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Buster takes the lead in Kings Park

Charles 'Buster' Toner is third grand marshal of Kings Park St. Patrick's Day Parade on March 2

Mattie O’Reilly, grand marshal of the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2011, with Charles ‘Buster’ Toner, right. Below, Toner and O’Reilly ride in the parade. Photos from Kings Park Parade Committee

February 20, 2013 | 05:34 PM
At 78 years old, Charles "Buster" Toner could opt to roll through the Kings Park St. Patrick's Day Parade next month in a classic convertible, enjoying the leisurely ride, waving to paradegoers. But the grand marshal chooses to walk, said Kevin Denis, owner of Professors Diner and president and founder of the Kings Park St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Denis hasn't known Toner, known as "Buster" in the community, for nearly as long as some other lifelong Kings Park residents but, "the time that I have know him, he's a sweetheart of a man," Denis said.

Toner was chosen out of several nominees for the position of grand marshal to lead the third annual parade in Kings Park on Saturday, March 2 at noon.

"Buster Toner won with a landslide. There was a lot of good people but Buster beat 'em," Denis said.

A buster from day one

Born in 1934, the youngest of three kids, Toner grew up in Kings Park, graduating from Kings Park High School in 1952.

At age 19, his mother, Mary, came to America from County Cork, Ireland, starting as a housekeeper and governess for two children in Boston.

"She came by herself and she was the most amazing woman in the world," Toner said.

She soon heard that the Kings Park Psychiatric Center was hiring Irish immigrants and left Boston for Long Island.

"The Irish grapevine got word that went out quicker than any newspaper about the Kings Park hospital hiring immigrants and particularly Irish immigrants at that time," Toner said.

"Buster" got his name the day he was born: His mother had a son and a daughter already and she wanted another boy. When she gave birth, she asked, "Is it a boy?" Sure enough, the doctor said, "Oh yes, it's a boy and some buster."

Toner said his mother would push his carriage down the street and would see a friend or neighbor and say, "Come over here and see my buster."

After his father died of tuberculosis at age 42, his doting mother, widowed at 37, never remarried, he said.

"She didn't want anybody else over her children," he said. "It was really tough times." Starting at a young age, he went to work, picking strawberries in Commack on Saturday mornings. After his shift, he then rode a bike to deliver for a meat market.

"All the Irish gals knew me," he said. He would bring the meat right into their fridges and the women would leave the money on the kitchen table for him.

During his teen years, he dug bait worms on the seashore. It was good money, he said, and helped out his mother.

He also cleaned Russ Savatt's barber shop in the morning, then went to his job as a "soda jerk" in Myer Schneider's chocolate shop during afternoons and nights.

Later, he worked at Bob's Luncheonette on the corner of Pulaski Road and Main Street. While he held down a few jobs at a time, he made room to play basketball after school.

"It was a great town to grow up in," he said of Kings Park.

After graduating high school, he had a series of jobs, beginning with carpentry, then masonry.

His mother sold her house and got an apartment after he graduated, so he rented a room from Eddie Reddy's house on Avenue A for $6 per week, he said. He would watch football games with him on Sundays and drink all his beer, he joked.

Kings Park was great in those days, he said. "People helped one another and looked after one another."

At age 18 he began working for the fire department on the grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, driving the pumper truck.

"Every kid that was born in Kings Park got a shot at working at the hospital, sooner or later," he said.

He married his first wife, Loraine, in 1955 and they had four children. In the early 1960s, he started his own masonry business, working there during the day and working nights as an aide in the diabetic ward at the hospital. He worked there for 28 years.

"You had to be very on top of things when people went into shock," he said. There were times when he would be in charge of the 96 patients on that ward.

After the death of his first wife, he married Eve, who died about nine years ago.

Besides juggling work as a mason with working nights at the hospital, Toner also had a career in the Town of Smithtown's Parks Department, spending more than 20 years there and rising through the ranks to director of facilities management.

He retired in 1990 and his legacy lives on as the park on Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset was named after him in 2011.

While he moved from Kings Park to Nesconset a few years ago, he visits his hometown and keeps tabs on friends and colleagues there.

Charles Barrett, the current director of the town's Parks Department, gives Toner reports about the guys in the department. "Chuck is like a son to me," Toner said.

Third annual parade
For this year, Denis is expecting more than 20 bagpipe bands, the Kings Park High School band, the RJO Intermediate School band and seven fire departments, among others, for more than 90 organizations.

People can buy T-shirts at Professors Diner on Indian Head Road or on the day of the parade for $10 per shirt.

Following in the footsteps of his friends, inaugural parade grand marshal Mattie O'Reilly and last year's grand marshal, Gerry Creighton, Toner will march down Kings Park's Pulaski Road, Main Street and Church Street.

"We are very excited about Buster because he is a Kings Parker for forever," Creighton said. She and husband Bob Creighton, a Smithtown Town councilman, nominated Toner for the honor.

Both Gerry Creighton's and Toner's mothers came over from Ireland in the 1920s and the two grew up together in Kings Park.

Toner also has known O'Reilly for years, calling him a lifelong friend.

"He's well known by a lot of people in Kings Park," Gerry Creighton said.

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