Fireworks Will Pay Tribute to Tony Duke

Mr. Duke, who died in April at the age of 95, founded the Boys Harbor camp on Three Mile Harbor
The Grucci company's annual show over Three Mile Harbor is one of the highlights of East Hampton summers for many residents. Kate Maier

Saturday night’s Great Bonac Fireworks show, which will be set off just after dark around 9:15 over East Hampton’s Three Mile Harbor, will mark the 34th year of the midsummer display, but the first without Anthony Drexel Duke, the man who initiated the event with George Plimpton.

Mr. Duke, who died in April at the age of 95, founded the Boys Harbor camp on Three Mile Harbor, which served inner-city children for many years until the property was sold several years ago to East Hampton Town. The midsummer fireworks show, originally a way for Mr. Plimpton, who had lived in Paris, to mark Bastille Day, anchored an annual fund-raiser for the camp.

That tradition was taken up in 2009 by the Clamshell Foundation, an East Hampton nonprofit that provides grants to local groups and programs, and mounts a fund-raising effort every year to ensure that the popular event keeps going.

The show is presented by Fireworks by Grucci, a six-generation, family-owned Long Island company that this year earned the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks display after a New Year’s Eve show in Dubai using 479,651 fireworks.

The show on Saturday night will be among the Gruccis’ most impressive national-class displays, and will include effects specifically chosen to commemorate Mr. Duke.

Mr. Duke was “a great man,” Felix Grucci, the president and chief executive officer of the company, said yesterday.

The long association between the Gruccis and the Duke family dates to the late 1970s, Mr. Grucci said, when his late father, James Grucci, established a relationship with Mr. Plimpton.

Mr. Plimpton, who had a penchant for fireworks and had started an annual Bastille Day tradition of fireworks displays at his own private parties, was a friend of Mr. Duke’s.

Mr. Grucci said Mr. Plimpton suggested that his father bring a collection of fireworks left over from Grucci Fourth of July shows out to Boys Harbor to be set off for the campers’ delight.

“My dad collected all the ‘onesies’ and ‘twosies,’ “ said Mr. Grucci of the leftovers, “and they fired the show,” lighting the shells off manually from the beach.

That grew into an annual fireworks show provided by the Gruccis, gratis, and into a fully designed fireworks program that was shot off every summer from a barge in the harbor as a fund-raiser for the camp. Eventually, it was choreographed to music, and particular fireworks were dedicated to special guests, the colors and special effects chosen to match their profiles and personalities, Mr. Grucci said.

For instance, he said, a gold “tiger tail” was launched for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attended the party one year, as a symbol of the cigars he smoked.

For Saturday night, the Gruccis have chosen a Brocade Kamuro shell for Mr. Duke, which will create a large, golden, willow-shaped display in the sky.

“It kind of personifies his personality,” Mr. Grucci said, “because it’s elegant, but it’s also bold, and it’s lasting.” The shell is made with a lot of charcoal, which creates a shape that hangs in the sky, and, said Mr. Grucci, viewers will see “gold sparks of a campfire.”

The Brocade Kamuro was a favorite of both Mr. Plimpton and Mr. Duke, and was traditionally used in the Boys Harbor show at the start of the finale. This time, Mr. Grucci said, it will center a sequence in the show leading to an especially grand finale. “That is our family’s tribute to Tony Duke.”

Mr. Duke’s family and friends will gather at the Duke house on Three Mile Harbor, next to the former camp, said Luly Duke this week. “He loved fireworks night,” she said of her husband. “We are doing our own tribute to him.”

“We have great memories. We pretty much grew up there,” Mr. Grucci said yesterday. “We had some fantastic experiences and memories with them. Tony was so generous; he would keep one table inside the screened porch for my grandmother, so she could watch in comfort,” Mr. Grucci said. The late Concetta Grucci, the family matriarch, “would not miss it.”

The fireworks family, he said, is “happy that the tradition continues in Tony’s name, and in George’s name, and, frankly, in my dad’s name.”

“We will continue to donate the fireworks for this” in order to support the local charity efforts by the Clamshell Foundation and its founder, Rossetti Perchik, he said.

“We’re happy that Rossetti has taken on the lead in managing the program,” Mr. Grucci said. “There’s no profit to this. It’s strictly old-fashioned goodwill. How lucky we are, as a family, to have something to contribute.”

There are costs for the show, so fund-raising continues this week by the Clamshell Foundation, which uses any overage to add to its grants to local groups.

Since its inception in 1992, the nonprofit has given more than $125,000 to support East End residents, organizations, and projects — from annual high school environmental scholarships to food pantries, boating safety classes, Toys for Tots, East End Hospice, arts programs, and environmental efforts such as shellfish seeding.

Tax-deductible donations may be made through the group’s website, at clamshellfoundation.org. Donations of $50 or more before Aug. 1 will earn the donor a Clamshell Foundation cap or a T-shirt commemorating the fireworks show or the 2014 annual sandcastle contest sponsored by the organization, to be held at Atlantic Avenue beach in Amagansett on Aug. 2.