07/09/1937 - 07/13/2023
Obituary For Charles LaGanga
By Claire M. Regan / For Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - It was easy to spot him across a crowded ballroom.
Wearing a custom-made pinstriped suit, monogrammed shirt, silk tie with matching pocket square and a little bling on his right ring finger, Charles LaGanga was always among the best-dressed on the guest list at fundraisers across the borough.
A tuft of silver hair, grown a little longer in the back, and an aversion to socks, added to his head-to-toe signature look.
But the lifelong Staten Islander offered plenty of substance to complement his suave style, said friends and family who are mourning his death Thursday in Staten Island University Hospital, just a few days after his 86th birthday. He was a community champion, they said, always ready to protect, preserve and promote the hometown borough he loved.
He was a steady activist with the Iron Hills Civic Association, working on issues impacting his neighborhood of Todt Hill and surrounding areas. He partnered with longtime friend Dr. Mohammad Khalid on projects ranging from a fight to preserve Chapin Woods and Last Chance Pond, to their work with the Staten Island Friends of Hospice Care and Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta School in West Brighton.
“Charlie had such a big heart,” said Dr. Khalid. “He was always there for Staten Island.”
“Charlie was a one-of-a-kind, gregarious, sometimes larger-than-life individual,” said Borough President Vito J. Fossella. “He always seemed to be dedicated to doing good for his friends and the community.”
DONGAN HILLS ROOTS
Sebastian Charles LaGanga was born on July 9, 1937 in the original Staten Island Hospital on Castleton Avenue, the only child of William LaGanga, who emigrated from Sicily, and the former Rose Iandorio of New Brighton.
He grew up on Cromwell Avenue in Dongan Hills and attended nearby PS 11, where he was elected president of his eighth-grade class. He served as an altar boy and an usher at his neighborhood parish, St. Ann’s.
After graduating from St. Peter’s Boys High School in 1955, he studied business at Fordham University and Wagner College.
He cherished memories of an idyllic childhood.
“How special was it for me growing up?” Mr. LaGanga once rhetorically asked an Advance reporter. “There was the grapevine in the backyard and the inevitable fig tree and the garden that provided fresh vegetables for a good part of the year.” He remembered drawing water from a hand pump and playing stickball in the street.
He started work at 19, landing a job as a page on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange that would lead to a six-decade career in finance. After working part-time for two summers, he began full-time employment, holding down a variety of positions with a number of Wall Street firms.
He rose to assistant vice president with Drexel Burnham Lambert and later worked at Janney Montgomery Scott. At the time of his death, he was serving as director of business development for R.F. Lafferty & Co.
“Charlie will be remembered not just for the way he carried himself, but for how he treated other people,” said Henry Hackel of Lafferty brokerage firm. “On Wall Street, he was respected one thousand and one percent.”
His popularity at the Stock Exchange could be attributed to the greeting he often gave colleagues. Amid the clamor of bells and shouts to buy or sell, Mr. LaGanga was known to give his male coworkers a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek.
He traced his customary salutation to his Sicilian background.
“I’ve been greeting people this way since I could remember seeing my grandfather Sebastian do the same in his Concord home,” he once explained. “You’re showing a sign of respect to the man you are greeting. A kiss and an embrace exude feelings of honesty and warm affection.”
But his deep affection was showered on Ann Marinello, his partner of 46 years whom he met during morning commutes on the ferry to Manhattan. She enjoyed hearing about his community work and offered to get involved. Their first date was, appropriately, a fundraising dinner-danceat the former Pavilion on the Terrace in New Brighton.
Mr. LaGanga embraced Ms. Marinello’s two daughters and their growing families as his own.
“He was always a cheerleader,” she said wistfully. “He wanted people to be their very best.”
Mr. LaGanga didn’t miss the chance to be part of history when the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge opened on Nov. 21, 1964. He and his friend, the late Joseph Sciacca, also a community stalwart, were in the first cars that drove over the bridge. At a Staten Island Museum fundraiser, he recalled the thrill.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” Mr. LaGanga said. “We partied all night and just about till when we had to be at the ceremony. It was an amazing thing to be present for its completion and then to be driving across it all these years.”
In the finished basement of Mr. LaGanga’s Todt Hill home, a gallery of portraits, plaques, photos, awards and framed newspaper clippings summarizes a life of service above self.
Reflecting a penchant for helping children, he earned a Lifetime Achievement Liberty Medal in 2008 for organizing 33 volunteers and securing building materials to construct a bedroom extension for a Staten Island child with cerebral palsy.
He partnered with Dr. Khalid to establish a Child Advocacy Center in the former convent of St. Peter’s R.C. Church, New Brighton. He supported the Staten Island Children’s Campaign and was chairman of the board for the Hard of Hearing/Visually Impaired Children on Staten Island.
In 1998, he earned a community service award from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.And in recognition of his Italian ancestry, he received a 2004 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which he proudly wore on his lapel.
His was always ready to pitch in, even with unexpected requests. Vienna Profeta, former senior vice president for development at Eger Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, recalled taking advantage of a chance encounter with Mr. LaGanga in 1983 at the former Mauro’s restaurant in New Dorp Beach.
Ms. Profeta knew Mr. LaGanga from St. Ann’s parish, and approached his table with a request to help establish the Staten Island Friends of Hospice Care, bringing together two hospice programs already in place.
“The only way I know I can make it successful is with you by my side,” she told him.
“Count me in,” he quickly replied.
The foundation would go on to fund the Addeo Hospice Residence, located on the Eger Health Care grounds in Egbertville.
“That is a big part of Charlie’s legacy,” Ms. Profeta reflected.
Mr. LaGanga enjoyed rubbing elbows with influencers and public figures that included Robert Kennedy, Michael Bloomberg, George Pataki, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Sheldon Silver,always securing a photo with them to add to the gallery.
He also enjoyed a good cigar, following the Yankees and keeping up with current events.
But he was laser-focused on a mission to help his Staten Island neighbors.
“I’m a person who cares for other people,” he once reflected. “Although I realize you can’t live in a Utopia, I want the best for everyone. I want to make a difference in people’s lives. If I can’t, I will have at least tried.”
SURVIVORS AND ARRANGEMENTS
In addition to Ann Marinello, his partner, Mr. LaGanga is survived by her two daughters, Joann Masi (Bill) and Maryanne Mezzacappa (Anthony); five grandchildren, Stephanie and Dana Masiand Jenna, Taylor and Alexa Mezzacappa; and two great-grandchildren, Eva Rose Francisco and Mackenzie Short.
A wake will be held on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Hanley Funeral Home, New Dorp. A funeral Mass will be held Monday at 10 a.m. in St. Ann’s R.C. Church, Dongan Hills. Monsignor William Belford, pastor of St. Teresa’s R.C. Church, Castleton Corners, will officiate. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp.
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