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Flora Spinosa of Bethpage: Hairdresser for the Rockettes, seamstress

Flora Spinosa twice entered a convent to train

Flora Spinosa twice entered a convent to train to become a nun. She left both times and eventually got married and raised a family. Credit: Dimitri Vassilakopoulos

Flora Spinosa was a strong woman.

“She was a really, really tough cookie — she didn’t take anything from anybody,’’ her daughter, Caroline Vassilakopoulos, said. “She was in Pennsylvania visiting her brother, and she heard a rattlesnake. And she picked up a shovel and she killed it.’’

Spinosa, of Bethpage, was a religious woman, devoted to her Catholic faith, who twice entered a convent to become a nun. She left both times, and decided to take a different path, eventually getting married and having a family she raised on Long Island.

Flora Spinosa died on April 18, at St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage at age 98. The cause of her death was related to COVID-19, her daughter said.

She was born on March 21, 1922, in Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, the second of five children to parents Giacomo and Adelina Cannella, who had moved there from Brooklyn. The family moved to Amantea, Italy, a couple of years after Flora was born, but moved back to the United States when she was 6, shortly after Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy.

Spinosa grew up in Johnsonburg, and at age 17 entered St. Joseph’s Convent in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. She left there and returned home, and then joined another convent, Sisters of St. Joseph, in Erie, Pennsylvania.

When she left there, her father sent her to live with an aunt in Brooklyn, where she trained to become a hairdresser. She became a hairdresser for the Rockettes and met her husband, Alfredo “Fred’’ Spinosa, on a blind date. They married and moved first to Corona, Queens, and then to Bethpage, in 1965. Fred was a bartender and Flora worked from home as a hairdresser and a seamstress.

Her granddaughter, Antonia Lemay, said her grandmother would always have fresh food when they came to visit. And she remembers the night when she went out to celebrate her birthday with her friends, and her grandmother came along.

“It was a ‘girls night,’ and she was like, ‘I’m coming, too!' ’’ Lemay said of her grandmother. “We were in a bar, people in their 20s and 30s, and everybody was drawn to my grandma. We were dancing, she was dancing, and everybody was taking pictures with her.’’

Flora Spinosa was predeceased by her husband, Alfredo, in 1984, and her son, Alfredo Jr., in 2012. She is survived by her daughter, Caroline Vassilakopoulos, of North Miami Beach, Florida; a brother, Carmen Cannella,  of St. Marys, Pennsylvania; her sister, and Tecla Pontious, of Ridgway, Pennsylvania, and four grandchildren.

Services were held April 24 at Arthur F. White Funeral Home in Farmingdale. She was buried at Calverton National Cemetery.