Roland Mennella liked helping people. Sometimes he did it spectacularly, carrying people from burning buildings. Other times he did it quietly, offering a job or a loan to a kid in trouble.

Mennella, who served for more than five decades in the Bay Shore fire department and twice held the role of chief, died Saturday after a long illness. He was 78.

Mennella lived his whole life in Brightwaters, where he grew up helping his father, Nick, with his tree-trimming business, American Tree.

He married at 19 and had a daughter, Kriste. The marriage was brief. In 1955 he married again, this time to Janet Neumann, a friend from Bay Shore High School.

He had been drafted a year earlier, and the Army had discovered his green thumb.

"They found out he was such a terrific tree person, he spent most of the time taking care of the trees at Fort Totten," said Janet.,.

When he was discharged in 1956, he went to work for his father and joined the Bay Shore fire department. He quickly rose through the ranks.

"He led by example and did it well," First Assistant Chief Roy Ekelund said. He was captain of the department's drill team and played in its marching band, entertaining his colleagues on the cymbals.

Roland and Janet Mennella had two sons, Douglas and Roland Jr.

Roland Sr. took his family clamming and crabbing and ferried them by boat to their second home in Kismet.

Family members said he also scuba-dived for mussels, collecting bushels and bushels for community gatherings at the Kismet boat basin.

He volunteered as Islip Town's Fire Island fire coordinator and was a commissioner of the Kismet fire department.

And he served for 40 years on the board of trustees of Oakwood Cemetery in Bay Shore.

Mennella, who held an associate degree in horticulture from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, bought his father's business and expanded it into a full-service landscaping business.

He offered many young people their first jobs.

"What they have said about him is: 'He gave me my work ethic,' " said Kriste Mennella, 58, of Reddick, Fla. "If young people were in some kind of trouble, financial problems, he gave them jobs, he gave them loans. He never talked about doing those things."

Mennella, who lost Roland Jr. to liver cancer and Douglas to a drug overdose, celebrated this year the birth of his first great-grandchild.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his sister, Merry Zirpoli, 68, of Charlotte, N.C., and two grandchildren.

Viewing will be held Tuesday from 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m. at the Fredrick J. Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in East Islip. The fire department firematic service will be held there Tuesday night at 8. A funeral Mass will be said at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Bay Shore Wednesday at 10 a.m., followed by burial at Oakwood Cemetery.

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