Anthony Pasquale Ruggiero lived a life committed to full bellies, whether it was customers at his Lake Grove deli, seniors in his meals program, or volunteers battling wildfires in Suffolk County, his family said Sunday.
"He loves to feed people. That's his thing," his daughter, Denise, of Northport, said. "He worked really hard all his life, woke up every morning and worked 15 hours a day."
Ruggiero, of Head of the Harbor, died at home Saturday after a struggle with diabetes. He was 67.
He underwent two kidney transplants, was legally blind and used a wheelchair, but he still worked full days at Zan's Kosher Delicatessen in Lake Grove, which he owned for nearly 30 years with his brother, Pat.
The brothers fed about 800 seniors a day through meal distribution programs with the towns of Smithtown and Islip and through the deli's Supper Club 60, which invited seniors to the establishment for discounted meals. They also aided the Red Cross in feeding first responders during crises, such as wildfires.
Sunday was Pat Ruggiero's first day at the deli without Anthony.
"It was very difficult," the Port Jefferson resident said. "When you spend day after day with a person for so many years, it becomes a part of your life and you wonder if maybe they're just out sick and might be back tomorrow."
He worked as a meat courier before opening the deli.
His business wasn't without challenges. He clashed with Smithtown officials in 2000 after pulling out of a contract to run the town's beach concession stands.
Nevertheless, he inspired many with his dedication to the deli, despite his medical condition. "He had a lot of physical ailments, and he did it on sheer will," his son, Anthony, of Franklin Lakes, N.J., said. "He had a gruff exterior, but behind it, he was a real softy with pure heart and pure drive."
Ruggiero met his wife, Nilvia, in the third grade at St. Rose of Lima in Brooklyn, she said. "He threw a rock at me, that dirty rat, but we've been laughing ever since," she said of their 46 years of marriage.
The couple spent Anthony's last night baby-sitting their grandchildren, whose mischievous ways had him chuckling. "At least he died laughing and dreaming about his grandchildren," Nilvia Ruggiero said.
In addition to his wife, daughter and son, Anthony Ruggiero is survived by three grandchildren.
His wake will be held at Moloney's Hauppauge Funeral Home Tuesday and Wednesday, and his funeral will be held at Sts. Philip & James Church in St. James on Thursday. He is to be buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.