulling together historical records of hundreds of veterans, whose resting places are in both St. Ann’s and Union cemeteries.

Who are our veterans?

Two veterans who helped make our community what it is today are Ken Stein, Jr. and Robert Thornhill, both of whom are Sayville High School graduates. The son of the town’s first pharmacist, Robert Thornhill enlisted and honorably served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, eventually becoming a subchaser in North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Mr. Stein, known by all who loved him as Kenny II, is the great grandson of the Sayville Ferry’s founder. Kenny II served in the U.S. Navy between World War II and the Vietnam War.

Born in 1906, Robert Thornhill was the son of Sewell and Louise Edwards Thornhill, the town’s first druggist and also the owner of the first store to have a telephone. Robert’s maternal ancestors founded Sayville.

Indeed, the Edwards Homestead still stands today and is the home of the Sayville Historical Society. Robert graduated from Sayville High School in 1924 and returned to Sayville to start a legal practice. One of Robert’s many contributions was being a charter member of the Sayville Rotary Club. He was also a trustee of the Sayville Congregational Church and served on the board of Southside Hospital.

Robert was a member of the Sayville Republican Club, the Sayville Yacht Club and the Great South Bay Power Squadron. No doubt worried about the safety of Long Island, Robert enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve at the height of World War II, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Robert also served in New York City on the Port Security Force as an executive officer.

Trained in Florida in 1944 in anti-submarine warfare, Robert attended Miami’s Sub-Chasing Training Center and served on Coast Guard Cutter “Campbell.”

Each community has a legacy. The same is true of many Sayville families, especially the owners of the Sayville Ferry Service, the Steins. Now in its sixth generation, Kenny Stein, Jr. was a U.S. Navy veteran. Yet Kenny made his real mark by leading his family business with his unparalleled kindness, humility and generosity. These traits defined him.

Kenny II got fired from one job in the Ferry Company, the ticket booth, after serving there for a mere seven years. That’s because he gave away too many ferry tickets!

Born in 1943, Kenny II ran the Sayville Ferry Company from 1978-2000. Kenny was a devoted member of the Kiwanis club and served on the National Passenger Vehicle Association (PVA), where he worked with the federal government to develop regulations for his industry.

The best tribute anyone could receive was offered for Kenny II by former Town of Islip Councilman, Chris Bodkin, who worked for the ferries for thirty years.

“He was the sweetest guy in the world,” Bodkin said, “He was quiet, and unassuming and keenly interested in the world around him, especially in local history.

“He had a very pressured job and I never saw him lose his temper. It could be 100 degrees, a holiday weekend, the terminal swarming with passengers and a boat broken down,” the former councilman remembered. “He always said ‘thank you’ at the end of the day, and made sure the kids, the deck hands, had a ride home.”

I served Kenny II as his deck hand in the freight department. I am still saddened he is not with us. Yet I still have such fond memories of his unassuming and kind ways.

I hope that you can join us this Saturday in honoring these great individuals.