PORT TOWNSEND — When he was 10 years old, Lorraine Valmassori’s grandson James, who was prone to asking soul-searching questions, asked her:
“Who was the most important person in your life, the person who made the biggest change in your life?”
Lorraine thought for a moment, the names of husband and children coming to mind.
Then, she realized, it was not a family member.
“I thought, ‘It was Mrs. Aldrich,’” she said.
This weekend, Valmassori, who now lives in Palm Desert, Calif., is returning to Port Townsend to celebrate her 80th birthday and to play the piano for the Sunday service at the church she attended as a child, Trinity United Methodist Church.
She is dedicating the music to the late Hanna Aldrich, her Sunday school teacher, whose offer to teach her to play the piano changed her life.
“I would never have gone into music,” Valmassori said in a phone interview.
“She gave me a start.”
How it happened
When she was 8, Lorraine, then Lorraine Dooley, was walking home from the elementary school, which is now part of the high school campus on Morgan Hill.
Her family lived in a mill worker’s cottage on Calhoun Street.
Aldrich, who taught Sunday school at Trinity Methodist, lived a block away.
As Lorraine passed the house, Aldrich came out and asked Lorraine if she wanted to learn to play the piano.
“She said to come by every day after school, and she would teach me to play,” Valmassori said, “and I did.”
The Great Depression
This was the 1930s.
Lorraine’s family had neither a piano nor much money.
Her father, John Dooley, worked at the paper mill.
When the mill was on shutdown, he painted houses, chopped wood or worked on their house, turning a pantry into a bedroom for Lorraine so she wouldn’t have to share with her brother.
John was a Port Townsend native who grew up at Fort Worden, where his father, Anson Roy Dooley, was stationed.
Her grandfather played the drum in the post band, Valmassori said, and watched for ships in the Strait out a window, communicating with two other forts to triangulate the position.
His lifetime encompassed the 50-year history of the fort.
“He was there when it opened and attended the ceremony when it closed,” she said.
Hanna Aldrich was married to Fred Aldrich, whose family started Aldrich’s Grocery.
Despite not being a piano teacher by profession, she offered Lorraine lessons and taught her every day after school, not skipping a day.
After three years of lessons, Aldrich went to the Dooleys and told them Lorraine needed her own piano and another teacher.
The next year, the family moved to California, and Lorraine continued to take lessons.
She taught piano during high school and junior college, and after marrying and raising a family, she returned to college, earning a degree and certificate in music education.
She taught music for 20 years in schools and still plays occasionally at her church in Palm Desert.
“Music has filled my life,” she said.
Valmassori wrote to Aldrich over the years, keeping her up-to-date on her music and spiritual life and visiting when she was in Port Townsend.
She also sent Christmas cards every year until she received a card from Fred Aldrich, telling her that Hanna had died Sept. 6, 1968, a month before her 79th birthday.
She was buried in Laurel Grove Cemetery.
Fred Aldrich, who was four years younger than Hanna, lived 20 more years and was working at the store when it was sold in 1983.
Valmassori tried to trace the daughter’s descendants but was unable to make a connection.
“I wanted to find them and tell them the wonderful thing she did for me,” Valmassori said.
She was able to connect with Fred’s niece, Peggy Aldrich Marriott, who lives in Seattle.
From Marriott, Lorraine learned that Mrs. Aldrich never offered to teach her niece or anyone else in the family to play the piano.
On Sunday, in honor of Hanna Aldrich’s gift to her, Valmassori will be playing the piano for the morning service at Trinity, including solos on the piano and duets with organist Mary Weeding.
Family and friends in town for the celebration include Lorraine’s brother, John Dooley, and sister, Peggy Lee DiLeva, Lorraine’s son and daughter and their families, and two friends she has known since the seventh grade.
Valmassori said she never knew what prompted Aldrich to come out of her house that day and offer to give her piano lessons.
“Just me,” Valmassori said. “She picked me.”
Trinity United Methodist Church is located at 609 Taylor St. and Clay, across from the southeast corner of the Port Townsend Community Center in uptown Port Townsend. Sunday service is at 10 a.m.
For more information, visit www.trinityumcpt.org or phone 360-385-0484.
Jennifer Jackson is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend.