Joey Manaker had the kind of smile that could not only light up a room, but change a person’s entire day. He’d spread his toothy grin as wide as his cheeks would let him.
“Joey was this small guy, but he had this oversized smile, that’s what you saw first,” said family friend Mark Cronin, 59, of Huntington Station.
Manaker, who had Down syndrome, died Nov. 30 after experiencing complications during a medical procedure. He was 16, his father, Glen Manaker, said.
Manaker, of Huntington Station, left an enthusiastic legacy of unbridled joy, friends and family said. He was funny and musical and loved a good high five or fist bump.
He was born on Sept. 12, 2001, the younger of Glen and Anne Manaker’s two boys. He arrived five weeks early, said Anne Manaker, 54, and never stopped making an entrance.
“We used to say that even though Joey was born with Down syndrome, someone forgot to tell him,” Glen Manaker, 55, said. “He’d greet everyone with an outstretched hand, saying ‘Hello, my name is Joey.’ ”
Manaker thrived in the Huntington school district, where he earned the nickname “The Mayor.” In middle school, he appeared in several school musicals, including “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and “Oz.”
Manaker started his freshman year at Huntington High School earlier this fall, and was a regular at sporting events, proudly wearing an oversized Huntington Blue Devils T-shirt, and jumping for any opportunity to cheer, sing and dance.
“He loved the high school,” Glen Manaker said. “For years, we had been going to the high school football games and he loved being able to go as a student now.”
Manaker was excited to join his first high school production at Huntington High School as a mouse in “Cinderella,” Glen Manaker said.
“It’s a tremendous loss . . . He was just involved in so many aspects of the community here,” said Lisa Caparusso, a special education teacher at Finley Middle School who taught Joey for three years. “There was never a day he wasn’t smiling. As he walked down the hallway, everyone greeted him with fist bumps and high-fives.”
Outside of school, Glen and Anne Manaker said their son played as many sports as he could through the Special Olympics. He participated in eight sports, including soccer, basketball, track and field, and swimming.
That’s where he got to know Mark Cronin and his son John, 21. John Cronin played on some of the same sports teams as Joey’s older brother, John Manaker, and the two families became fast friends. John Cronin, who also has Down syndrome, would hold dance parties and Joey was always the life of the party, ready to sing songs from Disney’s “Frozen.”
“I like his stories. He’s funny and talented and he makes me smile every day,” John Cronin said. “I’m going to miss him so much. I’m really upset.”
In the weeks since Joey died, the Manakers said they’ve received an outpouring of support. A celebration of Joey’s life on Dec. 6 and his funeral on Dec. 7 were packed affairs, with friends, family and acquaintances sharing stories. One acquaintance told the Manakers that Joey’s smile could always brighten his mood after a tough day at work.
“I have always said that Glen, John and I were just along for the ride, and it was usually a pretty wild and fun ride,” Anne Manaker told mourners at his funeral at St. Hugh of Lincoln Church in Huntington Station.
Joey Manaker was buried at Huntington Rural Cemetery. His family asks that donations be made in his name at Make-A-Wish Suffolk County in lieu of flowers.
In addition to his parents, he is survived by his brother, John, 20.