When Chrystyna Kestler initially conceived of creating a ranch where active service members, veterans and Gold Star families could fi nd respite and rehabilitation for a week at no cost, she picked land she and her husband owned in Magdalena, New Mexico.
The choice of where to build was an easy one, considering the stunning beauty of the southwestern landscape.
That was two years ago when Ms. Kestler — whose son, First Lieutenant Joseph J. Theinert, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 — and her husband, Dr. Frank Kestler, wanted to channel their grief into helping others.
Fast forward two years and the Joseph J. Theinert Memorial Fund continues to push forward, raising money for the ranch and scholarships given annually to Shelter Island, Sag Harbor and Mattituck students.
But what was a loose vision based on emotion and beauty, turns out to be the right site based on soil samples and geophysical engineering as well as a water supply that can be tapped on the property.
“This is my field of dreams,” Ms. Kestler said about the “Strongpoint Theinert Ranch” that will spring up on the 900 acres the couple donated for the project. They aptly named the ranch Strong-point because it represents a fi ghting position so necessary to military success, just as their determination to bring the project to fruition remains unassailable.
What started as a family project — the Kestlers and Joey’s brothers, Jimbo and Billy Theinert — now has a board of community members who bring various strengths to the effort.
“It has been a banner year for us in so many ways,” Ms. Kestler said.
Melissa Mundy has contributed her organizational and public relations talents. Mike Mundy, once a coach to Joey Theinert during his high school years, Nan Shipley, Margaret Doyle, Melissa Finney, Vincent Seddio, Susan Binder and Councilman Ed Brown all are involved in the ongoing project.
“There has been a lot of positive energy,” she added.
She admits there were days after she and Dr. Kestler fi rst contributed the land and announced the project that she wondered to herself, “What was I thinking?” But there was never any second guessing about the value of the fi nal goal.
Still, the scope of the work — fund raising, organizing and all the technical aspects of creating the ranch — are daunting. But supported by that board of talented and dedicated neighbors and having professionally drawn plans in hand for the ranch’s development make the project feel possible, Ms. Kestler said.
Ms. Mundy, a professional fundraiser, acknowledges that the Strongpoint Theinert Ranch is hardly following a typical pathway to success. Usually, such efforts begin with an initial announcement of a goal and then quiet fundraising to move the project halfway to its fund needs. That’s when organizers go public in a major push to bring in the balance of the needed money to ensure a project will be completed.
For the Kestlers, the major push has been ongoing since they fi rst opted to donate the land in 2012 and they have continued to make steady progress ever since.
“We’re doing things a la carte,” Ms. Mundy said.
At the same time as the Theinert Memorial Fund continues with the ranch project, it also provides funding for scholarships. Plans call for adding Greenport to the list of school districts whose students will be able to apply for grants. The scholarships totalled about $10,000 in 2012 and 2013 and about $15,000 this year, according to Ms. Mundy. The fund also raises money to help other veterans groups, she said.
“Joe was so passionate about taking care of his men,” Ms. Kestler said. Now it falls to the Theinert Memorial Fund to carry on that job of taking care of troops and their families, she said. “There are so many veterans who need this,” she said about the ranch.
“That’s our inspiration,” Ms. Mundy added.
What is still not understood by some is why so many men and women are willing to volunteer to serve their country, Ms. Kestler said. Joey expressed it well in a book his family found after his death: “There is nothing glorious about war, but I will go into it to keep the people I love away from it.”
On Saturday, October 4 at 7 p.m., the Theinert foundation, in conjunction with the Telling Project, will host veterans from the national nonprofi t Veterans Artist Program (VAP), who are doing a monologue-style performance, sharing their personal stories,“This is What We Fought For” at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit josephjtheinertmemorialfund.org.