Loren Reich was a well-paid, internationally-traveling executive based in Manhattan, when she decided she was ready to move to the Island full-time in 2005, after years of coming out weekends. She saw an ad for an executive assistant position and when she got a call from the man doing the screening he had a warning. The position involved working at a laboratory run by U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the study of animal diseases.
He said, “Do you know anything about Plum Island?”
Tuning out hysterical warnings (from everyone) about anthrax, Loren did her own research and went out by boat to the island a mile and a half off Orient Point for an interview. “When they took me to the beach and I saw all the seals,” she remembered, “I said this is for me.”
She has the best commute ever, she said, and isn’t kidding. To get from the home on Shelter Island she shares with husband, Peter Reich, she boards the 6 a.m. ferry to Greenport, drives to Orient and boards a second ferry for Plum Island employees. The last leg of her journey goes through Plum Gut, an area that is No. 5 on coastalboating.net’s top 10 list of challenging waters in the Northeast. The site describes the chop as “jaw jarring.”
Loren grew up on Long Island. Her parents Rosetta and Leonardo were emigrants from Northern Italy, who met at a Sunday dance in Queens. A Venetian dialect of Italian was the primary language spoken at home for much of Loren’s childhood. Academically, there were high expectations for her, the oldest of three, and her sisters Louise and Paula. She remembers a recurring dream involving a shelf of books falling down on her head. “There was no such thing as failure,” she said.
She needed to learn to type.
A part-time job at Macy’s selling men’s colognes paid for her post-graduate study of shorthand and typing at Katherine Gibbs, and she discovered she actually liked working retail: “It allowed me to pretend to be an extrovert.”
Loren landed a job with an investment management firm, then moved to a French bank as executive assistant to the general manager, using her French and Italian along the way. She worked for several decades as an executive assistant for an Italian multinational energy company, Eni S.p.A., travelling widely and moving up through positions of increasing responsibility and salary to become a manager at the firm.
Like many Long Islanders, she wasn’t aware of Shelter Island. But her Aunt Clara bought a home in HiLo Shores, and when Clara’s daughter Roberta got married at the Ram’s Head Inn 25 years ago it was a big deal in the family.
“It was a very elegant wedding,” Loren said. “My Aunt Clara would have it no other way.”
Loren’s strapless, flowered dress and matching bolero was accessorized by an enormous black picture hat that looked like something Princess Diana would wear to Ascot. “I was dancing with my Uncle Tony and I had to take it off because it was tilting,” Loren recalled.
By the time she left the Ram’s Head for the North Ferry with her sister and sister’s husband, the unique darkness of streetlight-free Shelter Island had fallen. “We got very, very lost and it was very, very dark,” she said.
By 1998, Loren was living in Manhattan, working long hours, unmarried, saving money and deciding to buy a home of her own on the Island. “I came out on a magnificent September morning and stood right at the bow of the ferry,” she said. “Paradise was in front of me.”
The broker had instructed her to meet at the office, but when she got off the ferry and did not see a realtor’s office she asked a gentleman in a station wagon outside the ferry house if he knew the way. Loren recalls he said, “Yes, it’s right up the hill, but hop in and I’ll take you up there.”
During the short wait, another woman and her baby got into the car and the four of them drove up the hill to the realtor’s office, located next to STARs. Thinking she was in a cab, Loren tried to pay the driver, who refused her money, informing her that the woman with the baby was his daughter, who he picked up every week.
“‘I was just giving you a ride,’ he said to me, and I’ll never forget this, ‘That’s the Shelter Island way.’ Now having lived on Shelter Island for many years I understand exactly what he meant by that. There is a Shelter Island way. You just do things for your neighbors and your friends because we are on an Island and that’s how we are.”
A natural-born crafter, Loren never sees a flat surface she can’t improve with some paint, adhesive or a going-over with sharp scissors. Although her current passion is gum paste flowers, when she took possession of the Silver Beach house she immediately began putting self-stick tile in the kitchen, marking the beginning of a home improvement phase that would last for years.
“I proceeded to paint the whole house and remove the indoor/outdoor carpeting,” she said. “I was doing everything by myself with spit and tissue paper.”
In 2004, Loren’s Aunt Clara intervened with a suggestion. She recommended Loren do a professional renovation, pointing out that Peter Reich, a principal in Reich/Eklund Construction, was recently divorced and suggested Loren call him for advice.
They went to Southampton to look at countertops, had lunch and when Peter took a call from his daughter on the speakerphone on the way back to the Island, Loren was struck by the nurturing and supportive way he spoke with his daughter. She thought he deserved “a close look.”
While Loren was looking closely, Peter, a lifelong mariner, administered the boat test. “The first time Peter took me out on a boat, the waves were significant,” she said. “So I asked him, ‘If I were inclined to be seasick, I would be sick by now, right?’ Having passed the test, he gave me a kayak.” They’ve been married now for 10 years.
In 2013, Peter and Loren faced a crisis when Peter became seriously ill, eventually being diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma. Enduring chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, plus many weeks of isolation at home after the transplant, Peter eventually recovered in 2015. “I don’t like to see people suffer, and I am squeamish, but I gave him close to a hundred injections over the course of his treatment,” Loren said. “What helped me through that period was that ability to put a lid on the emotion and focus on getting Peter well.”
She still marvels at the change she made in 1998, a change she hardly understood at the time. “My life here is so full and complete and content,” she said. “New York, the place I thought was my favorite place, really no longer is.”
And the commute is better.
Loren Reich Lightning Round
What do you always have with you? Pen and paper. I make lists.
Favorite place on Shelter Island? My Aunt Clara’s place in HiLo Shores on West Neck Bay.
Favorite place not on Shelter Island? Newport. We have a cottage, 800 square feet. A little sanctuary.
Last time you were elated? The day that I passed my Project Management Professional certification exam.
What exasperates you? Not having enough time to do all the things I really love to do.
Last time you were afraid? During Peter’s illness, especially when we had been told there was no sign of cancer, but we didn’t know what he had.
Favorite movie or book? ‘Gone with the Wind.’
Favorite food? Pasta Bolognese, maybe the true Bolognese is a combination of beef and pork, but I grew up using just beef.