So, you need to pick up a prescription, a greeting card, or a special gift. Where do you go? If you’re like me, you go to Delta Pharmacy. While you are there, you wander around just to browse the cool stuff they have in stock. You might be approached by a petite woman who is perfectly coiffed, dressed and accessorized, and whose make-up is impeccable. She offers to help and you notice her apron is embroidered with name Gerry. Gerry Mori is one of the gifts that Delta Pharmacy always has in stock. She has worked for Ken Wudel since 1979. Personally, I am always pleased to see her there – she has a warm smile and always looks you in the eye – it’s like she’s waited all day for you to come in. I’ll bet just about everyone in town knows Gerry. And, if not in Delta Pharmacy, perhaps they have seen this talented woman in other venues. She has quite a resume of accomplishments, from model, beauty pageant contestant, accomplished singer, actress, and comic wit. So here’s a brief view of her life so far.
Geraldine Florence Cecchettini was born in Sacramento on May 1, 1929 (she doesn’t mind if I reveal her age – 86). She grew up in the lower Sacramento area on a farm owned by her paternal grandparents who had emigrated from Lucca, Italy. Her parents, Thomas and Margaret (Mussacchia), had three boys, Thomas Jr., Horace and Gregory and of course, a daughter, Gerry. The farm, with all its natural sounds, was the inspiration for Gerry’s interest in singing. She says she started singing with the birds at the age of 3. This was only the beginning.
Gerry was 5 or 6 when Shirley Temple became famous. Her mom knew Gerry had as much talent as Shirley did, so she made Gerry outfits similar to Shirley’s out of sack cloth, would curl her hair into ringlets to complete the look, and then took her to social events where Gerry would sing Shirley Temple songs (apparently stage fright was not an issue for this young child).
At 10 she joined the choir at the Immaculate Conception Church. She was quickly recognized for her vocal talents and sang solos from time to time. Word spread, and she was soon singing at other churches in the area as well.
More opportunities to display Gerry’s singing talents came along when her older cousin, Lois, gathered the neighborhood children to put on plays and shows, which Lois planned and directed. A friend Nancy accompanied these reviews on her piano. They put on many events and the kids and the parents enjoyed them very much. Gerry always had a major part in these productions, and she loved everything about it. (She says there was no charge for admission).
As a teen Gerry attended C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento. She was in the chorus (both the chorus class and the chorus group). She earlier discovered that in addition to singing, she loved to act (thank you cousin Lois). So she became involved with the drama group and appeared in 2 or 3 school plays and musicals every year. She modestly mentions that at that time she also sang with a Big Band. I’m guessing, but I’ll bet that’s when she started to have dreams of performing on Broadway.
In 1947, while still in high school, another cousin introduced her to John Mori. John was recently discharged from the Navy and was 4 years older than Gerri. He was working for PG&E in the accounting department at the time. (John started his PG&E career as an elevator operator – remember elevator operators?). John was employed, was Italian and Catholic, so her parents approved of their blossoming relationship. John was very proud and supportive of her singing and acting pursuits, but was not as enthused when her modeling included bathing suits. But overall, he was her biggest fan.
After graduating from McClatchy Gerry had already signed up to go to Sacramento State, but, as chance would have it, while shopping in downtown Sacramento she ran into a group of her friends. They were all excited – the Department of Motor Vehicles was hiring and the girls were on their way to apply. They talked Gerry into giving it a try. She agreed to go along, so the girls folded Gerry into their group and made their way to the DMV. She applied and was immediately given a test to see if she had the aptitude to be a key punch operator (high tech in 1948). Of course she passed and was hired on the spot, starting her new job the following week. (So much for college). She worked for the DMV for the next 6 years and she says she loved it.
It was while she was with the DMV, a promotional group came through her work area and solicited her to run in the very first Miss Sacramento Pageant. Surprised and flattered, she happily agreed. The leaders of the pageant’s publicity program had her appear and perform at various theaters in the area and ride in any parades that were scheduled. Photos and news articles appeared, often with Gerry as the centerpiece. During that same period she was asked to model for the State Fair, which again gave her broad exposure in the newspapers and in shows at the Fair. She was becoming quite well known in the greater Sacramento area for her beauty, poise and talent.
She began studying music at the Pease Conservatory in Sacramento, which, by the way, still exists on L Street. The teachers at the conservatory still offer private lessons in piano, voice, guitar, violin & viola, and many other instruments. The Director of the Conservatory wanted to send Gerry to the San Francisco to study with the San Francisco Opera. Her parents were very resistant to this idea – girls just didn’t leave home until they were married. (She complains her brothers got away with everything, but her, not so much – and though it didn’t seem fair, that’s the way it was done). An obedient young woman, Gerry stayed home until she was married.
Gerry and John dated for 5 years. Now get this. In addition to requiring Gerry’s suitors be Catholic and Italian, Gerry’s parents also required he provide he provide a furnished house for her before the marriage. Meeting the first two criteria, John hired a friend to build a hand crafted home for Gerry and when it was done, he filled it with furniture. It was a very special home and was Gerry’s favorite for many reasons – hand crafted throughout, with hand carved cabinetry and fireplace mantle. At last, meeting all her parent’s requirements, John and Gerry were married in 1952. Their union produced two children, Denis and Judith, 3 years apart.
Gerry is very proud of her children. Today Judith works for the School District in their office, and most recently lives with Gerry to help her with the house and other chores. Gerry says it’s a joy to have her with her at home and she depends on her for so many things. Her son, Denis is married to Debi and works for HP as a Process Engineer. Debi stays home and devotes her attention to their 4 grown children who have presented Gerry with 5 great-grandchildren. Denis and Debi live in Roseville, close enough that Gerry made herself available for babysitting when the kids were small. She smiles and says her greatest joy is being surrounded by family, and she tries to spend lots of quality time with all her family as much as possible. Her home is filled with an abundance of family photos and many heirlooms, which gives her home a special warmth. She has a story to tell about each one.
From the time they were married Gerry and John spent quite a bit of time taking care of each of their mothers needs. Their fathers had both passed away and their mothers each had in-home care, but John and Gerry wanted to be absolutely sure all their needs were met. Frequent trips to check-up on their moms were the norm for many years, and they were happy to do it.
For 2 years Gerry worked in administrative capacity at the Washington School for the Handicapped (which does not appear to be operating now). Around that time she was singing mostly solos in the Sweet Adelines, a group committed to fostering the musical art form of barbershop harmony for women. Singing a Capella and in perfect harmony, the group performed at events and fairs. Gerry found this great fun. The women dressed alike and had such enthusiasm at their performances it was always an exhilarating experience for her (and was truly memorable for the audiences).
PG&E closed their Sacramento office and John transferred to the PG&E office in Rio Vista. The Moris packed up, left their lovely craftsman home and ventured off to make their life in Rio Vista. They liked the community right away. (Do you recall the movie theater and bowling alley?) Right away Gerry found others with the same passion for music and performance arts. Two important influences which fostered Gerry’s passion for singing were Carol Lucke and Marcia Whitmore, who along with Gerry formed the Music Club. The Club, which (according to the News Herald), was made up of Rio Vista housewives and was unusual, because in addition to the chorale group it had an instrumental ensemble. The Music Club was such a success that at one time it grew to 20-30 members, and often performed for the Rotary Club’s Christmas party, and provided many years of performances for the Congregational Church’s Harvest Festivals, in addition to many other events in the community. They were in popular demand for many years!
Gerry found work with the school district for 3 years and at Henry’s Café where she was the combined Assistant Manager/Server for 5 years. She moved on to accept a position with Ken in his pharmacy in 1979.< She worked full time, but still had time to perform in the Big Band led by Sal Nygard. The big band, whose members came from all over the Delta, performed all over the greater Delta area. Gerry by this time was also singing at all the local churches. Again, everyone in town soon knew Gerry and had heard her sing and perform somewhere along the way.
Gerry was a member of the Bea Nunes Reviews for many years, a group which put on performances with dancing and music for various events as well. According to an article in the News-Herald “The group put on a two revues at Jack Baumann’s The Point Restaurant as part of its 3rd and later 4th anniversaries. Their performance was touted “as one of the most popular crowd pleasers possible”. They performed two shows, 8:30 and 11:00. “The women wore can-can dresses complete with sparkling garters”.
Committed to entertaining the local community in positive ways, Bea Nunes took her Review to Travis Hospital, which generated a “letter of stirring praise” from the Travis Director of Recreation. The Director also mentioned “the servicemen thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and were lavish with compliments about the music, jokes and the pretty ladies who provided them with a funful (sic) evening”.
She is an active member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where she is a Cantor and sings in the church choir. In the 60’s Gerry taught Catechism, and with Carol Lucke and her 6 daughters, put on musical productions for the church and various organizations in town, where the girls sang in perfect harmony. (BY the way Carol had 6 girls and 2 boys and still found time to produce these productions with Gerry at her side). Gerry always tried to include her children in these performances from time to time. Judith had a passion and talent for dancing.
Gerry also taught Catechism for the Catholic Church for a few years, and, she has been a member of YLI (Young Women’s Institute), an organization within the Catholic Church, for over 50 years. (She wanted to be sure I mentioned this or she would surely be in trouble). She is affectionately known as “the funeral singer” because she has performed at funerals for over 50 years, even some for her own family. She has performed in just about all of Janie Callahan Chins plays, which have been popular community events for over 15 years. Her daughter Judith has been in a few productions as a dancer. She was a prominent figure in the recent Janie Callahan-Chins production where she performed in the Introduction).
Over the years, Gerry and John were back and forth from Sacramento from the time they moved to Rio Vista, in order to care for their aging mothers. (When you add up all her performing activities I can’t see where she had time for work and family, but she managed to balance everything and no one lacked for attention.)
In 1998 Gerry met Danilo Santinelli who taught music in the local schools. Danilo attended a performance of the Music Club and in 2003 Gerry and Danilo collaborated to make a CD entitled Amore e Qui (Love is Here)”. The songs are a tribute to romance and love of children and family, and most are contemporary and familiar songs. Gerry gave me one as a gift and I listened to it right away. It’s beautiful. Ask Gerry if she has any extra copies that she might be happy to share.
Living their belief in the importance of family, John and Gerry made many visits to Italy to visit relatives in the Tuscany Valley in Lucca, a town near Pisa. They spent time in Palermo on the island of Sicily with members of Gerry’s family. Gerry confides she was quite worried and expressed her concerns to John “what if they are members of the Mafioso?”. But her fears were soon assuaged when she found all the relatives were well educated and held responsible positions. They spent 7 days in Sicily. They also had an opportunity to visit relatives in France as well. She has a lot to tell about how beautiful it was, and how kind and friendly all the people they met treated them. I am so jealous!!
John had joined the Rio Vista Lions Club early after they moved to Rio Vista. He and Gerry helped with all the fund raisers, activities, and meetings for over 50 years. John passed away 3 years ago, after 61 years of marriage During John’s illness Judith moved in with Gerry to help. After John passed, the Lions made Gerry an honorary member, but more recently made her a full-fledged Lion. I think it’s only right she receive this honor. At every meeting or event I have attended with my husband over the years, Gerry has led the group in rousing patriotic songs. I can’t imagine a Lions meeting without her.
A point that gives me chills is that Gerry sang the Lord’s Prayer at John’s funeral. I asked her how she managed that. (She says a lot of people have asked her that question). She explained that she just knew John would have wanted her to do it, and oddly, when she started to sing, a sense of peace and light enveloped her. She still feels he’s with her every day.
So, stop by the Pharmacy when you get a chance and say hello and thank you to this lovely lady who has contributed so much to her Church, her community, her family, and is still going strong and looking forward to the next production that lies ahead. Maybe Rio Vista isn’t Broadway, but she definitely is our Star.
Source: http://www.riovistabeacon.com/ ~ Author: Peg Richards