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Despite tragedy, Springfield woman feels blessed

Patricia Cahill

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — About three weeks after the tornado in Springfield damaged her roof, Nelida Macias went home and found a little box at her front door.

Macias, known to her friends as Nellie, taught second grade at the Mary Walsh School in Springfield.

When the tornado hit on June 1, she was at Frigo’s foods, stocking up for a luncheon she was giving for colleagues. She was about to retire after more than 20 years at the school.

She put aside the little box that had been left for her, and put it aside again later. She only opened it when she returned home a third time.

What she found inside made her cry.

The box contained a note from a stranger, who signed herself only as “Rhonda.”

It read: “I was growing up in this house 50 years ago, along with my three brothers and one sister. I see the damage the tornado caused and am relieved it was not worse. Here’s a little something for your anxiety and stress at this time.”

Enclosed was $200 in cash.

Macias was deeply touched by the anonymous act of kindness, which came at an emotional time in her life.

She is the widow of Felipe Macias, the 49-year-old worker who fell from a Springfield rooftop at a construction job in September. He died a week later.

The couple had been married for six years.

Soon Macias had to part with Felipe’s young sons from an earlier marriage. The boys, whose mother had also died young, asked their new “mami” to let them live with relatives in their native Ecuador. It was a blow to Macias, who adores them and still sends financial support.

Then came the tornado.

Macias says that, throughout these dark times, the love and support of her colleagues at school and at her church in Indian Orchard have been beyond description.

And then came the little box.

“This is the way God blesses us every day,” said Macias. “When we think we’re alone, he always sends someone.”

Macias showed the note to the teachers at Mary Walsh, who were also deeply moved.

“They said, ‘So many bad things happen in the world. but we still have people who care about others,’ ” said Macias.

That’s how she feels, too. She is the kind of person who seems to be lit from within.

She grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico with eight brothers and four sisters. They slept on a concrete floor, which their mother tried to soften with a layer of socks.

But love — there was plenty of that, said Macias.

The little girl also had brains and determination. She walked two miles to school every day. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico and, in 1992, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where she earned a master’s degree with high honors.

She was widowed the first time many years ago, re-married and divorced. She has a daughter from each marriage, Jennifer Santiago and Jessica Alvarado.

Then, on a missionary trip to Ecuador for her church, Nellie fell in love again. Felipe, a widower, was eight years younger. She married him in 2004.

“What a happy and glorious bride she was,” recalled Mary Ellen Petrucelli, former principal of Mary Walsh and one of her dearest friends.

The Republican