Dianna Spina loved big families. She grew up in one, as the fourth of seven children Betty and Maurice Reed raised in Brigantine. Dianna graduated from Atlantic City High School in 1977, and not long after that, she married Pat Spina — a U.S. Coast Guard recruit from New York, stationed in Atlantic City. And they went on to have six kids of their own, now 15 to 34.

Dianna, of Galloway Township, was just 53 when she died suddenly, and shockingly, last month, of an apparent brain hemorrhage. But if she’d lived to see her real dream come true, her family would have been even bigger — and nobody ever would have had to move away from home.

“My mom was always playing the lottery,” says Ashlee Peifer, 30, of the Marmora section of Upper Township, Dianna’s oldest daughter. “If she won, she wanted to buy a big piece of land and have the family and all her best friends live in a compound — with a main dining hall.”

Patrick, 34, the oldest child, works with his dad in the family company, Grace Mechanical, of Galloway. Patrick also heard lots of that lottery fantasy over the years.

“She always wanted the compound — like the Kennedys,” he says. “But it wasn’t about the money or what she could get. It was about family. She just loved her family.”

And that main dining hall was a key part of the dream — to get everybody together for meals. Dianna would have run the kitchen.

“She always loved to cook,” Patrick says. “You had to pull teeth to get her to sit at the dinner table. We’d tell her, ‘Mom, slow down. Sit down. Relax.’”

But she also loved to feed people. Her sister, Betty Ann Olson, 55, also of Galloway, learned that all over again when her husband had a stroke in 2005. Dianna started taking meals to the Olsons — every day.

“That went on for eight months, or more,” Olson says. “After a while, I said, ‘Dianna, I don’t need all this food. We have leftovers from last night.’”

And at the same time Dianna was making all those meals, she was also driving her sister every evening to Elkins Park, Pa. — north of Philadelphia — to see her husband at a rehabilitation hospital.

But Dianna always tried to do right by people. Patrick says that comes from how she was raised, and from her Christian faith.

“That was everything to her. That’s what made everything else make sense — her rock-solid faith,” he says. “That’s what carried her through, and gave her the motivation to be ultimately who she was.”

And her family knows she was appreciated for who she was — but not just by her family. Dianna’s wake last month was set to run from 6 to 8 p.m. But so many people showed up, the Spina/Reed family had to stay until 11:30, just to say goodbye to a woman who always liked having a big crowd around.

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237