As each new generation of Greenport football players suited up in Porter purple, Tony Volinski Jr. and some his former teammates would sit together in their usual spot in the bleachers at the field named in memory of their former coach, Dorrie Jackson.
The game unfolding in front of them had evolved in ways unlike anything they could have imagined. During their youth in the early 1950s, the start of Greenport football’s golden era, players wore helmets with no face masks.
Tony’s love of the game never wavered. Sixty years after his playing days at Greenport as a running back ended, Tony watched his grandson Jack play at defensive back and receiver for the Porters.
“He loved being there, that what his thing,” said Darryl Volinski, Tony’s son. “Sitting up with his friends that actually he played with, watching their grandchildren play. … It was amazing they had their little group up in the bleachers.”
Whether at the football games or through his five decades with the Greenport Fire Department, Tony spent his life dedicated to the community he loved, and most importantly, to his family.
“He was such a generous man,” Darryl said. “He gave us so much great advice to us boys growing up and he loved us unconditionally. I can’t tell you how much he was always there. You could always go to Dad and he would fix it.”
On March 25, Tony, known by his family as Pop-Pop, became one of the latest victims of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the globe and left a devastating impact on New York and in Southold Town. About three weeks after first becoming ill, Tony died at Stony Brook University Hospital, the first confirmed death connected to COVID-19 in Southold Town outside of the members living at Peconic Landing where the virus has claimed seven lives. He was 85.
“It’s been very difficult,” Darryl said, adding that due to restrictions at the hospital, family members were unable to visit him. There can be no formal services to mourn together.
Darryl said his father had faced heart issues for many years and had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia about a month earlier. He was getting over that when he became ill with COVID-19. Darryl said it was unclear exactly how his father contracted the virus. At least 728 people in New York have died from complications linked to COVID-19 through Saturday afternoon, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Those numbers are expected to continue to rise.
Darryl said his father was transported from his home to Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital by Greenport Rescue Squad and was quarantined right away based on his symptoms. He was tested there for COVID-19 and then transferred to Stony Brook.
“In that meantime I was exposed to my father, so I quarantined for 14 days by the Health Department,” Darryl said, adding that he never developed symptoms.
In the beginning, Tony was having difficulties breathing, and his condition gradually worsened.
While there was no visitation at the hospital, Darryl said staff at Stony Brook held a phone so his mother, Jeanette, could speak to her husband from her Greenport home, even when the ventilator prevented him from responding.
Darryl said the staff at Stony Brook considered allowing him to enter the room with personal protective equipment to see his dad when the prognosis grew more grim. However, after a doctor spoke to his mother, they agreed it wasn’t a risk worth taking. He would have been required to quarantine again after that.
“My mother said that she didn’t want me to go through that and I know my father wouldn’t want me to go through that,” he said. “It’s just difficult not seeing your dad before he passes. It’s very hard on all of us.”
Tony is survived by two more sons, Tony and Russell; seven grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.
Born Feb. 9, 1935 in Orient to Antone Volinski Sr. and Jennie (Garboski), Tony was raised in Greenport alongside his sister Jean. After graduating Greenport High School in 1955, he joined the Air Force where he spent 14 years as a mechanic working on diesel engines. His military career took him to Alaska and England. He married Jeannette in Norwich, England in 1958.
The couple and their three boys eventually settled back in Greenport. Darryl was 1 at the time, he said.
In the 1980s, Tony worked as a foreman at the Oyster Factory alongside his wife, who packaged the oysters. When the factory closed in the 1990s, Tony then worked on Plum Island as a boiler operator.
Darryl said his family has received an outpouring of support since his father died.
“He had so many friends throughout the community,” he said. “He touched so many people.”
Darryl works at Peconic Landing as director of environmental services. He said his co-workers have been very supportive during the past few weeks as he took time away from his job to attend to his family.
“The outpouring from them for my family right now is amazing even with what they have going on right now,” he said.
Tony had recently reached his 50-year anniversary as a firefighter. He remained active in the fire department, even after his days on the front line passed. He was part of the ‘morning coffee club,’ where members would meet at 10 a.m., set up a few chairs and enjoy coffee together. He’d help clean trucks; anything he could do to help. At the Washington’s Day parade, he’d be opening clams for the festivities.
The fire department planned to hold a celebration to commemorate his golden anniversary when the weather got nicer.
On Tuesday, the fire department will honor his memory with a small procession past the Third Street firehouse en route to Calverton National Cemetery where he will be laid to rest. On the way, the procession will travel past the Middleton Road home where he raised a family and where his wife of 62 years will say her final goodbye.