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Janet Marsala of Nesconset: Always smiling, she made moments count

Janet Marsala died three days after her 76th

Janet Marsala died three days after her 76th birthday from the coronavirus. Credit: Marsala Family

Whether walking through the cobblestone streets of Italy or concocting her signature Thanksgiving stuffing, Janet Marsala made each moment count.

She was known for her love of food, holidays and family. 

“She was always smiling,” said Marsala's daughter Joanne Bernabeo, of Smithtown. “She liked to laugh, she liked to eat, she liked to cook and she liked to travel.”

Janet Marsala died April 30 from complications due to COVID-19, three days after her 76th birthday. She was buried at Smithtown Cemetery on May 4. 

She was born April 27, 1944, in the Bronx. When her father returned from fighting in World War II in 1946, the family moved to temporary housing for soldiers in the Castle Hill neighborhood, eventually moving again to the Pelham Bay area. 

In 1954, the family moved to Bethpage, where Marsala attended Bethpage High School. There, she took business classes and learned secretarial skills. After graduating in 1961, Marsala worked for Look Magazine, followed by Grumman Aerospace.   

Marsala got married in 1964, settling in Nesconset to raise three children, Joanne, Peter and Christine. Joanne Bernabeo recalled trips to Disney World, Lake George, Hershey Park and the family’s second home in the Catskills, where they would spend summers and school vacations.

Marsala also got the chance to visit Italy on several occasions. 

“She loved everything about Rome. She loved the food, she loved the churches,” Bernabeo said. 

In 1981, Marsala went back to work, starting in the financial aid office at Stony Brook University before joining the Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip in 1987. After retiring in 2006, Marsala continued to travel and went on trips to Aruba, Las Vegas, Florida and many other spots with her friends and sister. 

Marsala organized Texas Hold 'em tournaments at the 55-and-older community in St. James where she lived following her divorce. She shared her love for cards with her sister, stemming back to when the two of them would play poker with their parents. When Marsala moved to an assisted living facility in 2015, she frequently played bingo and participated in an adult education program that included lectures, a book club and movie screenings.

According to her daughter Christine Sposato, when Marsala wasn’t socializing, she could be found watching classic TV shows such as "Criminal Minds," "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Golden Girls." When her grandchildren were young, she also enjoyed taking them out to the movies and bowling, as well as watching their dance recitals and other school activities. 

Marsala had a sweet tooth, Bernabeo said, and could not say no to a Snickers bar or a Hershey’s chocolate bar with almonds. Whenever she stopped by one of her children’s houses for dinner, she would bring her grandkids a treat from Dunkin’ Donuts or an Entenmann’s crumb cake.

And she even made sweets herself. She baked cookies and melted chocolate into candy molds for Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day. One specialty was “the snowball,” a Christmas treat created with walnuts and rolled in confectioner sugar. The desserts complemented the vast array of Italian dishes that headlined every holiday and family dinner. 

“Her meatballs were probably the best meatballs you would have ever had,” Bernabeo said. 

Marsala also made her signature steamed artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, cheese and garlic. 

“That's something that I make now, and I make her stuffing, you know, trying to follow in those footsteps,” Bernabeo said. “I started writing down those recipes for future generations.”

Besides her daughters, Marsala is survived by her son Peter Marsala of East Islip; sons-in-law Jim, of Smithtown, and Tom, of East Moriches; her sister Loretta Howard and brother-in-law Larry of North Carolina; six grandchildren; and eight nieces and nephews.

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