By Kathryn G. Menu;photography by Michael Heller
On Saturday, July 6, John Costello will be on a barge at the breakwater in Sag Harbor as fireworks are launched into the summer sky as a part of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club’s annual fireworks display in honor of Independence Day.
There is one reason — and one reason alone — the former Greenport trustee and owner of Costello Marine Contracting has done just that for every fireworks celebration in Sag Harbor since the 1960s.
And his name is John Ward.
Last Saturday afternoon, Costello was one of dozens of residents, government officials and family members who celebrated the dedication of Sag Harbor’s windmill to John A. Ward, a former mayor, veteran, volunteer fireman, and business owner who was at the center of the windmill’s original construction.
“Let me tell you, he was a persuasive individual who would volunteer you against your will,” said Costello. “He would get the job done. He asked me once if I would lend him a barge for a little fireworks display. Of course, I told him, ‘No’ and then we did it.”
“This has continued every year since 1962, 1963 and I would only do this for one person — John Ward,” he said.
The Sag Harbor Yacht Club, of which Ward was a member, is also paying tribute to him. Saturday’s display will be entitled the John A. Ward Independence Day Fireworks” in honor of one of the club’s most beloved members.
Ward died in March of 2012 at the age of 90, nine months before a restoration of the windmill was completed through a fundraising drive launched by the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, aided by Save Sag Harbor and carried out by the Village of Sag Harbor with the help of builder Tom O’Donoghue.
In April of 2012, shortly after Ward’s death, it was Sag Harbor resident David Lee who encouraged the village board to dedicate the windmill to Ward.
It was a unanimous decision.
In addition to years of service as a veteran, volunteer fireman, trustee and eventual mayor of Sag Harbor, Ward is partially credited for the creation of the Old Whalers’ Festival (now HarborFest), built village docks, and assisted in getting Sag Harbor’s American Legion Hall built, as well as the Fireman’s Museum. Most recently, he was one of three veterans who spearheaded the movement to place a plaque at the Marine Park monument in honor of the men and women from Sag Harbor, North Haven and Noyac who served in World War II.
Ward’s daughter, Brenda Ploeger, gathered his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren from across the country to honor her father Saturday afternoon at the windmill.
“I would like to say what an honor this is for my family,” said Ploeger. “This windmill is a testament not only to my father’s memory and his many achievements, but his dedication to the people of Sag Harbor throughout the years. Daddy is looking down at us now with a smile from ear to ear and a scotch in one hand.”
“I had the pleasure of knowing John for over 50 years,” said deputy mayor Ed Gregory. “We spent a lot of time discussing village business. He tried to set me straight more than once.”
“When he did pass away, I wasn’t there, but I was close by and I have to say he lived his life the way he wanted to,” continued Gregory. “I felt bad when he passed away, but I also said to myself, ‘God, I wish I could live my life the way he did.’ It was a pleasure knowing him.”
“This is really a special thing for a gentleman who really was Mr. Sag Harbor,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride.
“He was the epitome of what a citizen should be,” said New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. “Brenda, I know how important this was to you and it was well deserved.”