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Jun 5, 2018 4:09 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

'Ben And Bonnie' Were An Iceberg Of Community Support

Ben and Bonnie Bistrian Krupinski with their grandson, William Maerov       RICHARD LEWIN
Jun 6, 2018 11:02 AM

“They are Ben and Bonnie—that’s all you have to say.”

When conversation in East Hampton turned to Ben and Bonnie Krupinski, further identification is wholly needless, longtime friend Diana Weir said on Sunday—the couple’s influence and connections within the community were so broad. It would be nearly impossible to find a year-round resident of this still-small town who did not know very well who they were.

“They were the most prominent local family,” she said sadly.

Word of the plane crash that appears to have claimed the lives of both the Krupinskis, their grandson, Will Maerov, and pilot Jon Dollard of Hampton Bays first stole the breath of the entire community on Saturday afternoon. It now has left that community gasping in reflection at the extent to which the couple’s resources and charity had encompassed it—and, suddenly withdrawn, left great gaps that may be impossible to fill.

Together, the Krupinskis controlled numerous businesses employing several hundred people between them—one former employee wondered if there was a family in the town that did not have a former employee of the Krupinskis’ empire in it—and owned dozens of commercial properties throughout the South Fork.

And they have been extolled publicly for their charitable support and work for many local nonprofit groups.

But as mourning family, friends and community leaders prepare for a wake for the Krupinskis, both 70, on Thursday afternoon, June 7, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Yardley and Pino Funeral Home, what they recalled most often this week about Ben and Bonnie was the extent to which their charity toward others extended deep below the surface of public view, into individual homes and organizations, upon whom they bestowed sometimes fantastical assistance, usually anonymously or without any hint of seeking applause or even thanks.

“There are a lot of things—really, almost an endless list—that they did in this community without seeking any public recognition, or anything in return, other than the satisfaction of helping,” said Larry Cantwell, who was the East Hampton Village administrator for 30 years and town supervisor from 2014 to 2018. “They were leaned on by this community in so many ways that nobody knows about, and they did those things just because they thought it was important to the community.”

From large projects like Mr. Krupinski’s building company, Ben Krupinski Builder, donated thousands of man-hours of work and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in materials to, down to countless unheralded instances of unsolicited home repairs, payments of college tuition, help with medical bills, loans of aircraft to families in need of a quick transport to far-off hospitals, and simple gifts of cash to those who had fallen on hard times, the Krupinskis’ generosity seemingly knew no bounds, those who knew them best said.

“Accolades never meant a whole lot to Benny,” his brother, Frank Ackley, said on Monday. “He liked doing things for people, and when he’d done it, he didn’t want to bask in any glory—he wanted to move on to the next thing. If he heard somebody needed a window in their house, somebody’s son got hurt and needed a wheelchair ramp, Benny would send his guys, and they would just do it and leave and not say a word.

“Bonnie, she was the exact same way,” Mr. Ackley added. “She never blew her bugle.”

Some of those the couple helped over the years recalled what the Krupinskis did for them.

“At the end of my senior year, Benny sat me down at the hostess table and asked what my plan was [for college], and I told him I was thinking about ROTC,” recalled Michael Hayes, who worked at the Krupinskis’ restaurant and marina at East Hampton Point for a dozen years. “And then he said he wanted to pay for my tuition. I was floored. And my parents just happened to be dining there that night, and they were more excited than I was, that’s for sure.”

Alex Jerez worked in the Krupinskis’ restaurants throughout high school, and his mother had been a caretaker for Ms. Krupinski’s parents. When he told them he’d been accepted to Harvard in 2004: “He said, just tell me what you need and I’ll take care of it,” Mr. Jerez said.

That summer the Krupinskis also brought him to work in the accounting department at their building and real estate companies, where he says he learned about running a construction company. Mr. Jerez, 32, now owns a Brooklyn-based construction company that specializes in school and medical clinic construction. “He inspired me to do that,” he said.

Hank Haney recalled when Mr. Krupinski came to work at Bistrian Materials on Springs-Fireplace Road, then owned by Ms. Krupinski’s father, Pete Bistrian, and now by Ms. Krupinski and her siblings.

“Things weren’t going so good for him when he first came to work there, and we were older, so we took care of him, and we became the best of friends, him and I,” Mr. Haney recalled. “Then, when he went into business for himself, he hired many of us who wanted to work as subcontractors. He was just like a godfather to us. When he became a big contractor, he really looked out for all of us. After he really went big time, I’ll just say I never had nothing to worry about.”

Mr. Krupinski, who would have turned 71 this month, grew up in a working class family, in a house behind his parents’ small grocery on Springs-Fireplace Road—where Simply Sublime is now. Bonnie Bistrian was raised not far away, in Amagansett. The two were high school sweethearts and were married not long after they graduated.

Ben Krupinski started out as a laborer at the Bistrian sand and gravel mine, started building spec houses in his late 20s, learning the job from subcontractors, and ultimately formed his own building company—one now considered the premier luxury custom home company in the region.

As his company grew, building giant homes for celebrities like Billy Joel, Martha Stewart and Roger Waters, so did the generosity. The Krupinskis donated construction labor and materials for renovations or upgrades to a number of community gathering places.

The company donated nearly $2 million in time and materials to the renovation of Guild Hall, according to its former director, Ruth Appelhof. It built the children’s wing of the East Hampton Library, renovated the Springs Library, the Amagansett Life-Saving Station and the Ladies Village Improvement Society’s Gardiner Brown House, built a new playground at John Marshall Elementary School, and wholly rebuilt Scoville Hall in Amagansett after it was destroyed in a fire—all at no cost to the community groups that operated the facilities.

“Ben and Bonnie Krupinski were the best of everything wonderful about the people in East Hampton,” Ms. Appelhof said. “Both said to me, many times, that they wanted to give back to the community, as payback for the good fortune they have experienced.”

Anne Thomas, president of the Ladies Village Improvement Society, said that Ms. Krupinski’s dedication to the mission of the LVIS—of which she’d been a member since 1981, serving as its treasurer and being instrumental in relocating the group’s marquee annual summer fair to the grounds of the Gardiner Brown House on Main Street—went far beyond the support of the group.

“I fell in love with her mind,” Ms. Thomas said. “She had an extraordinary thought process. She was so intelligent and so concerned with the area and clear in her thinking about how it could be made better.”

The Krupinskis have a daughter, Laura, and two grandchildren, Will and Charlotte Maerov. Their grandchildren were cherished by the Krupinskis, friends and family said, and Mr. Maerov, 22, was being groomed by the couple in their mold. He had become a frequent companion to Ms. Krupinski at public and government forums, including meetings of East Hampton Town’s Airport Management Advisory Committee, Town Board discussions of zoning and development legislation, and the extensive discussions of long-term planning for the region during the hamlet study workshops in 2016. He had just finished his junior year at Georgetown University.

“It’s going to be very difficult to find people that grew up in this town and have the desire to support their hometown like the Krupinskis, and have the financial means to do so like they did,” said David Lys, a town councilman and lifelong friend of the Bistrian family. “So much of what we have here comes from the outside. They came from within. It might take numerous people to take up that slack—if anyone can.”

Mr. Cantwell said the void left by the Krupinskis will be one that no community could hope to be able to fill in one lifetime.

“You hope that others will step up with them as role models, but I don’t know that that’s even possible,” Mr. Cantwell said. “They were such an important factor in so many things that happened in East Hampton, it’s hard to get your mind around it all. You have to be hopeful that someone, or many people, will try to carry on the example that they set.”

Yardley and Pino Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

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