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Joseph Frohnhoefer Jr., founder of Sea Tow, dies at 71

COURTESY PHOTO | The Frohnhoefer family (from left) Kristen, Joseph III and parents Joseph and Georgia in July 2012.
COURTESY PHOTO | The Frohnhoefer family (from left) Kristen, Joseph III and parents Joseph and Georgia in July 2012.

Joseph Frohnhoefer Jr., the charitable businessman who founded the Southold-based marine assistance company Sea Tow Services International and donated to several causes across the North Fork, died Tuesday. He was 71.

Mr. Frohnhoefer was a former Coast Guard captain and a licensed electrician who taught for 20 years at Mattituck High School. After serving as a Bay Constable for Southold Town police, he founded Sea Tow in 1983 to help boaters stranded on the water after the Coast Guard changed its policies about responding to non-emergency calls.

The company has since expanded internationally, and moved beyond towing stalled boats. For instance, Sea Tow sent 50 employees to help relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“Captain Joe,” as he was known, also turned philanthropist, donating his time and resources to several local organizations, including Relay for Life, San Simeon, and Eastern Long Island Hospital.

Mr. Frohnhoefer was honored as The Suffolk Times’ Businessperson of the Year in 2005 and most recently received the Charles F. Chapman Award in February 2014 from the National Marine Manufacturers Association for a “distinguished career spanning more than 40 years in the boating industry.”

“He was a good friend for years and years,” said Bill Lieblein Sr., owner of Port of Egypt in Southold. “I felt like he was another brother.”

Mr. Lieblein said he had sold Mr. Frohnhoefer his first boats when Sea Tow was in its infancy.

“Joe worked so hard at it. He put his whole heart into it,” Mr. Lieblein said. “I was so happy to see him successful.”

The two families vacationed together, memories Mr. Lieblein is grateful for now. He also recalls the many times Mr. Frohnhoefer helped his own business, like when he helped build their showroom or excavate on the property.

“Joe would drop everything to help you,” Mr. Lieblein said. “He had a heart of gold. He was a mountain of a man.”

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley, who trained with Mr. Frohnhoefer in the police department, said he was “always professional” and willing to help cops in any way he could. His generosity carried over outside his business life, Mr. Flatley said.

“He’s always been community minded,” Mr. Flatley said. “He’s always willing to be the person to volunteer anything.”

He also served as a volunteer emergency medical technician, became a captain in the Southold Fire Department’s Packard Hose company, and was once president of the North Fork Lions Club and Mattituck Gun Club.

“He’s been in a long time,” said Southold Fire Chief Peggy Killian. “You can always count on him.”

Chief Killian said Mr. Frohnhoefer was captain long before she joined the department, but they did have a deeper connection: he was her teacher in high school.

“He was a good guy,” she said. “He would do anything for anybody.”

ELIH CEO Paul Connor described the Sea Tow founder as a “rare human being” who was “irreplaceable” to his community.

“He took a lot of pride in what he did and he should,” Mr. Connor said. Captain Joe was there if you needed help,” Mr. Connor said. ”It’s just such a loss.”

Services have yet to be made, according to Defreist-Gratten Funeral Home.

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