Longtime North Fork farmer Mike Kaloski was known for his giving spirit.
To some, his generosity came in the form of produce he shared in a time of need. For others, his benevolence manifested itself in the way he imparted knowledge of his craft.
“Mike was my hero,” said Louisa Hargrave, who planted the island’s first vineyard on land adjacent to Mr. Kaloski’s farm. “I always say that without Mike there would be no Long Island Wine Country. He taught us so much about farming.”
Mr. Kaloski, a Cutchogue native, died at his home Saturday. He was 99.
The son of a Polish immigrant, he was born into the farming business soon after his father settled in Cutchogue in the early 1900s. He continued the family business, wholesaling produce from his family’s Alvah’s Lane farm for more than 50 years.
Ms. Hargrave said that when she and her former husband, Alex, first moved to Cutchogue in 1972, Mr. Kaloski greeted them with
warmth and took an interest in their pioneering venture. In her 2003 memoir, “The Vineyard,” Ms. Hargrave wrote about the impact Mr. Kaloski and his wife, Irene, had on her family.
“There were no limits to his generosity,” she said this week.
Ms. Hargrave remembers one day when her neighbor arrived at her house at 10:30 a.m. and yelled at her to get out of bed because she was a “farmer now, and you’ve got to live by the farmer’s clock.”
She referred to Mr. Kaloski as the “unsung hero of Long Island wine,” because he was the one who taught her how to manage her vineyard.
She saw him every day and if she wasn’t stopping at his house for dinner, she’d come home to find fresh produce from his farm on her doorstep. He and his wife loved working their farm, she recalled.
“Their work was their life and their life was their work and if somebody needed help they would drop everything and come,” she said of the Kaloskis.
Ms. Hargrave’s brother-in-law, Charlie Hargrave, shares similar memories of his friend and neighbor.
“I think he really loved farming. It was a lot of work, but he enjoyed it,” Mr. Hargrave said. “He could sit for hours over bushels of beans and peas, happily shucking them.”
Mr. Hargrave said he would often help out at the Kaloski farm and, even after Mr. Kaloski retired, the two would have dinner together about once a week.
Friends and family also remember Mr. Kaloski’s playful side.
His daughter, Lorry Simon, said her father always found time to mess around and to take her and her siblings, Paul and Linda, out to dinner on the weekend.
“He taught all of us how to enjoy life and have fun,” she said.
Though life on a farm required a lot of labor, Mr. Kaloski would try to make a game out of it for his children, Ms. Simon recalled.
He would sit on a crate in the field and watch the kids pick beans and judge who could do it the fastest.
When he wasn’t busy making a better life for his family, he was doing so for neighbors. Ms. Simon remembers her father giving produce away to nearby residents who would stop to chat.
One specific memory was a time he asked her to pick peas and drop them off at the home of a widow down the street.
“He always wanted to help people,” she said. “He would give people free food all the time. He loved farming.”
While potatoes were his primary crop — like so many local farmers of his era — Mr. Kaloski also enjoyed experimenting with items not typically associated with the North Fork.
Ms. Hargrave said Mr. Kaloski found a niche growing produce other folks at the time might have assumed could not be grown here. That included peanuts, which he would boil and sell, and watermelon. Ms. Simon said her father drew his inspiration from visiting farms down south.
She said even as her father aged it was impossible for him to sit still. Mr. Kaloski retired at age 83 and sold the farm, but she said he still managed his own personal garden and continued to mow the lawn and clean the gutters at her house well into his 90s.
Ms. Simon said his grandchildren and great-grandchildren loved to be around him. She referred to her father as a “big kid” and recalled him in his 70s going sleigh riding with the younger generation.
“I was so blessed to have parents who were that good,” she said.
Mr. Kaloski is survived by his three children, five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, May 25, at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck.
A funeral Mass will follow on Friday, May 26, at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue. Mr. Kaloski will be interred at Sacred Heart R.C. Cemetery in Cutchogue.
In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested that donations be given in his name to the Cutchogue Fire Department, 260 New Suffolk Road, Cutchogue, NY 11935.