Frank A. “Diz” LaMonica was remembered Tuesday by several people who know him for his strength and generosity. He died Sunday night at Bassett Healthcare in Cooperstown where he was hospitalized for a broken hip and pneumonia.
He would have turned 102 on Jan. 9. He was born in Oneonta in 1911 to immigrant parents from Palermo, Sicily. He left high school at 17 to help his father with the Frank LaMonica Corp. A series of other businesses followed, including a recreational center and bowling alleys. In 1949, he founded LaMonica Beverages, which is now Northern Eagle Beverages. He served as its president until he retired in 1986.
“Oneonta was very, very important in his life,” said his wife, Jo-Ann LaMonica. “It has been good to him and his family, and he always tried to give back.” He is also survived by his daughter Judith DiMartin; two grandchildren, Tracey Smith, and Frank DiMartin; and three great-grandchildren, Dalton and Dakota Smith and Robert DiMartin. He is predeceased by his first wife, Mona, who died in 1961, and children Michelle and Frank.
His service to the community included serving on the board of directors of the former Wilber National Bank, and numerous other organizations, Jo-Ann LaMonica said. Saint Mary’s school was also very special to him.
She met him in 1964, at the age of 17, when she went to work for his companies. They were married in 1989. After all those years the love was still strong, she said.
“The honor of being Diz’s wife was the best thing that ever happened,” she said. “He encouraged me to be my own person. Throughout my life I hope to continue to make him proud of me.”
Hartwick College named LaMonica its Citizen of the Year in 1989. Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller and the Common Council proclaimed Jan. 9, 2011, as “Diz LaMonica Day.”
Miller, who came to Oneonta as the Hartwick College president in 2003, said he got to know LaMonica because he sat near him at Oneonta Tigers baseball games. He was “emblematic” of the generation of Oneonta residents from various ethnic backgrounds that are community-oriented people. There was no pretence. “A little bit of Oneonta is carved out with his passing.” People like LaMonica, and his wife Jo-Ann, give Oneonta the “warmth” that makes it a special place, Miller said. “There isn’t anybody to fill his shoes.”
Retired St. Mary’s Church Rev. Joseph Benintende will officiate at the funeral mass to be held there 11 a.m. on Saturday. Friends may call on the family at the Walnut Street church from 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday. Burial will be in the spring in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Emmons.
Benintende said that he knew LaMonica for at least 20 years. “He was a good friend.” He was a man of “strength” who went out of his way to help people out. When asked for an example, Benintende said LaMonica “did not like to too his own horn.” Instead, “it was done quietly with a sense of generosity.” Although he was going to turn 102, he never withdrew from life. He still maintained his strength and determination. “He knew God was helping him” and all Benintende had to do was call and LaMonica was ready to help. “Hopefully he inspired others to continue his good work.”