SAGAPONACK: My father, John White, had been fascinated with flying since high school. He began learning to fly in Bridgehampton, and in 1937 he bought a Piper Aircraft plane upstate, put some gas in it, and flew it back to Bridgehampton with nothing more than a roadmap! It was a few more years before he got his pilot’s license. He went to flight engineering school and eventually went to work for American Airlines. In the early 1940s during World War II, he began transporting supplies to the European theater and brought back wounded soldiers. He returned to the Hamptons full-time in 1946 when his father passed away, and went from flying planes to producing food and resources for the war. A few years later, he married Betty Jean Chambers, and they had four children.
Everything my dad did was remarkable. Back then, most farmers also worked with a fishing crew, and typically when fish were spotted offshore, the crews all scrambled to catch them and send them to the fish market in Manhattan. One memorable morning, his crew caught an unusual fish that turned out to be an Atlantic Sturgeon, which wasn’t commonly found in that area.
Dad went out west to see how potato farming was done in the Red River Valley, and after returning home, created a four-row potato planter to double the amount of potatoes that were usually planted. The increased productivity required bigger tractors and other equipment, and farms in the area either expanded or closed down. Dad also began harvesting grains and straw, pickles and other products that were in demand all over the area.
The farm always had a lot of animals around; Gurden Ludlow would come over and direct the annual slaughtering of cows, pigs, chickens and ducks. Dad was so meticulous about the procedures of the farm. This meant that the weeds had to be tended to six days a week during the spring and summer. Dad always believed that Atrazine, a chemical that was used in Long Island farms until very recently, was dangerous. “That stuff will get into the water. It’s a bad idea,” Dad used to say. Dad believed in preservation and the status quo and always worked to preserve the land. He was very involved with the Nature Conservancy of Long Island. In his lifetime, he preserved over 110 acres in Sagaponack. All this time, Dad never forgot his love of flying. Well into his 70s, he would take the plane up right off the farm to find a dog or animal that had gotten loose, and used it to travel for business and pleasure well into the ’90s.
Dad was also a member of the Bridgehampton Fire Department and worked his way up to Fire Chief in the ’80s. He was married for 63 years to Betty Jean and leaves behind four children: John, Barbara, Jeff and Tom, and a granddaughter, Eliza. He was a direct descendant of Ebenezer White, the first pastor in Sagaponack from 1686 to 1750, approximately 10 generations ago. God bless Dad. —J. N. White