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Charlie Tanner, loyal community servant, dies at 92

Charlie Tanner of Lindenhurst, known for his long

Charlie Tanner of Lindenhurst, known for his long record of helping others, has died at 92. Credit: Connie Jordan

He was one of four generations to serve with the Lindenhurst Fire Department's Breslau Engine Company No. 1. He spent more than 70 years as a volunteer, did a stint as captain, and earned badge No. 1, issued to the department's longest-serving member.

But those were just a few of the many reasons folks around Lindenhurst knew Charles John Tanner, although few referred to him by his given name. To most, he was simply, "Charlie."

"I don't know anyone who ever called him Charles," said his daughter, Connie Jordan, of Hilton Head, South Carolina. "I don't know that my mother ever called him Charles, even when she was mad at him."

Tanner died Monday. He was 92.

Folks knew him from his work at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, where he was past president of the church council, and from the old Breslau Cemetery on Newark Street, where he remained treasurer all these years. They knew him from his old electronics store on Hoffman Avenue, Charlie's Radio and Television Service, and from the Kiwanis Club.

Or, maybe they just knew him from around town. That was always possible, since he'd been a fixture in Lindenhurst for a lifetime of lifetimes.

His death marked the first time in about 120 years that someone in his family didn't live in Lindenhurst, or wasn't an active member of the fire department.

"It's hard for me to imagine Lindenhurst without my father," Jordan said. "That's where I have a hard time and so will my brothers. He's always been there, the constant in our lives and the lives of a lot of people … It's not just that I lost my father. That's a significant event for anyone. More significant is that to me it's the end of an era."

Charlie Tanner was born in Lindenhurst on Jan. 24, 1928, the son of a Swiss immigrant family with roots in the area dating to the turn of the last century, Jordan said. The town, founded by German immigrants from an area now part of Poland, was known as Breslau before becoming the Village of Lindenhurst in 1891. A mural on the wall of the local bagel store once featured a fire company illustration that included Tanner's grandfather and father, both firefighters at Breslau Engine No. 1. His son John also was a firefighter at Breslau. Tanner, a 1945 graduate of Lindenhurst High School, joined that engine company on June 13, 1949, not long after three years of service with the U.S. Marine Corps.

He later served during the Korean War.

In between, he married high school sweetheart Carol Friedrichs, the 1947 Lindenhurst high class valedictorian, future village board trustee and deputy mayor.

"I chased her until she caught me," Charlie Tanner once told the local weekly newspaper of their romance. Together, they raised their daughter and sons, John, Chris and Charles.

Back from Korea, Tanner first worked doing TV antenna installations in the area, according to his cousin, lifelong friend and fellow Breslau Engine Co. volunteer Floyd Chivvis, 86, himself previously given Lindenhurst Fire Dept. badge No. 3, now to be badge No. 2. Later, Tanner opened Charlie's Radio and Television before going to work for the electronics giant, Harman Kardon, in Plainview.

At Breslau Engine No. 1, he was captain from 1959 to 1961, later serving as treasurer, starting in 1987, until a few weeks before his death. Tanner also volunteered at St. John's church, where he helped raise funds for Trinity East Side Lutheran Church in lower Manhattan, He also helped his own congregation with fundraising and scholarship programs.

There was also his work at the cemetery.

"He'd go to the firehouse first, then to the church, then to the cemetery, open the gates, start his day," Chivvis said. "He was a busy guy."

"That's the understatement of the century," Jordan said.

She described her dad as a man of Swiss precision, all Swiss watch, all old Swiss guard. In fact, Tanner was an active driver until a few weeks ago, when his children convinced him to give up his car keys.

"He was very determined, headstrong," his daughter said. "The very definition of 'wait 'til your father gets home' … He was not real emotional, not until the last few years when he would say 'I love you' whenever we spoke … He was out the door at 6:30 a.m. every morning. He was passionate about serving the community."

There's a lot about Lindenhurst most folks don't know, and not just that, at one time, it had the most bars of any town in America. The village has given popular culture game show host Jack Barry, Joy Behar of The View, and rock star Pat Benatar. It's the place where former Bronx-born New York City deputy mayor and MTA chair Joe Lhota grew up, the place where Dan Lauria spent his childhood before becoming the dad on "The Wonder Years."

It also was a place where the Tanners all lived on Albany Avenue, just off Wellwood Avenue, the heart of the village. It was there, between 38th and 39th streets, that Charlie Tanner's parents had a house, on the same widespread property as other family members.

"My grandparents had one house, my aunt and uncle another, and my father had the other half a lot," Jordan said. "I had another aunt and uncle across the street. You could go house to house and never leave the property. That kind of situation, that kind of living, just doesn't exist any more."

Through thick and thin, Charlie Tanner did his part to keep that sense of community going, too. Jordan said her dad would take calls from the family den for those needing a burial plot. In the aftermath of Tanner's open heart surgery two years ago, she said, friends and acquaintances waited in lines outside his room in the intensive care unit. They were there to give him well-wishes for his recovery, but also to ask questions about the jobs they'd suddenly been asked to do in his absence. He did so much.

Tanner's wife died in 2010. Along with his daughter, Tanner is survived by her husband James, and their children Todd, Scott and Brooke; son John and his wife Diane, of Bluffton, South Carolina, and their children Melanie and Shaun; son Chris and his wife Beth, of Smithtown, and their children Dawn, Christopher, Scott and Craig; and son Charles, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and his children Thomas and Mia.

A wake is scheduled for Monday night and Tuesday at the Lindenhurst Funeral Home on Wellwood Avenue, with a funeral service Wednesday at St. John's church and burial to follow at Breslau Cemetery.

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