Roosevelt businessman Irving McKnight Sr. dies

Irving McKnight Sr., a World War II veteran

Irving McKnight Sr., a World War II veteran and a longtime Roosevelt businessman and community leader, died of natural causes on March 12, 2013. He was 87. Newsday's obituary for Irving McKnight Sr.
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Irving McKnight Sr., a World War II veteran and a longtime Roosevelt businessman and community leader, died of natural causes on March 12 at his home in the hamlet. He was 87.

McKnight, who came from Philadelphia to Freeport with his parents shortly after his birth in 1925, attended public schools and graduated from Freeport High School in 1943.

He was immediately drafted and served two years in the Navy, where he developed a love for travel, said his daughter, the Rev. Seretta McKnight of Roosevelt.

She said he was always business-oriented. Growing up in Freeport's Bennington Park community, he "shined shoes, delivered newspapers and ran errands," she said. "He understood the value of a dollar and hard work."

McKnight went on to run a coal, wood and ice business, often employing local youths for deliveries.

He was an avid baseball player, sports enthusiast and motorcyclist in his younger days, his daughter said.

He was on his candy-red Harley-Davidson when her mother, Kathryn Burwell, first laid eyes on him, she said. "It was real romance. They were married 57 years."

From about 1950 to 1964, McKnight's main job was as an "expediter/mechanic" at Grumman Aerospace Corp. in Bethpage, working on engines made there, Seretta McKnight said.

He worked with the Congress on Racial Equality to challenge Grumman's hiring and promotion practices as unfair to minorities, triggering reforms, she said.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) praised him as "both a sailor in the Navy and a soldier in the fight for civil rights. He was a patriarch and leader."

He started McKnight Fuel Oil in Roosevelt in 1964 -- the first business of its kind predominantly serving Nassau's black communities. The company operated for 38 years.

A 51-year resident of Roosevelt, he helped elect the school district's first black board member in the mid-1960s. Seretta McKnight would serve as board president in 1995.

A deeply religious man, he became a deacon at Calvary Baptist Church in the hamlet in 1980 and served as board chairman for more than two decades. About five years ago, he joined Union Baptist Church in Hempstead, where he also was a deacon.

Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, Irving Jr., of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandsons.

A funeral service was held at Union Baptist Church on March 18. Burial followed at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.

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