Eddie Ecker Jr.: The Third Grand Marshal in the Family

Janis Hewitt

Eddie Ecker Jr. remembers the early days: bicycling down to Main Street from his parents’ house with other Boy Scouts to take part in the Montauk Friends of Erin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. He has been at every parade since, except for the years when he was in the Navy. And now he will march at the head of the line as the 2017 grand marshal.

Mr. Ecker said he was honored to be chosen, for his name to appear among so many he has looked up to over the years, and that it means even more because he is following in his parents’ footsteps. His father led the parade as the grand marshal in 1984, and his mother in 2009. It is the first time a husband and wife and their offspring will have been out front.

“He’s so excited about it, I couldn’t help but get wrapped up in it, too,” Frances Ecker, who is now 88, said of her son, from a chair in her living room overlooking Fort Pond on one of the cold days leading up to this year’s parade.

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Sitting across from her, Mr. Ecker said, “I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me in my life. This is going to be one of the tops.”

It’s a feeling he believes his father had 33 years ago. “I remember, Dad was beaming,” Mr. Ecker said. The late Edward V. Ecker Sr. was a popular member of the community who served as an East Hampton Town supervisor and town councilman. The town park on Navy Road is named for him.

“You’re a carbon copy of him,” Mrs. Ecker said to her son as he described his father’s happy-go-lucky attitude. “He didn’t have many bad days,” he said.  “My girls were small then. We had a big piece of plywood and made a sign” that the family popped up along the parade route. He ate it up,” the younger Mr. Ecker recalled.    

The parade was smaller in 1984, but it was gaining momentum, he said. He thinks it was the last year the parade started at Kirk Park on Main Street and ended up at the Montauk Firehouse. Now, the march is in the other direction. Thirty-three years ago, Mr. Ecker said, “the people who came from out of town” — that is, Southampton, East Hampton, and even Amagansett — were still people you knew. “That’s since changed obviously.” 

No one knows that better than this year’s grand marshal. As a chief of the East Hampton Town Police Department, a former police captain, and commander of the Montauk Precinct, he has dealt with the parade hands-on over the years. There indeed were years when rowdy under-age drinkers coming in by the trainload threatened to destroy its family-friendly atmosphere, but Mr. Ecker thinks the Police Department, with the cooperation of the Montauk Transportation Authority, and the Friends of Erin, have a good handle on it now.

His mother, who was named grand marshal 25 years after her husband, is a beloved member of the year-round community. She started the Montauk Food Pantry, 33 years ago now, with $100 from her own pocket and $100 from her husband’s. Her son said she has done “many things for many people that are unsung.” She said that is the way it should be.

As an 80-year-old grand marshal, she did not march, but in a much more grand gesture, her son agreed, rode in a bright yellow Corvette, borrowed from Mickey Valcich of Mickey’s Carting. She sat at the edge of the back seat, waving to the crowd. Her daughter, Cheryl Bloecker, was behind the wheel, happily honking the horn. “You would think she’s the grand marshal,” Mrs. Ecker said with a laugh, recalling that her daughter had a heavy foot that day. “I almost got flipped out twice!”

  But what Mrs. Ecker remembers best about the parade day is the sight of all the people. “When you come down that main drag, it looks like everybody is there. It’s so overwhelming.”

This year’s grand marshal was working that day, as he was the day his father was the honoree, though long gone were his days as a patrolman. He was the executive officer of the Police Department by then, but it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of day. In fact, his son-in-law, Officer Denis Shea, will be working the parade this year, too.

In 2009, Mr. Ecker did get off in time to join his mother in the tradition of the grand marshal stopping at all the bars in town, however. The Amityville Highland Pipe Band “pipes you in at every bar” and a song follows. “Mom, you held your own on that,” Mr. Ecker said.  

“I never had a drink! They don’t know what to do with me because I’m not a drinker,” she said.

Mr. Ecker said it’s hard not to feel special. Ever since he was named this year’s grand marshal two months ago, the Montauk Friends of Erin have rolled out the red carpet. “I can’t reiterate enough, and I know my mother would say the same thing, how good and how welcome they make you feel.”

  “I wondered why they would have bothered picking me,” Mrs. Ecker said at one point in the conversation. “Well, I won’t ask them,” Mr. Ecker said about why they picked him. “They may think twice.”

Mrs. Ecker will be watching from the reviewing stand this year. She has a new, big, green pea coat and the green scarf she likes to wear to the parade picked out. She wishes her husband, gone 13 years now, were able to be there, too.

Anyone who knows Mrs. Ecker knows how proud she is of her son. Just as she was happy to be known as “Eddie’s wife,” she’s happy to be known as “Eddie’s mother.” Their bond is stronger than ever. “He’s just like his father. He’s kind-hearted.” He calls her every day, and when she was sick this winter, he stayed with her. “I’d like to say thankful more than proud.”

On the Monday after the parade, Mr. Ecker will turn 63. She told him not to expect a party, though she has a feeling he will still be celebrating and being celebrated.

Mrs. Ecker has been giving her son some advice, most of which has been about savoring all the moments. “Slow down. Have fun — but don’t have too much fun.” 

1984Cheryl Ecker Bloecker
1996Janis Hewitt
1979Cal Norris