When Paul Stille read a plea in a local paper for someone to repair a windmill damaged by Superstorm Sandy, he knew he was the right man for the job.
The cherished windmill has stood outside the Vandermolen’s North Caldwell home for more than 20 years and was nearly destroyed by the historic October storm.
“I’ve carved mermaids. I’ve built lighthouses. Just all kinds of things,” said Stille. “So I knew I could do this.”
The 78-year-old retired shop teacher owns a contracting business, Stille & Sons, with his three sons, Tom, Jimmy and Peter. He said he learned to build things from his father, who was an engineer, as well as by training in college and building his own home.
Stille said the wood on the windmill was rotted, causing it to collapse when Sandy’s strong winds blew through the borough.
Stille transported the 15-foot-tall structure from the Mountain Avenue home to his workshop in Caldwell, where he spent about two weeks completely rebuilding it. He was able to save the wings and the mechanism that makes them turn, he said.
With the help of his son, Tom, Stille installed the refurbished windmill on Christmas Eve, timing which he said “thrilled” the family.
“There’s something about this windmill, it’s just part of their life,” he said.
The decorative windmill is a symbol of the Vandermolen family’s Dutch heritage. Irene (Vandermolen) Shea said her family's surname translates to “from the mill.”
Shea said her father, a proud "Dutchman," brought a small windmill from their house in Nutley to North Caldwell when they moved there in 1960. The current windmill with its wings that span more than 12 feet came from a company in Wayne and was installed in 1991.
Shea called Stille's refurbished windmill a "reincarnation."
“He restored it to such perfection,” she said. “He really did a great job.”
But does Stille think the windmill can survive another Sandy?
“I really do,” he said, “because I built it much stronger. The original, it might have stood the storm, but it was rotten at the bottom. This one can’t rot.”