Ferdinand Lodica of Oceanside was a serious businessman, but his family said they will remember him most as a jolly Santa Claus every Christmas and a free spirit who would frolic with the characters when he took his grandchildren to Disney World.
Lodica, who built the Eastern Meat Market in Franklin Square into a local institution, had battled heart disease for 20 years and died of complications Monday at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn at age 78, his family said.
Lodica and his wife of 54 years, Pietra, often visited Disney World by themselves -- well into their 70s -- but he seemed to have the most fun when he took the grandchildren, she said.
"He was very playful. He would get involved with the Disney characters," Iavarone said.
He was born in Manhattan and went to work at an early age at Conte's meat market in Brooklyn, his family said. He moved to Oceanside in 1969. He and his son, Richard, now a Merrick resident, opened the Eastern Meat Market in 1983. It later expanded into a gourmet market.
Lodica met his wife by accident: She tripped in the snow and fell outside his Brooklyn store. They got married on Nov. 4, 1954, his daughter said.
"It was a glorious marriage," Iavarone said. "She would visit him in St. Francis and he would light up when she came into the room. He would say, 'My honey is here!' and he would call her later to make sure she had gotten home."
Son Richard remembered his father as "the perfectionist in his business" who "always had ideas for how to improve the already well-run business. He demanded excellence."
Lodica also is survived by his daughter, Olivia Barbieri of Oceanside, and four grandchildren.
Visiting hours at Towers Funeral Home on Long Beach Road in Oceanside are from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday. A service is planned for 9:45 a.m. Friday at St. Anthony's Church on Anchor Avenue in Oceanside. Burial will follow at Pinelawn Memorial Park, Pinelawn.