Former Northport Fire Department Chief Peter H. Gunther died April 15 of an aortic aneurysm. He was 81.
Gunther, also the owner of Northport fixture Gunther’s Tap Room, was known throughout village for his generosity, quick smile and love of baseball, softball and golf.
Born in Northport to German immigrants, Gunther opened the Tap Room in the early 1960s. The bar is still widely known for being a regular haunt of author Jack Kerouac.
Gunther got to know Kerouac from across the bar, even receiving a signed copy of the 1963 novel ‘‘Visions of Gerard’’ as a tip before the beat writer moved on from the village, according to a 1992 New York Times article.
Perhaps not realizing what he had, Gunther gave the book away, a generosity that bartenders at the Tap Room still groan and laugh about decades later.
“He liked locals,” said Jani Zubkovs, a bartender at Gunther’s for 10 years. “He took care of his customers like they were family. He always wanted this to stay like it is — an old-time bar.”
Gunther prided himself on keeping the Tap Room open for the same hours every day, regardless of storms, holidays or other unexpected disasters, Zubkovs said. That often meant Gunther volunteered to work holidays for employees who had families.
When superstorm Sandy knocked out power in Northport, Gunther kept the doors open, lighting candles and making the bar an unofficial refuge for regulars and anyone else who wanted to come in to get news on the storm and their neighbors, bartender Eddie McGrath said.
“Within an hour this place was packed,” McGrath said. “Everyone in the village came in with candles and flashlights. The bar never closed; he really prided himself on that.”
Gunther was also known for being quick to help out those in need.
“Pete was always nice to people without families,” McGrath said. “When they passed away, Pete would pick up the tab for their funerals.”
If a down-on-his luck regular needed money, Gunther wouldn’t hesitate to hire them to work a day in the bar for extra cash.
Beyond that, Gunther discreetly found ways to reach out and help Northport’s poorest.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know about it,” said his son, Town of Huntington Highway Superintendent Peter S. Gunther, of Centerport. “There were a lot of people who were indigent throughout town. They lived on boats or in the woods. My father would give them money, he would give them food ...”
The elder Gunther joined the Northport Fire Department in 1954, following in his father’s footsteps.
Peter H. Gunther was chief from 1978 to 1980, and named firefighter of the year in 1979. He went on inactive status — an informal retirement from the department — in 1997, current Northport Fire Chief Brad Wine said.
Gunther also was a member and past president of the Huntington Softball Hall of Fame, selected in 1983.
Before playing center field on various local fast-pitch softball teams, Gunther was scouted by Major League recruiters from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies while attending Northport High School, his son said. He graduated from high school in 1952.
Gunther is survived by another son, Jon Gunther of Northport; and daughters Lori Jayne Kerman of Northport and Joanne Demaree of Syracuse.
Services were held April 20 at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport. Gunther was then honored in a ceremony in which a firetruck carried his casket down Main Street.
He was cremated and the family plans to bury him with his parents and grandfather at Genola Cemetery in East Northport.
The family asked that any donations in lieu of flowers be sent to Northport Fire Department, 204 Main St., or Little Shelter Animal Rescue, 33 Warner Rd. in Huntington.