Remembering the lives of those who died from the coronavirus

One of the many things this pandemic has taken from us is the chance to comfort the grieving. For now, at least, we can’t attend a funeral Mass or gravesite, or visit the homes of friends and family members who’ve suddenly, shockingly lost someone they loved. As of Monday, there were 19,415 coronavirus-related deaths in New York state, as many as 13,536 of them from NYC alone. In New Jersey, there have been as many as 7,910 fatalities and at least 2,495 in Connecticut.

The plague doesn’t discriminate. In the past three weeks, it’s taken firefighters and social workers, Holocaust survivors and classic-car collectors, doctors and drag performers, parents and priests. Each will be missed.

In time, we’ll be able to hug one another again. For now, all we can do is recall their lives through the eyes of those who’ve known them best: family, friends and colleagues.

Rabbi Hershel Scheiner, 80, Crown Heights

Rabbi Scheiner, who died March 29, had two great loves: his family and his devotion to Judaism.

And sometimes, as it did more than 30 years ago, when his son Shuey begged to go to a Yankees game, the two loves converged. The rabbi, Shuey and Shuey’s twin sister, Chanie, were sitting in the bleachers when they saw their father pull out a Torah.

“I wanted to die,” Shuey recalls. “You’re in the bleachers, you’re next to a guy drinking beer and my father’s sitting down learning Torah.”

But even with his eyes on the scripture, the father of four also kept his mind on the game, which the Yankees won that day.

“Every time there was a home run, he jumped up,” says Shuey, recalling how the rabbi slapped his kids five, and jumped up and down to celebrate when the team won. “He did it [because] he knew how much it meant to us … He was the best father you could have.”

Scheiner, who went on to have 16 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, studied in a Chabad Lubavitch yeshiva in Brooklyn, and stayed dedicated to the movement for life. Even when Parkinson’s disease slowed him down the past several years, he went to the synagogue daily to study with his Torah class. In December, when Shuey’s son Dani had his bar mitzvah, Scheiner still wanted to celebrate.

“We held him by the hand,” Shuey says, “and he was able to dance with my son.”

Gerry Genuino, 58, Fair Lawn, NJ

Google Gerry Genuino’s name and you’ll read about how, when he saw a truck on fire on a busy road last October, he pulled his school bus over, ran out with a fire extinguisher and put out the blaze.

Then he leaped back into the bus and got his students safely home and on-time from their field trip.

But the longtime bus driver, whose April 22 passing Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged in last Friday’s news conference, was more than a good Samaritan. Those who knew him best recall a cheerful, can-do colleague; a devoted husband and father, and a man whom Fair Lawn schools superintendent Nick Norcia calls “an integral part of our community.” He says that when Genuino leapt from his bus on Route 208 that day to put out the fire, rather than wait for the police to do it, he was wearing his pink, Fair Lawn “Tackle Cancer” T-shirt. “If that doesn’t sum [him] up,” Norcia says, “I don’t know what does.”

Lori Roccanova, who worked with Genuino for 13 years, says he was the one you’d call if you needed something fixed in your house — someone who, after he did you a favor, insisted it was no big deal.

He wore shorts nearly all the time, told corny jokes and loved food. “From driving around, he always knew the best fast-food places and bakeries in the area,” Roccanova says. “When he took the younger classes to the farm for pumpkins or apples, he’d bring back [treats] for everyone. We’d be eating apple-cider doughnuts for a week!”

She says he was especially loved by the special-education community. “He knew every student’s name and was always eager to engage with them,” she says. “All the special-ed kids knew Gerry.”

He came by that naturally, says his wife, Mary Jane: Their younger daughter is autistic, and every time she crawled into bed with them, “Gerry would move to the end of the bed and let her use him as a foot rest.”

Without being asked, he mowed their elderly neighbor’s lawn and shoveled the snow off her steps and driveway. And when Mary Jane, a nurse, wanted to return to school for a teaching degree, her husband was all in. “He never asked how we’d pay for it, how we’d handle the kids,” says the mother of two. “He cooked, he did the laundry, he did everything …

“And he never left the house without saying, ‘Goodbye! Love you!’ ”

Jeffery Seneca, 64, Pleasantville, NY

“He was a person defined by his hobbies,” Christopher Seneca says of his father, who passed away April 17. “He worked most of his life in logistics, but music and photography were the passions he pursued all his life.”

That life began in upstate New York, where Jeff Seneca and his brother, Drew, taught themselves how to play guitar. In the ’70s, they toured the US together, playing and singing original music. It was while performing at the Colonial Tavern in Hawthorne, NY, on Feb. 4, 1978, that Seneca met his future wife, Christine. Their sons Christopher and Jeffery Jr. grew up in a home where Seneca kept a truck and a tractor he used to help their neighbors.

“When it snowed, he plowed everybody’s driveway,” Christopher says. “And our neighbors say that anytime they had to move something, he’d help.”

In the last 25 years, Seneca became an avid birder and wildlife photographer. “Almost every weekend, he’d get up before sunup and drive four or five hours trailing rare and unusual birds, and started documenting them with photos,” Christopher says. “We’d be driving somewhere, and he’d see a bird and pull over. ‘Oh, that’s a red-tailed hawk!’ And we’d say, ‘C’mon, Dad, let’s go …

“Even before he passed, I’d see something in the sky, and know what it was. It drives my wife nuts, but it helps us remember him.”

Alex Weir, 65, Staten Island

“I’m surrounded by idiots,” Alex Weir liked to say, echoing a line from “The Lion King.” But underneath that faux-grumpy facade lay a good and generous heart.

“He was one of the most selfless individuals I’ve ever been around my entire life,” says Tommy Donegal, who assisted him with the Moore Catholic High School girls’ varsity soccer team, which Weir coached for nearly 25 years. “He’d go into his own pocket to pay for cleats and shin guards or a child’s sports fee, and he’d never tell anyone about it. I knew, because I did the paperwork.”

Weir, who died April 12, came by his love for the sport early: His father, also named Alex, was a soccer Hall of Famer. Even before the longtime steamfitter retired, the father of three and grandfather of four coached children’s sports — that is, when he wasn’t running the show at the Knights of Columbus’ Staten Island Council.

“He ran just about everything,” says Bill Seacrest, who calls himself Weir’s “right-hand man” at the Knights. “Food-basket deliveries, events — anything that had to do with the Knights.”

Weir continued volunteering, even as he made his way back after surgery for liver cancer 19 months ago. “He liked giving back to the community,” says his wife, Nancy.

Given the outpouring of affection since his death, Weir’s love for his community was mutual. Says Seacrest: “He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Gianmarco Bertolotti, 42, Queens

Monique Bertolotti recalls her brother, who grew up on Long Island, loved everything about New Orleans and worked at Lenox Hill Hospital before he passed away April 22.

“Gianmarco loved deeply, smiled often and had no enemies. He was unique and pure and a really good listener. He loved his father’s cooking and he loved to cook. And he was adventurous, trying new and often pretty disgusting delicacies. ‘Anybody want to share the fried crickets?‘ he’d ask. ‘No!’ But he’d get it anyway.

“We’d often go to New Orleans together, a place that encompasses everything my brother loved: music, food, good people. We wanted to buy something down there one day, and be snow birds. We grew up in West Hempstead but both of us moved to Queens, because that’s where our grandparents lived. I remember how Gianmarco would run to my grandmother, holding her hand and offering support for her to walk: He was 6-foot-2, and she was under 5 feet.

“His apartment in Astoria was his pride and joy. He renovated the whole thing himself, with friends and family, except for the bathroom. That was going to be his next project.

“He was good with his hands and created breathtaking art. He took broken tiles and made a mosaic out of it. It said ‘Love.’

“He had friends that he just met and ones he’d known for over 35 years. Since his passing, people have been writing the most amazing things about him on Facebook about what a genuinely nice guy he was. I don’t even know who these people are, so it’s like, ‘Wow!’ They were so touched by him and his life … Such a sweet soul was truly meant for so much more.”

Jazo Durkovic, 73, Dix Hills

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Jazo Durkovic practiced English through Frank Sinatra lyrics, learned about the American Dream by watching Kirk Douglas movies and was inspired by John F. Kennedy’s famous quote: “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” On April 2, Durkovic passed away in his adopted country.

After serving in the Yugoslavian army, he came to New York in 1969 determined to prosper professionally, raise a family and help others do the same.

“He was one of the first of his eight siblings to come to the US and send money home,” says Harris Durkovic, one of his four children.

Durkovic would help people from his small village as well as many others from the former Yugoslavia by sponsoring them in America. He even had them stay at his home until they found their footing.

“All those people succeeded,” says Durkovic’s daughter Jennie. “He was like an adviser for these people as they transitioned to the US.”

Durkovic also prospered, moving to Long Island with his wife, Emma, to give his children a better education. More recently, the grandfather of five worked at a family-owned wealth and investment firm in Manhattan. After a while, Harris says, “He could even express himself better in English than in Croatian.”

Durkovic also made time for fun. When the weather was nice, he’d host barbecues in his backyard, with music and dancing. He’d first invite family members, then branch out to inviting friends whom he hadn’t seen lately.

“[He] wanted to share everything he had,” his son says. “That was his No. 1 thing.”

Donald DeRosa, 71, The Bronx

“I will thank my mother every day for living three blocks from him,” says Eric Henry of his uncle, retired NYPD Officer Donald DeRosa, who died April 6.

Living so close meant that after finishing his early shifts at the 25th Precinct in East Harlem, DeRosa could take his two sons, plus Henry and Henry’s brother, to Pelham Bay Park to play ball.

“He used to pitch to us for hours and hours,” Henry recalls. “He always had the time for us. [Whenever] we wanted to go play something, he was always ready to take us.”

DeRosa, whom everyone in the neighborhood called “Uncle D,” gave Henry a lifelong love of sports, bringing him to NYPD softball games and hockey matches. As everyone grew older, DeRosa, Henry and their friends would meet up to play golf. And DeRosa was always the most popular guy on the green.

“He just had that magnetic personality,” says Henry, of the grandfather of three. “He was just very outgoing when he met someone and that really seemed to attract people to him.”

For Henry, DeRosa was more than just an uncle, and even more than a second father.

“Most importantly, he was the greatest friend anyone could ever ask for,” Henry says, “and to me, that was his best attribute.”

Loraine Kopf, 77, Upper West Side

Loraine Kopf, who died April 21, spoke fluent French and German, and was dedicated to the arts. But her standout contribution to the city was as a pioneering rescuer of rabbits.

“She was a fierce advocate for those without a voice,” says Natalie Reeves, who met Kopf 13 years ago at a rabbit adoption event. “She was never afraid to stand up for members of society that can’t speak for themselves.”

Around the time of that event, Reeves had just adopted a bunny from a shelter — but Kopf encouraged her to take another one home. (Reeves eventually adopted two more.)

“She was very persuasive,” Reeves recalls. Kopf — one of the first volunteers at local nonprofit Rabbit Rescue & Rehab, founded in 1998 — inspired Reeves to join her cause. “She pushed me to do good and got me really involved as well.”

Together, they spent hours on Sundays at an Upper West Side bird store, where families could adopt hares via a program that was Kopf’s brainchild. The pair also frequented a local hospital, rabbits in tow, to run an animal therapy program with patients, which Kopf also started.

“She got me much more involved because she is extremely dedicated — and would not take no for an answer,” says Reeves.

In 2013, when Kopf was recovering from a hip replacement, she begged Reeves to bring one of her beloved bunnies to the hospital for a visit. It was against facility rules, so Reeves demurred repeatedly.

But Kopf persisted, convincing Reeves that cottontail contact was key to her recovery. So Reeves tucked her own long-eared pet, Goldie, into a purse and snuck it in. Goldie snuggled with Kopf on her hospital bed and covered her face with slobbery kisses.

“It really made Loraine happy,” says Reeves.

Vinny Peanuts, 68, Manhattan

There’s a makeshift memorial to Vinny Cirelli, overflowing with flowers and photos, at the intersection of Mulberry and Grand streets. It was this corner where Cirelli, who died April 13, operated his Vinny’s Nut House stand for some five decades. Hence his ubiquitous nickname: Vinny Peanuts.

“He used to stay there from Easter until New Year’s Eve,” says Joe Fratta, his brother-in-law, adding that — beyond assorted nuts — Cirelli became known for selling Italian torrone nougat, cookies and water. It was the latter that caught the attention of documentarian Nicolas Heller two years ago during a walk down Mulberry Street in Little Italy.

“I hear someone trying to sell waters, and it was this super-thick New York accent going ‘Watah, we got yah watah, one dollah,’ ” says Heller. “I just watched him for five minutes hustling waters and I was intrigued by the whole situation … I wanted to talk to him, but I didn’t think he would be responsive or care.”

But in 2019, Heller — who runs the @newyorknico Instagram account — finally approached him to film a video for his 373,000 followers, an opportunity Cirelli immediately agreed to. From that point, the two grew close, and Cirelli became a regular feature in Heller’s feed.

“He became my buddy, my really good friend,” says Heller, adding that Cirelli would always greet him with a smile and an accented shout. “ ‘Hey, Nico, get ova here!’ ”

Cirelli’s family remembers him for his gravelly voice, his hilariously loud laugh and his seemingly endless supply of stories. But he was also a dedicated worker, selling treats on the streets of a shrinking Little Italy from his youth until his death.

“He was a staple in the neighborhood,” says his second cousin, Nick Criscitelli.

And without Vinny Peanuts around, there is already a void.

“Little Italy is still going to be great,” Heller says, “but without Vinny, there’s definitely going to be a huge piece missing.”

Peter Cummings, 78, Long Island

Pete Cummings remembers his father, who passed away April 13.

A Brooklyn native, my dad worked several jobs after high school, including a stint at the deli counter of the A&P in Rockaway Beach. There, he met the love of his life, Carol.

He became a steamfitter. Do you ever think of how perfectly temperate your home is? Thank a steamfitter. Do you ever wonder how — miles below New York City’s sidewalks, and inside the walls of schools and hospitals — the oil and heat rushes back and forth so seamlessly? Steamfitters are the ones who made that happen.

Like many at the time, he migrated to Long Island with his family and eventually settled in Rockville Centre. Devout to his faith, my dad could be counted on for 7 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral. While he and my mom did not attend college, they were determined to provide that opportunity for all five of their children, all of whom are college graduates.

He loved the New York Jets and attending games, but preferred watching the gridiron action at home with his children and hosting tailgates. One of his favorite traditions was to serve waffles and ice cream to his whole street in celebration of the Fourth of July. He enlisted his granddaughters and grandsons to make the deliveries and ensured everyone received a summer treat.

When my dad was awaiting the birth of a grandchild, he ran into Gov. Andrew Cuomo making an official visit outside the hospital. The governor introduced himself and asked if it was his first and my dad, with a grin on his face and with great pride, answered, “No, sir, this is number 14.” Cuomo laughed and congratulated him.

Let the success and growth of his family be my dad’s legacy. That is what he worked his whole life to build — and he succeeded.

The New York Post will continue to pay tribute to the lives lost to the coronavirus. If you would like to commemorate someone, please contact Zachary Kussin at [email protected]

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