Josephine Schanel, a longtime resident of Patchogue, died in Florida in...

Josephine Schanel, a longtime resident of Patchogue, died in Florida in December. Credit: Ashley Ambroise

At some point during her telephone conversations with her grandchildren, Josephine Schanel would sing them a few lines of the 1930s favorite tune "You Are My Sunshine."

The melody was actually very apt, considering Schanel’s sunny disposition, family members said.

"She was always smiling, always happy, I don’t think she yelled at me in her entire life," her granddaughter, Ashley Ambroise, of Coram, recalled in a telephone interview.

Josephine Schanel died on December 23, on her 87th birthday in Florida of complications from the coronavirus.

Schanel spent most her life in Patchogue until she moved to Florida in 2000, settling in the Delray Beach area, her family said.

Despite that distance, Schanel would make frequent calls to Long Island to speak with her five grandchildren and five great grandchildren, Ambroise said.

On visits back to New York, Schanel indulged in a favorite pastime: casino visits. And she always won, Ambroise said.

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After her husband Frank Schanel passed away in Florida in 2009, Josephine continued making frequent trips to Long Island, particularly around the Christmas holiday and family birthdays, her granddaughter remembered.

But this past Christmas turned into a time of sadness as Josephine became stricken with the coronavirus in November.

At first, Schanel recovered and was able to be released from hospital, Ambroise said. But then Schanel became sick again even after testing negative for the virus and had to be readmitted to hospital her family said.

Because of pandemic restrictions, her family managed to communicate through social media and in the final call it was her great granddaughters, Ariana and Aubree, who sang to Schanel her song "You Are My Sunshine." Despite the fatigue, Schanel managed a laugh as the two sang the tune, Ambroise said.

"My grandmother was timeless,"Ambroise said in an email message. "The issue with timelessness is that it stands the test of time, it’s never ending. I felt that way about my grandmother’s life."

What particularly stands out about Schanel was her positive attitude and warmth, as well as her interest in her grandchildren and great grandchildren, her family said. She was also an avid collector of teapots, with her favorite color being orange, her granddaughter said.

Despite the loss of her grandmother, Ambroise has reason every day to remember her. Ambroise kept a card from Schanel which contained the words "Love You." Ambroise took the letter to a tattoo parlor and had the words in her grandmother’s handwriting inked on her right wrist.

In addition to Ambroise, Schanel is survived by her daughter, Suzanne Benedetto of Stony Brook and Florida, son Ronald Smalling of New York, brother Eugene Rossetti of Tennesse, as well as a total of five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. She also had a number of stepchildren, stepgrandchildren and stepgreat grandchildren. Her earlier marriage to Dominick George Smalling ended with his accidental death in 1961. Sister Bernice and brother Carl predeceased her.

A funeral service was held last month in her home state and a Long Island memorial service is planned for sometime in the summer, her family said.

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