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Beyond Limits

Family honors Portage native's impact and compassion

From the time she was a child in her hometown of Portage, Mary Lou (Cassisi) Kiel was always quick to help in any way she could, welcoming to others, and ready for adventure on a moment’s notice.

When her family needed help in their restaurant or taking care of her younger siblings, she was there, working hard while maintaining great grades in high school.

When the love of her life signed up for a U.S. Navy pilot’s life—and the 11 moves that would come with it—she was in, visiting him on weekends and marrying him after he graduated.

When her husband asked her if there were any way she could visit him in Hong Kong, even though she was caring for their three children, she replied with a simple telegram: “Have sitter, will travel.”

Her sense of adventure never waned. In retirement, she and her husband traveled the world—from Alaska to South America, to Egypt and beyond—and somehow she still found time to serve as an anchor for beloved friends and family, as she always had.

In honor of her giving spirit and a lifetime of hard work, her family has established the Mary Lou Cassisi Kiel Memorial Scholarship Fund, created for public school students from Portage Borough and Portage Township. The scholarship will be granted to a graduating senior, who will receive additional scholarship funding for maintaining a GPA of at least 3.0 and remains enrolled in a college/university.

“My mom’s story is one of incredible resilience,” her son, David, said.

Her strength provided strength for others, too, and the scholarship—given in honor of Mary Lou and her husband Joe Kiel, 1957 graduates of Portage High School—is another way for her legacy of helping and uplifting others to continue, he added.

“Her compassionate nature had her always providing advice or just listening as friends, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren would talk to her about their worries.”

Mary Lou passed away in December 2020, and her loved ones described her as the heart and soul of the family. Survived by her husband, children, and grand-children, her life inspired many, including her son-in-law, Lee Jones, who penned a poem in her honor. CLICK HERE to see what he wrote.

To find out more about the scholarship, view application details when they become available, or make a donation in Mary Lou’s honor, click the button below.

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