Peggy Tomasicchio didn’t let disappointment define her life when she found out she couldn’t have children of her own after marrying in 1971.
Instead, the Stony Brook woman turned her desire to parent into a vocation that helped dozens of the neediest children on Long Island. Her family said she fostered more than 60 youngsters and then adopted 10 of them in her lifetime.
Tomasicchio died Jan. 26 while hospitalized following a battle with pneumonia and the coronavirus after struggling for several years with respiratory problems, her family said. She was 79.
Tomasicchio leaves behind a legacy of mothering that touched countless people’s lives after she opened her heart and home to dozens of foster children in Suffolk County, said her son Matt Tomasicchio, 53, of Berwyn, Pennsylvania.
"She was a force of nature," he said of the woman who first adopted him and his sister after marrying their widowed father, Michael Tomasicchio.
He was an auditor for Suffolk County and later died in 1989 at age 53 after suffering a heart attack.
But in their nearly two-decade marriage, the couple fostered more than a dozen children together. They created an extended brood in their Stony Brook rancher where Peggy Tomasicchio — who later kept fostering on her own — "made us feel that we were all of one family," Matt Tomasicchio said in a eulogy at her funeral service.
Born on Oct. 22, 1941 as Margaret Louise "Peggy" Hart, she grew up in Oceanside before earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego and a master’s degree from Hofstra University, according to her family.
She became an educator, teaching elementary school students for nearly two decades in the Fire Island school district before later helping to create programs in the Three Village school district for preschoolers with disabilities, relatives said.
Tomasicchio also won national recognition for her fostering work in 2003 when she accepted a Congressional Angels in Adoption Award, her son Matt said.
"That was a proud moment when she felt recognized for that," he added.
In Suffolk County, Peggy Tomasicchio became president of an advisory council for foster parents. She also helped Suffolk develop its training program for new foster parents, Newsday reported in 2003.
That was the year Tomasicchio decided to retire from fostering, saying in an interview then that it had given her "an unbelievable family." But one of her adopted children said recently that Tomasicchio’s retirement didn’t last and she went on to foster more youngsters.
Some also recalled in particular how Tomasicchio believed in taking in and even adopting siblings so the children wouldn’t be split into different homes.
Tomasicchio drove a mini-van, trekked to a big box store every couple of weeks to stock up on groceries and kept a chart on the refrigerator to track the children’s chores — awarding stickers for finished jobs, recalled her daughter, Shantashia Tomasicchio, 28, of Stony Brook.
Dinnertime was when Tomasicchio made sure the children got an opportunity to be heard as the family gathered, said another daughter, Danielle Tomasicchio, 42, also of Stony Brook.
"We talked about a good thing and a bad thing about our day," she recalled.
During rare downtime, Tomasicchio did crossword puzzles and watched her favorite soap operas, "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful," according to her family.
For decades, the answering machine at Tomasicchio’s home had different versions of a message that told callers they’d reached "the old lady who lives in a shoe" and that she and children "have so much that we do."
It was a light-hearted reference to an old nursery rhyme Tomasicchio thought fit her life, her daughter Shantashia said.
Some of Tomasicchio’s children said she could be strong-willed or stubborn at times. But she also had "that smile that made you feel special," said her daughter Danielle.
"It is what I miss right now," she added, trying not to cry.
Besides her 12 children, Peggy Tomasicchio’s survivors include 17 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Family held her funeral Feb. 5 at Saints Philip & James Church in St. James before her burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.