By Dan Moffett
MANALAPAN — Louis DeStefano served two terms as an elected official on the Manalapan Town Commission, but perhaps his greatest public service was as the community’s unofficial spiritual counselor.
When illness struck friends and town employees, they could expect Mr. DeStefano to come around with an herbal milkshake or vitamin supplement to hasten their recovery. When the town’s yoga and tai chi classes couldn’t make ends meet, Mr. DeStefano was there to write a check to keep them afloat.
In 2013, Mr. DeStefano opened Tranquility Park on a site adjacent to the town’s library as a tribute to his mother, Phyllis, a longtime Manalapan resident. The park has a gazebo, a walking path, a dog fountain and, on most days, a striking view of the sunset.
“The gazebo isn’t like most gazebos,” says Town Clerk Lisa Petersen, who helped Mr. DeStefano design the project. “It isn’t raised, and that had a purpose. Louis decided to do it flat on the ground so Phyllis could roll onto it easily with her wheelchair.”
Petersen says that was typical of Mr. DeStefano’s concern for others. “There was no one else like him.”
Mr. DeStefano was 75 when he died on Nov. 2, four years after the death of his beloved mother at 97.
The grandson of Italian immigrants, Mr. DeStefano grew up in Brooklyn and built a successful career in business as president and owner of Cartolith, a specialty paper and film company. In recent years, Mr. DeStefano was the CEO of Theramedix, a pharmaceutical enzyme company in Boynton Beach.
“He was extremely generous,” says Marcelle Miller, who now resides in Flagler Beach and knew Mr. DeStefano for 30 years. “When he sold his business, he gave the employees some of the profits. He lent people money knowing he’d never get it back. Much of what he did stayed anonymous.”
When former Mayor Peter Blum, who served on the Town Commission for nearly three decades, was ready to leave in 2010, he turned to Mr. DeStefano to take his place.
“I said, ‘Louis, please. Do this. The town needs you,’” Blum recalls. “He agreed and he followed in my footsteps and did a great job, like I knew he would. Louis loved the town. He was a good guy, and the town will miss him.”
A 25-year resident of Manalapan, Mr. DeStefano was appointed the town’s vice mayor by the commission in 2011. He resigned his seat three years later, saying he wanted to devote more time to business and yoga. “I’ve always tried to be fair with everyone,” he said when asked about his service. “I tried to listen.”
Petersen says that, in recent months, Mr. DeStefano was easy to find around sunset, sitting quietly on a bench in Tranquility Park. “He’d say he was talking to mom there,” Petersen says.
The family of Louis DeStefano requests that, instead of flowers, donations go to Tranquility Park. Contributions will be used for the park’s maintenance. Please make checks to the Town of Manalapan/Tranquility Park, 600 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, FL 33462.