By Hannah Flynn ~ After spending the last 12 years as the president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, Inc., Diane Romano, 71, is stepping down. She first visited Cherry Grove in 1975 with her wife, Patricia, and fell in love with the community. She now lives in Cherry Grove for eight months out of the year and will help with the transition once the new president is elected on Sept. 19, 2021.
Fire Island News (FIN): After 12 years of being the president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, Inc., what is your favorite memory?
Diane Romano (DR): Oh, wow. That is so difficult because there are so many great things that we have done as a community, and whether it was my first Cherry Grove Honors event, which was so exciting, or finishing the renovations on the Community House. But maybe, if I had to pick one really special day, I guess I would pick the day that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand came to Cherry Grove to help us dedicate our Community House, which received both national and statewide historic status. She came to help us unveil the plaques and drink champagne and salute Cherry Grove. It was a beautiful community day and maybe that’s one of my fondest memories, but truthfully, I have so many.
FIN: What brought you to Cherry Grove and how long ago did you come here?
DR: I came to Cherry Grove in 1975. Actually, Patricia and I came with our friend, Robert Elston, who took us to The Pines. The three of us rented a place in The Pines for a month to see Fire Island. The second night, we walked to Cherry Grove to have dinner and the three of us looked at each other and said, “This is where we want to be.” The next year, we rented a place in Cherry Grove. So, from 1976, until now, we have been in Cherry Grove. We rented in Cherry Grove and didn’t buy our first house until 1985. We had a wonderful time! You get on the ferry, and you just take a deep breath, and you relax. It’s a whole different world. It is a safe haven. It was the first place that Patricia and I, way back when, felt comfortable walking down the street holding hands and didn’t feel like anybody was going to look at us oddly.
FIN: What’s your favorite part of being a member of the community?
DR: My favorite part of being a member of this community is that it’s a community. It is truly a place where people care about each other. Everybody says hello. People smile at you. People try to help each other in this community. People very much have a bond in Cherry Grove. It’s a small town of people who are unique. And everybody appreciates each other’s uniqueness.
FIN: What steps did you take in your career that led you to be the president of Cherry Grove Community Association,?
DR: None! None, absolutely none. I mean I was running multiple companies, I never thought about being the president of the Community Association. I wanted to be involved in the community and I decided to be involved as a fire commissioner. I wanted to help, so I said, this is an administrative job, I can do this. I became a fire commissioner, and I was working – I had no particular thought about being involved in the Community Association. We went to meetings, we supported where we could, and then the nominating committee that particular year came to talk to me and they said, ‘We want you to be the president of the Community Association.’ I said, I know nothing about the Community Association. Nothing. I go to meetings and I listen. They said, ‘We know, but we know that you’ll figure it out and we’ll help you.’ When they talked to me about what they thought needed to be done and why they thought I could do it, and then had me meet some of the board members, I said, okay, I’ll give it a shot. And I loved it.
FIN: What did the restoration of the Cherry Grove Community House Theater mean to you and to Cherry Grove?
DR: It meant that we never lay down. We never give up. We rise again, even better than before.
FIN: You led the community through some amazing moments, like the legalization of gay marriage. Can you tell me what experiencing that as a leader was like?
DR: I just felt such overwhelming joy for our community. I mean, for ourselves, my wife and I have now been together for almost 49 years. I never thought about the fact that we were going to get married. You know, that was a different life we were living, but when it became a possibility, and when we saw that it could happen, it meant so much to us personally, but it was like, bubbling over here in the community. When we realized that we were now gonna be able to have a privilege that we never believed we were, it was almost feeling like dancing in the streets.
FIN: But there were also more challenging times – the pandemic and Hurricane Sandy. What was it like to lead the community then?
DR: Well, I started sending out almost a daily newsletter and giving report. I would give report about factual information – here’s what’s happening; here’s how it’s going to get fixed; please be caring. So, I started giving almost a daily update on what was happening to repair our community so that people knew what was going on. And I think that made people feel a lot better.
FIN: Were you part of the restoration of the ferry dock?
DR: Sure. The way we’re structured and regrow is the Cherry Grove Community Association represents property owners, renters and businesses. Under that umbrella, we have the Cherry Grove Property Owners Association, and those folks focus on taxpayer issues. So we represent everybody, but we have a separate team to focus on taxpayer issues. One of the big taxpayer issues that happened during this time was the rebuilding of the Community House, and the rebuilding of the dock. The property owners group focused on that and worked on that day and night. I gave support wherever they needed it, but it was their baby. That’s a $3.3 million dock out there. It was a fabulous, fabulous job and it will stand, hopefully longer than all of us.
FIN: What will you miss most about being president of Cherry Grove?
DR: You know, I’m not sure, it’s kind of bittersweet. I want new blood. I want people to change, I want to help. I don’t know how it’s going to feel different until it’s different. I won’t be as intimately involved in as many things as I am now.
FIN: Is there anything I didn’t ask you about that you wish I had?
DR: I think what I want to tell you about is why it has been such a privilege to serve as the president of Cherry Grove Community Association. There are two reasons. Number one, there were so many wonderful people during my 12-year period who served as board members that I got to know and work closely with, that I learned from, and they were truly magnificent people. And then, getting to know more people in our community, which is truly, to me, the best place to live. There are many, many, just truly magnificent people here and I have different relationships with all people. You can laugh with them, you can joke with them. It is the place to be.
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