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Fred and Carol Fenter

Jefferson's Ferry

Part two of three

Over its 20 years in existence, Jefferson’s Ferry has been home to a significant number of accomplished and creative older adults who have been groundbreakers, innovators, educators and artists. All were original thinkers with a desire to do something that hadn’t been done before, and many of these residents wrote books about their work, which can be found in the Jefferson’s Ferry library collection.

Lee Koppelman: visionary of open space preservation

Lee Koppelman

The Suffolk County landscape would look markedly different if not for Lee Koppelman. He was the first regional planning board director for Suffolk County. An early advocate for the preservation of open space, Koppelman drew up Suffolk’s first comprehensive master plan in 1970 and dominated planning on Long Island from the 1960s until he stepped aside in 2006. A leading professor emeritus at Stony Brook University who still teaches, Koppelman was appointed the director of the Center for Regional Policy Studies there. He is also chairman emeritus of the Town of Brookhaven Open Space and Farmland Acquisition Advisory Committee. The Lee Koppelman Preserve, a parcel of land on the Stony Brook campus, commemorates his stewardship of open space in the county.

The Town of East Hampton has also commemorated his contributions to Long Island’s open space, designating about 800 acres contiguous to and adjacent to Hither Hills State Park as the Lee Koppelman Nature Preserve. Koppelman is the author of 22 books, which include “The Fire Island National Seashore” and “The Urban Sea: Long Island Sound.” He and his wife, Constance, reside in an independent living apartment at Jefferson’s Ferry.

Carol Fenter holding her husband’s book ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll: The Legacy of the Counter-Cultural Revolution.’ Photo from Jefferson’s Ferry

Fred and Carol Fenter; author and wife

As a high school social studies teacher, Fred Fenter had a front-row-center season ticket on the cultural revolution that marked the 1960s and ’70s. From that perspective, in 2008, he penned “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll: The Legacy of the Counter-Cultural Revolution.” What made his experience particularly radical was the transformation of the ultraconservative Bay Shore High School, a place of separate faculty rooms for men and women, strict dress codes, zero tolerance for even a muttered “hell” or “damn.”

Quite suddenly, to Fenter’s eye, the school swerved to embrace the anti-establishment fervor of the ’60s. Faculty rooms were converted to student space, the dress code disintegrated to rags and teachers had to find new ways to engage the more willful students. 

All of this was anathema to Fenter, who had to drop out of high school and join the U.S. Navy at age 17 to support his family. Upon his return, he finished high school at night while holding a variety of day jobs that included bank teller, shelf stocker at the supermarket and elevator operator. He earned his master’s degree while teaching at Delehanty High School in Queens and Division Avenue High School in Levittown, where he met his future wife Carol. Fred Fenter ultimately taught advanced history honors for 20 years at Bay Shore High School. 

“Fred always wanted to write,” Carol Fenter said. “But with a family of four children to support, he had to put that dream on hold. He worked two jobs, which left little time for writing.” 

After his retirement from teaching, Fred and Carol became among the first residents at Jefferson’s Ferry. They moved in during fall 2001 seeking a lifestyle that suited Carol’s active social life and Fred’s desire to write. “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n Roll” was written in its entirety at Jefferson’s Ferry.

“He came from nothing,” his wife said. “His father died when he was 14 and life became all work and no play. That made the cultural revolution of the ’60s and ’70s into a particular challenge. During World War II, the U.S. Navy took over control of cargo ships from various importers and shippers to augment its supply fleet. Assigned as a signalman on one of the so-called ‘banana boats,’ Fred never could understand how he survived the war. He didn’t have the youth that his future students would have.”

“He didn’t put himself into the book at all,” she added. “It’s all philosophical. He hits the movements of the times — anti-war, free love, civil rights, feminism — from all different aspects. He had it in his head and wanted to get it out.”

Fred Fenter passed in 2008, but Carol finds plenty to do at Jefferson’s Ferry. She is chair of the residents council, former chair of the Jefferson’s Ferry Foundation, has taught countless residents in her popular computer classes and has installed more than 100 modems in residents’ apartments. While she’s not a writer like her late husband, she is a voracious reader, consuming multiple books each week.

Joan Watson: ‘My Turning Points’

Joan Watson holding her book ‘My Turning Points.’

Dec. 1, 1952, was the last day 12-year-old Joan Watson was tucked into bed feeling safe and secure. Today, as clearly as the day in which it happened, Watson remembers waking up the morning of Dec. 2 to her mother’s suicide. This tragedy was the first “turning point” in Watson’s young life, the day her life changed forever. Gone was the affection of her mother, the family memories and the sense of stability. Unlike her mother, her father wasn’t affectionate. He was very strict and determined that his three children would learn responsibility. Frightened about what her life would be without that special love of her mother, she prayed for God to send someone to love her.

Her challenges didn’t end when years later, she left the family home to marry her high school sweetheart. After three years of marriage, her husband left and moved out of state, leaving her and their two daughters. Watson’s next turning point occurred when she lost her youngest daughter to illness at barely 2 years of age. Watson and her surviving daughter lived with the help of public assistance and Joan’s jobs as a school bus driver and waitress.   

But her story doesn’t end there — it begins anew. Through therapy and her faith in God, she tapped the inner strength and talents that allowed her to begin to take control of her life and start initiating her own turning points. She furthered her education with secretarial school and got a job typing medical records at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Smithtown. Watson began to achieve a modicum of stability and happiness.

A second marriage was full of love and support, giving her the freedom to be her best self. She achieved positions of increased responsibility and reward at work.

Then came another turning point, totally unexpected and serendipitous. While attending a party, Watson learned of a 60-minute program — a company, Mary Kay, was giving away diamonds and minks to reward its salespeople. While still working at the hospital, she started selling Mary Kay products and quickly reached the director level, making real money. Watson excelled at bringing successful consultants into the company by adhering to Mary Kay’s wisdom, “Help enough people get what they want, and you’ll get what you want,” Watson said. What determined her success was the ability to lift her consultants and teach them to do what she did. Mary Kay also taught her about investing. The recognition she received surpassed money as Watson’s motivator. In her eyes, God had sent her the love of many.

Watson wrote “My Turning Points” to make a difference in other peoples’ lives, to help them find their own turning point and make a difference in their lives. “My Turning Points” is among the most popular books in the Jefferson’s Ferry library. Reading the book has also spurred people to open up to her about challenges in their own lives. 

A Jefferson’s Ferry resident for six years, Watson values the community and the ease of her days. When she was widowed after 40 years of marriage 14 years ago, she knew that she’d have to find a continued sense of place and security. She reviewed her expenses and investments, sold her house and found a new home and friends while remaining close to her family. She is retired from Mary Kay, but still mentors and coaches women who have followed in her footsteps at the company. Watson’s pink Cadillac, parked outside her apartment, continues to be a conversation piece.

Linda Kolakowski is vice president of Residential Life at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket.