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An Adventurous Life: Alexandria’s Donna Masi

Thomas P. Caldwell - September 30, 2013

Donna Masi Zipline

Donna Masi climbs the ropes for her zipline adventure at Tenney Mountain in Plymouth.

An Alexandria woman who has taken advantage of her senior years to make adventurous trips for the last two decades now has set her sights on a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Although her home in this rural New Hampshire community feels a world apart from the palaces in Cairo, Egypt, and the villages of South Africa, Donna Masi has visited both places, as well as taking a cruise to the Cayman Islands and trying out a glider in Maine and a zipline at Tenney Mountain in Plymouth.

The 85-year-old widow of a career law enforcement officer, Donna is as happy sitting at home making quilts or baking as she is traveling to far-away places and taking to the skies or the seas. Donna simply loves life.

Donna and Bonnie Masi

Donna and her daughter, Bonnie, prepare for a flight in a glider on the Maine coast in 1991.

It was her daughter, Bonnie, who got Donna involved in the adventurous life. In 1991, when Donna was 63, Bonnie had her mother join her on a rafting trip near Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor ME. They traveled down Class V rapids and Donna loved it; then Bonnie spotted a place that gave glider rides and they added that to the itinerary.

Since then, every few years, the mother-and-daughter team heads out with other friends and relatives to a new destination and a new experience. In 2009, when Donna was 80, Bonnie took her mother to Tenney Mountain which had one of the first ziplines in the area, and Donna gladly took to the ropes and glided across the chasm.

Her trips do not always involve Bonnie. Donna has joined other friends for excursions such as the Norwegian Winds cruise to the Cayman Islands in 1999. She has joined her friend, Virginia Duggan, a former travel agent, on several trips, among them a memorable visit to Italy that is among Donna’s fondest memories.

And Donna has a lot of memories. At 85, she admits that some of the memories are a little confused and she sometimes has to correct herself as she relates events of the last six or seven decades. But she says her doctor tells her she is in great shape for her age and she is not reliant on any medications, unlike many people much younger than herself.

Donna Masi Brownies

Donna Masi cuts a freshly made batch of brownies in her Alexandria home.

Born in Janesville WI in 1928, Donna met her late husband, Ed, when she was living in Newark NJ. Both were on vacation and were spending time at the beach, Ed with a group of five other bachelors and she alone with her radio, doing cartwheels on the shore. They met when Ed approached to ask if they could listen to the ballgame on her radio.

“He was 12 years older, with black, wavy hair,” Donna recalls. “I figured he was married and I wasn’t going to give him a second look; in fact, I fell asleep while they were listening to the game, and when I woke up, he was gone.”

But Ed had not forgotten that young woman on the beach and, when he found her there again the next day, he invited her to dinner — at the place he was staying. Donna said that, although he was a police officer in Clifton NJ, he also was a great cook.

After their vacation, both returned to work — she was employed at RCA — but Ed called her again, inviting her to the stock car races, another of his passions. On their second date, he said he wanted to marry her. She said she needed to know him better first and put him off until the following July, when they had been together for a year.

They married July 12, 1952, at the American Legion hall which Ed had helped to build and where he served as commander.

Ed quit the police force and they moved to Southborough MA where they operated a chicken farm with 3,000 birds and Ed delivered bottled gas; but they had a string of bad luck that convinced them to move back to New Jersey. First there was a bad fire and they were not insured; then they lost a large number of chickens when a cat scared them and hundreds smothered in the ensuing panic. After a hurricane swept through the area, they decided they had had enough.

Donna Masi at home

Donna Masi stands in front of the historic signs decorating her Alexandria barn. The 85-year-old is planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands this fall.

Donna said that, having grown up in the country, she did not like the city and wanted to get out of New Jersey. Her parents and grandfather were living in Bristol NH in 1961, at a home with cottages near Newfound Lake, and Donna asked them to be on the lookout for a piece of property in the area. Ed’s stipulation was that it needed to have water on the site. They found a property in Alexandria that had a brook and was for sale for $1,800. When Ed and Donna came up to look at the former grist mill with waterwheel, they immediately paid for it in cash.

With previous experience in roofing and painting, Ed set to work on the 1800s home, adding knotty pine wainscoting and shelving. With Donna’s father, they built two bedrooms in the unfinished attic. Fifty years later, Donna still is living in the cozy home on five acres.

Raising Bonnie and her brothers, Lance and Chad, kept Donna busy but she still found time to write a town column for the local newspaper, the Bristol Enterprise. Ed served as the town’s police chief and fire chief and he also became a state bus inspector. While serving as fire chief, he started the tradition of having children come to the fire station for Halloween, bobbing for apples and enjoying other activities.

Since Ed’s death in 1994, Donna has kept busy with the property, also boarding cats and dogs for neighbors and her own family. She came up with her own recipe for brownies which became a hit with people around town; and whenever she goes to someone’s house, she bakes one of her flaky-crust pies to take along — some friends even make requests.

And she makes quilts. After her trip to Africa, she incorporated photos of the wild animals they had encountered into the squares on her reversible quilt.

Meanwhile, she has found time to travel to Ireland and England and the other places that fill her photograph albums. The trip to South Africa and Egypt with Bonnie took place in 2008 when there was great turmoil in Cairo. They were visiting a friend’s daughter who had a diplomatic job and was living in a palace with armed guards, but they were able to tour the city and make a trip down the Nile and see the pyramids.

Now, with the trip to the Galapagos Islands ahead of her, Donna expresses some concern about keeping up with her daughter and her friends, Helena Brisk of San Miguel CA and Wendy Woodard of Encinitas CA — even though, on a trip to Welton Falls in Alexandria 10 years ago, Donna outdid Helena, 27 years her junior, hopping over the rocks with ease.

Regardless of her ability to keep up with the others, Donna plans to take her birthday trip to Ecuador in stride (both she and Wendy share birthdays on Oct. 19). In addition to the Galapagos Islands, they will be touring around Quito and going to Otavalo Market, a huge outdoor market that features livestock and woven products.

As with everything she does, Donna plans to enjoy the new adventure that awaits her. 

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