MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Many might not know the name Austin “Buddy” Decker, but they probably know his work.
Decker, a longtime Mahopac Falls resident, passed away on March 17, 2018, at the age of 75. He was a 28-year member of the town’s Recreation Commission and headed up St. John the Evangelist’s CYO basketball program for 30 years.
Last week, during a Town Board meeting, the board presented Decker’s family with a framed proclamation recognizing Decker’s contribution to the town, and then on Saturday, Oct. 26, with a ceremony at Sycamore Park, the town dedicated the new basketball courts to him and named them in his honor.
“We appreciate all the people who came; we were surprised by how many,” said Millie Decker, Buddy’s widow. “We thought it would just be a small group. It was so nice. They did a beautiful job.”
Millie Decker said Buddy’s passion was basketball, so naming the courts after him was the perfect tribute.
“So many of the kids he used to meet when they were grown up, and they would recognize him,” she said. “He taught so many and couldn’t remember them all, but they certainly remembered him!”
Jim Gilchrist, the town’s director of recreation, said he worked with Decker for many years on many of the town’s park projects.
“He was part of the committee that hired me, and I worked with him for about 15 years to develop the park system,” Gilchrist recalled. “He, along with the rest of the committee, developed the recreation master plan and used that as the kickoff point for all our parks.”
Bob Buckley, former chair of the Recreation & Parks Advisory Commission, called Decker a “phenomenal man who cared deeply about this community.”
“He was compassionate and caring and always willing to stand up for recreation,” Buckley said.
Buckley also pointed out one thing about Decker that some people might not know.
“Most people don’t realize what a hero he was. He was a captain in the Air Force, a fighter pilot, and served in Vietnam,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that because he was such a humble guy. We owe him a sincere debt of gratitude for his service.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt’s son—then in the fifth grade—played on the CYO team that Decker helped lead to the state championship.
“In 2002, we won the state archdiocese championship. They competed with a lot of teams for that honor,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt recalled fondly one special thing about that season.
“He promised the kids that year that if they won the championship the coaches would get their ears pierced,” he said. “He and Mike O’Donnell were the coaches that year and when they won the championship, true to their word, they met the kids at the JV Mall, and both got their ears pierced. It was a great year.
“I knew him a long, long time, from when I was a cop to being supervisor,” Schmitt continued. “He was so active in the community. It was his passion.”
County Executive MaryEllen Odell, who was at the basketball court dedication ceremony, said she first met Decker 25 years ago.
“I served on the Carmel Recreation Commission as an advocate for the Carmel Sports Association, which was an organization that I founded in 1994 for the kids in the hamlet to have organized sports,” she said. “Buddy was very welcoming and very committed to making sure all the kids in the entire town had an opportunity to have organized sports. He was a true gentleman.”