A Casket Made By Friends

Jeff Bogetti’s friends built a casket that turned out to be as unique as he was, adorned with panels of driftwood and beach glass that illumined his life. Dell Cullum Photos

“Jeffrey was an amazing guy,” T.J. Calabrese said the other day of his late friend, Jeff Bogetti. “He had such an infectious personality that you wanted to be around him; he was really funny. That’s why he had so many friends.”

And so, soon after her husband died of brain cancer on May 30 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Stephanie Bogetti asked that a casket be made by his friends, by “the three Toms” — Tom Piacentine, Tom Dayton, and Tom Hensler — in particular, a casket that, according to Mr. Calabrese, turned out to be as unique as his friend, adorned with panels of driftwood and beach glass that illumined Mr. Bogetti’s life.

He called Brian Hensler, who got in touch with more of Mr. Bogetti’s friends. “That was Saturday, the day after Jeff died. He’d been airlifted to the hospital in San Juan from their house in Rincon where they’d gone to spend a few days. . . . I flew his children down. A month before, he’d undergone his second surgery and had got through it so well that he was out of the hospital in two days. . . .”

“By Saturday night,” Mr. Calabrese said, “30 to 40 of his friends were out gathering driftwood from all the local beaches. By Sunday afternoon the casket was built — everyone contributed — and a day or two after that all of those friends gathered at Tom Hensler’s shop off of 114 and finished making the coffin and a Greek Orthodox cross, which was encrusted in beach glass from Rincon.” After his burial at Fort Hill Cemetery in Montauk, Mr. Bogetti’s wife took the cross home with her.

Showing photos that Dell Cullum had taken, Mr. Calabrese said, “This panel shows Tres Palmas, a surf spot in Rincon. Jeff was a big surfer — that was his sport — and his son, Zach, and his daughter, Georgie, have followed in his footsteps. This one shows the Montauk Lighthouse with the breakwater, the rising sun, a wave, and the Bogetti family in beach glass” — Jeff, Stephanie, Zach, 17, and Georgica, 15.

“Jeff grew up in Westchester,” said Mr. Calabrese, “but his parents had trailers at Ditch Plain. He spent all his summers here. He loved Montauk. That’s where he and Stephanie met. . . . They were always together — they probably spent less than 10 days apart from each other their whole married life.”

There is a long list of those who helped craft the coffin. Mr. Calabrese named just a few of them: Jeannine Ryan, who teaches art at the Westhampton Beach Elementary School; Ticky Anderson and his son, Robert, whose mother, Karin, recently died of cancer; Kathy Piacentine, Johnny Ryan, Mike and Maryann Tracey, Cori and Brian Hensler, “me and my wife, Lynne, Mary Lownes, Steph’s brother and brother-in-law, and James Hatgistavrou, who was Jeff’s godfather in the Greek Orthodox church.”

The casket, said Mr. Calabrese, was “unique . . . just like Jeff.”