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Anthony Agoglia dies; first principal of Candlewood Middle School was 93

The lifelong basketball lover played through childhood, World War II, college and beyond.

Anthony Joseph Agoglia, center, plays in a basketball

Anthony Joseph Agoglia, center, plays in a basketball game in the 1940s. He died Sept. 12 at age 93. Photo Credit: Agoglia family

Anthony Joseph Agoglia was known as a “gentle man” with a “gentle smile.”

A lifelong basketball player, World War II veteran, teacher and father of eight, he was the first principal of what is now Candlewood Middle School.

Agoglia, of Deer Park, died Sept. 12 of pneumonia complications at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. He was 93.

“He was the sweetest, kindest and gentlest man. Everybody loved him,” said Rosemarie Sheetz, 71, of Dix Hills.

Sheetz, who was a student when Agoglia served as an assistant high school principal in the Half Hollow Hills School District in the 1960s, and later became a friend, most remembers his smile.

“It’s hard to describe somebody like that because he was basically a gentle soul,” she said.

His nearly 40-year career in education began in 1950 at Iona Preparatory School in New Rochelle, where he worked as a biology teacher. He then worked at Carle Place High School as a math teacher and basketball coach.

He began in the Half Hollow Hills School District in 1957 as a math teacher and served as assistant high school principal. During the 1960s he taught evening classes at Farmingdale State College. In 1964, he became the first principal of Candlewood.

“He loved children,” said his oldest daughter, Diane Lundegaard, 69, of Dix Hills. “Whoever needed help, he just helped with their math, geometry, calculus, that was his life.”

Born in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 1925, Agoglia, known as “Nino,” was one of 11 children of Italian immigrants.

He grew up playing basketball to keep out of trouble and  was on the "Agoglia Brothers" team formed by his brother Frank,, which won the YMCA National Championship, said Lundegaard, who works in public relations for the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery and Aquarium.

“I think it was the team quality of basketball, that you could build a unit, get people to know each other and work together and be committed,” Lundegaard said. “It was something that was wonderful, that all ages could start to learn.”

After Manual Training High School in Brooklyn, his basketball talent earned him a scholarship to St. John’s University in Queens, where he played under Hall of Fame coach Joe Lapchick. He and his team won the 1944 National Invitation Tournament.

Agoglia left St. John’s after his first year, becoming the sixth and youngest of his brothers to enlist in the military. While in the U.S. Army Air Forces from 1943 to 1945, Agoglia served as a staff sergeant, right blister gunner. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for making 32 missions in the Mariana Islands with the 505th Bombardment Group.

He kept playing with Harvard Army Air Field Hares. Upon his return, he attended St. Francis College in Brooklyn, where he also played basketball. In 1948 he qualified in the Olympic Basketball Trials but decided not to attend, focusing on his family, Lundegaard said.

Agoglia married Lillian Leotta of Brooklyn in August 1948, six months after meeting her, Lundegaard said. They had eight children. 

“My father loved to spend as much time as possible with his wife and children,” Lundegaard said. “He would pile us all into his Williams Craft camper and off we’d go, sometimes across country, sometimes for weekends to places like Niagara Falls.”

Agoglia graduated with a bachelor's degree from St. Francis College in 1949 and earned his master's degree from New York University in 1957.

When Lillian Agoglia had a stroke at age 53, Anthony Agoglia took care of her, even though he had been diagnosed with lymphoma. “It was really amazing,” Lundegaard said. He also had colon cancer.

He retired from Half Hollow Hills in 1989.

A Catholic and member of St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills, he contributed to different charities each month, Lundegaard said.

He loved watching the Harlem Globetrotters, she said, and even at 88 could be seen shooting hoops in a neighbor’s net.

Services were held Sept. 15 at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale. He was buried there next to Lillian Agoglia, who died in 2010.

In addition to Lundegaard, Agoglia is survived by his other six living children: Paul Agoglia, 66, of upstate Oneonta; Vincent Agoglia, 64, of Hauppauge; Virginia Paolino, 64, of Douglaston, Queens; Anthony T. Agoglia, 58, of Deer Park; Mary Kowalski, 54, of upstate Canaan; and Amy Cohen, 52, of Ridgefield, Connecticut. His daughter Lillian Andrews, 60, of New Suffolk, who had pancreatic cancer, died March 24, 2016.

Agoglia is also survived by his siblings Frank Agoglia, 94, of Deer Park; Milly Canna, 91, of Brooklyn; and Raymond Agoglia, 87, of Belle Harbor, Queens; and seven grandchildren.

Correction: Anthony Joseph Agoglia was a Deer Park resident and his brother Frank formed the "Agoglia Brothers" basketball team. His place of residence and who formed the team were incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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