Peter Whelan, of Sag Harbor, died at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown on June 16, at the age of 66. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer last winter.
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.
After going away for college, Whelan returned to the East End, where he would live the rest of his life, and embarked on a career as a builder. Besides his own family home 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 Roman Catholic Church, where he was a member for many years.
In 1975, the summer after he graduated from college, Whelan, along with family members and college friends, spent the summer building a cabin on a hillside in East Lyndon, VT, that his parents and siblings would enjoy for many years thereafter.
“He really appreciated craftsmanship and enjoyed teaching his skills to others,” said a brother, John Whelan of East Hampton. “He was a mentor to me.”
Whelan’s family said he caught the travel bug early. While still in college, he was an early visitor to the People’s Republic of China and also visited India and other countries in south Asia. While still in college, he acquired an old school bus, and drove a group of nuns and students to Guatemala as part of one of their classes and later joked that it was a miracle they made it there and back in one piece. There were other trips to Europe and Central America, and he later enjoyed annual trips to Mexico with his family.
Whelan enjoyed sailing, and owned a number of sailboats, and joined his family and friends in both recreational and competitive sailing. He enjoyed music and played the guitar, harmonica, piano, and drums. He was also an excellent photographer.
He was active at St. Andrew Church, where he taught religious education and served as the grand knight of the parish’s council of the Knights of Columbus, where, 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. Although a lifelong Catholic, Whelan 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.
Whelan was born on March 14, 1952 and was educated in East Hampton schools. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, and later received a master of arts degree in Asian Studies from New York University.
He and Linley Pennebaker were married on August 22, 1981. The marriage ended in divorce.
Whelan is survived by four children: Heather Whelan, of Chicago, IL; Ben Whelan of Sag Harbor; Jeremy Whelan of Charlotte, NC; and Nicholas Whelan of Sag Harbor.
Besides his brother, John, he is survived by 10 other brothers and sisters: Margaret Eaton of East Montpelier, VT; Susana Kelly of North Sea and Highland Beach, FL; Maria Whelan of Chicago; Rebecca O’Herron of Newburgh, NY; David Whelan of North Haven; Anne Mullins of Orland Park, IL; Martha Robinson of Evansville, IN; Elizabeth Kotz of Bridgehampton; Catherine Foley of Montauk; and Joseph Whelan of Bristol, RI.
A funeral Mass was celebrated by the Reverend Andrew Blake at St. Andrew Church on Friday. Peter Whelan was cremated.
The family has asked that memorial donations be made to Friends in Adoption, P.O. Box 238, Poultney, VT 05764.