When he was 9 years old, a truck that Michael Catapano was riding in collided with a train in Hicksville, killing his older brother Neil and sending the boy to the newly built Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.
Catapano had to learn to walk again during his nine-month hospital stay, and he kept this determination and perseverance throughout his adult life, helming the successful Catapano Brothers nursery in Hicksville, his family said.
Catapano died at his Hicksville home Sunday from complications from a stroke he suffered two years ago. He was 83.
Born in Brooklyn, Catapano moved with his family as a child to Hicksville, where he dropped out of high school to help out on the family farm, said his son Neil Catapano.
"He and his brothers, they worked," said Neil Catapano, 43, of Seaford, who works for Citi-bank. "They came from nothing."
"It started with selling flowers and vegetables, and it expanded," Neil Catapano said. "They grew thousands of flats of flowers."
Catapano met his wife, Joan Gooding, when her sister rented an apartment on the Catapanos' property.
The two women would watch Catapano in the fields and strategized ways to have him come work in the apartment. A sink in need of repair provided an excuse. Catapano and Gooding were married for 48 years.
After selling the nursery in 2004, Catapano retired at the age of 77, his son said. He spent his free time with his wife and six grandchildren, enjoying baseball and football games.
Even as he was ailing, Catapano stayed positive. "This man always had a smile on his face even to the end," his son said.
"He was my best friend in the whole wide world," Neil Catapano said.
In addition to his wife, son, and two brothers, Catapano is survived by daughter Lydia Pavlo, 49, of Coconut Creek, Fla.; son Michael Jr., 47, of Bayville, and older sister Anna Alexio, 87, of Bethpage.
Catapano's wake was at White Funeral Home in Bethpage. His funeral was scheduled for 9:45 a.m. today at St. Martin of Tours Church in Bethpage, and burial to follow at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.