Family and friends gathered at Rockhill Country Club, in Manorville, on Saturday, July 30, to remember the late Chester (Chet) Harvey Wilcox III, a longtime Center Moriches resident and business owner, who died on May 3 at the age of 80.
Born July 21, 1941, Wilcox was a third-generation Wilcox who called Center Moriches home for more than 50 years. His family moved to the hamlet from Vermont in the late 1800s, when they learned that the railroad was extending farther east to Center Moriches. Seeing it as an opportunity, the Wilcoxes settled in the hamlet, where they made their living in duck farming, operating farms on Old Neck Road (now the Wilcox Farms housing development) for decades.
Wilcox worked on the farm during most of his childhood and young adult life, but in 1962, joined the United States Airforce, said his daughter, Margaret (Meg) Wilcox. While enlisted, Wilcox studied to become a weatherman and was stationed in French Frigate Shoals, an Island in the South Pacific.
While Wilcox grew up fishing, it’s in the South Pacific where he found his true passion for the sport, said Meg. There, he became acquainted with species of fish he’d never encountered before in the waters of Long Island. In fact, his time in the South Pacific became a bit of a family joke, said his nephew, Barry Wilcox, who quipped that while Uncle Chet was fishing in the South Pacific, his father, Chet’s brother, was stationed in Vietnam.
After completing his tour of duty, Wilcox returned to Center Moriches to again work at the duck farm. Soon, however, he decided that he wanted to go to college, which is where he met his wife, Margaret, Meg said. They married and decided to stay in Center Moriches to start their family. As time went on, the Wilcox family saw the decline of the duck farming industry, and eventually made the decision to get out of the business. But first, Wilcox made a move that married his love of fishing to his livelihood, when he found himself purchasing a store on Main Street, B&B. The “Bs” stood for Benny’s Bait and Barbershop, where in the mid-1960s, one could pick up a new fishing lure after getting a fresh shave. Wilcox didn’t continue the barber services, but instead, focused on the bait and tackle aspect.
In the early years of owning B&B, Wilcox employed his father, an important fixture in the store, who rarely took a day off.
Wilcox’s B&B Tackle Shop became a focal point for the fishing community in Center Moriches and surrounding hamlets, where fishermen could get more than bait and fishing line. Wilcox always had the most up-to-date fishing reports and tips on the best places to fish on any given day.
This vast knowledge of local fishing is how the infamous “breakfast club” was born, said Doug Kaloski, one of the original members. Wilcox and Kaloski fostered a special friendship that spanned more than 50 years, thanks to their many shared experiences, like owning duck farms and fishing.
Kaloski recalled how it all began, when he stopped by the tackle shop on his way home from work as a truck driver one morning. It was about 5 a.m., and Kaloski decided to pop in and see Wilcox to catch up on the fishing report. Soon afterward, Kaloski’s cousin, Joe Gregory, seeing Kaloski’s truck in front of the shop, stopped in, and then another local friend and fisherman, John Bunai. Wilcox’s best friend and employee, Ronnie Lamiroult, would join in the conversation as well. The “breakfast club” would see members come and go over the years, but the core members remained, and while they almost always talked about fishing, they also “cured the ills of the world,” said Kaloski.
Wilcox memorialized this special group of fishermen with a polaroid camera, which he usually used to take photos of customers with their catch. “He wanted to have a picture of the ‘breakfast club’ members so that when we were no longer there, he would always have a picture to remember us by. That picture is taped to the inside corner of the display case,” Kaloski said.
As much of an avid fisherman that he was, Wilcox never owned a boat, said Meg, but instead, fished from other people’s boats or from the beach. She also said that her father almost never killed any fish, but instead would tag and release them back into the water, so that marine biologists could study the fish. Wilcox also didn’t eat seafood.
His greatest pleasure came from sharing his love of fishing with others, especially children, which is why, for years, he organized an annual snapper derby at Union Dock; the coveted prize was a new bike, which every kid wanted, noted Barry. He also donated fishing poles and equipment to those less fortunate.
“Uncle Chet would do whatever he could do to let others catch fish. He got his most joy when he could tell people where to fish,” Barry said.
Wilcox had a positive and important impact on countless fishermen over the years, including the late Joseph Rera, a Center Moriches teenager who perished in a fishing accident in November 2020. Joe, too, was an avid fisherman and a frequent visitor to B&B Tackle, said his father, Derek Rera. He described Wilcox as “very generous,” especially when it came to supplying his son with bait.
“Chet was always happy to help fishermen with how and where to try and catch the fish of their dreams, and even tell you a good joke or two,” said William Jakob, of the Montauk Surfcasters Association.
“He was loved by everyone,” said Meg. “He was very ethical and never took advantage of anyone.”
“He was a pillar of the community, and a piece of that community will be forever missed,” added Barry.
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