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Friends, neighbors paint picture of an idyllic family

The father was a successful breadwinner with a Manhattan law practice that paid for a Hamptons condo; his wife a devoted stay-at-home mom and breast cancer survivor who baked cakes for her Garden City neighbors and spent free time on charity work. Their two daughters were cheerful, talented, friendly, athletic and poised for achievements.

But Monday, all four of them were found dead in a Towson, Md., hotel room in an apparent murder-suicide - news that left those who knew the seemingly perfect Parente family devastated and bewildered.

"I can't imagine a more wonderful, loving, spiritual, funny family," said Robert Krener, 64, who lived next door to the Parentes in Garden City and sold them their ranch-style home about 12 years ago.

The Parentes - devout parishioners at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, steadfast fans at their daughters' school functions and sporting events and beloved neighbors always ready with a dinner invitation or a pastry - originally hailed from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but became inextricably woven into the fabric of their Garden City community.

"Regardless of whatever transpired over the weekend, they were a great family to be associated with in town," said Michael Rix, who coached Catherine, 11, in basketball and whose youngest daughter shared the lead with Catherine in the Stewart School's production last year of "The Magic Flute."

"They were big supporters of their children. They were at every game rooting, good or bad, and always had nice words to say about the opponents, the coaches, everyone." The Rev. Joseph Schlafer, pastor of St. Joseph's, said the Parentes had been active parishioners for the past decade.

"We grieve the loss with the whole community," he said. "They had many friends here who loved them very much, and are deeply saddened."

William Parente, 59, was a 35-year attorney with a solo tax and estate planning practice on Lexington Avenue. His wife, Betty, 58, was more outgoing, but William Parente was well-liked and known by friends and neighbors to be a hard worker who logged long hours and doted on Catherine, Betty and their elder daughter, Stephanie, 19.

"He was the sweetest guy, the most lovely person," said Seymour Eidman, a Manhattan attorney who shared a suite of offices with Parente in 2000 and 2001. "It is beyond belief."

Marianne Quinn, 53, of Garden City, who said she was Betty's best friend, said William Parente had been depressed since the death of his mother a year ago last week. She described Betty Parente, who kept a busy roster of charitable activities, as a "God-loving person" who attended Mass and said the rosary almost daily.

"I can't believe she's gone," Quinn said. "They had everything going for them, everything."

If her husband was reserved, Betty Parente was gregarious enough for both, friends said. Her recent battle with cancer "gave her an appreciation for life," Krener said.

Rix, the basketball coach, said Betty Parente "lit up a room." Lucille Messina, president of the Tri-town Auxiliary of United Cerebral Palsy, where Betty Parente was a board member, said she was "the sweetest lady you'd ever want to meet. You'd fall in love with her instantly."

"We used to call her Betty Boop because she was so bubbly," said a neighbor, Linda Matteini, 55. "She loved her daughters with every fiber of her body."

Cathy Grasman, who boarded the family's two Maltese dogs, Buttons and Cupcake, at her Floral Park store, said Tuesday while dropping off flowers at the house that she would be willing to raise the dogs. She praised Betty Parente as a conscientious pet owner.

"If you were a dog, you wanted to be her dog," Grasman said.

Over the weekend, the family was visiting Stephanie Parente - known as Steph - at Loyola College in Maryland, where she was a sophomore majoring in speech pathology. Last year, Stephanie Parente was a coxswain for the women's and men's crew teams, but this year, she declined to participate because of schoolwork, said Al Ramirez, the crew head coach. Friends said she hoped to be a dentist and was involved with volunteer work and extracurricular activities despite a heavy course load. She had also been accepted to study abroad next year, in Newcastle, England.

"She was so excited for it," said a friend, Natalie Basile, 19, of Mountainside, N.J., a fellow Loyola student who lived down the hall from Stephanie last year.

Stephanie's core adviser at Loyola, Mark Osteen, said she was a "sweet and kind person who always had a generous word for her peers."

"She didn't speak often in class, but her comments were always as thoughtful as her general presence," Osteen said in comments posted in a tribute to Stephanie on Loyola's Web site. "It's an unfathomable tragedy to have such a young and promising life cut short."

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