A statue of Shoreham-Wading River’s mascot, the wildcat, stood in front of the high school until about seven years ago when some pranksters swiped it, took it into a nearby woods and destroyed it.
When Robert Caskie of Calverton — a member of the first class to graduate from the district after spending a full four years at the new high school — found out about the loss, he wanted to do something.
Mr. Caskie, an architectural designer turned full-time wood carver, decided to build a replica of the statue. After two years of searching for the right piece of wood and ten months of carving the creature, the Shoreham-Wading River wildcat statue was unveiled at graduation Saturday.
Mr. Caskie set out on a project to recreate the mascot statue, but couldn’t find the right piece of wood. He needed a tree trunk at least three feet in diameter, which he said is a rarity in this area. He considered other mediums and was thinking of gluing many pieces of wood together, a costly undertaking, when his mother found the perfect maple tree at Fink’s Country Farm in Wading River.
“I was like, ‘I don’t believe this. This is perfect,’” he said.
He chopped a piece of wood 5 1/2 feet tall and 30 inches wide, but he didn’t get to carving straight away.
He stared at the piece of wood for 14 days.
“I sat there for two weeks just looking at it, imagining how the carving would come out,” he said. “With wood, you only get one shot and you want to make sure your composition is good.”
Early last fall, when he felt good and ready to break out his carving utensils and get going, he set out on the first step of debarking the wood.
“Taking the bark off was like when you’re 8 years old and trying to rip open a Christmas present,” he said.
As far as inspiration for the feline he’d be crafting? Mr. Caskie has eight cats. He spent time with them, examining their paws, noses and dimensions. And finally, he got to carving the wood.
For the next 10 months, Mr. Caskie carved the wildcat in his garage two or three days every week. Over the last few days, he’d spend 15-hour days with the statue, determined to have it completed for commencement.
His son, Stuart, who attends Riverhead School District, sat with him for hours upon hours, shooting video and taking photographs of the laborious process.
The statue, now officially finished, is a combination of all of his eight cats, he said.
The wildcat — which began as a 1,200-pound piece of wood — is now 220 pounds, about 5.5-feet tall and 30 inches in diameter. It sits on a ledge that will read “Never Stop Wondering,” and a plaque beneath the ledge will read “The Pride is Back.” The statue’s home will be at the entrance of the high school.
Mr. Caskie said he put so much time, effort and $500 of his own money into the statue “to give back” to the district he loves.
“That school in 1975 and 1976 was not like anything in the world,” he said.
Mr. Caskie came to Shoreham-Wading River from William Floyd School District, where he said he sat in large classes and barely spoke to his teachers. His classes at Shoreham-Wading River were half the size, and his teachers “cared so much and they poured in a lot of their time, going above and beyond the call of duty.”
“I just wanted to give back,” he said.
Social studies teacher Kevin Mann, who helped arrange the donation of the statue and taught at the district when Mr. Caskie was a student there, said he’s touched by the gesture.
“What makes you feel best about the entire experience is how good they feel about their time in high school and how special it was,” he said. “It’s their fondness of the school that, to me, is the most important part.”