Jean Dahl, a devoted wife and mother who nurtured a love of acting and stepped into the spotlight in later years as a member of a Carmichael theater group, died Aug. 7 at 90, her family said.
Mrs. Dahl was a woman ahead of her time who put her career and dreams on hold to meet traditional expectations and the needs of others. She was born Jean Elizabeth McGregor in 1924 in Saskatchewan, Canada, to grocers who insisted that their two daughters go to college.
After graduating from University of Saskatchewan, she moved to the United States to earn a master’s degree in speech and drama from Washington State College in Pullman, Wash. She acted in plays that were broadcast on campus radio and read children’s stories on the air as “the story lady.” For her master’s thesis, she performed the title role in a production of “Laura.”
“She really would have loved to run away to Hollywood and be in movies,” said her daughter Elizabeth, “but that wasn’t done, and her parents were dead set against it. But she never lost her passion for acting.”
Mrs. Dahl was teaching speech at Pacific Lutheran College in Washington state when she met a recently widowed college academic. She married Orville Dahl in 1953 and gave up teaching to raise children and keep the family together as they moved to college campuses throughout the United States for her husband’s work as a university administrator and development consultant.
She sought outlets for her creative interests, including joining women’s university groups and modeling and working in women’s clothing stores. Meanwhile, her husband oversaw the founding of California Lutheran College in 1959 and served as president until 1962. He later was associate director of campus development at UC Davis before retiring in the 1970s.
“My mom really enjoyed herself,” her daughter said, “but my dad didn’t really want her to work.”
Mrs. Dahl and her husband settled in Sacramento in the early 1980s and joined St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Carmichael. With her children grown and her husband retired, she returned to the theater as an active member of the St. Michael’s Actors’ Guild. In addition to performing, she worked backstage on costumes and sets and served for several years as guild president.
In 2006, she won the Elly Award for best supporting actress from the Sacramento Area Regional Theatre Alliance for her role in “Murder on Reserve,” a comedy.
“She was so tickled,” her daughter said. “It was so unexpected for her. But she was very proud of it. She had health issues, but she kept on at acting as long as she could.”
In addition to the actor’s guild, Mrs. Dahl was a member of the choir, women’s groups and the governing board at St. Michael’s church.
“She was very active here and very, very much loved,” said the Rev. Mary Hudak, the church pastor. “She was a very gracious woman with a sense of decorum from her time. But she was also a progressive and intellectual woman with an open heart who was tolerant of a lot of opinions and able to navigate her way in a changing world.”
Mrs. Dahl’s husband died in 1994. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, Richard; two stepchildren, Orin and Leonore Arata; 10 grandchildren; 18 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
A memorial is set for 11 a.m. Aug. 16 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 2140 Mission Ave., Carmichael. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.