Sheila Urbanetti, 1927-2019
A shortened version of this obit appeared in The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Conn., May 26, 2019
Sheila Urbanetti used to say that the three most important things she’d done in her life were: 1) have her two children 2) separate from her husband 3) have her knees replaced. And in that order.
That’s just how she was—all five foot, two of her: straightforward and loving and strong with a hint of glee. With her jet-black hair and blue eyes, she had a spark.
Sheila loved her family and friends, her Irish heritage, a clean, well-decorated house, chocolate, and Miller Lite. She loved celebrating Halloween and having parties lasting until the early morning. She enjoyed playing cards, shopping for “pretties,” going out to eat, reading mysteries or family sagas, and traveling to visit family. She was famous for her potato salad.
Sheila died May 19, 2019 after suffering from dementia for twelve years. She was ninety-one.
Sheila Margaret Reilly was born September 19, 1927 in Hartford, Conn. to Agnes (Bender) Reilly and Owen Reilly. Her mother, Irish but adopted by a German mother, died when she was four. Sheila was raised by her father and her strict grandmother in Manchester, Conn. Her “Grammie” went blind when Sheila was eight. It was not an easy childhood, but it shaped who she would become, a woman who had a hard side and a soft side and showed them equally.
She married Marino Urbanetti when she was nineteen and had two children, Steven and Ellen. Though she referred to Marino as the love of her life, she knew she needed to separate from him to provide a better life for her children. She was ahead of her time, leaving when many women would have stayed.
She valued people for their character, not the color of their skin or ethnicity. She raised her children to know they were no better than anyone, and no one was any better than them.
Sheila made the best of adversity. Raising two children alone in Hartford was challenging, but she made do and always managed to have fresh flowers every Friday when she got paid. Sundays were a special day for eating grinders (Italian sandwiches) and hot fudge sundaes in bed. Sheila imparted life lessons to her daughter while taking half-hour walks each way to the grocery store, pushing a shopping cart back to the house while sharing one pair of gloves. They carried the shopping cart full of groceries up three flights of stairs, oftentimes breaking into fits of laughter.
To support herself and her children, Sheila worked several jobs at various points, in factories, at the Meadows Drive-In Theater, where she made many dear friends, and as a meat wrapper at Snyder’s Supermarket in Hartford.
Once, a social worker came to the family’s house because they were receiving assistance from the state. The social worker seemed surprised when she entered the immaculate and tastefully decorated home. When Sheila said she planned to work for the State, the social worker haughtily responded, “and what makes you think you can work for the State?” Sheila shot out of her seat, stood with arms akimbo, and replied “and what makes you think I can’t?!” Later that year, Sheila took the tests needed to work for the State and achieved the highest scores of anyone at that time. Though she had no formal education, she became an interviewer for the State of Connecticut Employment Services.
Sheila lived life the way she wanted and never wanted more. She never wanted to own a home or a car, as she did not want the responsibility of upkeep. She put her efforts into maintaining an elegant apartment, lunching with her friends, and spending time with her family.
Sheila was in her fifties when she learned to drive around town. She had a lead foot, and her nickname was “crash.” She used to drive her friends around taking them to appointments, lunches and shopping. Later, in her seventies when Ellen moved to Maine, Sheila learned to drive, safely, on the highway.
Sheila retired from the state at sixty-four and spent much of her time running around with friends and treating them to meals. She was the one who motivated her friends to get up and go out. She also hosted luncheons where she and her friends played cards for nickels. They saved up the winnings and all would go out for a treat.
Sheila relocated to Maine in 2007 and lived with Ellen and son-in-law, Roger, AKA her runaround buddy. She has lived at a memory care facility, Avita of Wells, since January 2017.
Recently, a staff member at Avita asked Sheila what she was grateful for. “I’m grateful for being alive,” she said.
She is survived by a son, Steven Urbanetti, and his wife, Kim, of Las Vegas, Nev.; daughter, Ellen Salvatore-Voisine, and Roger Voisine from North Berwick, Maine; a granddaughter, Connie Mazur, and her husband, Judd, of Tempe, Ariz.; a grandson, Michael Salvatore, her “very own Mikey,” and his husband, Jose Antonio, of New York, NY; a step-granddaughter, Kim Voisine, and partner, Stefan, of Manchester, Conn..; a step-grandson, Kevin Voisine, and his partner, Candice, of DeBary, Florida; three great-grandchildren, Isaac, Eric and Aubrey; seven step-great-grandchildren: Josh Corneliuson and his wife, Kathy, Ashley and Jamie Voisine, Christopher, Michael, Cassandra and Marian Zajac; two great-great grandsons, Tobynand Bryce Corneliuson; and a brother-in-law, Joseph Urbanetti and his wife, Yolanda.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Agnes and Owen Reilly; husband, Marino Urbanetti; sisters, Dorothy McNair and Evelyn Walters; two sisters-in-law, Palmira Marinelli and Mary Sharples; and a brother-in-law, Peter Urbanetti.
Sheila’s family would like to send their deepest thanks and love to a dear friend through all of the seasons, Lafern O’Connor of Manchester, Conn. They would also like to thank the staff at Avita of Wells and Beacon Hospice for appreciating and loving Sheila’s spirit.
Please join them in celebrating Sheila’s life Saturday morning June 1 between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the South United Methodist Church, 1226 Main St, Manchester. A luncheon will follow at the Manchester Country Club. Per Sheila’s request, please wear bright colors.