We’ll continue where I left off last week, tracking down the real Montauk, while I untangle the story of how the Conway family came here.I telephoned Virgil Conway III at his home in Westchester County on Sunday, February 2. Mr. Conway and wife Elaine are known to me through Montauk Community Church. In summers, I sit with the choir in a pew directly in front of them. During her performance at the coffee house on a recent Friday night, their daughter, Sarah Conway, said that hearing her father’s booming voice singing hymns along with the rest of the congregation is a great source of pride, because, she says, “My father sings out for what he believes.” Mr. Conway confides he doubts it’s from him that his daughter inherited her wonderful singing talent.
Sarah Conway’s grandfather came to Montauk in 1925, “or thereabouts.” A bachelor in his early 40s, Edmund Virgil Conway II (1884-1949), worked in finance for the Northwestern Railroad. Vacationing in Miami Beach, Florida, he looked up Miami developer Carl Fisher in hope of securing a better job. Mr. Fisher didn’t have a job for him in Miami. At that time Mr. Fisher was also developing an obscure place, Montauk, at the tip of Long Island. E. Virgil Conway became treasurer and chief accounting officer of Montauk operations for Carl Fisher.
Not long afterward, he went home to Bonhomme, Missouri, near St. Louis, to visit his sisters. Conway family history goes far back in the Midwest. Sarah’s father’s great-great-grandfather went west in the company of Daniel Boone. The first Virgil Conway was instrumental in establishing one of the first Presbyterian churches west of the Mississippi, in Bonhomme, a town, according to present day Mr. Conway, “known then for its excellent horses.” The original church, now a historical museum, stands to this day. Old Bonhomme Presbyterian, 1840 to 1890, is located on Conway Road in Chesterfield, Missouri, a road named after the intrepid ancestors of today’s Montauk Conways.
On his visit home, E. Virgil Conway II was introduced to his sisters’ friend, Dorothea Brandes (1897-1967), head surgical nurse at Missouri’s Baptist Hospital, then in her early 30s. The introduction went very well. So successful in their respective careers, they married and ultimately settled in Montauk. Although Carl Fisher’s plans for Montauk, “soon went bust due to the Great Depression,” E. Virgil Conway II found subsequent employment with an East Hampton bank, Osborne Trust Company.
Ms. Sarah Conway dedicated her performance at the recent coffee house to “Grammy Conway,” president of the original Women’s Guild. Sarah’s paternal grandparents were among the founding members of Montauk Community Church, Montauk’s first church, organized in 1928 by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Both Community Church and neighboring St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church were built on land grants from Carl Fisher. Mr. Conway said his parents worked hard, along with early members of the congregation, to get the church up and running. A mortgage to build the sanctuary was paid off swiftly, in 1952.
Mr. Conway and his brother, a year and a half younger, were born at Southampton Hospital. They attended Montauk School and East Hampton High School. Mr. Conway was class valedictorian at both schools.
Following high school graduation in 1947, he attended Colgate University in upstate New York, near Syracuse, through the recommendation of his pastor and as well as the elder Perry Duryea, both Colgate graduates. The Conway and Duryea families were good friends. Despite significant age differences amongst the sons of the two families, friendships and mentoring continued through successive generations.
Mr. Conway went on to law school and also served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. After practicing law for 5½ years he was subsequently appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller as First Deputy Superintendent of Banks of the State of New York.
Mr. Conway’s career of more than 20 years in finance and public service followed. He spent more than seven years as a member of the New York State Thruway Authority, on the board and also as chairman of finance. He served as Chairman of the Audit Department of New York City. His most fascinating job, he said, was his appointment by Governor Pataki as Chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of the City of New York. Helping to implement electronic bridge passes and particularly “two zone fare tickets for buses and subways,” were projects for which Mr. Conway is particularly proud. The one zone system of fares prior to this change, he said, was “a terrible tax on the working poor.”
The suggestion for me to write this week’s column stems from gratitude felt by Mike Burns and family for the scholarship Mike has been awarded by Mr. and Mrs. Virgil and Elaine Conway for Mike’s studies in engineering at Stony Brook University. Mike is just one of many Montauk students helped by this scholarship program, awarded to deserving graduates of both Montauk School and East Hampton High School.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell of how your family contributes to the real Montauk. It’s a novel way to perk up a quiet season!
In last week’s column I mistakenly attributed the donation of the Steinway piano at Montauk Community Church as being from the family of Margaret Pitches. The piano was donated by the Margaret Potts family. Margaret Pitches was another longtime member of the church who lived in Montauk with her family and taught at Montauk School.
On Saturday February 15, this President’s Day weekend, from 9 a.m. to noon, rain or shine (will cancel for snow or ice), the Women’s Guild at Community Church holds its monthly Winter Rummage Sale, with half price on all clothing and linens.
Also on Saturday the library hosts Katie’s Puppets, with a show for the entire family, at 2:30 p.m. Children can stay to make their own puppets. The program is free and open to all.
This Thursday’s free movie at the library, presented by Friends of the Library, followed by refreshments, will be “Blue Jasmine.” Cate Blanchett stars in the latest film by Woody Allen, rated PG-13, 98 minutes.
Looking ahead to Saturday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m., the library presents a dynamic concert of Bulgarian folk music featuring vocalist Vlada Tomova and Chris Rael. More info to follow next week.
For information and to confirm library events in inclement weather, please call (631) 668-3377.
I hope there’s room to squeeze in a happy Valentine’s Day, this Friday, to all my readers. I love your suggestions and comments!