THERE WAS the famous Neil Diamond story.
Family legend had it that the singer-songwriter showed up at the concession stand at the Spectrum one day and, without introducing himself, told Madeline Forte, who ran the stand, that Neil Diamond was soon to perform.
"I wouldn't pay any money to see him," she snorted.
A humbled but still anonymous Neil Diamond skulked away. But that Saturday at his concert, he told the story about his run-in with the "hotdog lady." He had arranged with management to have her brought up to the stands and put a spotlight on her.
He provided free tickets for her and her family for his next show, which they attended.
The story defines the kind of woman Madeline Forte was - tough, feisty, outspoken and one who wouldn't take any guff from anyone.
What it doesn't tell is the other side of Madeline Forte, a woman whose heart always went out to anyone who needed help, a place to stay or a good wholesome Italian meal. She even took in stray animals.
"She helped many, many people by welcoming them into her home if they were down on their luck," said her nephew, Anthony Gallo.
Madge, as she was known to family and friends, died April 11 of complications of emphysema and diabetes. She was 87 and had lived in South Philadelphia all her life.
She worked for ARA Services for 40 years at the South Philadelphia sports arena selling pizza, hotdogs, beer and sodas.
Over the years, many notables enjoyed the treats she sold as well as her lively conversation - from Ed Snider, whose company owned the place, to former mayor and governor Ed Rendell and countless fans who grew up on her food and drink.
Another favorite family story was the time that her son, Frank J. Forte Jr., bought a beer from her at a Flyers game. He stepped aside as another man asked for a beer. Madge carded him, even though he looked to be about 40.
"How come you carded me and not this man?" he asked, indicating Frank.
"Because he's my son and I know how old he is," she replied.
The joke was that Frank wasn't yet 21.
In a eulogy at her funeral, Frank said to his mother, "You took people in even when you didn't like them. You took pets in even when you didn't want them. You spread your love around to everyone."
Madge was a passionate Flyers fan. When the team won its first Stanley Cup in 1974, Madge in her enthusiasm rushed into the locker room, from which she was politely expelled.
She was the proud possessor of a hockey stick signed by most of the members of that team.
"She was a tough little Italian lady, not afraid of anything," her son said.
Madge was born in Philadelphia to Benjamin and Josephine Landi, Italian immigrants. She attended South Philadelphia High School, and went to work at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II.
She always believed that lung problems that plagued her most of her life were caused by exposure to asbestos at the shipyard.
Her first husband, John Licata, died of complications of diabetes, and she married Frank J. Forte, an insurance agent, in the late '60s. He died in 1982.
Madge was a fine cook in the Italian style. She would prepare large meals for her growing family, including her special gravy and meatballs, and the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes at Christmastime.
She retired from ARA in 2007.
Besides her son, she is survived by another son, Donald Licata; a daughter, Stephanie "Pebbles" Ruggiano; a sister, Vicky Gallo; 10 grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandson. She was predeceased by a daughter, Stephanie Fontana.
Services: Were April 16. Burial was in Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Marple.