Jeannie Napolitano, beloved mother, grandmother and friend, left this world to be with her husband, Mike, in heaven on May, 24, 2016. After an unexpected bout with pneumonia, Jeannie was able to spend her last days at home surrounded by family just as she wished.
Jeannie was well known in Coronado as someone who always had a smile ready for whoever crossed her path. She also possessed a vibrant indomitable spirit that was no match for the rheumatoid arthritis that challenged her for the last half of her life.
The former Jeannie Evans was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania and brought up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She went to nursing school at Indiana University and after graduating worked as a stewardess for the military charter airlines, “Flying Tigers.”
“All the stewardesses, as they were referred to in that era, were required to be nurses,” said her daughter, Michelle Napolitano-Lang. “She flew all over the world. She had a charm bracelet, with charms from all the cities and countries she visited – everywhere from Limerick, Ireland to Rome to Venezuela.”
Jeannie followed her Flying Tigers adventures with a more grounded position – she worked for the Santa Fe Railroad as a nurse assigned to the San Francisco-to-Chicago route.
“She always had an adventurous spirit,” noted her son, Mike Napolitano. “I think that’s one of the many things that she and Dad had in common.”
Jeannie’s brother Lee Evans was a police officer in Coronado and convinced his sister that sunny Coronado was the place to be. Jeannie initially settled in Imperial Beach in the early 1960s and in short order secured a position at Coronado Hospital as the night nurse in the ICU.
About that time Lee introduced Jeannie to her future husband: Mike Napolitano who was working as a real estate agent at Lee Mather Company. Mike and Jeannie were married in 1965 – eloping to Las Vegas. Always social and outgoing, the couple went backstage following a performance of the Louie Prima Orchestra and Mike convinced the band’s famous saxophone player, Sam Butera, to serve as his best man.
Back home in Coronado, the newlyweds held a reception at Dino’s restaurant and lounge, which preceded the former Chu Dynasty at the corner of B Avenue and Ynez Place.
Michelle was born later that year, and in addition to being a mother, Jeannie became actively involved with the Coronado Republican Women’s Club in its earliest days. The couple were longtime members of the Coronado Hospital Foundation, attending many of the Foundation’s annual galas.
Mike and Jeannie traveled all over the world, first via air, then on many ocean cruises and later RVing across America and into Canada. “Dad was always in search of the perfect fishing hole,” said Mike. “And they both loved meeting people along the way.” The couple also purchased a home in Magic Lake, Idaho where they went every summer and loved so dearly.
“They were two very social people,” Michelle agreed. “They had parties at their house all the time
In the 1980s, while Mike worked at the real estate company he founded, Napolitano Realty, Jeannie took up a hobby – building miniature dollhouses, that turned into a lifelong labor of love. Recalls Michelle: “She bought a giant 2-story Victorian Doll house kit and she and I started to build it together. As Mom got more and more into miniatures, she appreciated the workmanship, the craftsmanship and soon began to build in ¼” scale simply because she ran out of room to display larger dollhouses.“
Jeannie was a member of the San Diego Miniature Crafters; the group met monthly for projects and put on an annual show. Jeannie had a studio in the back of her home that was devoted to her miniatures and she spent many happy hours crafting dollhouses, even creating vegetables and flowers from scratch. Many of her pieces, including Christmas scenes, a Harry Potter house, a lamp store, general store, a Far East curio shop and flower shop are displayed in the family home, “Casa Napoli,” on G Avenue.
“Mom loved living in Coronado,” Michelle said. “She loved all the many friends she had. After Dad died, she played mahjong at the Coronado Senior Center and joined Coronado Community Church.”
Jeannie first encountered her nemesis — rheumatoid arthritis – when she was in her mid 40s. “I remember her mentioning she was having some problems,” recalled Mike. “But she didn’t dwell on it.”
But the arthritis presented a challenge that grew progressively worse over the years, leaving Jeannie confined to a wheelchair over the past three years; Michelle served as her primary caregiver for over 12 years, spending quality time going out to lunch, movies, social events, and some traveling as well.
“Mom steamrolled through 14 surgeries in 10 years,” Michelle said. “She was a bionic woman who rarely complained, always doing whatever it took to get better and optimize her mobility. Oh, once in a great while she’d say, ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take.’ And then she’d take it.
“She always claimed she wasn’t courageous,” Michelle added. And I said ‘Are you kidding? You’re the most courageous person I know!’”
Jeannie was predeceased by her husband of 43 years, Michel Napolitano, who passed away in 2008. She is survived by her daughter Michelle Napolitano-Lang (Ron) of Coronado and three stepchildren: son Mike Napolitano, Jr. (Sue) of Coronado; daughter Cassie Webb (Dennis) of Coronado and daughter Nancie Napolitano of San Diego. Jeannie was also a loving grandmother to six grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 18 at Resurrection Lutheran Church, 1111 Fifth Street, in Coronado. Reverend Steve Mather of Coronado Community Church will conduct the services and the Coronado Community Church choir, which Jeannie loved deeply, will sing.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Jeannie Napolitano’s name to the Coronado Hospital Foundation or charities that support wounded veterans.