“He had been an anchor to this town during the worst and the best of times,” said Patchogue mayor Paul Pontieri of the loss of Ralph Zegel. “His loss is a loss for his family, yes, but also to this community.”
Zegel was born on Sept. 17, 1934, on Terry Street in Patchogue, to Lucille and Peter Zegel. He died last week on Sept. 27, in the hospital under undetermined circumstances.
In his life, he attended River Avenue, Bay Avenue, and Medford Avenue grammar schools, then moved to Bellmore in 1943. His mother remarried after his father’s death, and moved to Bayport and then Sayville. While in Sayville, Zegel joined the Juvenile Fire Department Drum and Bugle Corps.
Eventually, he moved back to Patchogue in 1950 and attended Patchogue High School. While attending school, he worked for Vincent Liguori Sr. at his meat store. After graduation, he went to work for Cannon Shoes on South Ocean Avenue. He then went to work for the Suffolk County Department of Public Works as a surveyor.
In 1955, he joined the North Patchogue Fire Department, which started his 65 years with the department as a lifetime member. He met his wife, Anna Murray, that same year, and was married by 1956. Together they had six children: Debra, Ralph, Kim, Chris, Jeff and David. Zegel is survived by his wife and children as well as his 10 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
“He was not only a dad to his kids, but his kids’ friends as well,” said his son and former owner of David’s Shoe Emporium, David Zegel, of his father passing.
In 1957, he went back to the shoe business at Miles Shoe Store and worked his way to manager at the Riverhead store and then to the Patchogue store. In 1963, he went to work for “Uncle Mike” Weiner at Weiner’s Shoe Store (Buster Brown), which he eventually ended up purchasing in 1972. In 1980, he purchased Falkoff’s Shoe Store (Stride Rite) and combined both stores in 1982. His son, David, took over in the early ‘90s in the former location at 66 East Main Street in Patchogue. After 72 years in business, they decided to close up shop in April of last year.
While running the shoe store, he became the head of the Patchogue Chamber of Commerce promotion committee. He was also awarded “Man of the Year” by the chamber in 1977 and 2006, and was also an assistant to the president for the Patchogue Business Improvement District (B.I.D.). He then became involved in the Patchogue Rotary Club and ran their haunted house. Though, possibly his most notable involvement was as a life-member, past secretary, and treasurer of the North Patchogue Fire Department. He also served as the secretary of Fire Police and treasurer of the Patchogue Benevolent Association.
“He was a great man. He was a good friend and he’s going to be missed,” said Rich Miller, president of the North Patchogue Fire Department and Benevolent Association. “He was Mr. Patchogue. He did everything in Patchogue.”
“Ralph was Mr. Patchogue,” agreed friend and fellow Main Street businessman, Abe Siegel, owner of Blum’s. Together, he said, they worked together on the chamber in the ‘50’s. “He did everything for the good of Patchogue. He was Patchogue.”
In October of 1993, Zegel was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening condition of the heart muscle. In 1995, he was placed on the heart transplant list and provided an experimental drug to help prolong his life until a heart became available. By 2000, Zegel received his new heart that gave him a new lease on life for 23 more years.
“He was a great guy and was always deeply involved in moving Patchogue forward,” said his BID successor, Dennis Smith.
Services for Zegel were held at Robertaccio Funeral Home in Patchogue on Oct. 3 and 4. A funeral service was held at St Frances de Sales the next day and he was buried in Sag Harbor.