By Kelly McElroy
For Diane Keeler and Kathleen Stockman, time has always moved slower on Long Beach Island. When they cross the bridge, they take off their watches and allow themselves to lose track of the days. Since they bought their High Bar Harbor home in 1978, this has meant more adventures with their prize-winning poodles Dazzle, Mackenzie, and Roxy, more memories made with neighbors and friends, and more experiences at local restaurants and businesses. Not even a tornado could discourage them from seeking out the best of what the Island has to offer.
When Keeler and Stockman first bought their house on the Island, it was in such poor condition they couldn’t even tell the true color of the carpet. It had been on the market for two years and was thought to be a tear-down, but where others saw trash, Keeler and Stockman saw potential.
After lots of elbow grease and help from friends, they found themselves in a home that they loved more than anything else. They filled it with furniture and decorations from local yard sales and auctions. “We like items that have character,” Keeler said. “We like that they have a story about them.”
The one-of-a-kind treasures accented their home — a massive wooden whale on the wall of their porch, a mesh lighthouse centerpiece holding an array of unique shells — until July 29th, 2021, when a rare tornado passed through High Bar Harbor.
The damage to the house was severe. Luckily, Keeler and Stockman were out of town when the high winds lifted the roof off their home, exposing the interior to the elements. Water damage was just one of their many concerns. Furniture, infrastructure, and belongings were scattered everywhere.
“We had this puzzle on the porch that the kids were working on. A two-thousand-piece puzzle,” Keeler recalled. “We’re still finding pieces.” All sorts of items littered the property and the wetlands nearby. But what the two remember most about the event was the willingness of their neighbors to step in and help. “All the neighbors that weren’t affected came over to High Bar and started picking up debris and all that. They were wonderful. Everybody played a part in the cleanup. It was amazing. By the weekend, it looked good!”
In the wake of the tornado, Keeler and Stockman were able to look on the bright side. They rebuilt the house and were even able to make some changes they had always thought about but never got around to such as new siding, a new paint color, and some new outdoor decorations from unique local stores. “Looking back,” Stockman said, “We are very fortunate to be able to still have the house.”
The experience also reminded them how much they love living in a tight-knit community where neighbors have the opportunity to become much more.
“We truly are a community of people that talk to each other. People are happy down here. You have happy conversations. It’s a wonderful community, this little street. There are eight houses, and we know the people in every single one of them.”
Another highlight of Keeler and Stockman’s time on the Island is getting to see their three poodles enjoy the sand and the sea. The two have three generations of poodles from the same line, and train them to be prize-winners at dog shows around the world.
“They love to pick up shells and throw them,” they said of the dogs. “They like to dig in the sand. They love to run the beach. It’s the open space and the sand, I think when it hits their paws it rejuvenates them.”
Keeler and Stockman also added that they’ve found their dogs provide a way to help them feel even more embedded in the community.
“When you have a dog, it just starts a conversation. When we walk them, people usually stop and talk to us.”
Their dogs are something the two are always willing to talk about. Each year, they send pictures and postcards of the dogs to the local businesses whose staff have become like family to them. “It picks people up,” Keeler said. “Gives them a little piece of joy.”
For Keeler and Stockman, the Island itself is their piece of joy, and each time they are able to share stories with friends and community members they are reminded of that feeling. When asked what the Island meant to them, Stockman needed few words, “Peace. Nature. Serenity.”
“Everything,” Keeler added. “It’s everything to us.”
Though they may never find all of their scattered puzzle pieces, Keeler and Stockman have certainly found a tight-knit community filled with strength, support, and everlasting memories. No tornado could change that.