To escape the stress of family and work, Douglas W. Gerek Sr. sought the solace of the sea. He loved to fish on his boat, and often he would search for striped bass in the Fire Island Inlet, beneath the Robert Moses Causeway Bridge.
"Coming back in the early mornings, with the sun coming up on the inlet, he found a great deal of peace in that," said his son, Stephen Gerek, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Even a man with a nurturing spirit needs his solitude. And Douglas Gerek was a nurturer, his family said.
"He raised children, grew flowers and coached and taught young men and women," his son said. "Helping things grow was what he did."
Gerek, a former coach and athletic director at W.C. Mepham High School in Bellmore who lived his entire life in West Islip, died Thursday of heart illness at his home, his family said. He was 79.
Gerek's parents, and later he and his brother and sister, ran a West Islip flower farm, Gerek Gardens, for more than 80 years. The farm, once nearly 100 acres, was sold in parcels for development over the years, the last parcel going in 1982.
His parents were immigrants from Ukraine, and he learned early "the value of family, hard work, loyalty and discipline," his son said.
Douglas Gerek Jr., of Suffolk, Va., said after his father graduated from West Babylon High School in 1948, the Philadelphia Phillies were interested in him as a pitcher.
"But my grandfather told the Phillies that his son was going to be a college professor," Doug Jr. said, "and professional baseball wasn't going to fit the bill."
After attending Ithaca College, where he hurt his pitching shoulder, Gerek served two years in the Army before starting to teach at Mepham. He stayed there 38 years, coaching baseball, basketball and football, girls basketball and bowling, finishing as athletic director.
He got his master's degree from Hofstra in the 1960s and retired from teaching and coaching in 1992.
In his final years, he also became a beekeeper, again showing a nurturing nature, his sons said.
His wife, Chloe, who died in 2006, was at one time a fishing companion. But his sons said he ignored her pleas to return to shore during a heavy storm during one particular fishing trip. "When a wave came over the stern, that was it for her," Doug Jr. said.
In addition to his sons, Gerek is survived by daughters Donna Gerek and Karen Gerek, both of West Islip; Susan Baun of Bethlehem, Pa.; and five grandchildren.
A funeral Mass is to be celebrated Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Roman Catholic Church, West Islip. His remains will be cremated.