Vincent "Vinnie" Jude Apicella
1937 - 2020
Obituary of Vincent "Vinnie" Jude Apicella
Vincent Jude Apicella, known to family and friends as “Vinnie”, passed away peacefully at the age of 83 on Tuesday, August 25, 2020 at his home in Lompoc, with his loving wife Barbara by his side.
Vinnie was born on April 4, 1937, at Flushing Hospital in Queens, New York as the seventh child born to parents Rose Marie (DeGasperis) and Enrico (“Harry”) Arthur Apicella.
Vinnie’s six older siblings Louis, Anthony, Arthur, Francis, Joan and Stanley welcomed their baby brother with joy. Six years later, a younger brother, Richard, would complete their family. Vinnie and his siblings shared a happy, loving home with their parents in the neighborhood of Bellerose in Queens throughout his youth. The house was always a busy place with family, friends and neighbors, coming and going, with the love of food, music and dance ever present. Vinnie enjoyed spending time in the kitchen with his mother who taught him early on about food preparation, cooking and baking, sharing her family’s traditional recipes from Naples, which he was happy to share with others throughout his life. He baked bread often and especially enjoyed sharing a loaf with his closest friends.
Vinnie attended St. Leo’s Catholic School in the Queens neighborhood of Corona and graduated in 1955 from Jamaica High School in Queens. All throughout his youth, Vinnie’s mother’s advice was to “follow your heart, my son” and his father’s advice was to “get a good education and find honest work”. Following high school, he attended classes at Hofstra University while working nights at a mental institution. Unfortunately, he suffered a serious back injury when attacked by a resident which resulted in an immediate change of plans for Vinnie. It was at this point that he decided to follow his passion, his heart, and his dream to become a professional dancer. For years, he had worked various jobs to save money for someday taking dance lessons.
Vinnie’s sister Joan recalls that in his early years, of all the siblings, he was influenced the most by music and dance. He was a dancer from the time he was a little boy and was considered the black sheep of the family. He drove their parents crazy with his love of dance, and on Saturday afternoons the family would roll up the rug in the living room, put on some music, and dance! On Friday and Saturday nights, Joan and Vinnie could be found at their favorite dance venues. The two siblings were regulars at the VFW dances and put on quite a show for everyone. One day, brother Vinnie, who was very outgoing and uninhibited, made arrangements for he and Joan to dance the Merengue (a Latin American dance) on a live television show called “Dance This Way”. At the last minute, unbeknownst to Joan, the dance host changed it to a new dance recently introduced to the United States called the “Cha Cha”. There was a live band and a few missteps, but nevertheless, they won third prize - a set of luggage and dinner at “Tavern on the Green”, the well-known elegant restaurant in Central Park.
Vinnie began his formal dance training in ballet, ballroom and jazz at the prestigious Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Manhattan just over the Brooklyn Bridge from his home in Queens. He also took lessons at the well-known June Taylor Dance Studio where dancers were taught elaborate choreography in ballet, ballroom and jazz, and kaleidoscopic geometric patterns. The June Taylor studio had an all-female dance troupe known for their high kick routines and regular performances on television shows, including the Jackie Gleason Show. Vinnie was hoping to one day join the famed dance troupe once they started adding male dancers to the troupe. However, a change of plans resulted in Vinnie being hired as a professional dancer at the Tamarack Lodge resort hotel in New York’s Catskill Mountains. From there, he relocated to South Beach Miami and began performing in a number of Broadway-style shows at luxury hotels in the South Beach area, including the beautiful Fontainebleau, the Versailles, and the Algiers. Vinnie was teaching dance lessons during the day and dancing at night in elaborate shows which were very popular in the 1950s and 60s. While performing, his stage name was “Vinnie Valentie”.
Vinnie’s entertainment career came to a close when he was drafted into active duty by the U.S. Army. He arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey in January of 1961 for basic training; however, the back injury previously suffered made it impossible for him to complete basic training, and he was sent to Walson Army Hospital for treatment. Eventually, Vinnie was recycled through basic training and assigned to the Ordnance Guided Missile School at Ft. Monmouth to train as a missile electronics technician specialist. While in the Army, Vinnie attended night school at the University of Alabama’s Huntsville extension to complete a course in computer design. After serving his two years at Redstone Arsenal, he was discharged in early 1963 ranked as an Electronics Technician Specialist 4. Upon discharge, his computer education, together with his military electronics training enabled him to find “honest” work in the aerospace industry. Vinnie’s first job after the Army was with Hayes Aircraft Missile and Space Division in Huntsville.
While in Huntsville, Vinnie’s daughter, Yvonne Michelle, was born to he and his first wife. He joined Chrysler Space/Missile Division in Huntsville and worked with NASA, as a member of the Apollo/Saturn launch team at Cape Kennedy for four years. Following that, he worked with Raytheon Corporation, in the Air Traffic Control Systems Service Division in Boston. After successful completion of the systems at Los Angeles and Indianapolis’ Weir Cook airports, Vinnie realized he would be traveling continuously for several years in this position, and decided to find employment in Silicon Valley, which would require less travel. National Semi-Conductor Corporation in Santa Clara offered him an opportunity to establish a new training center which would produce highly-trained, skilled customer field service engineers for installation, maintenance and repair of supermarket computerized checkout and scanner systems. After three years with NSC, Vinnie decided to return to school to complete his education. He took a four-year sabbatical from full-time work to attend San Jose State University, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management. He continued with his courses at SJSU and completed the masters program in Informational/Computer Science and Instructional/Computer Technology.
Following the master’s program at San Jose State University, Vinnie was employed by GE Nuclear, in Milpitas. After several years, an opportunity presented itself and he was hired by Calma Company in Santa Clara, followed by GE/CALMA in Milpitas, and Sun Microsystems, Inc. in Santa Clara. Vinnie left Sun Microsystems in mid-1986 to join the CAD Group, Inc. in Santa Cruz as North American Marketing vice president and an equity share partner. Unfortunately, the October 1989 Loma Prieta 7.1 earthquake caused the building to be “red-tagged”, blocking Vinnie from entering his office and accessing the company databases and clients’ records. This eventually forced the business to declare bankruptcy. When the company dissolved, Vinnie decided to take a break from full-time technology-based jobs.
Vinnie’s diverse background in both the engineering and entertainment fields had provided him with an array of interesting projects ranging from developing and installing computer systems for NASA’s Apollo manned flight launches, the FAA’s automated Air Traffic Control Network (including installation of the systems in the U.S.), as well as the installation, maintenance and repair of supermarket computerized checkout scanner systems for NSC. He had turned experience as an entertainer at east coast resorts, film screenings in Cannes, and over 25 years in the high-tech field into a career as a marketing and creative consultant in both industries.
In the early 1990s, Vinnie relocated to the Monterey Peninsula and decided to re-enter the entertainment field by joining the cruise industry. He began traveling the world with Cunard Cruise Lines, sailing on the Queen Elizabeth II, as a member of the entertainment staff. Following that initial cruise with Cunard, he became an ambassador host with Crystal Cruises on their Crystal Symphony and Crystal Harmony ships. On occasion, Vinnie was also a social host with Royal Viking Lines, cruising on their Sky and Sea ships. Between cruises he taught local residents ballroom, swing and Latin dances, including Lindy Hop Swing style (which he had learned from the legendary Frankie Manning while in New York City).
After eleven years of cruising all over the world, Vinnie decided to retire from volunteering with the cruise lines and stay close to home. He settled into the beautiful Monterey community in an apartment on the hill overlooking the scenic Monterey wharf. This is where he planned to spend the rest of his life, pleased that he had followed the advice of his parents to “follow your passion, get an education and a good steady job”. He attended local jazz dance classes with dance directors Walter White and Janet Butler at Monterey Peninsula College. He taught dance lessons at The Lodge and The Inn at Spanish Bay golf resorts in Pebble Beach, the historic Cocoanut Grove Ballroom in Santa Cruz, and the historic Casino Ballroom on Santa Catalina Island.
In 2000, Vinnie established a home-based travel agency and began taking locals on dance cruises along the California Coast. He became well-known in the local dance community as he taught dance lessons all over the Santa Cruz and Monterey Peninsula areas, especially Saturdays in Santa Cruz and Sundays at the Carmel American Legion hall, for many years. It was Vinnie’s desire to teach his students a level of dance which would enable them to “go anywhere and dance with anyone”. He had a unique way of teaching the basics which would give the dancer a firm foundation so they could be confident of their ability to dance to any type of music. Music and dance were a huge part of Vinnie’s life in retirement. He was happiest when he heard music coming from somewhere, giving him an opportunity to demonstrate his incredible style of dance moves and dynamic personality, either with or without a partner. He was a true showman and the envy of other dancers. Women lined up to dance with him, and couples would approach him and inquire about dance lessons.
Vinnie often performed at special events with his dance partners, and he trained for and ran marathons and half marathons, including the NYC, Big Sur International, and the Santa Cruz/Capitola Wharf to Wharf marathons. He attended classes at California State University, Monterey, in the school of Earth Systems Science and Policy and intended to design and have a Solar Power Curriculum adopted by learning institutions for students of all ages in the Monterey “tri-county” area. Vinnie volunteered as a Monterey State Historic Parks docent at California’s First Theater, participating in “living history days”, portraying Captain J. R. Cooper, one of the early 1820s Monterey pioneers.
In 2002, Vinnie met Barbara Heinz who began attending his Sunday dance classes. Barbara soon became Vinnie’s dance partner and best friend. In November of 2004, the two married in a beautiful and romantic ceremony on Santa Catalina Island, which was well-attended by family and friends from across the U.S. After several years living in Monterey, Barbara and Vinnie decided to move to Tehachapi and purchase a beautiful home in Bear Valley Springs. It is there they enjoyed setting up their dream house, working on home improvements, designing and decorating the interior and exterior grounds. Their large garage was remodeled into a dance studio where they held weekly dance lessons for couples in the community.
Vinnie’s passion for collecting and working on vintage, classic MG and Jaguar automobiles was also in full swing. He particularly enjoyed restoring his 1950 classic XK120 Jaguar “SS” roadster, which he had named “Jaggie”, and looked forward to exhibiting it and his other automobiles at various shows throughout California. He especially looked forward to the events of “Car Week” on the Monterey Peninsula and displaying one of his Jaguars on the 18th green at Pebble Beach’s Concours d’ Elegance.
Vinnie and Barbara traveled to far away places and kept in touch with his out-of-state siblings, often visiting them on the east coast. They loved their two precious little Pomeranian dogs, “Canoli” and “Bello”, and on many occasions took the dogs along on their travels. Vinnie worked long hours to keep up with his large family of nieces and nephews, researching the historical immigration of his ancestors to America, which gave him a sense of pride to be connected to his Italian roots. He traveled to Italy, explored family ties, the culture and, of course, enjoyed the food his mother had prepared for the family in his youth. Because it was important to Vinnie that his family know their heritage, he researched the actual immigration records of his ancestors, documented when they came to the United States and presented this information to his entire family. He charted his Apicella and DeGasperis ancestry on Family Tree Maker, being pleased with the genealogical research he had accomplished during his lifetime. Vinnie also created a web page on the Genealogy website which identifies the generations of his ancestors along with photos for his family to access.
In 2018, Vinnie and Barbara sold their home in Tehachapi and moved to Lompoc to be closer to the ocean and the fresh salt air, finding a beautiful home overlooking a golf course. Their new home brought peace and tranquility with each new day. A year after the move, however, Vinnie became ill and received a shocking diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Vinnie slowed down his active lifestyle and fought hard to regain his health. Missing their beloved “Canoli” and “Bello”, they decided to adopt a sweet Labrador retriever named “Maverick” to keep Vinnie company. They walked on the beach and through the neighborhoods enjoying their new surroundings. His health and treatments became their main focus. Everyone who knew Vinnie was hoping for a miracle but, sadly, nothing could combat the intensity of the disease.
Vinnie was passionate about everything he did; his zest for life was unparalleled. He was always the life of the party with his outgoing personality. He loved entertaining, was a gracious host and a fabulous cook. He will be remembered for his generous and kind heart, love of food and drink, music and dance, and especially his ability to bring people together. Vinnie believed there was always something to celebrate, and even the smallest gathering became a memorable occasion. He would say, “celebrate the joy of winning, celebrate the pain of losing, and what you have left is celebration!” He referred to himself as “a most happy fella” and “the Pharaoh of Phun”, with a business card that read, “born to dance, cruise and schmooze.”
Vinnie did it all: he followed his parents’ sage advice through life, he was a caring and loving son, brother, husband and father, and worked hard to provide for his family. He was forever grateful to his big brother, Louis, who had encouraged him to pursue his education and seek a career in the electrical engineering field. Vinnie was dependable and a man of his word. He set detailed goals for himself, seeing projects and commitments through to the end. In the face of adversity, he demonstrated drive and determination. He taught us to live life to the fullest, to love ourselves, be positive and give back to others. He often said that his mission in life was to leave people, places and things in better shape than when he found them.
Vinnie was preceded in death by his mother and father, a sister whom he never met, Anne, who died as a child from pneumonia, and his brothers Louis, Anthony, Francis, Stanley and Richard. He is survived by his compassionate and dedicated wife, Barbara; his daughter, Yvonne Apicella Fofana, his grandson Anthony, granddaughters Erika and Aliya, all of the Boston area; his sister, Joan Dullmeyer of Orlando, Florida; his brother Arthur of Wantagh, Long Island; and many nieces, nephews, grand nieces, grand nephews, cousins, dance partners and friends from coast to coast.
In September of 2020, during the height of the corona virus pandemic, a private service took place at the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery in Seaside, California, for interment of Vinnie’s ashes into Columbarium I (Wall E, Row B, Column 18). In August of 2022, a gathering of friends from near and far met in Aptos, California, to celebrate and memorialize Vinnie’s fabulous life well-lived.
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