ESTHER (LEONE) BARRA’S OBITUARY
Esther Nunziata Barra was born in New York City in 1927 to Italian parents, Maria and Antonio Leone. She was the fourth of eight children and grew up in Bayside, Queens. Against the advice of her parents, she quit high school in order to work as a seamstress at Kent’s, a clothing cleaning store in Whitestone. Sewing was her passion and as a child, won a tiny bronze medallion in a local sewing competition. She kept that medal in her jewelry box for over 80 years.
It wasn’t long before Esther became a slave to fashion. Fiercely protective of her wardrobe, Esther’s clothes were off-limits to her four sisters. Period photographs of her during the 1940s depict an impeccably dressed teenager complete with a pastel colored fascinator and high heels.
Esther met the love of her life on a double date with her cousin, Rosebud in the early 1950s. Carl was a slender WWII veteran with dark hair and deep brown eyes. Rosebud was dating Carl’s best friend Pat and the couple thought that the two would get along nicely. Several years later they were married in a “football” wedding where they stayed up late the night before making salami sandwiches. While honeymooning in Florida, Esther made sure to make a fashion statement, donning a two-piece bikini by the pool.
Esther first became a mother in August of 1957 and again in 1960. The early 60s were a busy time for the young couple. Carl established himself as an expert typesetter at a relatively new newspaper named Newsday. He made the daily commute to Garden City while Esther made meatballs for the family business, an Italian deli in Huntington Station. During this time, Esther perfected her talent for making home-made manicotti and cheese cake.
A move to Dix Hills in 1972 brought new opportunities. Esther, then in her 40’s, took up walking, then jogging, then running. Soon she was competing in local road races. In one race, she competed in the mile and proudly came home with a shiny first place ribbon. However, the call to education was always lurking in the background. As her children reached adolescence, Esther decided it was time to take care of unfinished business. She studied for the GED and after two attempts, successfully earned her high school diploma. Having achieved her initial goal, her family thought she was finished with school; but it was not to be. Much to the surprise of her husband, she enrolled in the evening program at SUNY Farmingdale and graduated in 1983 with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education.
With her newly minted diploma, Esther worked in the Dix Hills School District as a teacher’s assistant. Helping young children learn their three R’s is where Esther found her life’s work. Returning from work each day, she would share dinner-time stories of “her kids” with Carl and her “other” children. It was also during this era that Esther checked off another task on her Bucket-List: Tap-Dancing. At age 64, Esther studied at a local dance studio, donned a tutu and tapped in front of a live audience to the popular rhythm & blues tune, Kansas City.
The years ticked by and soon Esther and Carl were ready for retirement. Leaving the old family nest on Woods End Drive was an easy adjustment, as building a new home in the Leisure Glen retirement village became their new full-time hobby. Esther shopped, shopped again and then shopped some more. Her life companion took it in stride, realizing that her new hobby made her happy. They soon found a close circle of friends and settled in for their golden years. During her time at Leisure Glen, Esther joined the American Legion Auxiliary as its Chaplin and produced several plays for the “Theatre at the Glen”.
Retirement also brought the thrill of travel to a couple who rarely left the confines of Long Island. She and Carl flew to Florence, Italy to visit the gravesite of Orlando, Esther’s beloved brother who died during WWII in October 1944. They traveled to Hawaii and other, less exotic places like Disney World and Boston.
Sadly, Esther was widowed in 2002. Following a long and emotional recuperation, and with the help of dear friends Judy and Rose, she once again found her social footing. She hosted tea-parties in her back yard and celebrated with friends at Eastwind, a local catering hall owned by her nephew, Kenny. In her elder years, she worked there as a coat check. As a self-proclaimed expert, was never shy to inform guests exactly what she thought of their apparel. Occasionally, she would work as a wedding “Greeter”, assisting guests celebrate their big day. Weddings were always special to Esther as she sought to relive her own special day with Carl, her husband of 49 years.
Ultimately, the demons of dementia robbed her of the memories she dearly cherished. Esther will always be remembered as a loving woman who cared deeply for those around her. Despite her long battle with Alzheimer’s, she could nevertheless charm a room of unfamiliar care-givers. Her trademark eye-blinking and practice of never being without a washcloth in her pocketbook are legendary. She was a lover of all things elephant and an avid fan of the porcelain figures from Dickens’ Christmas Village; a collection which over the years, has grown to the size of a small metropolitan city.
On the morning of August 15, 2018, Esther left us to join her husband Carl, her parents, Maria and Antonio, her brothers, Orlando and Bobby, her sister Marie, her brothers-in-law, Al, Sam, Ben & Eddie, and sister-in-law Gail. We love to think of them sitting around a heavenly table eating ziti (with the lines) and chicken cutlets (sliced thin-thin-thin), all while she vacuums as they eat, making sure to pick up their plates before the next “intercourse” is served.
She leaves behind a sad cadre of friends and family, including her daughter DonnaMarie, her son Joseph Anthony, his wife Phyllis and grandsons Joseph Carmine and Daniel Francis. She likewise leaves a void in the hearts of her sisters Ida, Helen & Flo, her brother Pasquale, sister-in-law Diane and numerous nieces and nephews, her friends Rose and Judy and the staff at Golden Pond Assisted Living.
There is a viewing on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 7:00 pm at the Alexander-Rothwell Funeral Home located at 6447 Route 25A, Wading River, NY 11792. A Funeral Mass will be held at St. Marks Parish, 105 Randall Road Shoreham, NY 11786-9417 on Saturday, August 18, 2018 at 9:30 am, with burial to immediately follow at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Huntington Rd, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724.
In furtherance of her love for children’s education and in lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in her name be made to www.donorschoose.org a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation that provides school supplies for needy classrooms.