Constance L. "Connie" Cucina, a longtime volunteer at Stella Maris Hospice, where she had been a familiar figure in the gift shop helping patients and their families for more than 20 years, died Monday of pancreatic cancer at her Towson home.
She was 78.
The daughter of a wholesale produce broker and a homemaker, Constance Lee Demarco was born in Baltimore and raised on Cold Spring Lane and Springhill Avenue.
She was a 1951 graduate of Seton High School. Four years later, she married Samuel D. Cucina, who was also in wholesale produce.
"I first met her on Easter Sunday in 1944 in Druid Hill Park, and we also used to go to a social club at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church," said Mr. Cucina, who is retired from the Fava Fruit Co.
"She was a wonderful woman and the ultimate homemaker for our family," said a sister, Sister Fran Demarco, who is a member of the Sisters of Mercy and lives in Parkville. "She was a character and had millions of friends."
Mrs. Cucina, who lived in Towson's Campus Hills neighborhood, had been a longtime volunteer at Stella Maris in Timonium and for more than 20 years worked in its gift shop, where she was known for her endlessly cheerful and caring demeanor and her window decorations.
Another chore she handled was purchasing stock for the shop.
Mrs. Cucina fully embraced the role as being a personal shopper for residents of Mercy Ridge retirement community and Stella Maris.
"She'd get calls from patients requesting something, and if she didn't have it in the gift shop, she'd go and get it and tell them, 'I'll get it and bring it to you,'" said Sister Fran.
"Connie was always the first person there when someone was in need. ... She was also a good listener," said Sister Fran.
"She had excellent taste in purchasing gift items for the shop," said an aunt, Marianna Fava-Peyton, who lives at St. Elizabeth Hall Apartments for seniors at Stella Maris and is a gift shop volunteer.
"All the residents loved her," she said.
"There was nothing too big or too little that she wouldn't do for the people here. She never walked slowly to anything she was going to do. It was always a full trot," said Sister Louis Mary Battle, a Sister of Mercy who is president emerita of Stella Maris.
"She was a character who was never overshadowed by her wanting to do good for others," she said.
Sister M. Karen McNally, also a Sister of Mercy, is chief administrative officer at the Timonium facility.
"She was a longtime volunteer here and a member of the auxiliary since 2000. She was a most outstanding and loving person who was always looking out for someone else," said Sister Karen.
"She came very Wednesday and brought a group of other women volunteers who worked in the gift shop. I always called them the Wednesday Group," she said.
"About a month ago, while she was getting chemotherapy, Connie got a call from an older lady she cared for who had misplaced her car keys and got flustered. She got out of bed and had her husband drive her to Stella Maris so she could help the woman," said Sister Karen.
"Connie thrived on helping others," she said.
Joan Romanini, who retired from Stella Maris two weeks ago, was an old friend.
"Connie has been such a stalwart and faithful lady at Stella Maris. She had such a compassionate side, and you could count on her to do things and do them well, and always with a smile. I'm going to remember that smile," said Ms. Romanini.
"She was so kind to so many, and we really felt her loss this past year during her absence. Connie had a wonderful way about her and her death really hit home," said Ms. Romanini.
Other friends recalled her boundless energy. If a family member or friend was sick or recovering from surgery, it was Mrs. Cucina who would be at the door with a pot of chicken soup, baked macaroni or breaded chicken.
"Connie would get up at the crack of dawn, go to the grocery store, come home, go over to Stella Maris to do some volunteer work, return home and make dinner," said Rose Marie Sourlis, a longtime friend.
"She'd then go to the store again to pick up some things for the residents at Stella Maris, deliver the items to them, and then return home, and she still wasn't tired," she said.
Mrs. Cucina had been an avid tennis player for years and took up golf after she began experiencing leg problems.
She was a member of the Hunt Valley Ladies 9-Hole Group.
"When she became ill, I asked her what was hardest to give up, golf or Stella Maris, because her life was one of service," said Sister Fran.
Mrs. Cucina, who retained her sense of humor, left behind final instructions for her family.
"Connie was a happy go-lucky woman," her husband said.
"She said, 'When I die and I'm lying in the coffin, I want you to get a dress tag that says petite size 4, and I want you to let it hang outside of my dress for everyone to see. And don't let anyone try to tidy me up and tuck it in,'" said Stephanie Zenker, a cousin who lives in Phoenix, Baltimore County.
Mrs. Cucina was a communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues, Towson, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Also surviving are two sons, Domenic V. Cucina of Abingdon and Nicholas Cucina of Delray Beach, Fla.; two daughters, Gina Marie Cucina Rollman of Canton and Angelica Lee Cucina of Owings Mills; another sister, Marie Cucina of Hunt Valley; and two grandchildren.