A Portrait of Kirby Wolf (1949-2022)

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Reflections from a Great Neck Friendship in the 1960s

Kirby Wolf in Allenwood Park, late 1960s. (Photo contributed by Richard Gerber)

Kirby Alan Wolf, who resided at One Shore Dr., Kenilworth in the 1960s, passed away on Aug. 4 of this year in Naples, Florida; he was 73 years old. My memories of some of our times together can only hint at what a unique and universally loved person he was. He always said that his best years were those of his youth in Great Neck and I was fortunate to be a close friend of his during that period.

Kirby’s first home in Great Neck was on Birch Street, bordering on the east side of Allenwood Park. In 1951 or 1952, at the age of two or three, I moved with my family into a new home on Ramsey Road, only a few blocks away from the park. Kirby and I had similar early memories of watching and feeding the ducks at the Allenwood pond. Later in life, we realized that as young children we were likely feeding the ducks side by side.

Only a few years thereafter, Kirby and his family moved to Kenilworth and my family moved to Cow Lane, not far from the Wolf home. Kirby and I were 12 years old when we became close friends in junior high and we stayed close throughout high school.

While our school days were filled with the usual studies and socializing, the most fun and many of the most meaningful times Kirby and I had were in the summers. We liked hiking in Kings Point Park and watching the colorful boats on Long Island Sound and Manhasset Bay. I took sailing lessons on a Sunfish at Steppingstone Park and, on occasion, we squeezed aboard the dinghy for a sail on the Sound. On Saturdays or Sundays, we loved going to our favorite burger place in town for lunch, Chop Meat Charlie’s (“Charcoal-Broiled before your eyes!”) on Cutter Mill Road in the Old Village.

One of my strongest images of Kirby is of his careful, meticulous look. He usually wore his dark hair long and he affected a collegiate style. He favored beige chinos and Sperry Top-Sider boat shoes, with no socks. He would roll the sleeves of a white shirt up above his elbows, and he took to wearing dark sunglasses. I always envied the ease with which Kirby could appear casual.

On the long, warm summer afternoons between our high school years, Kirby and I would often retreat to the Kenilworth dock. It was during one of our talks on the dock, when we were maybe 15 or 16, that Kirby told me something that I will never forget. He said that he always felt like everyone else he knew had lived before, but that this was his first time. I was a little confused by this remark, but later learned it was related to his belief in the spiritual concepts of karma and reincarnation of the soul. Kirby read about Eastern religions well before I did and it would be several years before I even began to catch up with him. At that time, however, I merely reassured him that sometimes I felt the same way that he did, but I thought we would eventually figure out who we were and what we were supposed to do. Rolling down his sleeves, Kirby seemed little reassured by what I said. He would return to this subject periodically before we both left for college.

Kirby and I took a number of mythic journeys together, but one stands out in my mind. It was in the summer of 1969, to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair Festival held in Bethel, NY. Somehow, Kirby convinced his parents to let us take the family’s aging Oldsmobile to Woodstock; as I recall, the Olds was dark green. The car threatened to break down at least once or twice as we travelled through the Catskill Mountains and we got stuck in a massive traffic jam on the way. For the last few miles we crawled; several hippies rode on the trunk as the car chugged along.

I don’t remember much about Woodstock. The only full memory I have of Woodstock is wading in the lake with hundreds, if not thousands of other concert-goers. I took my clothes off to do this and I always thought that I was stark naked like so many of my fellow waders. However, Kirby confirmed years later that I actually kept my underpants on. One of my clearest memories of the concert was looking back and seeing Kirby standing at the lake’s edge. He was wearing his white shirt tucked out with the sleeves rolled up, the chinos, the boat shoes and his ever-present shades. Wading in a lake, even only half naked, was not something Kirby would do. We left Woodstock after one day because we thought it was dangerous. We were grateful when the Olds made it home.

The last time I actually saw Kirby was on Feb. 4, 2013. I visited him in Florida and we took our final journey together to the Morikami Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, not far from his home. The gardens were beautiful, even in the dead of winter, and they reminded us of the times we hiked together in Kings Point Park. As we reminisced, Kirby expressed a desire to get back to Great Neck and Kenilworth. I quoted to him a line from Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song “Woodstock”: We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

The villages of Great Neck are an eternal lure for everyone who lived or grew up in town. Although the shopping areas have changed dramatically and many of the homes have either been remodeled or replaced (including One Shore Dr.), a few places are much the same as they were in the 1960s. One of those places is the dock at Kenilworth; sometimes Kirby’s presence can be felt there. Sitting at the end of that dock, watching the colorful boats, I can sense his spirit beside me, his white sleeves rolled up and his soul waiting to be reborn.

—Written by Richard Gerber

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