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Peter Whelan, 66

March 14, 1952 - June 16, 2018
Star Staff

Peter Whelan of Noyac, a builder, sailor, musician, and photographer, died at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown on June 16. Mr. Whelan, who was 66, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer last winter.

After going away for college, Mr. Whelan returned to the East End, where he would live the rest of his life, and embarked on a career as a builder. He spent the summer after graduation, along with family members and college buddies, building a cabin on a hillside in East Lyndon, Vt., that would be enjoyed by his parents and siblings for many years.

“Besides his own family house in Noyac, he was proud of his role in transforming the former Bay Street nightclub into the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor and the construction of a new parish hall at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, where he was a member for many years,” his family wrote. 

“He really appreciated craftsmanship and enjoyed teaching his skills to others,” said his brother John Whelan of East Hampton. “He was a mentor to me.”

Mr. Whelan grew up in East Hampton, the fourth child and oldest son of Duane and Mary Whelan, who settled in Northwest Woods in the early 1950s when the area was still sparsely inhabited and undeveloped. As a boy, growing up on the family homestead, he learned many of the traits of self-reliance that would serve him in adulthood.

Mr. Whelan caught the travel bug at a young age. In college, he was an early visitor to the People’s Republic of China and also visited India and other countries in South Asia. He acquired an old school bus while still in college and drove a group of nuns and students to Guatemala as part of one of their classes, later joking that it was a miracle they made it there and back in one piece, his family recalled. He traveled back to Central America and to Europe and took annual trips to Mexico with his family. 

Mr. Whelan also enjoyed sailing, and owned a number of sailboats. He joined family and friends in recreational and competitive sailing. He also played the guitar, harmonica, piano, and drums, and was an excellent photographer, relatives said. 

He was active at St. Andrew’s, where he taught religious education and served as the Grand Knight of the parish’s council of the Knights of Columbus. One of his favorite tasks was to help set up the Nativity scene at the intersection of Main and Madison Streets in Sag Harbor each Christmas. 

A lifelong Catholic, he also explored spirituality through his reading and travels and membership in a men’s group.

“He was a seeker; he never stopped searching and studying religions and spirituality,” said his former wife, Linley Pennebaker Hagen.

Mr. Whelan was born on March 14, 1952, and attended East Hampton schools. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., and later a master of arts in Asian studies from New York University.

He and Ms. Pennebaker were married on Aug. 22, 1981. The marriage ended in divorce. 

Mr. Whelan is survived by their four children, Heather Whelan of Chicago, Ben Whelan of Sag Harbor, Jeremy Whelan of Charlotte, N.C., and Nicholas Whelan of Sag Harbor.

Besides his brother John, he leaves 10 other siblings: Margaret Eaton of East Montpelier, Vt., Susana Kelly of North Sea and Highland Beach, Fla., Maria Whelan of Chicago, Rebecca O’Herron of Newburgh, N.Y., David Whelan of North Haven, Anne Mullins of Orland Park, Ill., Martha Robinson of Evansville, Ind., Elizabeth Kotz of Bridgehampton, Catherine Foley of Montauk, and Joseph Whelan of Bristol, R.I.

A funeral Mass was celebrated by the Rev. Andrew Blake at St. Andrew’s Church on Friday. Mr. Whelan was cremated. 

The family has suggested memorial donations be made to Friends in Adoption, P.O. Box 238, Poultney, Vt. 05764.

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