A Westhampton Beach woman who led a secluded and frugal life left the entirety of her estate to four local community organizations, including more than $1 million to the Westhampton Free Library, the largest gift it has ever received.
Few knew Ann Skovek, who lived alone in a modest home off Tanners Neck Lane, but those who did said she was kind.
“She was a very nice lady,” Thomas DeMayo, Ms. Skovek’s attorney, said last week. “I can’t emphasize that too much.”
She grew up in Brooklyn, the daughter of Polish immigrants, he said. She and her sister, Hellen, worked as beauticians—one as a manicurist and the other as a hair stylist—and never married. Their parents moved to Westhampton Beach in the 1940s, and their home remained in the family after their death. The sisters moved into the home after they retired.
Mr. DeMayo said through her frugal lifestyle, Ms. Skovek was able to amass an estate that totaled nearly $3 million at the time of her death. In 1993, he drafted her will, which she stowed in a metal container in one of the outer buildings on her property, among various sheds and old chicken coops, for safe keeping.
“She definitely had her own way of doing things,” he said.
She was predeceased by her sister, and when she died on June 30, 2011, at the age of 91, Ms. Skovek had no living relatives, nor any close friends, according to John King, her accountant of 30 years and the executor of her estate.
After her family home was sold in May, Ms. Skovek’s estate was distributed, as per her will, as follows: $1.3 million to the Westhampton Free Library, $780,000 to the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance Association, $392,000 to Bideawee and $130,000 the Westhampton Beach Historical Society.
“She was always telling me that she was very fond of the area, and that’s how these charitable entities came to receive this amount of money,” Mr. DeMayo said.
She spent her free time gardening and at the library, he added. “This is what she wanted to do with her estate,” Mr. DeMayo added.
Earlier this spring, Lawrence Citarelli Jr., the owner of Lawrence III Corp. in Westhampton Beach, bought her seven-acre property, which was once targeted by local civics for preservation, for $957,000. When reached last week, Mr. Citarelli said he did not yet have a plan for its development.
Joan Levan, president of the Westhampton Free Library’s Board of Trustees, said last week that the board was notified last year about Ms. Skovek’s intentions. She said she knew little about the library’s record-breaking donor, aside from where her home was located. “She must have been really lovely, though,” she said.
Ms. Levan added that the library hasn’t yet determined how it would use the money.
“For us, it’s the ultimate commitment a person can make to ensure the organization’s future in perpetuity,” Nancy Taylor, the president and CEO of Bideawee, said on Friday. She explained that the nonprofit, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year, is able to run its animal adoption centers, located in Manhattan and Westhampton, entirely through donations.
She said Ms. Skovek was a lover of cats, though no employees at her organization knew her personally. Founded in 1903, Bideawee adopts about 1,000 animals a year, and its animal hospitals serve about 11,000 animals annually. There are also about 65,000 pets buried in its memorial parks.
“I think that people make these kinds of gifts to Bideawee that they know will enable us to save and adopt even more homeless cats and dogs in the future,” Ms. Taylor said.
David McClure, president of the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance, could not be reached for comment.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Bob Murray, the president of the Westhampton Beach Historical Society, said of the donation, also the largest his organization has ever received. “And we’re going to put it to good use.”
He explained that the funds will be allocated, in part, to the restoration of the Foster-Meeker House, the oldest structure in the village, and also to the organization’s Tuthill House Museum. The Foster-Meeker House, which dates back to 1740, will be renovated and preserved for use as an educational center at a cost of about $300,000, Mr. Murray said. The organization has been raising funds for that project for years.
Like Ms. Levan, Mr. Murray said no one at the Historical Society knew Ms. Skovek personally and, therefore, most were surprised to learn the news.
“It was joyous,” he said, regarding the donation. “We’re extremely happy.”