The North Fork recently lost a prominent businessman in the community: Robert Celic Sr.
But to his family, friends and loved ones, he was so much more.
Mr. Celic, 73, was born in Riverhead in 1944 and lived on the East End for most of his life. His parents owned Broad Cove, a duck farm in Aquebogue, as well as a potato farm in Mattituck.
Mr. Celic died Nov. 17 at his Mattituck home. A funeral service took place Nov. 21 at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Mattituck. Interment followed Nov. 23 at New Bethany Cemetery in Mattituck.
His niece, Linda Riley, said he spent much of his younger years with his Riverhead Boy Scout troop and eventually became a Scout leader. Ms. Riley and Mr. Celic, seven years apart, helped each other learn and grow.
“He’s my brother in my heart,” she said. “He helped raise me.”
Ms. Riley said they often played baseball on the sprawling farmland behind their Riverhead home. She said she remembers him, at about age 12, driving a homemade go-kart through the Aquebogue farm.
At one point when Mr. Celic was 13 years old, his parents left town for a vacation. Over the span of three weeks, he managed to negotiate and finalize a deal to sell part of his father’s building lot. After his parents returned, the deal was officially completed. From that point on, according to his younger daughter, Penny Maher, he was invested in real estate.
“He was certain of what he wanted to do, even at that early age,” Ms. Maher said.
Mr. Celic graduated from Riverhead High School in the early 1960s. He earned degrees in business administration and finance at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Ga., in 1966 and moved to Mattituck, staying close to home.
While building a name for himself in the industry, Mr. Celic met his future wife, Deborah Penny. They married May 3, 1969, at St. Isidore R.C. Church in Riverhead and had five children: Robert Jr., Christian, Devon, Kimberly and Penny. The family lived in Mattituck.
In 1978, at 34, Mr. Celic bought the Mattituck Agency from co-founder Stanley Sledjeski. He branded himself as a real estate agent through Celic Realty, which was taken over by Douglas Elliman in 2003.
Ms. Riley said her brother was a passionate cook. Most Christmases and Thanksgivings were celebrated in his Mattituck home.
Ms. Maher said that when she was younger, her father cooked dinner because her mother was driving the kids to after-school activities.
“After we’d sit down to eat, he’d always go, ‘Not bad! Good flavor!’ and now we say it all the time,” she said.
Last year, Mr. Celic cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the family, Ms. Riley said. At the dinner table, he joked, “Next year, I’m not cooking. We’ll order Chinese.”
This year, the family came together on Thanksgiving Day and ordered Chinese as a way to remember their beloved relative.
Mr. Celic was also a longtime member of the Lions Club of Mattituck, which he served as president in 1986-87, and played golf at North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue.
His daughter Kimberly Celic said her father’s down-to-earth, emotional personality pushed him to be successful in the business world.
“He’s always been empathetic,” she said. “I think that’s where people, especially in sales, could trust him. He wouldn’t push someone into a home they didn’t want, or belong in.”
In the same light, she said, it allowed him to succeed in daily life.
“He was never looking to prove something,” Kimberly said. “He was organic — it was never to show people what he was about. He followed his heart in everything he did.”
Ms. Maher said her “kind and forgiving” father was always in touch with his emotional side, not afraid to cry and show his true feelings. She said he was an incredibly caring father.
“For the most part, he was my hero,” she said. “He told us he loved us all the time, every day.”
Devon Celic, who lives in Florida, said he and his father wrote letters back and forth as a way to maintain connection, and he models his own life after his father’s.
“If I can live even a quarter of the kind of life he did, I’ll be happy,” he said.