For decades, Ralph’s Fishing Station & Marina in Mount Sinai has been hosting an excursion for special needs kids from Maryhaven Center of Hope in Port Jefferson Station.
Every year, the family-owned marina amasses volunteer boat-owners from among its customers to take Maryhaven kids fishing or simply to enjoy a nice ride on the water.
The 50th anniversary of Ralph’s Annual Maryhaven Event took place this year on Wednesday, June 5.
Ralph and Barbara Davenport opened Ralph’s Fishing Station back in 1961 when it was originally located on the southern side of Mount Sinai Harbor in a location that is now Satterly Landing. In the mid-Seventies, the marina moved to its current location near the mouth of the harbor.
A dedication to service in her community is what inspired Mrs. Davenport to launch the Maryhaven event in 1969, according to her daughter, Sue Corey.
“It was started by my mother,” said Sue. “She and my father wanted to do something for the community. She believed in community service.”
Barbara didn’t drive so she thought whatever she did needed to be done at the marina.
“She wanted to bring the community to her.”
She went to the nuns who ran the center at the time to get the event going. It started out small but grew over the years. Sue says that at times they had over 100 kids come down for boat rides.
It’s no small task. Barbara would ask marina customers to volunteer their boats, gas and time to take kids out accompanied by their aides. The event is always held in June before the kids leave school for the summer.
For Sue and her younger siblings, Dori Davenport and Ralph Davenport, it was like a holiday.
“You always got off from school for Maryhaven day,” Sue said. “The whole family gets involved. Now it’s my kids and my kids’ kids.”
This year, Sue estimated about 50 kids from Maryhaven came down to enjoy the day. In all, there were 25 boats whose owners volunteered their time. Most were customers, according to Sue, and a few were from Mount Sinai Yacht Club.
“They help us out a lot too,” she said.
The day creates memories not just for the kids but the boat owners as well.
Sue’s husband, Jeff, took four of the children on their boat. He asked if they wanted to drive for a while.
“And they were like, ‘Yeah, we want to drive the boat,’ ” said Jeff. “One of the kids turns around and says, ‘Attention this is the captain speaking!’ It made his day.”
After the event, Ralph’s hosts a barbeque for the Maryhaven staff, volunteers and their families. They eat and listen to live music on the marina’s deck overlooking the harbor. Local restaurants donate food including Savino’s Hideaway, Tuscany Gourmet Market, Cow Palace Butcher Shop, and Panera Bread.
“It’s a community effort,” Sue said.
Individual boat owners also contribute to the festivities afterward.
Nick Christakos comes every year to make Souvlaki.
“He loves to fish and he used to take kids out,” said Sue.
He isn’t able to take the children out boating anymore, but he’s still there to cook for the other volunteers. Sue said that Christakos is a Ralph’s customer who became a family friend over the years.
“That happens with a lot of our customers,” she said.
Sue said that another volunteer, Vicky Bender, was instrumental in helping her mother organize the event over the last 15 years. Bender is also a family friend of the Davenports.
“She did the hard part,” said Sue. “She organized the boats and assigned the groups to each boat. She was a tremendous help.”
According to Ingrid Jeannis-Desire, principal at Maryhaven, the school also has to prepare the children for the trip. She said that before they leave the school the children are all fitted with life vests to desensitize them to the experience and make sure they can handle it.
She said that there’s a lot of excitement among the kids and the staff on the day of the event.
“The children and staff look forward to it every year,” Jeannis-Desire said. “It’s an experience of a lifetime for the children.”
The school is grateful for the time that all the volunteers donate to make the event a success and the hard work that goes into organizing the logistics to accommodate the kids.
“They are very generous,” said Jeannis-Desire. “Very nice and very friendly.”
To show their appreciation, the school had t-shirts made up for the kids to wear that day with messages that read “Thank you Ralph’s Fishing Station for 50 years of fun” and “Thank you Mrs. Davenport.”
Jeannis-Desire said that last year they also included a special dedication to the Davenport family in their graduation program to honor their years of service to the school.
The Davenports’ dedication to giving back did not stop at the Maryhaven event.
“[My mom] and my dad did VA homes and had vets come down to the marina,” Sue said. “People donated boats to go fishing.”
About five or six times every summer they would also bus veterans down to the marina to sit on the deck to have lunch and look at the water.
“They loved it,” said Sue.
Her father was in the Navy during World War II serving in the North Atlantic. He passed away in 2001 from Alzheimer’s disease while staying at the Veteran’s Home in Stony Brook.
“Over the next nine years we raised $200,000 with Alzheimer’s benefits,” Sue said.
On Facebook, Ralph’s Fishing Station put out a message thanking everyone who helped out to make the 50th Annual Maryhaven Event a successful day.
“The kids were all very happy, the weather held out and all ran smoothly,” they wrote. “We know we made Mrs. D very proud. After all, if it wasn’t for her this day wouldn’t have been possible. From all of us at Ralph’s, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you.”
Sadly, Mrs. Davenport passed away just weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Maryhaven event. And, in light of the announcement that Maryhaven in Port Jefferson is closing, this year’s outing was even more bittersweet.
“We thought she would make it,” said Sue. “Mayhaven is closing. It’s the last trip. She wanted to make it to the 50th.”
In their mother’s memory, Sue said that she and her siblings dedicated themselves to ensuring this last year was a success.
“Me and my sister and brother tried to make it as special as possible,” she said.
Scroll down to see photos from the day.