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Shelter Island obituary: Robert William Rescigno

Janet and Robert Rescigno
Janet and Robert Rescigno

Robert William (Bob) Rescigno passed away quietly at  his home on Shelter Island, with his devoted wife of 59 years, Janet, by his side. He chose to forego further treatment, when doctors told him his cancer had returned and was inoperable, because it would have extended his life a few months, and he didn’t want to ruin anyone’s holidays forever by dying at that time.

After an 18-year battle, during which Janet nursed him back to health from four different cancers and triple bypass heart surgery, Robert finally succumbed on July 23, 2015 at the age of 82.

He maintained his good humor and uncomplaining, thoughtful demeanor right up until the end, as family, friends and neighbors came by to visit his bedside to say their goodbyes to a man beloved and respected by everyone who met him.

Bob was born in Manhattan in April 1933 to his parents, Alphonse and Florence Rescigno. He was a track star, gymnast and bodybuilder in high school. He almost had to repeat boot camp, when he quit school at age 17 to join the Navy, and didn’t improve on physical fitness tests after training because he was in peak condition upon entry.

During the Korean conflict he served on the aircraft carrier, Oriskany, the first ship to carry a live atomic bomb.

He attained the rank of Chief Petty Officer and, when not on duty, always had his movie and still cameras with him to record his travels around the world. The films he sent home were watched by friends and neighbors many times over the years and were finally transferred to DVD by his son Richard and narrated by Bob, because they were so entertaining and informative. He wanted to become a filmmaker or professional photographer as a young adult but was discouraged by people who told him there was no money in it.

He earned his G.E.D. and went to work for the New York City Board of Education, starting out as a cleaner and working his way up the ranks until he was the stationary operating engineer of the fifth largest high school in the United States, the largest in the city. After a career that lasted 33 years, he retired and moved from Dix Hills, New York to Shelter Island with his wife, so he could live next door to his daughter and son-in-law who were long-time residents.

He and Janet quickly became integral members of the community, both working as volunteers for various organizations and activities at the Senior Center and the American Legion, among others. During the years Bob served as a chaplain, financial officer and vice commander of Mitchell Post #281 and helped broker the deal to turn over the upper part of the Legion building to the town, to be used as a youth center.

He ran the senior bowling program downstairs, was often at work in the kitchen at Legion dinners, and also helped host a lively weekly poker game at the Senior Center. Janet and Bob were proclaimed Volunteers of the Year in 2010 and they both continued their volunteer efforts right up until a few weeks before his demise. Janet plans to continue their work after a brief hiatus. In addition to his regular volunteer work, Bob was known to help anyone who came to him with a problem and was able to die in peace because those wonderful friends and neighbors, in typical Shelter Island style, promised they would help his wife in any way they could after he was gone.

When Bob wasn’t busy with his volunteer work or maintaining his home and property, he loved working on his model trains, gardening, boating and fishing. In an ironic twist, last month, after 22 years on the waiting list for a town dock slip for his boat, he finally was awarded a spot, a week before he learned of his prognosis. His boat never made it to the dock space he paid for. The same week, he received his lifetime membership for the American Legion. He joked that maybe Janet ought to stop at the Shelter Island Heights Pharmacy and pick up a few Win For Life lottery tickets for him, figuring it was worth a shot, the way his luck was going!

Many people do not know that Robert was also a talented artist. His home is filled with his oil and acrylic paintings, crewel embroidery pieces, hand-tinted photographs he did in his early years and beautifully crafted wooden clocks, bird houses and planter boxes. Bob was a happy, easy-going guy who loved to spread joy wherever he went. He was often spotted, in wintertime, sporting a ridiculous red, white and green knitted stocking cap with two huge pom-poms on top. When people reacted with a smile and told him they loved his hat (and they always did), he would grin from ear to ear and proudly declare, “My mommy made it for me!” That  always got a laugh, and it was music to his ears.

Robert is survived by his wife Janet, his daughter Robin and son-in-law Bennett Karnis, of Shelter Island; his son Richard and his wife Barbara and their daughter Nicole of Tobyhana, Pennsylvania; and daughter Michelle of New York City; and his son Ronald and his wife Yousy and their daughter Janessa of Middletown, Delaware and their son Anthony of Lake Grove, New York. He is also survived by his younger brothers Ronald and Arthur and in-laws Valerie and Cookie Rescigno, Christine Bullis, Pat Willers, Betty and Steve Vannata, Geri and Brian Hassard and many nieces, nephews, cousins and aunts. He is predeceased by his brother Paul.

No funeral or memorial services will be held, as were his wishes. A party will be held, on Shelter Island, to celebrate his life, sometime in the future. Robert requested that in lieu of flowers or gift baskets, friends and family could donate to East End Hospice, 481 County Road 31, Westhampton Beach, NY 11978. The angels of this organization enabled him to remain in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by friends and family, with all the resources and medications needed to pass peacefully and painlessly into the loving arms of his Creator.

May the good Lord bless every one of them for the vital support and guidance they provide for terminal patients and their families. His family couldn’t have survived this ordeal without them.