James E. McGroarty, a carpenter and craftsman who was the first non-Native American to build a canoe, or tomol, for members of the Chumash Indian tribe, died of a massive heart attack at a friend’s house in Santa Ynez, Calif., on June 24. He had lived in Montauk from about 1976 to 1993 and was 53 years old.
Mr. McGroarty became a volunteer firefighter after moving to Solvang, Calif., which is how he met the Chumash, who have lived in the Santa Barbara Channel area and Southern California coast for millenniums. He was with Chumash friends when he died, having become an honorary tribesman.
James E. McGroarty was born on Nov. 6, 1958, in Mineola, one of the three children of James J. McGroarty and the former Doris Clark. His father and brother Bill McGroarty died before him. His mother, Doris Hardy, and his stepfather, Charlie Hardy, of Georgia survive, as does another brother, Dan McGroarty, of New Jersey.
Mr. McGroarty did a lot of surfing in Montauk, to which he moved after finishing school in Levittown and Wantagh. It was there that he married and brought up his children. His mother wrote that “with his quick smile and caring ways, he made many good friends in Montauk.”
In addition to his mother and brother, Mr. McGroarty is survived by a son, Jamie McGroarty, and a daughter, Jessica McGroarty, both of Montauk. A stepbrother, Jeff Hardy, and stepsister, Laura Hardy, also survive, as do numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.
His children plan to travel to California to participate in a ceremony of remembrance that will include going on the water in the tomol he built for his Chumash friends, who are also cited as survivors by his family.