Diane Santillie, who was perhaps better known in the Tri-Cities as "Pasta Mama," died on Thanksgiving Day at the age of 64.
She spent her last three weeks at the Hospice at the Chaplaincy in Kennewick, said her husband, Paul.
She started making pasta in her own kitchen and selling it in 1986 to Ariel Gourmet and Gifts in Richland, where customers bestowed the nickname on her. Together she and her husband turned her kitchen-stove business into a corporation with up to 50 employees that shipped products to gourmet food stores and department stores nationwide in the late '80s and early '90s.
In 1991, Pasta Mama's was named the Small Business of the Year in Washington and the Santillies were honored in a ceremony in the White House rose garden.
But their lives changed in 1994 when Paul Santillie was pitched out of a hot air balloon as it landed near the Columbia River in Franklin County. He was dragged and bounced for 25 to 50 feet along the ground before the balloon stopped, leaving his spinal cord damaged.
He and Diane turned their focus to years of rehabilitation to help him regain limited movement. But within three years the costs of Paul's therapy forced them into bankruptcy. Their business was foreclosed upon and the Pasta Mama name sold to another food company.
But the recipes were not sold, and 16 years after the accident the Santillies re-acquired the Pasta Mama name and started cooking again.
Their company, owned with partners, includes a website for wholesale and retail sales at pastamamas.com and a manufacturing facility and small retail shop at 1119 Columbia Park Trail in Richland.
"It's going to be a lot different without her," said Paul, who was at work Friday.
The retail shop and gift area were her specialties, he said.
"She was a natural at it," he said. "She could make it happen."
Her last weeks at the hospice house were filled with visits from friends who knew her as a fun and funny person, said her daughter, Charis Santillie.
"She had a huge heart. She was such a creative, vibrant spirit," Charis said.
In addition to her husband and daughter, she is survived by stepsons Kirk Harper and Kevin Santillie and sister Nyla Ericksen.
A service is planned at 1 p.m. Dec. 14 at Hillcrest Memorial Center, 9353 W. Clearwater Ave., Kennewick.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; email@example.com