Thomas Christian Yannelli died on Aug. 18, peacefully at home in his sleep, surrounded by his loving family. A loving husband, devoted father of two, and beloved friend to too many to count, he was 47 years old.
Yannelli, also known as “Wombie,” Tommy and Sgt. Yannelli, was born to Frank and Roberta Yannelli on Sept. 13, 1973, in Rockville Centre. The summers he spent at Malibu Beach Club in Lido Beach inspired a lifelong love for the ocean that led him to work as a lifeguard at Malibu and other Town of Hempstead beaches on summer breaks in high school and college.
After graduating from South Side High School and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Yannelli’s spirit of adventure led him to Saint Thomas in the Virgin Islands, where he worked as a divemaster. Upon his return to New York, Yannelli worked for the New York Aquarium in Coney Island and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Village of Rockville Centre. A deep love of country and proud family tradition inspired him to enlist in the U.S. Army in 2005. He was stationed at Fort Riley, in Kansas; earned the rank of sergeant with the First Infantry Division, Unit 2-16 of The Big Red One; and served in two combat missions in Iraq at the height of The Surge.
Yannelli was honored to serve his country alongside brave soldiers, his “brothers for life,” with whom he forged unbreakable bonds of friendship. Most recently, he built on his love for his fellow veterans in the company he founded with his cousin, Greg Rinn: Line to Line, which provides high-quality medical supplies to veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Yannelli met the love of his life, Sheila Larkin, when they were ocean lifeguards together, and they married on Oct. 7, 2007. Nothing gave him more pleasure than spending time with their son, Dylan, 13, and daughter, Keira, 10.
His passion for those he loved was legendary. Yannelli devoted himself to raising his children, keeping them safe, and providing lessons of love, service and resilience. He was so proud of the young man Dylan is becoming and of Keira’s kind nature and love of animals. He always found time to gather the family at the beach, from Malibu to Montauk, and loved that his children were continuing the family tradition as junior lifeguards.
He would swim for hours on end, bodysurfing with his children, and socializing with his old and new friends on the beach. He loved taking Keira and Dylan to activities and sporting events and then reporting to his extended family. He was equally at home in pounding shore break, a placid lake in Maine, a bar crowded with friends, the bedside of an ailing veteran or lounging on the couch with his beloved wife and children.
Yannelli’s larger-than-life personality lit up every room he was in and every beach he was on. The sound of his booming voice and infectious laugh was a sure signal to neighbors, friends and family that their day had just dramatically improved. He made friends and connected people everywhere he went. He befriended an octopus, dreaming up puzzles for the aquarium animal to solve. He’s been described as a perfect storm, a tough guy who was also a compassionate sweetheart. He’d want nothing more than his love, compassion, and spirit to continue to live on through his family and friends.
Yannelli was predeceased by his mother, Roberta. In addition to his beloved wife and children, he is survived by his father, Frank, a longtime Rockville Centre village justice; his brothers, Chris and Michael and their families; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews he loved passionately.
A memorial Mass was held at the Parish of Saint Barnabas the Apostle in Bellmore on Aug. 27.