Born and raised on the St. Lawrence Seaway in Alexandria Bay, New York, Fred (whose nickname was “Teen” all his life) was the grandson of “Fitz” Hunt, a well-known St. Lawrence skiff builder from Alex Bay.
Fred enlisted in the United States Army on Nov. 6, 1940, with several of his high-school classmates from the Bay. After basic training, he was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment of the famed “Tropic Lightning” 25th Infantry Division at Scofield Barracks, Hawaii. He was present and under fire during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and served in the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal during the Pacific campaign to defeat Japan.
He was discharged from active service on March 17, 1945, in New York City, with the rank of staff sergeant. Among his many awards and ribbons, he was most proud of his Good Conduct Medal and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
In July 1945, Fred was appointed a U.S. Customs inspector at the Port of Entry in Rouses Point, New York (my hometown), and went on to have a 32-year career with the U.S. Customs Service, which culminated in his being named the acting port director at the Champlain Port of Entry. He retired in 1977 with 37 years of federal service.
Fred married my grandmother Gloria Mitchell on Jan. 20, 1946, at St. Patrick’s Church in Rouses Point. They were married for 55 years. Together, they started Kavanaugh Realty in the late 1950s, and they continued to run the business until its sale to Joey Trombley in 1992 (who still owns and operates the company).
Fred was an honorary life, 61-year member of Knights of Columbus Council 2366, a founding member of the Rouses Point Sportsmen’s Club, a member of the Mile Brook Sportsmen’s Club, a member of Montgomery Post 912 of the American Legion in Rouses Point and VFW Post 1418 in Champlain. In addition, he served on the board of St. Patrick’s School in Rouses Point and was a member of the Clinton County Board of Realtors.
Aside from everything written above, my grandfather was so much more, to me and to countless others he befriended over his 86 years on this planet. I may not have known Fred when he was “Teen,” the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed soldier headed to the Pacific Theatre (as pictured). But, I did know an older gentleman who never lost that bright-eyed, bushy-tailed vibrancy for life and all its treasures.
Looking back, my initial memories of Fred swirl around our summer camp on Lake Champlain, just south of the Rouses Point town line. One cabin was owned by my grandparents, the other by my great-grandmother, Florence, who was Fred’s mother-in-law and lived to be 103 (1896-1999). Though the camps were sold not long after Fred passed away, they were the family gathering spot every weekend for almost 55 years.
Being a lifelong outdoorsman, Fred was always jumping into his busted 1980s Toyota pickup (the rusted truck bed held together by chicken wire and duct tape), either headed into the woods to hunt or hooking up his old boat to go fishing in Catfish Bay near the camps. His garage fridge was constantly filled with an endless supply of duck, perch and deer meat to take home or throw on his grill and enjoy with a cold Coors Light in hand.
As I got older, my grandfather and I became close, where I would take the time to actually sit down with the man and simply enjoy his company. We would grab a seat on the deck in front of the camps overlooking the lake. He’d ask me how high school was going and if I’d broken any school records yet in track and field. I’d ask him about World War II, what it was like to grow up in the Great Depression, and who his favorite baseball players were when he was my age.
When I left for college, I ended up some 300 miles away in Connecticut. And with that, my visits back home were few and far between, usually only for Thanksgiving, Christmas and sporadic occasions throughout the summer when I wasn’t working at my Uncle Craig’s motel in Lake Placid.
So, when I would find myself back in Rouses Point, like clockwork the telephone at my parents’ farmhouse would ring early in the morning. It was Fred. “Want to meet me for breakfast in a half-hour?”
Breakfast always meant a trip to Ole Tymes Café in downtown Rouses Point. Although it’s now boarded up and abandoned, I drove by it recently and I could still taste the bacon, eggs, home fries (with onions) and chocolate milkshake that I’d order once in a blue moon.
The last time I saw Fred in person was at Ole Tymes. It was the end of my Christmas Break during my senior year at Quinnipiac University. I was going to graduate that following spring.
But, Fred wouldn’t be able to make the trip to see me walk across the stage due to his age and health. A week or so after I got home from graduation, Fred passed away peacefully in his sleep in the same house he built in the late 1940s, just after he married my grandmother.
I think of that last breakfast rendezvous with Fred. He smiled when I mentioned that I made the Dean’s List again, and when I excitedly told about how I was going to be a writer, someone who will travel the world and scribble wildly about it. He told me he was proud of me and that he loved me. Those words still reverberate within my heart and soul.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.