Richard A. LoNigro was a father of 12 who was devoted to...

Richard A. LoNigro was a father of 12 who was devoted to many charitable organizations, especially Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson. Credit: LoNigro family

Richard A. "Butch" LoNigro Sr. was a successful business owner who never sought the spotlight that came with his myriad accomplishments as a humanitarian.

The dedicated husband and father of 12 was a Port Jefferson resident who devoted his time to many charitable organizations, especially Hope House Ministries of Port Jefferson. He died peacefully on Feb. 1, surrounded by his family and close friends at Mather Hospital. He was 81.

He died of a rare and aggressive lung disease, said his son Robert LoNigro.

“He was a mentor, a close friend, and a pillar in the Long Island community,” said Charlie Russo, a close friend, family attorney and the chairman of the board at Hope House. “He was an amazing mentor on how to navigate the intricacies of the not-for-profit world. He taught me about appropriate fundraising and really cared about our young men struggling with recovery at Hope House. He was an angel in disguise.”

Richard LoNigro was born in Brooklyn in 1942. He grew up in Franklin Square, where he met Priscilla Lyons, the love of his life, in middle school. The two graduated from Carey High School together in 1960 and were married on July 30, 1961.

“They were married for 62 years,” said his son Robert, of Rocky Point. “They went through life together as one — an incredible love story.”

Richard LoNigro enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was stationed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before serving overseas on the USS Tanner. He completed a two-year tour of duty but stayed active with the Navy while following his dream to become a professional baseball player.

The right-handed hitting catcher slammed two home runs in an invitation-only tryout with the New York Yankees on Sept. 26, 1966. He signed a free-agent contract that day with the Yankees and played for the organization’s Class A minor league affiliate in Fort Lauderdale for one year.

“My parents already had three kids, and he decided to give up his dream of professional baseball to take care of the family,” Robert LoNigro said. “He went to work to feed our family.”

Richard LoNigro worked as a truck driver for Tip-Top Bread in Garden City and as a part-time professional scout for the New York Mets organization.

In 1971, he opened Port Jefferson Sporting Goods out of his garage, and used his dining room as his office. He would eventually build Port Jefferson Sporting Goods into a multimillion-dollar company that was recognized as one of the top 10 privately owned sporting goods companies in the United States, according to Sporting Goods Dealers of America.

Port Jefferson Sporting Goods was acquired by BSN Sporting Goods on Oct. 1, 2018.

“He fulfilled his lifelong dream to spend every waking moment with his family and beloved grandchildren,” said his son Craig LoNigro, of Blue Point. “His love for his family was the true meaning of ‘Family First.’ ”

Richard LoNigro served on the board of directors for Hope House and as the parish council president for the congregation at St. Gerard Majella Roman Catholic Church of Port Jefferson Station. 

He also founded the local St. Gerard’s baseball and soccer leagues and the Terryville Soccer Travel League that hosted thousands of boys and girls.

“Richie was a family first guy but some of his greatest impact came in his support of the Long Island community,” said close family friend Tommy Bettenhauser, of Wading River. “He was there for anyone in need. One time a local 10-year-old kid had his pitchback stolen from his yard and the kid was putting up signs everywhere trying to get it back. Richie took one of the signs back to Port Jeff Sports and taped it to the box of a new pitchback and we dropped it off at the house. The kid was so happy he cried.”

He was recognized as the Man of the Year by multiple organizations, including Hope House Ministries (1984), Suffolk County Police Athletic League (2000) and Rawlings Sporting Goods as National “Silver Glove” recipient (2005). Perhaps one of his proudest moments came when St. Anthony’s High School inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 2006. 

Russo said: “Once you got past that tough exterior, you found an extremely beautiful soul. He left an incredible legacy that will live on in his friends and peers, his community, in the organizations and people he touched, his business accomplishments and the love of his family.”

LoNigro was predeceased by his daughter Trisha Ann and son Matthew. Besides his wife and two sons, he is survived by his other children: Richard Jr., of Port Jefferson Station; Michael, of Port Jefferson Station; Kevin, of Huntington; Keira Kelly, of Westhampton Beach; Koren Hart, of Shirley; Paul, of Wading River; Shauna Kerr, of Stony Brook; and Brianne Cardaci, of Port Jefferson Station. He is also survived by 26 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and a great-great grandchild.

Services will be held Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Bryant Funeral Home, 411 Old Town Rd., East Setauket. A funeral Mass will be held at St. Gerard Majella RC Church in Port Jefferson Station on Thursday at 10 a.m.

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