He’s 6’4″; I’m 5’4″. He’s stopped growing; I’m the incredible shrinking man. His voice sounds clear and strong; mine sounds like an adolescent whose voice is changing (that dang nasal drip). But, dear friends, what we have in common means much more than any of the aforementioned.
We both believe in volunteering. We both love Port Washington. We both believe in the American dream, but are worried that it’s become more difficult to achieve. And we both believe the Port Washington Fire Medics Dept. is like manna from heaven.
He’s one of three men in his family with the same name: There is the late Edward James Oldak; his son, Edward James Oldak Jr.; and his son, Edward James Oldak III. (He has me there.)
Edward James Oldak, the first, who was born in the Bronx, was a big-league baseball prospect—so good that the Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers sought to sign him. He turned them down. “Why,” you ask? “Read on,” I say.
When Edward number one realized he could actually make more money as a master carpenter with a major construction company in Manhattan, baseball was the loser. There are a lot of baseball teams, but only one Verrazano Bridge. When he drove over the bridge, he liked to remind his passengers that he helped build it.
After Edward the first and his bride, Mary, settled down, home was a small apartment in Queens where they began to raise a family. First came two daughters, Mary and Anne, and two younger sons, Edward James Oldak Jr. (aha!) and John, the youngest. Thanks to Oldak Sr.’s hard work and Mary’s ability to balance being homemaker and part-time worker, the Oldaks saved enough money to buy a house. Fortunately, for us, they visited relatives living in Port Washington, looked around and liked what they saw. Edward Jr. was 4 years old when the Oldak family moved to Manhasset Isle. To date, he has never lived anywhere but Port—and what an asset to our community has he been!
In case you haven’t guessed, Edward Jr. is the 6’4″ genial giant whose height began this piece. He attended elementary school at St. Peter’s and high school at St. Mary’s in Manhasset. Upon graduation, he went to Maritime College in the Bronx and got a degree in mechanical engineering. He began his professional career as an assistant director of maintenance at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and, for the past 16 years, Ed has been senior director of corporate facilities and environmental safety at MSC Industrial Supply in Melville, a $3 billion international corporation founded by the late Sid Jacobson (of the Sid Jacobson JCC).
Ed has lived in Port Washington continuously except for three years when he got married to a comely lass named Kathleen. How and where did he meet her? “Actually I met her at the firehouse,” he said, chuckling. “She was volunteering. We were both volunteering.” What did he say to her? First, a nervous laugh, then he said, “I’m glad she’s not here; I’d get in trouble.” So? “I don’t know,” he said, “you could just say we hit it off.” He saw her about five times at the Fire Medics before he asked her for a date. He remembers they went to a movie in Manhasset and then to what was then The Library (presently, Sullivan’s Quay).
On the subject of marriage, Ed said, “A married friend gave me good advice. He said that you should marry someone that you respect and trust. So that’s when I decided to marry Kathleen.” This branch of Oldaks has two children: Edward James Oldak III (known as EJ), 19, and Megan, 17.
Ed has been a volunteer in Port for 32 years—first for the Port Washington Fire Department (PWFD) and then for the Port Washington Fire Medics. Although the Fire Medics were founded in 1979 by the PWFD, each organization has its own charter. The Fire Medics are staffed by 100 volunteers—not all from Port Washington, either. Ed has gone through the chairs and is a past president. “We’re always looking for volunteers,” he said. “It’s gotten harder to attract volunteers for any extracurricular activity.” Why? “I would say it’s more today’s economics. I think people definitely have the interest, but there are a lot of two-family incomes where both spouses are working. That means a longer workday for the household.”
Currently, Kevin Gately and Kelly Kennedy, president and captain, respectively, head the Fire Medics. Interestingly, Capt. Kennedy is not the only female volunteer for the Fire Medics. Ed said about 60 percent of the contingent is female—working shoulder to shoulder with the male volunteers operating the three, fully-equipped Fire Medics ambulances.
“Probably most people aren’t aware that they don’t have to reach into their pockets and pay cash when it’s necessary to use the Fire Medics,” Ed reminded me. “We’re under contract to the local villages and the Town of North Hempstead. Your taxes pay us—plus we try to raise funds once a year by direct mail.”
In addition to the Fire Medics Training Program, there is also a Junior Fire Medics program for boys and girls ages 13 to 17. “I believe volunteering for the fire department has allowed me to learn many things that have been invaluable in my professional life,” Ed said.
I say, call 516-883-0224 or 516-883-2200 and volunteer. You’ll be glad you did.