John C. Pfund
Died: Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Known to many as the unofficial “mayor of Montauk,” John Pfund passed away October 24 with his family by his side after a courageous and inspiring yearlong battle with heart disease and esophageal cancer.
John was born in Jamaica, Queens on November 8, 1927 to Anna Matilda (nee Oswald) and John Christopher (“Chris”) Pfund, whose move to Montauk in 1928 with John and older sister Elizabeth was inspired by developer Carl Fisher’s plans to transform Montauk into the “Miami of the North.”
During John’s early childhood, the Pfund family resided in Montauk’s old fishing village while his father Chris, enterprising by nature and a mechanic by trade, first made his living by working for Fisher before turning to his own entrepreneurial pursuits, which included building efficiencies on Old Montauk Highway (Chris-Ann Cabins, now Seascape Motel), as well as Montauk’s first hardware store and gasoline pump.
Despite the deprivation felt by many during the Depression, John’s memories of childhood were idyllic, spent swimming and fishing in the bay just outside the back door to the family’s home, and roaming Montauk’s fields and hills with pals like John Steck. John’s mother patiently put up with assorted trapping “finds” — skunk, fox, rabbit pelts, intended to bring in “spending money” — and the steady diet of fish brought home by John.
When John attended Montauk Public School, there were two grades per room. John was an eager student, enjoying opportunities to learn from the older classmates. Montauk’s tiny library bred in him a voracious appetite for reading that continued throughout his life, and he also played violin in the school’s small orchestra, inspiring a lifelong reverence for orchestral and operatic music. John was at the school, just about the highest and safest spot in Montauk, when a hurricane came roaring into town, damaging properties including those in the fishing village.
John attended high school in East Hampton, and after graduating in 1945, joined the Army Air Corps 82nd Division as a paratrooper. He served two years until a near-fatal motorcycle accident left him badly injured, and after a lengthy recovery, was honorably discharged. As part of his recovery therapy, John was introduced to golf, which became a passion.
As a benefit of his military service, he was able to attend college, and he chose architecture at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, attracted by the presence of Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes. While pursuing his master’s degree at VPI, he was introduced to Nancy Vann, then attending the University of North Carolina at Greensborough, who became the lifelong love of his heart.
They married in North Carolina on October 10, 1954. As it turned out, architecture did not join the other passions in life that he had thus far developed. After moving with Nancy to the Midwest to work for the John Deere Company, he decided in 1957 to move back to Montauk to join his father, helping to run the various family businesses. The young couple brought back with them a new daughter, Johanna (“Joey” Pfund, now residing with husband Ron Gass and daughter Arianna Gass in Weston, CT).
John helped his father build the first hardware store on Old Montauk Hwy., and as Montauk’s core businesses began to move to the village’s present central location, he used his architectural experience to participate in the design of a new hardware store next to what is now John’s Pancake House. When Chris died in 1962, John took over the business and began a 40-year legacy of dispensing practical knowledge from behind the hardware store cash register, be it about the size of a screw needed to fit a particular hinge or the political policies of the current president.
Sons John Christopher III (“Chris,” now residing in Montauk with two children, Christopher and Brian) and Steven Kurt (“Kurt,” now residing in East Hampton with wife Janice and children Nat and Isabelle) were born in 1959 and 1963, respectively.
While most children know their parents only from their home life, John’s offspring had the unique experience of knowing their father intimately “in his element.” All were employed in the hardware store at various times (as was much of Montauk), and through working alongside their father, gained unique insights into his love for people and his ability to charm and entertain with his philosophies and stories.
John was devoted to Montauk and served the community in many capacities. He served as a Commissioner and was on the board of the volunteer Montauk Fire Department for many years. He also belonged to the Montauk Ambulance Squad. He was a member of the Lion’s Club, Masons, a member and former President of South Fork Country Club, and a board member of the Amagansett Holding Corporation.
In recent years it became increasingly difficult for John’s audience to receive the benefits of his wide-ranging advice. First, after Pfund’s Hardware was sold in 1999, people had to travel all the way to East Hampton to Village Hardware to gain his wise counsel, where he worked for several years for Bernie and Christian Kimboch. Then, after last October, when he suffered a heart attack, followed by an unfortunate fall resulting in a broken hip, his public was obliged to seek him out during his frequent therapeutic walks down West Lake Drive.
After a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in July of this year, and the indignities wreaked upon his body by chemo and radiation, his advice became an increasingly rare commodity. He demonstrated amazing patience with his illnesses and always maintained an extremely positive outlook. He suffered a final serious heart attack in mid-October and even during his last weeks, demonstrated an inspiring will to live.
His family will always remember him for his generous nature and sense of humor, and will be forever in awe of his optimism and patience with life, even in the face of serious setbacks.
The family offers heartfelt thanks to all the physicians and caring nurses at Southampton Hospital who gave their love and endeavored to make John’s last weeks as comfortable as possible.
In addition to his beloved wife Nancy, children Joey, Chris and Kurt, and five grandchildren, John is survived by his dear sister, Elizabeth Russell of Montauk and Kapolei, Hawaii.
A funeral service was held at the Montauk Community Church October 28, officiated by Rev. John Best, and a burial followed at Fort Hill Cemetery, despite torrential rains and hurricane-like gusts of wind. Just as a bag filled with golf balls for tossing into the grave was opened, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the sun emerged.
Memorial contributions are suggested to Montauk Community Church, P.O. Box 698, Montauk NY, 11954; the Montauk Fire Department, 12 Flamingo Avenue, Montauk, NY, or the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, P.O. Box 27106, New York, NY, 10087.