Former GOP Leader Buzz Schwenk Dies at 86

Posted on 18 December 2009

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Edwin M “Buzz” Schwenk of Southampton, the politically powerful former chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, who helped craft legislation to protect the Pine Barrens and create the Community Preservation Fund, died after a short illness on December 17 at his home surrounded by his family. He was 86 years old

Born in Southampton he graduated from Southampton High School in1941 and from Colgate University in 1947 with a BA in political science. His high school and college careers were dominated by a love of sports.

“There are not many players who felt comfortable facing the southpaw when he was on the pitcher’s mound,” said his family. “His prowess as a pitcher was legend, and he famously was offered a pitching try out by the then N.Y. Giants. He played iron man football and even managed a few hoops on the basket ball court. Later in life he is the only golfer known to improve his score while playing with a bloody nose and he loved to bemuse his kids on the tennis court with a serve where he utilized all the left handed spin he could muster and dubbed it the ‘ephis’ serve. It was simply not returnable.”

Mr. Schwenk was in college when the U.S. entered World War II and he enlisted in Colgate’s Navy Program. He left college to serve on the USS Kearsarge, an air craft carrier based in Newport. He was a Plank member of the Kearsarge, a part of the original crew.

He returned from the war to finish at Colgate and then followed his father in the dairy business running Schwenk’s Dairy from 1947 to 1978. He met his wife, the former Diana Barnes, while delivering milk to her Water Mill home in the summer of 1942. Running the dairy presented him with another entrepreneurial opportunity. He saw a niche for convenience stores that featured Schwenk’s milk as a price leader and the Katrinka Stores were born. Eventually there were 14 Katrinka stores throughout Suffolk County and he served as president and CEO from 1961 to 1981

He served on the board of directors of the Tinker National Bank from 1963 to 1967, started his own public relations firm, Omnibuzz Associates in 1978, and was the legislative liaison for the LI Builders Institute from 1987 to 1989 and their executive director from 1991 to 1996.

Mr. Schwenk is probably best known for his service as the Chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee where he delivered a 100,000 vote winning margin for President Nixon which was the largest plurality in the country. He also presided over the first election when the county went from a Board of Supervisors to the now County Legislature and brought home all 18 seats for the Republican Party.

However there were two accomplishments that took center stage in his mind and they both involved land protection. In 1993 he was directly involved with the creation of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act. This legislation created the third largest land preserve in the State of New York and ended years of expensive litigation for the building industry while protecting, in perpetuity, a sole source aquifer.

In 1998 he spearheaded the passage of the Community Preservation Act. The act established a two percent transfer tax on real estate sales to preserve open space and recreational land, purchase targeted lands and protect the quality of life on the East End of Long Island. There were many people who worked diligently on the transfer tax but the Southampton Press pointed out in an editorial that “one man stands out as the giant who made it possible here” and that is Buzz Schwenk. The fund has preserved thousands of acres on the East End.

Mr. Schwenk is survived by his wife of 62 years, Diana Barnes Schwenk, his daughters Diana Urban of North Stonington, Conn. and Kathryn Root of Brandon, Vermont and his grandchildren, Lex Urban and Kate and Kirsten Root. He is pre-deceased by his son, Edwin Christopher Schwenk.

Visiting hours will be held at Brockett Funeral Home Monday Dec 21 from 7 to 9 pm and on Tuesday December 22, from 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held in the spring.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons or the East End Hospice. 

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