Carver of the Year 2022 – William H. “Billy” Cordrey

When the other Island boys in the 5th grade were collecting stamps, Billy was collecting pins ! Fifty-five years later when the other Jersey collectors were collecting Barnegat Bay decoys, Billy was collecting Susquehanna Flats birds! How did this happen?

Born on “The Beach” young Cordrey grew up learning and doing all of those bay things that kids, today, are hard pressed to even read about. Sixth grade saw him gunning on his own on the south end of High Island (just off Brant Beach) then Barrel Island and Button Sedge south-south-east of Beach Haven. Just as he finished Viet Nam duty with the US Air Force, he starts his own contracting business known for quality construction and cashed in on the Loveladies, Harvey Cedars and Barnegat Light building boom over the next thirty years.

He marries his childhood sweetheart, Pauline. Pauline Cordrey is also a collector (Post Cards) so she understands that Bill’s collecting pursuits are a “mental thing” as in “needs help.”  After building a home for themselves in High Bar Harbor – where they still reside – Bill continued to harvest pintails, broadbills and blackducks under the sponsorship of the High Bar Gun Club and under the noses of many frustrated game wardens. He hung up his shotguns in 1984 but the collecting story continued along with some fine workshop decoy carving .

Step back to 1970 when one of Cordrey’s sub-contractors, Al Nelke, gave Bill a decoy from a bagful of decoys in Nelke’s Brant Beach shop. That year, Billy and Pauline go to the big Easton,Maryland decoy show.  One walk around the show tells Bill that his Nelke decoy was worth MONEY (later he learned that that decoy was a Shourds blackduck); he also saw the range of old decoys on exhibit in Easton and concluded that among them Susquehanna canvasbacks just had to be the most pleasing forms and shapes imaginable – a cut above his Corvette and two cuts below Pauline!!!!

He returns to Nelke who had meanwhile sold the bags of birds; not to be denied, Bill manages a lonely Rolly Horner brant that was stashed away in Nelke’s office. Young Cordrey sells the Shourds blackduck and the Horner brant and begins collecting Susquehanna decoys with a passion only understood by other decoy loonies. Billy proceeds to build a collection approaching 1300 decoys – building, too, a reputation on the Atlantic Coast and points west of being one of the few that can identify a Susquehanna Daddy Holly from a Mommy Holly.

The Cordrey’s are curious and restless people. Over time those Susquehanna and Chesapeake birds lost some attraction not to mention wearing out several GMC trucks carting his ducks to Ohio and other prominent shows, so he decides to de-access the Chesapeake telephone poles cum decoys. He returns to his roots and begins collecting anew Barnegat Broadbills (pairs only please), Blackducks and miniatures. If one wishes to see one of the most complete collections of the aforementioned Jersey decoys go to High Bar Harbor in the wintertime (Bill fishes and plays with his Grandson in the summer.)

This writer has known Billy Cordrey since the 1st Grade at the Beach Haven school – the school just celebrated its 110 years of existence and it seems like a hundred years ago that we were kids. I have a few of his decoys and like the homes he has built on the Island Cordrey’s decoys are “Oh So” pleasing and can be compared to many of the old-time classics. Bill’s generosity extends to his time with the Manahawkin food bank and he’s a magazine of shared information about decoys and The Island’s history.  A good kid who became a good man.

How proud we are, Island natives of long ago, that William H. Cordrey, this year adds “Carver-of-the-Year” to his NJDCA Hall-of-Fame accolades.

                                                                              Article By:  Grove Conrad