Widgets Magazine

Chatting History, Community and an Arts Festival with Marguerite Schondebare of Southold's First Church

Q: The First Presbyterian Church of Southold is organizing a big event to honor Southold Town’s 375th anniversary. Why? A: Because it is the church’s anniversary too! Rev. Youngs is the founder of both our church and the town; in 1640 the town and the church were inseparable. The history of First Presbyterian and the Town of Southold is inextricably entwined and the church’s connection with the community is undeniably strong.


cemetery rear of church

Throughout the year the congregation is celebrating its anniversary with special commemorative worship services and a Victorian Tea at Southold Historical Society’s Museum. The 375 Artisan-Fair on July 11 is a celebration of our connection with the community of Southold. It will be a multi-dimensional arts festival on the church grounds.

Q: Sounds cool—what will the festival involve?

A: This will be an event fitting for the First Church in the First Town! Presently we are seeking fine artists to participate and exhibit their work. Registration for artists is on the website at fpcsouthol.org. We’ll be featuring live music, and high quality crafts—you’ll be able to watch artisans crafting—spinning, basket weaving, decoy carving and caning. There will be a Student Art Exhibit with students from Mattituck, Southold and Greenport High Schools displaying their works which will be judged by three prominent local artists. We want to recognize what our young people contribute.

Don Bayles, a man incredibly knowledgeable about the church and the town history, will lead tours of our historic church interior which is so beautiful. There will be an historic time line display and artifacts such as the first instrument ever played in the church: a cello!

Tours of the Old Burying Ground will be informative and fun. The burial ground holds the graves of our founders and first settlers and some graves have beautifully carved images. The tour guides have stories of slavery, ship wrecks and patriots. For two centuries the cemetery was owned by both the town and church, but in 1841 the town turned it over to the church. In exchange the church agreed that any resident of Southold could be buried there. That holds true today. You do not have to be a member of the church to be buried in this cemetery.

view of old burying grounds


A key component of the event will be an exposition on local, national and international outreach programs here in Southold. These causes aren’t limited to any political parties, social standing or religious beliefs; love crosses all such artificial barriers. Some are familiar to East Enders such as Maureen’s Haven that serves our homeless population. Habitat for Humanity is building a house in Orient for a local young man. The church is a sponsoring agent for this house ---some of our members have been going out there on Thursdays these cold winter days but they could use more help. I think other people in our town would like to help but they don’t know help is needed.

Sometimes people think there is a private clique that does these things or that the mission is limited to one church. That’s not the case at all! We want to help people find a way to get involved. There are so many opportunities to help directly whether you are affiliated with a church or not. Sure, a check is welcome, but I truly believe most people want a deeper connection.

Q: You’ve adopted a sort of logo for the event, a triangle. Why?

A: The iron triangle outside the church once hung in the church steeple and was used to call people not only to worship, but also to town meetings, or to help out in an emergency. This event is also calling people together.


It’s calling together people of all talents and strengths, all ages and races, and all faiths and nationalities. I’m pretty sure it’s even calling together native North Forkers and those from up-island! The triangle is a reminder that we all have our callings, some for a moment, some for a lifetime. Some are being called home; others are being called to new adventures. Some callings are loud and some are quiet, but we all have them.

We’re really embracing the triangle and the calling together it represents. The theme of the student art competition is the triangle. We are having sterling silver jewelry made that replicates the triangle. We’ll have small toy triangles with strikers for the children. As an added bonus, these are environmentally friendly -no strings and foil balloons to be caught up in our wildlife! Church and town share a commitment to the environment. And the kids should have fun with them.

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? Why have you stayed?

My husband and I were childhood sweethearts and we both graduated from Riverhead High School. After we completed our educations, we moved to Southold in 1973. People have asked if we will move when we retire. The answer is no, we’ve decided we’re going to die in this house! We would miss the sense of community, the feeling of belonging. Of course it’s beautiful here, but it’s really the connection we won’t break. Our church is very important to us.

When the weather’s good I can ride my bike to town and get everything I need: my mail, my medicines, groceries, lunch with a friend. I just love knowing the cashiers at IGA, knowing Paulette Ofrias at Southold Pharmacy since she was a little girl, working out with a trainer that I once called “Little Danny,” and chatting with friends in the post office.

Q: You’ve had a long career, and founded North and South Fork Weddings; but you’re retired now, right?

I was a teacher in Baltimore when my husband was in law school. When he finished and we moved here to Southold, I spent the next 25 years being a homemaker and mother. My girls were involved in horseback riding and that took most of my time. When they flew the coop and the horses were sold I ran a B&B for a few summers and that’s what led me to creating North Fork Weddings. Guests always wanted to know what was out here for special events. As the internet changed, with all the social networking, I didn’t feel up to taking it through that transition, so I sold it to a younger person who is more cutting edge. I then discovered the joy of volunteering so I do that at my church, and I’m on the board of Mission to Heal.

banner at parade

Q: What’s Mission to Heal about?

A: It’s a non- profit group providing medical services to the most remote corners of the world. It serves what is termed “the bottom billion.” Members of our church have gone overseas to work with the medical team in Ecuador and Nigeria. Our church supports Dr. Glenn Geelhoed, the founder of Mission to Heal, but the entire community has embraced this cause with a program called Whistles for Peace. We make dresses out of donated pillowcases and britches out of men’s old t-shirts. The doctors use the clothing to pack their delicate medical equipment. Each item of clothing is sent with a whistle in its pocket that represents a donation for medical care. The scouts of Shelter Island, Southold and Southampton took this on as their day of service project. I had sewing parties at my house when more than half of the women who came were strangers to me! What better evidence do we need that people truly do want to be involved?

Q: Why whistles? And is there something special about the clothing?

A: Whistles are practical and symbolic—they can be a toy, a signal, an alarm. I got the idea from Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience. I taught the Sunday school kids the song “When you are in trouble and you don’t know what to do, give a little whistle, tweet- tweet, Give a little whistle, tweet- tweet and always let your conscience be your guide.” We had a float in the Maritime Festival a few years ago. The kids modeled the dresses and we sang that song along the parade route.

One of the greatest experiences for all of us was getting a photograph of a little girl in South Sudan wearing one of our dresses.

child with dress and whistle

It was her first new dress and Dr. Geelhoed had taught her how to blow the whistle. The next day the village was raided and burnt to the ground. All the villagers had to run for safety into the bush. I thought to myself “Wow, that little girl ran wearing a dress made on someone’s kitchen table in Southold. She had a whistle so she must have had some medical attention. And she could blow that whistle so her family could find her. That is no small thing. And it happened because people in Southold cared.

This is just a great town. The people of Southold have generous hearts. —once they’re presented with a need, they help. When they hear a calling, they answer.