Sue Guliani is the first female director in Jones Beach State Park's 86-year history, but she's not the only woman who figures prominently in its existence:
Freelove Townsend Jones
The remote strip of barrier beach off Long Island's South Shore was where Jones' husband, the mysterious but entrepreneurial Irish expatriate Thomas Jones, established a whaling station in the early 1700s. He likely would never have had the resources to do it had he not married Freelove, a member of a prominent Quaker family from Oyster Bay. When they wed in 1696, the bride's father, Thomas Townsend, gave them a wedding gift of 300 acres on a remote, swampy peninsula known as Fort Neck (later South Oyster Bay and now Massapequa). Thomas and Freelove settled there, and he soon expanded his holdings to include the whaling station on the beach that eventually bore his name.
The glamorous Brooklyn-born Olympic swimmer was a regular at Jones Beach aquatic competitions through the 1930s. At the 1932 Olympic trials, held at the still-new State Park, she set a world record for the women's backstroke. Holm went on to win the gold medal in that event at the Los Angeles Olympics.
Holm also appeared in several movies, starred in Billy Rose's famous Aquacade water performances and was married to band leader Art Jarrett.
In 1936, as she was traveling to Berlin to defend her Olympic title, she stayed up late on the ship and enjoyed a few drinks with fellow celebrity passengers, including actress Helen Hayes. She was thrown off the U.S. team by USOC chairman Avery Brundage, for setting a bad example.
At Jones Beach, the vivacious Holm always seemed a welcome presence. Indeed, a memorable photo after one of her Zach's Bay meets catches developer Robert Moses blushing and guffawing, and Holm grinning over what appears to have been a ribald joke by the petite swimmer.
Rosebud Yellow Robe
This granddaughter of a Lakota Sioux chief garnered national attention in 1927, when she was photographed placing a ceremonial war bonnet on the head of President Calvin Coolidge. When Robert Moses heard the college-educated Yellow Robe speak at the Museum of Natural History, he was sufficiently impressed to offer her a job. At Jones Beach State Park, she became a storyteller of Indian life, sharing tales with visiting children. It was a job she did so well that an "Indian Village" was created around her, to help her interpret American Indian culture and arts and crafts. Consisting of three teepees and a wooden lodge, it became one of the beach's most popular and endearing attractions for three decades.
Jones Beach's first 12 female lifeguards reported to duty at the East Bathhouse Swimming Pool in June 1968. Evon Allen of Uniondale, who had just turned 18, was one of them. Looking back, she recalls being excited about her new job, but there was no sense of ground being broken for women.
"We didn't think along those lines," said Allen, now 64 and a resident of Amityville. "You're a young kid, you're good at swimming and you just go for it."
Some of the older male lifeguards were still unconvinced. "They didn't like it at all," she said. Neither did some of the patrons, including one who Allen said scolded her. "She said, 'How dare you take a job from somebody that has to support their family.' "
Allen remained a State Parks lifeguard for 44 years, working at Jones Beach, Robert Moses and Heckscher. She also taught swimming and lifeguard classes. Now retired, she said that while she never thought of herself as a trailblazer at the time, seeing the many fit, strong female lifeguards on the beach today fills her with pride.
"We've certainly come a long way," Allen said. "It's a tough job and I'm proud that women can kick butt."
As commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Castro was a visible presence throughout the Long Island State Parks system during her tenure (1995-2006), but particularly at Jones Beach, where she was that rarity among state parks commissioners: One who was both recognized in person and applauded (as she was when introduced before the 2005 air show).
Castro won various conservation and preservation awards, but her most lasting impact on the beach might be her efforts to secure Jones Beach State Park a spot on both the New York State and National Register of Historic Places.
Sources: New York State Parks; New York Public Library; Historical Society of the Massapequas; "Jones Beach: An Illustrated History"; James Rooney; The New York Times; the Los Angeles Times; Audubon Women in Conservation