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Former potato farmer Alex Pelkowski, 90, dies

Alex Pelkowski, a father of seven who farmed potatoes in Suffolk County for decades before launching a second career in a construction trade, died Friday. He was 90 and lived in East Northport.

After several months of deteriorating health, Pelkowski passed away at home surrounded by many of his children and grandchildren, his family said.

This spring, his family planted red Impatiens in the gardens around the home he'd always tended himself until his health faltered. Jean Pelkowski, 55, of Kings Park, one of his seven children, said gardening was a legacy from his farming roots and a passion he passed on to many of his children.

"He liked to work for himself, and he loved to work outdoors. That was the real joy of his life," she said.

Pelkowski was born March 21, 1920, in Mineola and grew up in Commack, one of nine siblings who worked on the family's potato farm there. After his father died when he was a teenager, Pelkowski and his brother Louis continued to farm in Commack and later on leased land at several spots in Suffolk.

Pelkowski attended the now-defunct Marion Carll School in Commack and Northport High School but dropped out before graduating to help work on the farm. He met his future wife, Bernadette McGlynn, roller skating at a rink in Babylon. They married in 1949 and celebrated their 60th anniversary last year.

His oldest son, Thomas Pelkowski, 56, recalled bagging potatoes with his father and driving them to market in Hunts Point in the South Bronx. "We'd bag them and sell them right off the back of the truck, to supermarket chains, hospitals. That was the way you did it back then," he said. But facing declining yields and increasing costs, Pelkowski auctioned off the last of his farming equipment in 1971.

Five years later, he and his son Robert founded Pelkowski Precast Corp., which manufactures concrete drainage products. The company, at its original Kings Park location, includes all four of Pelkowski's sons. Pelkowski continued to work at the company every day until last year.

"That kept him strong and he was very proud he was able to pass that along," Jean Pelkowski said.

In addition to his wife Bernadette, 81, of East Northport, and children Thomas and Jean, Pelkowski is survived by children Alexis Valenti, 59, of Seattle; Robert Pelkowski, 53, of Huntington Bay; William Pelkowski, 46, of Smithtown; Colleen Collins, 37, of Huntington; and Brian Pelkowski, 39, of Northport; and 17 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Following visitation on Sunday and Monday in Northport, a funeral Mass will be offered Tuesday at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills at 9:45 a.m. Burial will be at St. John of God Cemetery in Central Islip.

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