Tribute to Ernest Vigliotta

Screenshot_2016-12-07-11-19-33As I was making calls about Dad’s passing, and there were many, I was so struck by the fact that no matter who it was, they just broke down and cried. I had to take breaks just to get more tissues. Even more striking was that the emotion was always followed by a story about what Dad did for them, and what he meant to them; everything from “He gave me this prayer card, or book. He took me to breakfast when he knew I was struggling with this, or that. He visited me at home, or the hospital. He invited me over for dinner, made me laugh, gave me a ride. He made me feel included, helped me to get back to church, helped me reconcile with this one, or that one.” On more than one occasion he actually took the shirt “right off his back” and gave it to someone who said they liked it.
As one of fifteen children, Ernie came into this world on December 11, 1924, as his grandmother slid a pillow under his mom while she was washing dishes in the kitchen. From that day on, Ernie was ready for anything. He began as a son and brother, and then friend to all around him. He became a Marine, and then this robust Italian man met and fell in love with a beautiful Irish songbird, Philomena Mitchell. The smartest thing Dad ever did in this world was marry Mom. They became parents to seven children (Maria, John, Paul, Joan, Margaret, Angela and Theresa.)
Whether you knew him as a husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, son, brother, uncle, friend, business partner, neighbor, or fellow parishioner, in some way, he touched our lives, and made them better. Ernie wore many hats. If you knew him as a father, you had a huge fort in your back yard, complete with a tower and a dungeon. You also had a giant doll house in that same yard, big enough to fit an entire family. You had dogs, cats, boat rides, bike rides, camping trips, and fun-filled K of C conventions twice a year. If you were one of his daughters, you still rode with Dad in the limo to the church on your wedding day, even though you lived across the street. For all those times you might have felt like saying “No,” but you said “Yes” instead, because you knew how much it meant, Thanks Dad. As a partner with his brothers and his father in the duck farming business, he became responsible for the day to day operation of their three farms and tree moving company, while serving as Chairman of the Board for the Agway Feed Company for eighteen years. If you knew him from the farm, then you know he was never afraid to get his hands dirty. Chances are you probably found him digging trenches, or driving a tractor, or wearing knee high boots, and smelling like ducks. If you knew him as an uncle, you either have memories of flashlight tag in his backyard with a sea full of cousins, or you knew him as the man that opened his home to your family during your struggle through a difficult time, giving meaning to the words, “Knock, and the door will be opened.” That Christmas was the most magical, messy, beautiful, crazy season of mayhem ever, if you were lucky enough to be there.
If you knew him from Shrine of our Lady of the Island, you probably know he was right there, in the middle of the construction, and on that beautiful day, as the statue of Mary and Jesus was hoisted up onto the top of the rock, when he, together with his family, made the dream of his father, Cresenzo Vigliotta, come true.
If you knew him from Rock Hill, you know that there was a reason he remained president for so many years. Everyone would agree it was because people trusted his leadership, and because he had an uncanny way of mixing his business skills with his incredible heart of friendship. What a perfect combination that was. Recently we’d hear him say, “The car drives itself to Rock Hill now.” I know they will all miss him up there.
If you knew him from the K of C, you know there was a good reason he was Grand Knight, District Deputy of four councils, State Chairman, Director of the Nassau/Suffolk Chapter, and Chairman during the building phase of the hall on Frowein Road. He knew how to get things done, and how to get everyone involved.
If you knew him from St. John’s Church, you know he was instrumental in the building of its Catholic school, food pantry, renovation of the Red Barn, and the expansion of the thrift shop. He was President of the finance committee, and chairman of several church committees, including the spring dances, church bazaars, Eucharistic Adoration, and the new church building campaign. As host of the annual St. John’s golf outings, he raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for St. John’s parish over a period of twenty-five years. Whether it was the church, school, convent, or rectory, every facet of this parish has an imprint of Dad on it. Jesus said to Peter, “If you love me, feed my sheep, and tend to my flock.” We watched as Dad extended his hand of hospitality to every priest and nun who came to this parish. If you were a priest, you might have been unknowingly drinking from a dribble glass during a spaghetti dinner, or a Scrabble game, and if you were a nun, you were either being taught how to drive, playing cards at the house, or getting the “scare” treatment on Halloween night by Dad in a costume mask. He was the first one called when an issue came up, or an important decision needed to be made. He was the “go to” guy. He brought out the best in people, and knew how to be a good listener. He made you want to be a good person, leading by example how to reach out to people, whether they were lonely, hurting, sick, homebound, disabled, elderly, homeless, poor, whether it was a friend, or a stranger. He lived out the beatitudes, giving with everything he had, from his wallet to his garden.
If you were any one of his thirty grandchildren, or twenty-something great-grandchildren, you were shown, by example, that it is better to give than to receive, and how to become a peacemaker.
If you were anyone who knew him, you might have witnessed his laughing box going off accidently on the communion line, or you may have seen him trying to handle his very rambunctious invisible dog, Luigi. You may have heard him ask “Are you married yet?” “When are you two going to have another baby?” “Did you go to Mass?”
If you were me you often heard him say, in the middle of a department store, “Hey Ang, go over there and pretend you’re a mannequin; let’s see what the shoppers do.” The biggest challenge was just trying to keep a straight face. You would also be ever humbled by the opportunity to live next door to him, getting a daily reminder of what an awesome man he was. Dad taught us how to laugh, how to cry, how to live, and how to die. If success is measured by the difference one makes in people’s lives, then he was very successful. As Mom lay beside him, holding his hand, I held him while he took his last breath on this earth. As I tried to guide him with words of comfort, a little tear fell from his eye, which said everything. He felt everything, gave everything, and loved everyone. As he passed from this world to the next, I could almost hear Jesus say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come now into the joy of your Master’s Kingdom.” Heaven just got a little more…Fun.

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