Published in the Shelter Island Reporter on September 15, 2016.
When Stan Church was in his early 30s, he was already the founder and owner of one of the top marketing agencies in New York. But when he wasn’t pitching clients or coming up with innovative ways to reinvigorate a brand like the Pillsbury doughboy, he was sailing.
Stan decided to see if he could get a captain’s license. He took the exams and qualified for a 50-ton license, and five years later, when he renewed it, he said they gave him a 100-ton license — sufficient to run a North Ferry boat — because of the time he had spent crewing for a very large yacht.
For 20 years, Stan’s father was mayor of New Rochelle, the place where Stan was born in 1941 and grew up with sisters Jacqueline and Rochelle. His parents divorced, there was a custody battle, and Stan stayed with his father.
“We had lots of privileges — housekeeper, nanny, a driver to take me to school,” he said.
When Stan was old enough to insist, he moved to St. James with his mother, where the lifestyle wasn’t as fancy. “I worked every afternoon, made $60 a week and gave my Mom $30,” he said. “I went down to Stony Brook Harbor and went clamming, and was just a kid again.”
Instead, he went to the Parson’s School of Design and took a job in 1963 with the venerable advertising agency BBDO, helping to pitch accounts, and rising quickly to the position of art director.
“I am competitive and ambitious and I worked weekends and nights,” Stan said.
He left BBDO in 1966 to start his own agency, and when he merged with a more established firm in 1975, the new company became Wallace Church. Three years later, he began teaching part-time at Parsons, which he did for many years, becoming a mentor to students who went on to work at his and other creative agencies.
Today he is the sole owner of Wallace Church & Co., where over the years he’s worked with iconic brands such as Heinz, Ciao Bella, Pillsbury, Revlon and Nestlé. He’s the recipient of many design awards and was named an American Institute of Graphic Arts Fellow in January 2010.
The 2008 recession was a challenge to Stan’s business. Longtime clients held back on work and the business had to “re-scale.”
He was able to accomplish this reduction, he said, through attrition as other companies came after his employees.
“A lot of the talent in my office went elsewhere in the industry,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me because I helped them get there.”
Stan’s first job after graduation from Parsons was as a cook on a large yacht, visiting harbors up and down the East Coast. “I had seen a lot, but in 1979 when I pulled into Coecles Harbor, I thought it was the best place I’d ever seen,” he said. “And it was driving distance from the city.”
Stan’s first home on Shelter Island was a boat. As soon as he arrived in Coecles Harbor, he got a bite to eat at the Ram’s Head, and went directly to arrange a mooring.
Later he purchased a 41-foot sailboat to keep at the mooring, and lived in it for several years before buying a cottage in Westmoreland in 1983. A decade later, Stan designed and built his current home on Big Ram Island, looking out at the same part of the Island he fell for in 1979.
Stan has been married to his wife Kristin for 15 years; his two previous marriages ended in divorce. Kristin is director of marketing for Mandarin Oriental Hotels and the mother of the youngest of Stan’s four children, Madison. An accomplished equestrienne at 14, Madison rides at Hampshire Farms and has won two ribbons at the Hampton Classic, including the top prize in 2015.
Nothing says more about what is important in Stan’s life than the prominent role his children play in it, his company, and his plans for the future, he said. His oldest child, Wendy, has worked with him at Wallace Church & Co. for many years, and will soon become a partner in the company.
His daughter Robin is in her 40s. An interior designer, she lives in Tampa. His 30-year-old son, Justin, lives in Portland, Oregon. Stan, Robin and Justin are contemplating a venture together to design and build homes on Shelter Island.
“Shelter Island is a fairy tale and it’s nice to be in that story,” Stan said. They would design homes “with a European flavor; quality homes, something precious.”
Stan does not think Shelter Island is overrun with development. “Sunset [Beach] is a novelty because it is a crazy place and the beach is like the Riviera,” he said. “People here are not so into themselves. It’s more comfortable here.”
In 2012 Stan and Justin rode out Superstorm Sandy in their Ram Island house, a memorable experience for both men. Looking out into the storm to where his dock should have been, Stan said all he could see was whitecaps. During the storm, he and Justin heard banging and saw that a large propane tank had floated up to a neighbor’s house and was battering the kitchen door, propelled by waves of water.
“We got a line on it and dragged it into the woods,” Stan said. With a gas stove and a source of water, he didn’t consider evacuating the home he loves. “I knew I had whatever I needed,” he said.
Stan Church,Lightning round
What do you always have with you?
A pocket full of pennies. I used to think if you found a penny heads-up it was good luck. Things were going so well I didn’t want to give any of them up.
Favorite place on Shelter Island?
My home. I look up in the sky and thank God to be so lucky.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island?
The British Virgin Islands, Jost Van Dyke.
Last time you were elated?
When Justin was born.
What exasperates you?
When I know for sure something is right and my clients just don’t want to go that way.
Last time you were afraid?
I was in a 40-foot boat in 30-foot waves, dark of night, and although there were seven aboard, only two of us could sail the boat.
Best day of the year on Shelter Island?
Christmas morning. Everyone is sharing and giving and happy and the kids are there.
When I was a kid I was fascinated with the Sears Roebuck catalog; farmers equipment, clothes for foul weather, hammocks of all kinds, tools.
Favorite person, living or dead, who is not a member of the family?
Milton Glaser, the graphic artist. He’s the most gifted person I know.