Silent Admiration for a Quiet Man

Harold L. Snyder, Bayman & Farmer

Harold L. Snyder, Bayman & Farmer

"I've had silent admiration for Harold Snyder that goes back a long time - a really long time.  From 1648."

" The reason it goes back that far is that Harold Snyder was about the last person who truly represented what this place was all about.  At the beginning, everyone out here was a fisherman or a farmer.  Harold was both, and he was the last one."  

These words, recalled by Stuart Vorphal, a lifetime bayman from a family with a long-standing tradition in the trade, were first spoken at the memorial service for Round Swamp Farm's Harold Snyder, whose untimely death on July 31, 2005 was a tragedy for his family, his farm, and as it turned out, for the East End community.  At Harold's memorial service at St. Luke's Episcopal Church on August 4, more than 1,000 people came to pay their respects. 

It was Stuart Vorpahl's words that stayed in the minds and hearts of those in attendance.  And while he was able to recall the few lines from above, most of what he said that day - the remembrance that by all reports left few dry eyes in the church - was unrecorded. 

"After the service, I had several people say they wanted a copy of what I said.  But I had nothing written down.  'I had a tissue to keep my eyes dry,' said Vorpahl.  'I've told people, well maybe some things will come to me in the middle of the night, when I'm thinking hard about things.  Bit it hasn't come back.  It's smelling to me that my words were just meant to be said in that church that day." 

But Vorpahl did have more to say about his lifelong relationship with Harold Snyder, who with his wife, Carolyn Lester Snyder, ran Round Swamp Farm in East Hampton.  The Lester farm had its own legacy - and auspicious history dating from 1721, when John Lester came from Connecticut and began farming its then more than 150 acres.  Round Swamp is currently owned and operated by the tenth generation of Lester family. 

Caroly'ns marriage to Harold, who was born in Southampton Hospital on January 9, 1943, was the perfect fit: Their famalies were "farmers of the land and sea."  The phrase is Round Swamp's tagline.  The claim itself is one that only they can make.  Perhaps that's why the turnout at the church was so overwhelming: While Harold Snyder was mourned, so was a way of life known by local families for generations.

In addition to his legacy as an icon of the community, Harold Snyder had a personal legacy that touched hundreds of people. "He just had a good way with anyone who dealt with him, never an angry word," said Vorpahl.  "We have an old saying, 'When you lend a hand to help someone, never put your other hand out for money.'  One hand washes the other.  That's the way Harold was.  That kind of thing spreads around."

Carolyn Snyder also knew full well that her husband was well liked and respected in the community.  But she was astonished by the support she saw and felt in the church that summer. 

"He wasn't in the Rotary or Kiwanas or anything, but the whole community turned out," she said.  "He was a humble and quiet man - a good man.  He always smiled."  

Currently, four generations of the Lester/Snyder clan try to continue Harold's legacy, tending the crops, fishing the waters.  Carolyn is supported on land by her mother Barbara Lester; her sisters Claire Olszewski and Dianna Catozzi; her daughters Lisa Niggles and Shelly Schaffer, her grandsons; and many members of the extended family.  Offshore, Shelly's husband, Al Schaffer, is the lobsterman.  Carolyn's son-in-law Charlie Niggles, is filling Harold's dual roles on land and sea. 

"Charlie is following in my husband's footsteps of fishing and farming." Carolyn said.

While Carolyn feels that "it's getting harder and harder to keep the fishing and farming lifestyle going." she wants no other option.

'This is what East Hampton is all about," she said.  "Even though it's a challenge, there's a certain pride you take when you plant the soil in the Spring and you come out for the first time and see the tiny sprouts of green.  It's the miracle of life."

Vorpahl readily agreed that things have changed, and not for the better.  He recalled the days when a farmer, bayman, or fisherman could make an honest living doing what they loved, the days of growing up on the water with Harold Snyder and his kind. 

"Harold fished with the Lesters, and they would sell to fish buyers at my father's fish packing house, Stuarts' in Amagansett," said Vorpahl.  "He was a haul-seiner for a good many years.  He and Carolyn would bring in 20 bushel of bay scallops a day."

"And they had that land there - Round Swamp.  He did the whole works, fishing, farming.  But the government has pretty much wrecked us - you can't keep the fish you catch.  Commercial fishin is becoming an impossibility. "

"That's where my admiration for Harold comes from, see.  He represents everything this town stood for," said Vorpahl.  "It can never be duplicated again."