The June night in 2011 that New York became the sixth American state to legalize same-sex marriage, David Kilmnick’s cellphone rang, he recalled Tuesday.
His mother, Rosanne, was calling.
"I can now dance at your wedding,” she said, according to Kilmnick, the founder of the LGBT Network, the Long Island advocacy group.
“Over one year later,” he said of the 2012 nuptials, “we had that dance!”
Rosanne Kilmnick died Monday of pneumonia and respiratory failure at Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson. She was 80. Details about her death and life were provided by David Kilmnick.
A homemaker, poll watcher, office manager and bookkeeper, Rosanne raised her three children in Far Rockaway, Queens, before relocating to Valley Stream and most recently to Centereach to live with David and his husband, Robert Vitelli.
“She was a tough woman who did not have a problem telling you how she felt,” David said. “You always knew you were going to get the truth.”
Her hairdresser, Lindsay Lugo of Centereach, recalled how, for years, Rosanne would come in every Saturday for a wash and blow dry and stay and chat in the salon afterward.
“When I would go mix her color up, I would say, ‘OK, I’m going to go mix you up,’ and she would always reply, ‘I’m already mixed up enough,’ and then laugh,” Lugo said. (Rosanne was a blonde who insisted on a hot-pink streak in her hair, Lugo said.)
Rosanne Joan Kilmnick, who went by Ro, was born March 27, 1939, at Women's Hospital in Manhattan, the elder child of Irving Leonescu, a traffic manager for a liquor company, and the former Helen Arkin, who worked for the Queens borough president and as Democratic district leader in the borough’s Rockaway section.
Rosanne, whose family was of Romanian ancestry, was raised in the borough’s Sunnyside section until age 15 and then in Far Rockaway. She graduated from Far Rockaway High School and for a year attended what is now Borough of Manhattan Community College.
She married Philip Kilmnick in 1961. He died in 2002 of a stroke.
Over the past three decades, Rosanne had six heart-bypass surgeries, developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had a pacemaker implanted, renal failure, pneumonia, a hip fracture and the occasional fall.
“A few days ago, she made the decision that she didn't want to go on as she saw and felt what the doctors were telling us,” Kilmnick said Tuesday. “No more prodding, IV lines, dialysis. She was ready to go, and it was on her own terms.”
In addition to her son David, she is survived by two other children, daughter Amy Burte of Oceanside and Steven Kilmnick of Old Bethpage; a sister, Maureen Zone of Smithtown; and three grandchildren.
The funeral is Friday at noon at Star of David Memorial Chapel, with burial to follow at New Montefiore Cemetery.
David Kilmnick, who in 1993 founded what is now the LGBT Network, recalled telling his parents he’s gay two years earlier while running a dorm at what was then called the State University at Stony Brook.
The year before Kilmnick founded his group, 48% of people polled by Gallup thought gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal, compared to 44 % who didn't think so and 8% who had no opinion. Earlier this year, the number was 73% who thought the relations should be legal, 26% who didn't and 2% with no opinion.
“When I came out of the closet, my mother's first reaction was that she wanted me to tell my brother so that the whole family could all be supportive,” he said, adding: “That sense of belief that she imparted on us, that we can achieve anything we want in life, lives on today. … It's one of the most powerful things a parent can give their child, and her belief in me will live on forever.”