BELMAR, NJ — Even when it was far from an ideal beach day in Belmar, the sun was always shining when Mafalda “Muffie” Cinelli was inside the Belmar tourism booth along the beachfront.
For 10 years, she greeted hundreds of thousands of visitors with her infectious smile, warmth and friendliness that made her the borough’s unofficial “beach ambassador”— a role that she graciously and proudly embraced until retiring last summer at age 90.
So when news came of her passing on May 22 — only days before the start of this year’s beach season — there was a great sense of loss throughout this close-knit seashore community.
As a tribute to her, Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer recently had a memorial plaque with her photo placed on the tourism booth, situated on the Ocean Avenue boardwalk between 14th and 15th Avenues.
“She had so many friends, it was incredible,” said nephew Frank Cinelli of Belmar. “She loved the saltwater, the salty air. She loved walking the beach and going in the ocean.”
He and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed Muffie into their home after her husband of 58 years, Frank, died in 2008. But working for 45 of those years alongside him at the family business — Victory Pizzeria and Restaurant in Jersey City — she wasn’t quite ready to retire at 79 years young.
Cinelli, a borough employee who now serves as its director of special operations, said he learned from tourism director Mary Brabazon that there was an opening for a seasonal position at Belmar’s tourism booth. It wasn’t long before Muffie was hired and became that popular face at the beachfront location, earning her years later to be honored as Belmar Employee of the Month in August 2015.
While she had countless encounters with beachfront visitors during her decade of employment, among the most memorable was when she met Jon Bon Jovi. “He was with two other guys and one of them asked Muffie, ‘Do you know who this is?’ ” Frank Cinelli recalled — to which Muffie responded, “If he were Frank Sinatra, I would know who he is.”
Bon Jovi, he said, gave her a big hug and everyone had a good laugh.
When his aunt became ill and left her post in July 2018, there was such an outpouring of gratitude and love from the community that not only did a surprise retirement party at the Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club in Farmingdale attract more than 100 family members and friends, but an impromptu birthday party at his home a month later brought out another 60 people.
In the months that followed, pancreatic cancer began to take its toll on Muffie, who remained in the Cinellis’ Ocean Avenue home under hospice care. In her final days, she spent much of her time in her recliner placed in front a window overlooking the beachfront. And that’s where she would pass, peacefully on a sunny and warm spring day.
“She lived a good life,” Frank Cinelli said of his aunt. “She was never sick her whole life. And when it was her time, she passed looking at the ocean she loved so much. You can’t beat that.”
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