Goodnight, Irene

The dazzling Irene Zapanta.  

By Lindy Rosales

Makeup and hair stylist Irene Zapanta passed away on July 20 after a long bout with cancer. More than a beautician, she was, to people who knew her, a woman of “class and elegance,” a trusted confidante, a friend to everyone. ‘Everyone’ meant the prominent community personalities whose hair she had  fashioned, as well as regular folks who sought her out in her Jersey City salon, Danica & Irene Beauty Concepts.

A few days ago, tributes started showing up on Facebook for Irene Zapanta. “Irene is gone,” my husband told me.

I was in shock. Irene was such an enduring presence, it’s like she would never leave the community even if Death came by to claim her. We would meet each other in galas and beauty pageant fundraisers where she would dazzle with her gorgeous gowns and creative head pieces. She would light up a room with her titillating laugh, never without a glass of red wine in hand. She would do people’s hair and faces and later emerge looking like she never did many hours of work making people look pretty.

Born Rene De Dios Zapanta in Guagua, Pampanga, she came to the United States in 1986. She worked as a hairstylist first in California trying to get her feet wet in the beauty business.  She later moved to New York City and eventually settled in Jersey City. She is well known in the community as a person with a “beautiful heart.”  One who gave generously without ever expecting anything in return. For her many customers, she was known for not being a tattletale. All secrets shared on her salon chair stayed with her, according to someone who has sat in her parlor for hours.

With devoted boyfriend Nick Shuster. Photo by Boyet Loverita

She loved her family dearly. Her brother Jhun Zapanta told me how he was living in another state when Irene invited him to live with her in Jersey City. He would help out around the salon which he did not mind because it gave him a chance to watch his sister up close as she “worked her magic” doing makeup and hairstyling. “She is the consummate professional,” he said.

Friends remember

“Death may have taken you away from me, but it could never take away your memories,” writes friend and business partner Danny Yvanoff Julian on Facebook. “You will always be in my heart, in your own special place. RIP.” He is the other half of Danica & Irene Beauty Concepts.

“A woman of class, elegance, fashion and poise,” writes long-time friend Chelle Lhuillier, who formed her friendship with Irene way back 14 years ago “during our clubbing years where we shared so much fun and great memories.”

“You will be missed not only by me but by many in the FilAm community. Your service and contribution to the society of fashionable FilAm women will always be remembered,” says Chelle.

The beauty salon in Jersey City.  Photo by Marisse Panlilio.

“Rest gracefully in peace,” photographer Boyet Loverita bids his farewell.

“She is such a great friend way back during my Congen days. Prayers for her peaceful repose,” says Ambassador Mario Lopez de Leon Jr., former consul general in New York.

Irene succumbed from a condition called Metastatic Hepatocellular Carcinoma, a form of liver cancer. Dr. Alice Almendral, who paid her a visit in the hospital in her final days, said the cancer has spread to her lungs.

“I’m at peace, Doc. I don’t fear death,” Irene muttered to Almendral as shared on Facebook. “Three weeks ago, I was able to talk to her. She was in good spirits. She was pain-free and never felt that great after 1-2 months of horrible pain.”

Irene is survived by her father Restituto Zapanta; siblings Nanette, Jeanne, Restituto, Jr. and Roehl; siblings-in-law, Joy and Ramon; and boyfriend Nick Schuster. A memorial mass was held on July 24th at Our Lady of Victories Church in Jersey City.

“Nick misses her greatly,” said his father Fred Shuster.

Rest now, Irene. You are loved by many to ever be forgotten.

(C) The FilAm 2021

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