Marion Mason had a knack for feeding lots of people at one time, which is a good talent to have when you're a mother of six.

But Marion and James Mason's six kids - Steven, Howard, David, Neil, Linda and Donna - were hardly the only people she fed in the family's Atlantic City home.

The Mason kids all had friends, and the family's home was a favorite spot in their Inlet neighborhood. And if those friends were around at dinnertime, Marion would feed them too.

"We'd probably have 15 for dinner," her son, Neil Mason, remembered this week, about a month after his mom died at 85.

But of course, when Marion's kids grew up and moved out on their own, things changed. The dinners Marion cooked got even bigger.

"She had 17 grandchildren," added Neil, 57, of Absecon, now a professional cook himself. "So if everybody was there, we might have 30 or 35 people ... running around."

In her later years, Marion moved from the old house to a high-rise apartment, still in Atlantic City. The building had a community room, and the multi-generation Masons would fill that big room for birthdays or other big occasions. But by then, the family chef had some help with the menu.

"She would still do a lot of cooking," Neil said. "But as we got older, everyone would pitch in to make it a little easier."

Still, even in her later years, Marion could feed a crowd. The Rev. Odinga Maddox II is pastor at Atlantic City's Price Memorial AME Zion Church, where Marion was a loyal member for more than 40 years. Maddox figures he met Marion in about 1998, the year she turned 70. But when he needed someone to put out lunches for as many as 25 student ministers at one time, he asked her. She was the ministry school's head chef for the next seven years or so, the pastor said.

"This was a full-course, hot lunch - no sandwiches," said Maddox, who was personally a big fan of Marion's "roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, everything from scratch."

Maddox went to Marion for that job because "I knew she had right kind of spirit, the right heart for helping. Plus I knew she was a good cook," the pastor added, with a laugh.

Her church was important to her. And one of her grandchildren, Terri Dade, 38, of Pleasantville, remembers that the combination of church and family was especially big to Marion.

"Everyone went to her church," Dade said. "And we always had to walk. ... She didn't believe in getting on the church van or catching buses. She had to walk."

And then after services, "We'd walk back to her place. That was just the place to go after church," Dade added.

In her family, Marion's house was just the place to go almost anytime - especially when she was cooking.

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