Longtime Bridgehampton Fire Department volunteer and former Southampton Town Highway Department employee John Dombkowski died last week at the Riverhead Care Center. He was 86.
Mr. Dombkowski died on May 13 after being in and out of the hospital over the last few weeks, according to survivors. The cause of death was heart failure.
According to Theresa Walker, one of his two daughters, Mr. Dombkowski spent his entire life in Sagaponack, living on his family farm. The farm, which he tended with his family when he was just out of high school, is no longer an active farm, but Mr. Dombkowski still enjoyed living there. In its heyday, the farm spanned 40 acres.
In December 1961, Mr. Dombkowski was hired as a foreman for the Southampton Town Highway Department, and he worked there for 27 years before retiring.
Although her father accomplished many things in his life, Ms. Walker said he was most passionate about his work with the Bridgehampton Fire Department, which he joined on September 8, 1947. He was an active member of the department, serving as captain of Packard Company, until July 1977. After that, he continued to show his support by attending various fire department events, including parades, right up until his death last week.
Mr. Dombkowski was also an active member of the department’s muster team, and often manned the grill at fundraisers to keep the outfit’s 100 volunteers and community members fed.
“It just came naturally to him,” Ms. Walker said, noting that her father loved to be behind the grill and learned on the job. “That was his thing. He and his buddies loved to have everything set up and ready to go for everyone else.”
This week, former Bridgehampton Fire Chief Steven Halsey said he had known Mr. Dombkowski his entire life, and noted that he was always a very generous and giving man. He shared that he was always cooking, adding that he had never seen anyone so handy with a knife. Mr. Dombkowski, he said, could slice an onion perfectly, thinner than any meat slicer could get it. He also was particularly fond of the family potato salad recipe.
“He was just a good person,” Mr. Halsey said. “You never heard anyone speak badly about him—he was fair and always had that ‘steady-as-she-goes’ attitude.”
Mr. Dombkowski will also be remembered by the community for manning the bingo booth whenever there was a carnival. It was a game that he loved, survivors said.
Ms. Walker said she will always remember her father as being an active individual, noting that he believed he should always be out doing something. He also was a longtime member of the Moose Family Center Lodge 1742 in Riverhead.
She joked that his family always had to race to keep up with him, explaining that they often called him “Get-up-and-go Joe.”
“If he wasn’t going somewhere, he wasn’t happy,” Ms. Walker said, laughing. “He wasn’t one to sit around and do nothing.”
Mr. Halsey also shared this week that he thinks the world would be a better place if more people had some of Mr. Dombkowski’s qualities, including his levelheadedness and love of family.
“He always had a wonderful work ethic in his life, as well as in later years,” he said, “as his children and grandchildren also exhibit. He is a role model.”
Mr. Dombkowski was predeceased in July 2003 by his wife of 54 years, Helen, and a granddaughter, Tiffane Walker, who died in 1998.
He is survived by two daughters, Ms. Walker of East Hampton and Kathleen Dombkowski of Sag Harbor; a son, Thomas, and his wife Sandra, of Sagaponack; and three granddaughters, Courtney, Samantha and Meghan.
Visitation was held on Thursday, May 16, at the O’Connell Funeral Home in Southampton, and a funeral mass was held on Friday at Our Lady of Poland Church, also in Southampton. He was buried at Sacred Hearts Cemetery.
The family asks that donations be made in Mr. Dombkowski’s name to either the American Heart Association or the American Diabetes Association.