By The Rositzke Family and Rita J. Egan
Longtime community member Ernest T. Rositzke, died April 30. He was 94.
He is survived by his wife, Ruth, of 73 years who continues to reside at Jefferson’s Ferry.
Before their move there, they were longtime residents of Stony Brook. For 60 years, Ernie was a proud, active member of the Stony Brook Fire Department. Having served as chief and commissioner, he was most honored when he received their Fireman of the Year award in 2018. The family was told that the award wasn’t given out easily and some years they don’t give it out at all.
He also enjoyed spending time at the Stony Brook Yacht Club where he served a term as commodore. He was involved with the American Legion and for 22 years, worked with and delivered for Three Village Meals on Wheels. His most famous volunteer role, however, was that of the “real Santa” in and around the area including Stony Brook Village Green and Stony Brook University Hospital.
He was born in 1926, attended Andrew Jackson High School and served with the Marines during WWII. Ernie worked for the New York Telephone Company and the Town of Brookhaven.
In addition to his wife, Ruth, he will be lovingly remembered by his children, Christine DeAngelo (Lou), Ernest T. Rositzke, Jr. (Lynn) and Karen Fink (David). He is also survived by four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren as well as his sister, Jackie Schecher of Springfield Centre. Ernie was preceeded in death by his half-brother, Arthur Rohrlack.
Walter Hazlitt said he knew Rositzke for more than 60 years through the fire department. The two had a common bond not only as fellow volunteer firefighters but also as veterans and members of the yacht club. He described him as a generous person.
“He’s going to be sorely missed,” he said. “You can’t extol him too much. He was an exception to the rule.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) remembered his work as Santa.
“Most of my life my contact with Ernie was exclusively through the Stony Brook Fire Department with the most memorable interactions being him as Santa Claus at the member family Christmas parties,” she said. “Ernie was happy — jolly even. He was patient and kind with the children, spending what felt like hours listening to each child rattle off their wish lists or screaming in his ear because they were too young and too afraid. Posing for multiple photos with infants, toddlers, little kids, big kids teenagers, college students, families. It wasn’t just his white beard that was genuine —he was the real deal. He truly cared and wanted to make each and every child happy. Volunteer firefighter through-and-through, in the end, it was his mission to help. On a call, he would help protect our community. At Christmas, he would help each and every family have fun and bring a little hope and joy to the season.”
Diane Melidosian, a board member for Three Village Meals on Wheels, said, “His quiet demeanor and wonderful sense of humor will be missed.”
Liz Bongiorno, a TBR News Media sales rep, remembered meeting Rositzke when she worked for an indoor playground. The owner had asked him if he could play Santa. Bongiorno started talking to him and found out he not only lived in the neighborhood where she grew up, but was also friends with her grandfather. He started telling her about her grandfather, who she had never met and called him a gentle giant.
“It was the best Christmas gift that I ever received in my life,” Bongiorno said.
Whenever she would see Rositzke at chamber meetings, she always told him that no one had ever given her a better gift.
Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, said she knew Rositzke for more than 35 years when he worked in the Town of Brookhaven’s highway department and in his role as the “real Santa.”
“He started to grow his beard in August, and changed into the real Santa on the first Sunday in December every year,” she said. “He would sit for four hours at the Stony Brook Post Office, listening attentively to each child’s wishes. The line to see him started over one hour ahead of his arrival.”
Rocchio said one year when WMHO decided to add another Santa, Rositzke thought it may confuse the children. They never had two Santas after that.
“He heard so many sad stories, and it bothered him that he could not fulfill their wishes,” Rocchio said. “So WMHO created the Santa Fund. Each year we still raise funds for clothing and toys for those in need. Initially, he told us which homes to go to. Many people would say, ‘I saw him when I was a child and now I am bringing my children.’ We never thought he would stop, because Santa is immortal, but he did. However, his spirit of kindness will always live on in the people that he touched.”
Arrangements were entrusted to Bryant Funeral Home of East Setauket. A celebration of his life will be held in the future.
Donations in his honor can be made to: Three Village Meals on Wheels, P.O. Box 853, Stony Brook, NY 11790.