In Memoriam: Frank L. Magnani

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Posted: July 10, 2008

The following article about her husband Frank Magnani was submitted by Dorothy Magnani. It is reproduced here by courtesy of The PRESS of Manorville and The Moriches. The article is by Jennett Meriden Russell.

Manorville luminary remembered fondly

Magnani among first firefighters

Frank L. Magnani’s final ride was a long and rich one. With his coffin draped with an American flag, the last surviving charter member of the Manorville Fire Department, who died last Thursday at the age of 90, was carried in the back of a vintage fire truck on Monday to all the places he knew well, and which he influenced throughout his long life.
Followed by his wife, Dorothy, and a long procession of friends and loved ones in cars and various fire department vehicles, Mr. Magnani was taken from Sinnicksons Moriches Funeral Home in Center Moriches to the original Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church on Eastport Manor Road, where he was a trustee and a member of the Parish Council.

A member of the congregation for 84 years, he was married in the original church, and was an usher for more than 55 years in both the original and new church. He received his final Mass there on Monday.
From Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Mr. Magnani traveled to the old schoolhouse on North Street, which is now the Manorville Historical Society, an organization that the knowledgeable local historian helped found. He served as its vice president.

After passing his current house on Ryerson Avenue, the procession drifted to the Manorville Firehouse on Silas Carter Road. It was there that Mr. Magnani spent much of his life.

In 1942, with a ragtag group of what were mostly burly local farmers and businessmen, Mr. Magnani helped form the Manorville Fire Department. He served as chief from 1962 to 1966, and also served as treasurer of the Brookhaven Town Fire Chiefs Council for 25 years.

The next to last stop of the procession was the South Street School, where a large placard containing his and his wife’s name sits in front of the athletic field, which was named in honor of the couple.

A 1936 graduate of Center Moriches High School, the caring father of four served as a trustee, vice president and president of the former West Manor School District and the South Manor School District for 33 years.
Having once tried out for Major League Baseball, the hard-line pitcher was known for promoting athletics, and helped found the Manorville Athletic Club.

The funeral procession ended at Brookfield Cemetery on Wading River Road in Manorville, where the World War II veteran received military honors. With Manorville firefighters saluting his draped coffin in their dress blues, and throngs of mourners holding single red roses, U.S. Army Honor guard Specialist Rosalba Rodriguez stood off to the side of the group and played taps on the coldest day of the year as the winter’s bitter winds kept a steady, pounding rhythm.

Specialist Rodriguez and Private First Class Myrnaliz Nives removed and carefully folded the flag from the coffin and presented it to the fallen firefighter’s widow. As mourners departed,they covered the bare coffin with dozens of red roses and touched the top of Mr. Magnani’s fire helmet, which bore the number 020. It rested next to his coffin, atop his heavy fire boots and a fire jacket that bore the name Magnani on its back.

Following the funeral, friends and family gathered at the firehouse and remembered the hard-nosed former fire chief who helped turn the department into a respected and sober fire-fighting unit.

“He was strict, by the book,” said ex-Chief Vincent DeLettera, 74, who joined the department in 1962 when Mr. Magnani was serving his last year as chief. “He took no guff and he ran a tight ship.

“He cleaned out the roster,” Mr. DeLettera added, chuckling. “In one year, he got rid of 14, 15 men in one shot — the guys that were never showing up. Even some of his in-laws, he threw them out.

Mr. Magnani also worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory as a ground surveyor, and helped in the building of some of the laboratory’s premiere research facilities, including the Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor, which was the first peacetime reactor to be constructed in the United States following World War II.

B. Allen Mannella, a former superintendent of the Eastport South Manor School District, remembered Mr. Magnani as a diligent community member who kept a close eye on school matters. Mr. Mannella said he met Mr. Magnani in 1994. Every Friday, the two would visit in Mr. Mannella’s office over coffee and donuts for friendly chats and school concerns.

“He was a wonderful person to work with and talk with,” Mr. Mannella said at the cemetery on Monday, “and he was a real pillar of the community.”

Born in Brooklyn in August 1917, Mr. Magnani helped the fire department grow from little more than a garage, a handful of volunteers, and a borrowed fire truck, to a 5,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility with $3 million worth of fire and rescue equipment and a substation. The all-volunteer department protects nearly 13,000 people living in 62 square miles.

In November 2006, the Manorville Fire Department celebrated its 65th year of service to the community. Although hospitalized at the time, Mr. Magnani shared his memories of the department.

He said his proudest moment came in 1957 when 7-year-old Benny Hooper fell 18 feet into a well while playing in a friend’s backyard. One of the first at the scene, Mr. Magnani recalled the desperate 24-hour period during which rescue workers dug in shifts to reach the little boy without causing more sand to fall on him.

He recalled his fear and frustration at trying to keep hundreds of spectators from pushing in too close to the hole.
“It was scary,” Mr. Magnani said. “They would get right up on the hole and kept causing dirt to fall in, because the soil is very sandy. We just kept pushing them back, pushing them back.”

After 24 hours, the little boy was pulled to safety, bringing cheers from a crowd nearby. “It was a great moment,” Mr. Magnani said. “What a relief.”

Mrs. Magnani said another of her husband’s proudest moments also had to do with a hole in the ground. After his retirement, the elderly athlete took up golf and one day managed to sink two consecutive holes-in-one.

Mrs. Magnani added that she was also proud and grateful for the parishioners, school board members, and community members who turned out for the funeral and had showered her and her husband with support in recent years. She particularly praised the Manorville firefighters.

“Those firemen were very good to my husband,” Mrs. Magnani said. “They couldn’t do enough for him. They went to see him when he was sick, they came here to see me, and anything I needed, I just had to call them and they’d be there for me.

“But what struck me more hat anything else was the younger men. They weren’t even born when Frankie was chief. But these young men respected him. I mean, he could have been their grandfather, and yet they came to see him anyway, and did whatever they could for us. I can’t thank them enough.”

Mr. Magnani is survived by his wife, Dorothy;, a son, Kenneth, two daughters, Linda Larmett, and Jeanne Moore; and four grandsons, Brion and Mac Magnani, and John and Michael Moore. He was predeceased by a son, Kevin.

The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in memory of Mr. Magnani to the Manorville Fire Department Scholarship Fund, 1 Silas Carter Road, Manorville, NY 11949.

Last Modified: July 10, 2008