When Southold Town needed a generator for its emergency storm shelter, Southold and Greenport IGA owner Charles Reichert was there to help. When the local police department needed upgrades to its dispatch room to help keep officers and emergency personnel safe, Mr. Reichert was there, too.
When Mattituck High School needed to improve its baseball field, when Greenport student athletes needed new uniforms, when the Fire Fighter floating museum needed a loan to preserve the vessel, when the Southold Historical Society needed to renovate a historic building and when the town needed funds to provide handicapped accessibility at a playground, Mr. Reichert was there.
The owner of five supermarkets across Suffolk County, Mr. Reichert, 81, doesn’t live in Southold Town or have grandchildren who attend its schools. But the impact of his family’s donations — which neared $400,000 in 2016 alone — has been felt across the North Fork, even if he doesn’t want recognition for them.
“I think he’s too humble to even do that,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “The first thing he says after he says he wants to donate is, ‘I don’t really want any fuss over this.’ He just wants to do it because it’s a good thing to do.”
For his seemingly endless generosity and commitment to bettering the North Fork — and the modesty with which he supports all manner of causes — The Suffolk Times names Charles Reichert as its 2016 Person of the Year.
The Northport resident’s reputation as a philanthropist is well-known within town circles, despite his insistence that his contributions not be announced with fanfare.
“He looks at the critical needs of the town,” Mr. Russell said. “He’s done it so many times it’s astonishing.”
Each donation seems to start the same way: with a phone call.
That’s how Police Chief Martin Flatley learned that Mr. Reichert wanted to cover the nearly $350,000 cost of upgrading the town police department’s radio system. The communications network — which services not only Southold police but also officers on Shelter Island and every fire department on the North Fork — hadn’t been updated in years and problems with radio reception were cropping up.
“It’s a one-stop shop for fire, EMS and police,” Chief Flatley said. “That room covers the whole North Fork.”
Last summer, those concerns came to a head when a police officer was injured by a defendant in Southold Town Court who attacked him and two other court officers. The officer had radioed for backup, but the call was never received due to poor reception.
After Mr. Reichert read a news article about the incident and the cost of the needed fixes, he approached the town to help. Chief Flatley said he outlined the two different projects — upgrades to the dispatch room and the towers themselves — and told Mr. Reichert any help would be appreciated.
“He totally floored me when he said, ‘Would it help if my foundation were to pay for the dispatch room?’ ” Chief Flatley said. “What do you say? Of course it would help. It’s the whole project cost.”
The donation was the largest the department has ever received, as well as its most important, the chief said. Construction on the new dispatch room will begin this month. The money the town had already saved to pay for part of the project will instead be used to fund the remaining radio upgrades.
“The first invite for someone to come in and take a look at it is Charlie Reichert,” Chief Flatley said.
Mr. Reichert’s largesse wasn’t limited to the police department this year. In the spring, he attended a local baseball game in which his grandson’s team was playing against Mattituck. He noticed that the high school’s backstop needed to be replaced and offered the district $25,000 to cover the cost of a new one.
In November, Mr. Reichert donated again, when Greenport schools requested help in acquiring new athletic uniforms and jerseys. The businessman gave thousands to the cause, said Superintendent David Gamberg.
“It’s a wonderful example for our students,” Mr. Gamberg said. “They can really see a real-life person who goes out of his way to give and to give widely to others even though he doesn’t have a direct connection … he recognizes the importance of supporting children, regardless of where they are.”
A loan to the Fireboat Fire Fighter Museum in Greenport Village — the amount of which remains undisclosed — will help the boat relocate to Rhode Island for repairs.
“He really came to the rescue,” said museum president Charlie Ritchie.
Beyond gratitude for his philanthropy, those who have received help from Mr. Reichert praise his “down-to-earth” attitude and his commitment to his businesses and the surrounding community.
“Charlie might be from up west, but Charlie’s very engaged in the community of Southold — and not just by donating,” Mr. Russell said.
In interviews this year, Mr. Reichert repeatedly stated that he was simply trying to give back as much as he could with the resources he has.
“My kids are taken care of. My grandkids have all got their college education,” he said last week. “So we decided to help people.”
Top photo: Charles Reichert at his office in Northport last week. While the local IGA owner doesn’t live in Southold Town, his family’s donations — which neared $400,000 for just 2016 — have impacts across the North Fork. (Credit: Paul Squire)
2015: Kait’s Angels
2014: Jeff Heidtmann
2013: David Gamberg and Michael Comanda
2012: Southold Emergency Response Team
2011: Paul and Barbara Stoutenburgh
2010: Scott Russell
2009: Ryan Creighton
2008: North Fork NJROTC
2007: Maureen’s haven
2006: Southold Town Animal Shelter
2005: Ronnie Wacker
2004: Josh Horton
2003: Regina Maris Crew
2002: Colin Van Tuyl
2001: Frank LePré
2000: Ellie Hall
1999: Sister Margaret Smyth
1998: Reverend Lynda Clements
1997: Tim Caufield
1996: Dr. Micah Kaplan
1995: David Kappell
1994: Bob Levy
1993: Walter Dohm
1992: Reverend Summers
1991: Planning Conference
1990: 350th Committee
1989: Lynne Richards
1988: Franklin Bear
1987: Linda Graham