James Powers, ex-school custodian, dies

World War II veteran James Powers, 86, of World War II veteran James Powers, 86, of West Babylon Photo Credit: Handout

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James Powers of West Babylon was a bit of an enigma to his neighbors, and even to his own family.

"He never really talked about himself. You had to dig to get information," said his son, William Powers, of Westbury. "Neighbors would say, 'Your father is such a nice guy, but he never says anything.' "

James Powers, a former head custodian for Herricks schools, was 86 when he died Wednesday from complications from cancer, and his son said he struggles to explain who his father was. "He was not an astronaut. He was not a firefighter. He was not a police officer. He was just a really hardworking guy. No one didn't like him.

"He took care of his family, made sure there was food on the table and didn't ask for anything," William Powers said. "And he never complained."

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His daughter, Newsday librarian Laura Mann of Queens, said her father and late mother, Helen, were opposites in many ways. "She was gregarious; he was quiet. She was short; he was tall," Mann said. "People tell me they remember his smile. The neighborhood where they grew up [in the Yorkville section of Manhattan] . . . 'Limey' was his nickname because he looked British."

He was an avid reader. "The thing that sticks out for me is his reading. He'd read us a book every night," said granddaughter, Elizabeth Rutledge, of Mobile, Ala. "I'd be fighting with my sister Jen, and he'd grab a book and sit us in his lap."

Powers, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in Manhattan and attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. A month after graduating in June 1944, he entered the U.S. Army and served in Germany and France, laying telegraph and telephone lines and operating a field switchboard. He was discharged in July 1946 and worked in the carpet and furniture business; he was head custodian of the Herricks school district for about 20 years until his retirement in the 1990s.

His wife died last June. He is also survived by sons Robert and Thomas, both of West Babylon; daughter Deborah Gonyou of North Babylon; 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Another son, James Powers Jr. of Queens, died last year. Visiting hours are 2-4:30 p.m. and 7-9:30 p.m. Monday at Claude R. Boyd/Spencer Funeral Home at 448 W. Main St., Babylon. There will be a procession from the funeral home at 10 a.m. Tuesday to Calverton National Cemetery.

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