ST. PETERSBURG — Mike Nelle remembers the first time he danced with the girl who would become his wife.
It was October 1967 at a sock hop for Northeast High School students. As he gazed into Joyce Ann Davidson's eyes, Nelle recalls, he was thinking that she was somebody pretty special.
He didn't dance with anyone else for the rest of the night, nor with anyone else for the next 40 years without asking her permission.
"She was just so vibrant and full of energy," said Nelle, 56. "I was attracted to her beauty, but as beautiful as she was on the outside, she was more beautiful inside."
They married in 1971 and bought a modest two-bedroom house in Lake Pasadena Estates. Over the years, they added a second story and transformed the back yard into a tropical paradise, complete with a fish pond and a waterfall.
Mrs. Nelle loved to work in the garden. If a tree root got in her way, she would get an ax and attack it as if she were a lumberjack.
She was just as determined to beautify her community. She worked tirelessly to attract thousands of grant dollars to add landscaping and a sprinkler system to the neighborhood. Her efforts brought people together, and in time, a neighborhood dining-out group was born.
She entertained frequently, amazing her friends with her culinary skills. She became a member of the Poker Princesses, a group of women who traveled to each other's homes to play cards and socialize. She had a key role in planning her 40th high school reunion, which was a huge success last year.
"People gravitated to her, and she to them," said her sister Donna Leake. "She gave everybody her full attention. She was a good listener."
She also was a good employee, working for 31 years as a legal assistant for St. Petersburg lawyer Bill Walker.
"Every step of the way, Joyce and I were partners," Walker said. "She just did everything that needed to be done to make the office a success."
She worked hard but looked forward to vacations with her husband. They loved to visit national parks in the summer, watch the leaves change in the fall amid the Smoky Mountains, and ski in the winter at Lake Tahoe and Steamboat Springs.
A trip to Yosemite in June was their best, Nelle said.
"I didn't think it would be the last," he said. "We always planned on going back."
About three weeks ago, Mrs. Nelle developed a cough. Thinking she had a virus, she curtailed her daily 6-mile run, but still worked in her garden. She was hospitalized Feb. 24 after being diagnosed with pneumonia.
Her husband and her sister were at her bedside when she died three days later of what her doctors think was a blood clot. She was 58.
Saturday, family and friends will gather to celebrate her life. Nelle has asked that rather than sending flowers, they plant a flower or a tree in her memory.