John Haessler, the owner of the Seafood Shop in Wainscott for 28 years and a former teacher at the East Hampton Middle School, died at home in East Hampton on Feb. 21 with his family by his side. He was 68 and had been ill.
Mr. Haessler was a man “not long on words who let his actions speak for him,” according to Colin Mather, a friend who worked for him at the Seafood Shop and later bought it. “To many who worked for him,” Mr. Mather wrote, “he was a second father figure in their lives. To his children, he was a hero who made them feel safe, all the while providing a fun and nurturing family home.”
Mr. Haessler was known as much for his sense of humor as for his kindness. “He loved to kid you in a serious way, with that glint in his eye and that little smile that let you know he got you,” said Polly Haessler, his wife of 37 years. “He always made everything so much fun for the family. We were and are forever blessed to have had John as husband and father to us.”
Mr. Haessler was born on April 26, 1945, to Alfred and Frances Haessler of East Hampton. He attended East Hampton schools and in high school was known for his prowess on both the baseball field and the basketball court. After graduating from East Hampton High School, Mr. Haessler went to Southampton College, where he earned a teaching degree while working summers as a lifeguard at the Maidstone Club in East Hampton.
After college, he traveled around the country, but eventually settled back home. He began his teaching career in the Riverhead school system, but soon landed a position as a fifth-grade teacher at the East Hampton Middle School. “To this day, many a parent or former student speaks of how sought after Mr. Haessler was during his tenure there,” Mr. Mather wrote.
He met Polly Kappers, a colleague, at the middle school. They were married three years later, and raised two children, Stacy and Lee, in East Hampton.
In the early ’70s, Mr. Haessler became a partner in the Seafood Shop with a longtime friend and fellow teacher, Robert Wilford. At first, the Seafood Shop was a summer enterprise, but when it became clear it had great potential, Mr. Haessler left the teaching profession to devote his energies to making the shop a successful year-round business. Along the way, he forged friendships with many local fishermen, appreciating their dedication to their craft. “John would take pride in the fact that some of the most fascinating intersections of life occurred at the store,” Mr. Mather wrote.
While he devoted much time to his business, his true loves were his family and his hometown. “If you didn’t see John in the store, he was at one or the other of his children’s sporting events, or he was at the end of a clam rake in one of East Hampton’s pristine waters,” wrote Mr. Mather, who bought the shop from Mr. Haessler in January of 2000.
After his retirement, Mr. Haessler and his wife spent half the year in Sarasota, Fla., and half in East Hampton. He became a formidable golfer, winning the South Fork Country Club’s championship in 2006, and he made friends wherever he went.
Mr. Haessler is survived by his wife and children, who live in East Hampton. His parents and a sister, Elaine Haessler, died before him.
His family has suggested memorial contributions to East End Hospice, P.O. Box 1048, Westhampton Beach 11978.