ST. PETERSBURG — Shut-ins knew Isabel Masi as the kindly woman who delivered them Meals on Wheels.
Her family knew her as a tireless provider who worked double shifts as a nurse's aide, then stretched a slim budget to feed nine people. Only those closest to Mrs. Masi knew how hard she had worked or the sadnesses she had endured. Few others would likely have guessed.
Mrs. Masi, who maintained a chipper attitude through the toughest times, died Oct. 28, of pancreatic cancer. She was 84.
A performer in Pennsylvania nightclubs and for the USO, Mrs. Masi never passed up an opportunity to sing and dance.
"She could dance the leg off a chair," said Rick Masi, her son.
Isabel Povelitis was born in Aliquippa, Pa., in the Pittsburgh area. She worked briefly as a shipyard riveter as a young woman and sang in clubs.
In 1954, she and husband, Rudolph Masi, moved to a small house in northwest St. Petersburg. "We didn't even know that we didn't have anything at the time," said Rick Masi, 58.
She embraced her Catholic faith and responded to any small stroke of luck by saying, "Praise the Lord." She held onto that faith after a freak car accident killed her daughter, Mary Alice, in 1966.
As the children grew up and Rudolph Masi died at age 60 from a blood clot, Mrs. Masi took in those who needed a place to stay. In the late 1990s, those briefly included former Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer player Craig Fossett, who had once played for a youth soccer team coached by Rick Masi, who also coaches soccer at Seminole High School.
Fossett, now 44 and a teacher at Armwood High School, recalled coming home at night to Mrs. Masi's house to find another microwave-ready meal in the fridge. "It was almost to the point where I would say, 'You're doing too much,' " Fossett said. "She would say, 'This is just what I do for people.' "
She showed up last year at the funeral of one of her son's former soccer players, who had died in a car crash. She didn't know the young man but wanted to console his parents.
She entertained veterans weekly by singing and playing the piano at the nursing home at Bay Pines VA Medical Center. Veterans looked forward to her visits, some bringing harmonicas to accompany her. She still visited after she was diagnosed in April with cancer and was in a wheelchair.
"I had to wheel her into every room," said Rudy Masi, Rick's twin brother. "She knew something personal about every one of them. 'This guy is a lieutenant colonel, he flew this kind of plane. This or that person is having a problem.'"
Said Rick Masi, "She used to say, 'Never forget our veterans.'"
Nor did others forget her. Scores of get-well cards arrived the last several months of her life. Hundreds packed St. Matthew Catholic Church in Largo for her funeral.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]