About 75 years after singing truly touched her heart as a teenager in her church choir, Anna Secrist still sounds remarkably youthful and powerful when she bursts into song.
During a recent interview, the 90-year-old Bellingham mother proved that when she sang joyfully about “being in the moment” with a charming piece she wrote “as my song” not long ago.
She was widowed last year on March 6, when her husband, Richard “Dick” Secrist, a retired businessman, died after 66 years of marriage. She soon moved to Orchard Park Assisted Living after relocating to Bellingham.
The Secrists had made numerous trips to Whatcom County for more than four decades to visit son Chris Secrist and wife Nancy, so Anna said she knew she would feel right at home.
“I love it here in Bellingham,” said Anna, who was a longtime home-based voice teacher.
She fulfilled her lifelong love of opera when she founded and operated a community opera company, Novato Lyric Opera, during much of the 1980s and 1990s in Novato, Calif., a Marin County town not far from San Francisco.
“Bellingham was a natural place to come,” Anna said. “One of my girlfriends is Nancy’s mom, Renee Gilbert.”
Novato Lyric Opera put on endless community performances. The memories are special for Anna because of “all the wonderful singers” she worked with for so many years.
The affable Anna likes to quip that “I’m easily adjustable,” considering she grew up in the four-season climate of Detroit; gave birth to her four children in Columbus, Ohio; lived in temperate Novato for four decades; and moved to the hot desert of Palm Springs, Calif., for more than a decade with her husband.
“Anna’s the type who always makes the best of everything,” said Nancy, a 1972 graduate of Ferndale High who met Chris about that time when he visited the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden. “People in church (Saint Paul’s Episcopal in Bellingham) turn around and say they just love to hear her singing.”
That includes special friends Don and Pat Smith. He was their pastor in Novato, and Anna was thrilled when the couple retired to Bellingham.
She couldn’t help but be thrilled when Custer residents Chris and Nancy recently took her to enjoy the rare sight of a frozen Lake Padden. Chris, who operates The Oeser Co., a Bellingham utility pole firm, is a longtime outdoors lover and learned that “when I came here to chase Nancy.”
“The ice made me think of Detroit,” Anna said. “I loved ice skating. In those days, Detroit was a wonderful place to grow up. Great people, great radio stations. I sang on WJR when I was Miss DSR (Detroit Streets and Railroads).”
“And the ice reminded me of how much I absolutely loved watching Sonja Henie ice skate,” Anna said of the Olympic skating champion who became a film star. “I’ll never forget I saw her perform in Detroit.”
Anna was a serious honor student as well as a singer, graduating from Detroit’s Denby High School and attending nearby Wayne State University. She was 23 when she and Richard, a graduate of Ohio State University, were married in 1949.
Richard first saw Anna in a photo before he met her and heard her amazing voice, but that didn’t stop him from declaring, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
So he did, and it’s a great story. As Anna puts it, “Yes, my husband fell in love with me through a picture.”
Anna didn’t know it at the time, but the best friend of her youth, Susie Volmer, had a college boyfriend who showed Richard, then a student at Ohio State, a picture of Anna.
“Richard was wonderful,” Anna said. “There was no one like him.”
Their children are Richard Jr., a well-known professional pianist and composer in Switzerland; Chris; Leda Anne; and Timothy. Anna has 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, with another on the way.
Leda Anne is uniquely named because her mother’s full name is Anna Leda Lord Secrist.
When asked for advice in living a long, happy life, Anna responded, “Always be true to yourself.”