ORLANDO, Fla. — People in Orlando are mourning the loss of an Orlando philanthropist and a man they call an “icon” in the art world.

What You Need To Know

Michael Mennello, co-founder of the Mennello Museum of American Art, died Friday from complications from COVID-19.

Friends say, the story of Michael and Marilyn Mennello is as colorful as the art you’ll find on the walls of the museum named after them.

Anne Peoples sums up the meeting that led to a 40-year friendship.

“My husband-to-be  introduced us," said Peoples, who works at the museum. "We became fast and furious friends. When I finally married this darling man, Marilyn zipped up my wedding dress, and Michael walked me down the aisle.”

Peoples says the most pervasive quality of this power couple was their passion for art.

So in 1998, after Michael and Marilyn’s massive contribution of artwork, the Mennello Museum of American Art was born.

"It’s totally their vision," Mennello Museum of Natural Art board member Mary Kenney said. "It's how they selected the art with Earl Cunningham, and what the museum has done to bring other artists in the community to the museum.”

Kenny remembers the day Michael asked her to become a museum board member.

“I couldn’t turn him down, he’s very persuasive. So I have been on the board, I want to say, gosh, a long, long time," Kenney said. “He was amazing. He inspired me, I learned a lot from him, and I felt blessed to have known him.”

Mennello’s passing is a bitter pill to swallow, but friends are focusing on the positive.

"You dwell on the good memories. You remember the good times," Peoples said.

They also look toward the future, with plans to expand the museum to more than double its current size.

“His dream was to expand the museum," explained Walter Ketcham, museum Board Chairman.

“It will grow, and it will always be a great tribute to Marilyn and Michael Mennello."

“They’ve definitely left a legacy that will benefit and enrich our community, so he will be truly missed," Peoples said.

Instead of flowers, Mennello’s family is encouraging people to contribute to the “Building Our Future” campaign, for the museum’s expansion.