Norman Vunk, devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend to many on the Vineyard, died on August 9, 2017, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, after a 21-month battle with cancer. He was 73.
Norman was the former longtime manager of the Harbor View and Kelly House hotels in Edgartown, and a lifelong sports enthusiast who, in later years, became an Island high school sportscaster, coach, and youth leader.
Born in Sangerfield, N.Y. on June 17, 1944, Norman was the son of Lloyd Robert Vunk and Agnes Ford Vunk. His father died in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II in December 1944, six months after Norman was born. Norman spent the first five years of his life with his mother, maternal grandparents, uncles, and aunt on a dairy farm in Clinton, N.Y. The uncles were strong role models for Norman, who carried warm memories of those early years on the farm throughout his life. When he was 5, his mother remarried to Milton Brown and moved the family to Vernon.
He graduated from the VVS Central High School in 1962, where he lettered in three sports as a varsity athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and track. He held a school record in the 440-yard dash that was unbeaten for decades.
He attended Paul Smith’s College in New York, where he majored in hotel management and resort administration. In 1966 he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, at the time located on the Yale campus in New Haven, Conn. He was recruited by Edgartown businessman Robert Carroll that summer to work as a sous-chef at the Seafood Shanty restaurant. It marked the beginning of a long business relationship and personal friendship that lasted until Mr. Carroll’s death in 2015.
He met his wife Judy Frank, an Islander, in 1968. They were married the same year on May 4, and resided in Edgartown, where they raised their three children.
Norman was the manager of the Harbor View Hotel from 1972 to 1986. The position later expanded to include management of the Kelley House, the downtown hotel that was known for housing the entire film and production crew for the movie “Jaws.” Norman told many humorous stories from the summer of 1974, when Hollywood came to Edgartown.
At the Harbor View, Norman actively generated a successful convention business for the hotel and created an internship program, bringing students from Paul Smith’s College to work on the Vineyard. His management style was to treat the staff as a second family, and he hired numerous Island kids, many of whom came up through the ranks to either become managers or open restaurants and businesses of their own on the Vineyard.
In 1986 Mr. Carroll sold his hotel holdings, and Norman entered the construction trades, creating Trim Construction with his partner Tim Duys, with whom he also formed a lifelong friendship. Norman took great pride in his work, and gave every client his full attention, always going the extra mile. Norman retired from his business in 2015.
Norman was a strong believer in contributing to and supporting the Island community. He often volunteered his time for many nonprofits and charities on the Island. One of his favorite organizations was the Martha’s Vineyard Boys & Girls Club, of which he served as president from 1983 to 1986.
He coached the Boys & Girls Club high school boys basketball team for several years in the 1980s, and was the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School varsity girls basketball coach for the 1987-88 season. In the mid-1980s, he teamed up with Ken Goldberg to do radio and local television broadcasting for high school sports, and proved to be a natural at it, filling the airwaves with homegrown nicknames and favorite sayings. “Norm’s blood ran Vineyard purple,” Mr. Goldberg said. “He smiled when accused of being a homer … Norm played a key part in bringing local sports to the Island community.”
He was a regular on Island golf courses, and a bona fide member of the Nightcrawlers, a subculture of Island golf enthusiasts. His retirement job as a part-time employee at the Edgartown Golf Club suited him to a tee. “Norman took great pride in his work at the club, and was a staple on the fairway … with his headphones on and listening to country music,” recalled club manager Mark Hess. “He was a true friend to all the members, and a great mentor to the younger people on the staff.”
In addition to his wife Judy of 49 years, he is survived by his son Tyler, his daughter Tabatha and her husband Rob Greene, and his daughter Lisa. He is also survived by his grandchildren Damon Vunk, Caitlin Greene, and James “Brownie” Greene, his father Milton Brown, his brother and sister-in-law Loren and Patti Brown, his aunts Carol Mclaren and Joyce Clemens, and many others, including brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephews.
A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held on Thursday, Sept. 21, at 3 pm at the Farm Neck Golf Club in Edgartown. Friends are asked to bring stories and memories to share.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the MVRHS Touchdown Club, or the MVRHS Hoops Club, P.O. Box 1385, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Editor’s note: Obituary was updated to include change in memorial service. The family moved the service to Thursday because of Tropical Storm Jose.