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Gina Mingoia

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief, center, with this year's honorees

The 2018 TBR News Media People of the Year in Brookhaven were honored at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on March 24.

Publisher Leah Dunaief presented the awards to Linda Johnson, Gloria Rocchio, Brian Hoerger, Andrew Harris, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr., Heather Lynch, Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association, Susan Delgado, Angeline Judex, Janet Godfrey, Gina Mingoia, Boy Scout Troop 161 and Boy Scout Troop 204 at the event.

TBR News Media would like to thank Stony Brook University, the Three Village Inn, Dan Laffitte and the Lessing Family for sponsoring the reception, the Setauket Frame Shop for framing the award certificates, and Beverly Tyler for being our event photographer.

Civic association event renamed to honor animal lover and friend

Gina Mingoia performed in concert at this year’s Pet Adopt-A-Thon in honor of her father, Sal, who passed away in 2017.

By Ernestine Franco

In 2012, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its first pet adopt-a-thon. Fast forward six years and the event is still going strong, fulfilling its goal of encouraging responsible pet ownership and providing a venue for local rescue groups to get animals adopted. The event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the Hartlin Inn parking lot, 30 New York Ave., Sound Beach, across from the Post Office.

Mela, Fuji and Dooly will be at the Pet Adopt-A-Thon on Sept. 22.

For five years two people made this event special — Sal and Gina Mingoia, a father-daughter team who donated their time and musical talents. In 2015 Sal was diagnosed with cancer. In 2016, although often in pain, when he heard the event was on, he said he and Gina would be there. In 2017 Sal passed away. A gentle, caring soul loved by all, the many people whose lives he touched could be seen in long lines along the roadway the day of the funeral holding their hands over their hearts. Although he’s gone, Sal’s kindness and generosity are not forgotten. 

To honor his life as well as his great love for animals, the civic is proud to announce a change in the name of its annual pet adoption event to The Sal Mingoia Pet Adopt-A-Thon. Gina will be performing this year without her dad. She said, “it was my dad’s and my favorite gig,” and she wouldn’t miss it. 

The animal welfare groups participating in this event take unwanted, abandoned, abused or stray animals and care for them until loving homes can be found. Some will bring adoptable pets, others will have information on adoptable pets as well as responsible pet care. Taking part this year will be The Adoption Center, Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter, Grateful Greyhounds, Last Chance Animal Rescue, Long Island Bulldog Rescue, Long Island Rabbit Rescue, North Fork Country Kids, Paws Unite People, Save-A-Pet, STAR Foundation, Strong Island Animal Rescue Group and Suffolk County SPCA. 

Romeo will be at the Pet Adopt-A-Thon on Sept. 22.

There will be lots of great raffle auction prizes — donations still being accepted — and a 50/50, with all proceeds going to the participating animal welfare groups. Bring your children for face painting and making pet ear bands with Marissa Renee. Bring your pet and have Brianna draw a digital caricature of your “furever” friend. And, of course, come and meet your new best friend. A shelter cat or dog is waiting for you.

Pictured are a trio of siblings at Last Chance Animal Rescue that know they’re adorable! They love to be held and cuddled and love dogs and kids. Stop by and help Mela, Fuji and Dooly find a happy ending!

Meet Penny and Polo, two 7+-year-old poodles at Save-A-Pet waiting for their forever home. Their elderly owner is ill and can no longer care for them. If you’re looking for a sweet, gentle dog consider adopting either one or both. All they need is love.

Also pictured is Romeo, a fun and affectionate boy at the Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter. If you’re looking for a partner who will play ball with you for hours and enjoy going for long walks with you, Romeo is your boy. He is about 9 years young and is vaccinated, neutered, microchipped and heartworm negative. Also at the town shelter is Brownie — what a cutie he is!

Lance will be at the Pet Adopt-A-Thon on Sept. 22.

Four melt-in-your-arms kittens with Strong Island are currently in a foster home but desperately need forever homes. They have all been spayed/neutered and vaccinated, are FIV/FeLV negative and are dewormed. They love people and are looking for families of their own. 

Meet Lance and Jackson at The Adoption Center. Lance is a 3-month-old blue heeler mix and Jackson is a 2-year-old Australian shepherd mix. Anyone would be lucky to call either of these cuties their furever friend.

Whether you’re looking to adopt, would like to support the great work of animal welfare groups or just want to have a family-friendly fun day in Sound Beach, stop by.

Admission is free and all are welcome. For more information call 631-744-6952 and remember, Save A Life — Adopt A Pet.

The Mingoias: Samantha, Gina, Denise and Sal. Photo from Gina Mingoia

By Kevin Redding

Throughout his life Salvatore Mingoia brought smiles, laughs and music to those around him. And even though he’s gone, the impact of Shoreham’s “Superman” will surely resonate forever.

The Suffolk County police officer, Beatles-loving musician, devoted family man and friend to all died Oct. 9 following a two-year battle with lymphoma at 56 in the company of friends and family at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. Although Mingoia had been in a great deal of pain as a result of his cancer,
which was diagnosed in December 2015, he never once let it show or get him down, according to his family.

Sal Mingoia was a devoted family man to his daughters Samantha and Gina. Photo from Gina Mingoia

“He was the nicest guy in the world,” said his oldest daughter Samantha Mingoia, 25. “I want to be my dad when I grow up. He was so caring, giving and understanding. Anything he could do to help someone, he’d do it and he never looked for praise.”

His trademark  upbeatness and kind character prevailed even under the circumstances — when nurses asked how he was feeling on a particular day, Mingoia always responded with a chipper “I’m great! How are you?”

This, of course, was not at all surprising to those who knew him.

“He was a sweetheart of a man,” said Suffolk County Sgt. Arthur Hughes, Mingoia’s colleague for more than 30 years. “Everyone loves Sal. You can’t say anything bad about him.”

Gina Mingoia, 19, said her dad was always “so strong and hopeful right up until the end.” She regularly shared the stage with him as a two-piece band, serving as lead singer while he played guitar during gigs throughout the area. They played everything from country to classic rock, from covers to songs they wrote together

“It was comforting,” she said on rocking alongside her dad. “Now, if I ever have to sing the national anthem or anything and my dad isn’t with me, I’m going to get panicky. I need him. He’s like a safety blanket.”

Sal Mingoia, on right, was a musician from a young age. Photo from SCPD

His daughters said while they both saw Mingoia as the best dad ever and knew how beloved he was by peers and colleagues, it wasn’t until the wake that they grasped just how many lives he touched. During the first service alone, Samantha said nearly 800 people, maybe more, showed up creating a huge line that wrapped around O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place and stretched down the street. Even a friend of his from kindergarten, from North Carolina, came to pay his respects.

“They all said the same thing — that he treated them like they were the most important people to him,” Samantha Mingoia said. “He always made everyone feel so special.”

A graduate of Centereach High School, Mingoia, one of seven children, played football and competed in track and field while excelling in math and science. An avid musician from the moment he was able to hold a guitar, he played in numerous bands throughout his life, the first being a family band with his father and brothers.

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special,” said his older sister Eydie Gangitano. “And I’ve got to tell you, I think Sal was my mother’s favorite, I really think he was. And we didn’t care, because he was all of our favorite.”

“He was talented, handsome, nice, always good to people — he was just born special.”

— Eydie Gangitano

Mike Pollice, a friend of Mingoia’s for more than 40 years, met him in school and said although they were on opposite ends of the spectrum — Mingoia being seemingly well-grounded while Pollice was a self-
proclaimed “troubled kid” — Mingoia saw past that, and initiated a conversation with him over music. The two had played in bands together ever since.

“He had a heart like nobody else,” Pollice said, who described Mingoia as the salt of the Earth. “I really would not be the man I am today if it weren’t for him. The path he led me down with music served me well and kept me out of a lot of bad things in my younger days. In school, he was the guy who stuck up for people getting picked on. He was a friend to everyone. A very rare kind of person.”

After high school, Mingoia wound up at the police academy even though being a cop wasn’t exactly what he had planned for himself. His childhood friend Kenny Kearns was a New York City police officer and planned to take the test to transition to Suffolk County and encouraged Mingoia to take it too. He ended up getting a better result than Kearns and decided give the occupation a try. He joined the police department in April 1987, spending his career in the 5th and 6th Precincts and was an active officer in the Crime Scene Section
when he died, an analytical field he much preferred over issuing traffic tickets.

“He didn’t like ruining people’s days, he liked making people’s days,” Kearns said of his friend. “If Sal pulled you over, and you had a good excuse and were sorry, that was good enough for him.”

Sal Mingoiaa Suffolk County police officer, working in the Crime Scene Section when he died. Photo from SCPD

Kearns often visited with Mingoia at Mount Sinai Hospital when he was sick, and was present when he passed away.

“The last time I was in that hospital with Sal was 30 years ago when he donated blood to my father who was undergoing cancer-related surgery,” he said. “He’s been a constant in my life. Someone I could always count on. He was the true definition of a best friend.”

Those who knew him best say, despite how dedicated he was to his job on the force or as a friend, his greatest passion in life was being a husband to Denise, whom he married in 1990, and father to his two daughters. Not only did Mingoia never miss a day of work in his life, he never missed a family dinner or birthday party either.

“He was Superman,” Gina Mingoia said of her dad. “He always had his day full, but made room for everyone.”

She often thinks of goofy moments now when she thinks about her dad. Like when they were rehearsing a song and she struggled to remember an entire verse.

“He put his guitar down and rolled around on the floor, then stood back up and grabbed his guitar again,” she recalled. “I was like, ‘Why did you do that?’ and he said, ‘So you would never forget that line again.’”

For Samantha Mingoia, she said she’ll simply miss sitting around the house with her father.

“Every night we all ate dinner as a family and then just never left the table,” she said. “We’d sit there until 9 p.m. talking about the day, philosophies about life, politics, anything. The house is definitely quiet and empty now.”

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”

Sal and Gina Mingoia perform at the Sound Beach civic’s Pet Adopt-A-Thon on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the outside of the Hartlin Inn. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Sal Mingoia grew up in a musical family, and now, so does his 17-year-old daughter and performer in crime, Gina.

The daddy-daughter duo began performing together five years ago after Sal Mingoia invited his daughter to one of his gigs. Gina Mingoia showed an interest in music at a very young age, according to her father, and her interest sparked his idea to invite his then 12-year-old daughter to the bar where he was scheduled to perform.

“I’m nobody’s warm-up act,” Sal Mingoia said.

Since then, the Shoreham pair took the stage together — Sal Mingoia on the guitar and vocals and Gina Mingoia as the lead singer — performing country and original songs the daughter writes. While Sal Mingoia is no stranger to the music scene, as he started performing in bands at 14 years old, he and his wife Denise never thought their daughter would perform.

“She was the shyest kid,” her mother said. “She would be hiding here behind me.”

The first time their daughter sang for an audience was during a family event. Her mother remembered her sitting on a chair in front of the refrigerator looking at a sheet of music as she played the guitar and sang for her family. This was before a teacher made her a lead character in a school play, which helped Gina Mingoia combat her shy demeanor.

Last year, her voice and determination took her as far as “The Voice.” After auditioning for the show last July, the judges told her to come back and they would automatically put her through to the second round. She has yet to go back and try out.

For Sal Mingoia, entering the music scene was not as nerve-wracking. His father was a jazz guitar player before he passed away, and although Sal Mingoia never received formal lessons, his father tapped into his musical abilities when he was a child. The father’s three brothers and sisters are also musically inclined. Family functions like birthdays and holidays such as Christmas are never a dull moment for the Mingoia family as each event allows the family to perform together.

While singing is fun for the family and the daddy-daughter duo alike, practicing and performing is a balancing act for Sal Mingoia and his daughter. The summer months are busier for the pair as they regularly perform at the Baiting Hollow Golf Club. However, during the academic year Gina Mingoia, a Shoreham-Wading River student, balances school and other activities while her father’s availability is more limited, as he also serves as a Suffolk County policeman and a performer for a folk rock band.

“It’s not easy — I have to schedule myself a few days in advance,” Mingoia said regarding scheduling practice with his daughter.

The two admitted that practices can be stressful.

“Singing is easy, you just have to hear the song once and then you can sing,” Gina Mingoia said. “But to learn the guitar part, you have to play around with [the song] and find the notes you’re looking for. It stresses me out when he doesn’t know what he’s going to do ahead of time.”

Finding appropriate songs to perform is another issue. When it comes to performing cover songs, the pair needs to find a song that works for them, both musically and lyrically. The song must be appropriate for the two to sing, but they also need to transform the piece. On the radio, the music incorporates several instruments, background singers and other levels, but for the daughter and her father, it’s just them and a guitar.

Performing at sensitive events like fundraisers for Gina Mingoia’s former friend, Tom Cutinella, a Shoreham-Wading River High School football player who died last year after suffering a fatal injury from a collision during a game, are also difficult. The two usually “feel out the crowd” to see what songs might work best.

While the duo figures out their plan as they practice for gigs, Sal Mingoia said he doesn’t mind if his daughter goes solo.

“For me, I’m just kind of her back-up band,” he said. “I think it’s a unique thing that it’s a father-daughter thing. Not too much of that is happening, but if someone wanted to sign her and throw me aside, that’s perfectly fine.”