Roberta Yannelli, a Rockville Centre nurse and schoolteacher who inspired a generation of students during her two-decade battle with cancer, died Nov. 14 at Meadowbrook Care Center in Freeport, surrounded by her husband, sons, sister-in-law and a priest. She was 71.
Yannelli, who suffered from leiomyosarcoma, taught until her final few years, enduring eight surgeries and years of kidney dialysis, family members said.
Yannelli remained upbeat, said Nancy McShea of Rockville Centre, a longtime friend. "What sustained her throughout her life was her value of education and her love of family and friends," McShea said.
Born Roberta Muhr, Yannelli grew up in Valley Stream. She graduated from St. Agnes Cathedral High School in Rockville Centre in 1959 and received her nursing degree in 1963 from Georgetown University.
Yannelli began her nursing career at Franklin General Hospital in Valley Stream, where she met her husband, Frank Yannelli. She later earned a master's degree in education in 1989 from Adelphi University and began teaching special education, Frank Yannelli said.
She taught at South Side High School in Rockville Centre for a few years beginning in the mid-1990s before teaching for about 10 years at St. Agnes Cathedral School in Rockville Centre, he said.
Yannelli was stricken in the mid-90s with leiomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the body's soft tissue, but she remained dedicated to teaching, her husband said.
"It was her strength of character," said Frank Yannelli, a lawyer and past president of the Nassau County Bar Association. "She didn't really want to retire."
Yannelli's other passions included visiting Lido Beach, reading, knitting and traveling -- especially to the family's second home in Maine.
She maintained a sense of humor until the end, friends and family said.
"One day at school a child in her class noticed a scar high on Roberta's chest and asked about it. Roberta's answer: 'A shark bit me,' " her sister-in-law, Jane Yannelli Rinn of Rockville Centre, said in a statement.
In addition to her husband; she is survived by her brother, Robert Muhr, of California; sons, Chris of Salt Lake City, Michael of Rockville Centre, and Thomas of Wantagh; and six grandchildren.
Yannelli's funeral was held Nov. 19 at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. She was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.The family has requested that donations be made in Yannelli's name to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Information about giving is available at www.mskcc.org/giving.