Sue Genthner’s Nantucket story is like many of her fellow islanders’ stories. Thirty years ago when she was a student at Stonehill College she spent a summer on the island; she drove a tour bus and cleaned houses. She fell in love with the place.
Now she’s been living here year-round for more than two decades. She and a friend she grew up with in Worcester run a caretaking business called Nantucket Home Works, tending to the wildly varied needs of the homeowners who might only visit the island a few weeks at a time.
“We feel we’re ambassadors to the island,” says Genthner, who has served as president of the small community’s Chamber of Commerce and chairman of its School Committee. “We want people to feel good about Nantucket.”
The role of the caretaker can take many forms, from coordinating contractors for plumbing, electrical, and yard work to making repairs, stocking the pantry, and picking up the dry cleaning. Whatever the job calls for, the people who do it agree on the bottom line: Make sure the client knows that all is right with their home away from home.
The year-round population of about 10,000 on the island 30 miles south of Cape Cod swells to more than 50,000 in the summertime. Late spring is the busiest time of year for caretakers such as Genthner, Hana Schuster and Mai Norton, whose small businesses each oversee a dozen or more exclusive properties.
“If you spend $20 million on a piece of property, you want to hear from us every week,” says Schuster, who handles the day-to-day operation of Daily & Schuster Lifestyle Management, an outgrowth of Frank Daily’s high-end construction business. Some of her clients check in with her every day when they’re not on island, she says: “It’s a big investment.”
But just as the island is not solely inhabited by the rich and famous, some of the caretakers’ clients live less lavishly.
“People who love Nantucket, people you’ve never heard of, are very important to us,” says Genthner. She and her partner, building contractor Donna Mazzamurro, work for a couple who have owned the same “modest ranch house” for 30 years.
“They adore their home,” she says, and they trust her to take care of it when they can’t be on the island.
Like Schuster, Norton built her business as an extension of an existing home-building company, her husband’s. Aaron Norton is descended from several generations of family who summered on Nantucket, his wife says. The Nortons, old Yankees, were one of the earliest families to settle on Martha’s Vineyard before defecting to the other island.
Mai Norton is actually a part-time Nantucketer, spending the school year in Brookline with her two children while her husband stays on the island year-round. Her caretaking business, called Nest, has a team of five full-time employees tending to her clients’ homes and lives.
Clients call her about everything: “Where do I eat? Where do I buy diapers? I’m like the concierge for them.
“I sleep with my cellphone under my pillow,” Norton says.
Attention to personal matters, whether that might be making a dinner reservation or replacing a broken vase, is what raises the level of service of the Nantucket caretakers beyond the realm of winterizing and groundskeeping.
“This isn’t corporate America,” says Norton. “We have a personal relationship [with our clients]. I might be showing up during their vacation, and they want to know that the person coming in is a safe, nice person.”
“Lifestyle management,” says Daily, can entail “anything under the sun, really.” From baseline services such as checking for leaks and frozen pipes in winter, making sure the trash is being collected and conducting storm follow-up, his twin companies can offer home repair up to and including major renovations. Meanwhile, Schuster and her three full-time staffers might be planning a garden party, arranging to have the cars washed or booking a private yoga lesson.
“My degree is in psychology, and I joke that I use it every day,” says Daily. When his clients are on the island, “they’re really here to enjoy it. They don’t want to be bothered by the minutiae of day-to-day life.”
Importantly, he says, Schuster’s team and his staff of 25 builders are trained to keep the confidences of their clients — many of whom, of course, are either famous or sitting on world-class wealth, or both.
“I like to say I don’t just build houses — I build men,” he says. “We have very high standards for our workers.”
Schuster recently signed on as a personal assistant to the actor Eric Dane while he was on the island shooting the upcoming film “Grey Lady.” She says her friends are curious about her clients and their lifestyles.
“They generally just want to know, ‘Are they nice?’ ” she says. “Of course we don’t answer, but we do get asked a lot.”
Those who can afford a second home on Nantucket are mostly spared any class resentment, the caretakers say: They fuel the island economy.
“Their support of our nonprofits is unbelievable,” says Genthner, whose children are in high school. She mentions the Boys and Girls Club, Nantucket Community Sailing, and Mentoring Youth Nantucket.
“The Artists Association, the Community Music Center — who is taking those classes? Our children. I’m a huge advocate of saying ‘thank you’ to those people who support these things.”
And when the wealthy homeowners have a request or want to get some work done on the house, the island community pulls together to make it happen.
“It’s almost like a barn-raising,” says Genthner. “The adrenaline and the buzz are inspiring. We all want the same thing: to take good care of our clients.”
James Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.