There were few days that weren’t cause for celebration in the eyes of Josephine Bonfiglio.
Always prepared with food and decorations, she could make every occasion a special one, whether it was Christmas or a typical Sunday afternoon, her family says.
“She was an absolute saint and I loved her to death,” said her son-in-law, Jerry Corbett. “She was probably one of the greatest cooks in the world. She was just a wonderful woman.”
Josephine Bonfiglio died at 86 on April 15 from complications due to COVID-19.
She was born Aug. 16, 1933, in Brooklyn and grew up in Bushwick with her younger siblings. After graduating from Grover Cleveland High School, she worked as an administrative assistant at New York Telephone and Telegraph, now AT&T.
She married in 1954 and in 1968 she gave birth to her daughter, Karen. The family moved to Glendale when Karen was 3.
A few years later, Bonfiglio went back to work as a bank teller and eventually a supervisor at Ridgewood Savings Bank. Her husband died in 1989.
She retired in the late 1990s and moved to Florida, selling the Glendale house to their now-married daughter, Karen Corbett.
Bonfiglio spent her retirement between Florida and traveling all over the world, Karen Corbett said. She spent six weeks at a time touring countries including Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany.
In 2001, Bonfiglio got a call from Corbett. She was expecting her first child.
“The joke is that I called her to tell her that I was pregnant with Jack and she never even responded. She got on a plane with a bag and rang my doorbell before I was showing and she never left,” Corbett said.
Bonfiglio lived with her daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons until 2012, when she moved into an assisted living facility. She was a part of every stage of her family’s life, moving with them from Glendale to Oceanside.
According to her daughter, Bonfiglio would take her grandsons to all their different activities throughout the day and cooked them whatever they wanted, from baked clams to chicken cutlets to her famous potato croquettes, which were her grandson Joseph’s favorite food.
“She loved being a grandmother more than anything on Earth,” Corbett said.
Bonfiglio had a weekly cooking ritual, her daughter said. On Friday and Saturday, Bonfiglio would gather ingredients from several different stores to be transformed on Sunday into a week’s worth of dishes.
Holidays required similar preparation. Corbett said her mother would begin shopping for occasions six weeks in advance.
“She started Christmas shopping in, you know, July, and she'd be done by October and then from October until Christmas, she'd be decorating and cooking and planning and wrapping. The same thing with Easter … the whole year was a cycle of planned celebrations,” Corbett said.
Throughout the years, Corbett learned to cook traditional Italian dishes by watching her mother, who knew everything off the top of her head. Now, she has a box of index cards full of recipes in addition to a collection of scraps of paper and menus Bonfiglio wrote down.
Bonfiglio’s grandson Joseph recalled the day after his grandmother died, when he and his family were looking through some of the things she left behind. Joseph discovered that his grandmother not only kept lists of ingredients but that she still had letters and drawings he and his brother made for her as children.
“She was just always there for us,” Joseph said. “She just always showed the most love to everybody that ever met her.”
In addition to her daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons, Bonfiglio is survived by her brother, Peter Cucuzza, of Plainview, and her sister, Katherine Lewis, of Spring Hill, Florida.