Bill Powell

Bill Powell Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Bill Powell would have viewed being called a "bay rat" as a compliment.

Powell, a member of one of Long Island's oldest families to make their living on the water, was a part-time bayman, owner of a bay house on the marsh north of Jones Beach, a duck hunter and guide, and a duck decoy collector and expert who liked to participate in programs to educate people about the traditional skills he practiced.

The lifelong Seaford resident died Thursday at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill from an aortic aneurysm at age 64.

Powell loved to be on the water, his wife, Carla, said, "because he just felt it was the most peaceful place."

"He was one of the most important people in keeping alive Long Island's maritime heritage," said Nancy Solomon, executive director of Long Island Traditions, a folklore education organization that included Powell in many of its programs.

William A. Powell was a descendant of Thomas Powell, one of the first settlers on Long Island. His grandfather, Delancey Powell, was a full-time bayman who showed him how to shoot, and lay duck decoys. His father, also named William, was a part-time bayman who taught him to sail.

He grew up in a family home built in the 1870s and graduated from Seaford High School. As a boy he worked the bay with his father and continued to do that part-time while taking a job as a repair technician with Universe Appliance in Seaford at age 16 while in high school, continuing full-time after graduation. He eventually became a partner and then sole owner before selling the company to his son William, of Wantagh, five years ago.

From 1966 to 1970, he served in the Navy on the destroyer USS Robert A. Owens based in Virginia.

Back in Seaford, he continued to work part-time clamming and fishing. But he never made money as a duck-hunting guide. "He did that as a favor to friends," Carla said.

The bay house Powell took over from George Combs Jr., owner of an Amityville bait and tackle shop, "became very much part of his life," Solomon said. "He went out all times of the year" with friends and family.

The other big part of his life was history. "The history of Seaford was his passion," Carla said. He and his wife gathered a group to resurrect the moribund Seaford Historical Society and reopen its museum, with Powell serving as vice president.

Besides his wife of 43 years and his son, he is survived by a daughter, Janice Tice of Seaford; two brothers, Robert of Seaford and John of Westbury; and six grandchildren.

Visiting hours are Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Charles G. Schmitt Funeral Home in Seaford. The funeral will held there Monday at 10:30 a.m. followed by burial at Grace Cemetery in Massapequa.

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